The Business Conclave, hosted by the one-year MBA students at IIMB, is a feast of ideas from business leaders and change management experts
Bengaluru: “I had to undergo the very tough transformation from being a clinician to an administrator, and it is resilience that kept me afloat,” said Lt Gen (Dr) Madhuri Kanitkar, AVSM VSM, Deputy Chief – Integrated Defence Staff (Medical), while delivering the keynote speech on ‘Dialogues for Resilient Next Chapter’.
She was speaking at the IIMB Business Conclave 2020, hosted by students of the one-year full-time MBA – the Executive Post Graduate Programme in Management (EPGP), which was held online on November 22 (Sunday), 2020. This year, the entire event, themed on ‘Learn, Unlearn, Adapt, Repeat’, was held on the virtual mode due to the pandemic crisis. Leaders from diverse fields provided their insights on how to make businesses robust and future-proof using sustainable practices.
Discussing the need to learn and unlearn, she said since knowledge is growing exponentially, we need to be flexible and adopt the new. “While we let go of the old, we have to retain what is important. We have to unlearn, adapt and repeat.”
Pointing out that education is not the same as Economics, she said: “The purpose of education is to build character. Do not learn only to earn. Introspect and do not limit your mind. Education is science and its application an art. Go beyond the syllabus and change information into wisdom. Give time for assimilation and importance to your passion. And it is important to find good mentors”, she advised the students.
She urged the students to be sensitive about problems, identify required resources, innovate and find feasible solutions. She added that the willingness to learn, unlearn, innovate along with resilience leads to scope for innovation. “To get around the problem, your passion, profession and vocation are very important and if these are aligned to your mission, you will find your Ikigai.”
She stressed on the fact that failure is inevitable and one needs to learn from them. “Work hard, manage time, ensure all round development, do not lose focus or give up, and do not be afraid of failure. Give time to friends and family, manage stress, follow your passion, and adopt a fitness routine and hobbies.”
Pointing out that setbacks are also important in helping to learn how to overcome crisis, she touched upon the concept of Kintsukuroi, which is a Japanese art of repairing broken pottery to make new ceramic creations, the result of which is often something more beautiful than the original. “So, one could be damaged but not destroyed”, she observed.
She went on to share from her own experiences and spoke about the lessons she has learnt. “Move out of the comfort zone, work towards a fit mind in a fit body, dream big, boost teamwork, enjoy each task, lean on friends, and focus on all round development. Attitude is important – a combination of head and heart while you take decisions is vital. These openings will make you resilient to adaptations. Mix work with pleasure and make it fun. Remember – time, tongue and trust should be respected. So, adjust, adapt and then adopt. Communicate and coordinate. As Indians, our culture is our support.”
The Business Conclave provides a platform for discussions on pertinent new age topics. The event attracts CXOs, strategists, technology evangelists, thought leaders, entrepreneurs and professionals pioneering change to come together to analyze real-world business scenarios, deliberate on their social impact and stimulate meaningful discussions. The conclave gives inquisitive minds an opportunity to interact with and get inspired by these leaders.
This year’s theme is particularly important with social, economic, geopolitical and market dynamics changing every day. Businesses are having to reimagine their processes, ways of working, and sometimes even their offerings. Disruption is therefore no longer the exception; it is the norm. Companies today need to emerge as robust functioning bodies, that can sustain and traverse through uncertainty in pursuit of longevity by futureproofing themselves. Companies are being forced to learn new ways, unlearn the old ways, adapt to the circumstances, and repeat these processes when faced with new challenges.
‘Tomorrow’s managers must be smart risk takers’: IIMB Director
Earlier during the inauguration ceremony, Professor Rishikesha T Krishnan, Director, IIMB, welcomed all the participants and spoke at length about: ‘Building Resilience in Tomorrow’s Leaders’. “The pandemic, like some other black swan events, has shown us how we need to be more careful about the predictions we make, in order to be more prepared in a turbulent world and respond better.” Listing the skills needed for the same, he said, “Avoid decision-making biases and practice scenario planning. You need better identification and assessment of risks, business continuity and contingency plans, and an entrepreneurial mindset. And adopt lean principles – smart entrepreneurs are intelligent risk takers. Understanding and appreciating technology is also vital – see how Microsoft and IBM have embraced Cloud. Another important element is collaboration – forge and sustain relationships, like Ford has done. Adopt all these skills and then you can build organizations better suited for a turbulent business environment.”
Professor G Sabarinathan, Chair, one-year fulltime Master of Business Administration programme and Chair, Finance & Accounting, in his welcome speech emphasized that IIMB’s EPGP has a distinctive cohort, and said: “The programme attracts atypical participants as well, like soldiers.” He congratulated the