Opening Up

Am not sure if lock up is the opposite of lock down.  Two opposites at first sight sound like two negatives. But even then open up seems the apt opposite of lock down. On 2 May, I invited some of this group members to a zoom chat to discuss open up. My notes on the group’s thoughts.

Prof Ashok Arora has a long career in teaching Marketing at leading B Schools in India. I consider Prof Arora as the best marketing prof at IIM Calcutta when I studied there. Particularly remember his insightful sessions on Consumer Behavior. He was also my guide in my term paper on Direct Marketing. Prof Arora is currently based out of Prayagraj (Allahabad). He was to moderate the session, but technology almost washed out the session, as Prof Arora’s mike did not work. We tried quite a few band aid solutions, but finally after 25 minutes of trying, Prof decided that the hosting duty needs to be transferred to Yours Truly – who was caught on the wrong foot. Here are the points that some of the participants made. 

Shrikant Patil – Started his career with Intel. Is now an investor in a wide range of companies – from microbrewery to online retail to golf courses. Unfortunately he could not be part of the conversation during the session. He had interesting comments to make about education in a previous discussion that I had had with him. He feels that an online program can only deliver atmost 40% of the effectiveness of a classroom one. So higher educational institutes will be under pricing pressure. Another factor that can be a game changer is the online MOOC courses. Employers may prefer a certification of a Stanford online course, to that of a third grade engineering school in India. NIOS could also be an opportunity for entrepreneurs who don’t want to make the huge investments mandated by boards like CBSE. 

Sujit Karpe. Sujit is co-founder at Pune based Interview Mocha. IM specialises in skill assessments. Their clients are in US, Europe and Africa, with a few in Indian as well.Here is the company website – Hiring from home has helped skill assessments. No hiring first interviews in office now. Some traction in the US – Paypal, WordPress orders received by IM. Sujit expects a bounceback in the US in the next couple of months. Mastercard Africa has also given IM good business. Sujit’s PoV is that WFH is a certainty for 50% of the IT workforce. Even Interview Mocha is looking at doing WFH for 50% of its employees. May even give up extra real estate if that happens. Some of IM’s Kolhapur employees are quite happy staying in Kolhapur and working.

Sachin Kher is co-founder of Expert Global Systems, which does CAD and design outsourcing for global clients. Sachin heads sales at Expert Global. The company has offices in Pune and Aurangabad. Sachin is based out of Pune. Here is the company website – How do we get new clients in this scenario? Sales people may not be able to travel to potential clients. More credibility may start happening with digital meetings. WFH is difficult for Expert Global as CAD files are heavy. But Sachin still expects 20-30% of his people can do WFH. 

Hirdesh Madan: Heads operations for Bulls Eye for Punjab and Haryana. He is based out of Chandigarh. He is also the CEO of Bulls Eye’s online business. Here is the website – – b2b new business generation would be difficult. b2c – our counselors are doing WFH -and getting good conversions. People are more receptive to calls during day time – thanks to their underemployment. 80% of the team is working in our online business. WFH – people are slowly getting used to this. Real estate is a big cost driver in education, so WFH can be a god send. 

Alok Dugar. He has been an entrepreneur from his school days in Jamshedpur. Runs SI Fintech, a managed printing solutions company. which means that he basically gives printers on hire. He is one of the top customers for HP in India. And is a consultant to them at times. He is based out of Pune, but with customers spread all over the country. Try and Buy will work for first time customers – kind of sampling. 

Anil Jhamtani has been an entrepreneur for the last 20+ years. He runs an electrical cables manufacturing company. Based out of Pune. More details of Anil can be found on this blog post. WFH is not possible in cable manufacturing. We have to get our hands dirty. We will maintain sanitisation and social distancing. Not sure about logistics at our customer’s end. Tedious, but we will adjust. Lockdown should not be extended. Business is not going to go down. Robustness expected. Some import substitution may happen, which would be of help.

Anant Joshi started his career with Blue Star. He is still continuing his career with Blue Star, albeit as their biggest distributor in Pune now. Here is the company website – More about him on this blog post.  – We have to execute projects – so it has to be on site. Inspection first and then design. We are dependent on real estate sector. There may be a slow down for some time there. But manufacturing may pick up, if shift to India happens. There may be traction there – maybe in 6 months to 1 year. In first 6 months, maintenance will take priority. Also, the focus will be to get customers to upgrade their ventilation systems from a health perspective, 

Saif Dhorajiwala was earlier working with the Tata Group. He is co founder at Fourth Partner, a solar power solutions company based out of Hyderabad. Saif is based out of Pune. Here is his website – Ours is quite a capital intensive industry. We have to invest in infra and supply. Availability of credit by banks is important. Cash conservation, risk management has to be robust now. 

Dhiraj Sinha has worked with packaging companies consultancies before he ended up in IT. He has worked for many years with Infosys. He then moved on to Dell – and is now with Cap Gemini  Bangalore – where he heads their testing practice.  He has dabbled in health food restaurants. His linkedin profile is here – Topline would be impacted. If it is only Q2, then we can still ramp up in Q3 and Q4. There may be Covid second and third cycles, so uncertainty. We can try to ramp up delayed projects. India Captive business had ramped up in the past few years. MNCs may look at monetising India captive assets. Some of the cash rich IT services companies may use their cash to grab these opportunities. Travel will come down. Salary hikes not happening, variable components will come down, Sr Management taking voluntary cuts. Slowdown in hiring for sure. More focus on utilising available talent. Reduced attrition rates expected. Beneficial from a cost perspective. Will this be a one time phenomenon or will this continue? More managers who were reluctant to do WFH have been convinced by WFH now.

Mukesh Bhat. Has done his Masters in Thermal Engineering. He specializes in auto engines. He has worked with Tata Motors, Mercedes, Toyota and GM. He currently heads engineering at AVL, an Austria based engine R and D company, in Gurgaon. Here is his Linkedin profile.  Sujit asked him that as auto companies can’t do WFH, how will they see behavior change happening? Mukesh did not agree with Sujit’s question..Certain functions can do WFH – sales, accounting, design, project management, finance. Only manufacturing cannot. They have to be in the factory. Out of the 200 people in Mukesh’s team, only test factory cannot do WFH – about 80 people. More people are getting used to the WFH idea – it’s strenuous, but working out.

Bhavya Chowdhury is an Electronics engineer and MBA. She has worked earlier with Yes Bank and was also associated with her family business of corrugated boxes. She has been heading the Nagpur operations of Bulls Eye for the last 7 years. Here is the Nagpur local website –  She talked of a young mother’s perspective – scared about kids using public transport. If all of us end up using private vehicles, it’s going to be bad. Barter is in fashion – as shops were closed during lockdown. We are ok with used stuff, if availability of stuff is not sure.

Prasanna Walimbe, like Dhiraj, has had a long stint at Infosys. He then co-founded a startup, Reval Analytics, a fintech company which provides analytics backed research reports to global clients. He has also co-founder at Blue Crest Software and Virtua Reearch. Here is his linkedin profile – Unfortunately have not been able to document Prasanna’s inputs. My apologies for that.

In a previous conversation Prof Arora had made an interesting observation about Veggies availability in Allahabad. Except for the first 2-3 days of the lockdown, no one faced a problem. His reasoning was that a lot of people who were out of jobs, realised that hawking veggies is a survival occupation in these times. And so switched. 

I mailed Prof Arora after the session, requesting his crystal gazing. Here is his reply: It is obvious that the effects of this episode shall be varied across industries and firms. But, few generalisations appear to surface.

In the short term:

  1. There will be temporary set back in the performance. But, it is likely to bounce back.
  2. The key driver behind the intensity of impact shall be the role of information content in the business model. Therefore, information technology shall be affecting this impact as well as be a result of this.
  3. Work location of employees and the work practices shall be affected significantly.

In the longer run:

  1. Impact of this episode on cost and value chains shall naturally be assessed by the firms. Based on this experience future cost and value chains would be altered significantly.
  2. Physical assets/ activities would give way to virtual ones. For example, real estate and physical travel which could have an had been gradually replaced by WFH and online conferencing would get fresh impetus. Creative ways would further create and enhance these possibilities.
  3. As in the past, industries which were more dependent on information (like entertainment, education, ownership authorisation and finance) would further get the boost.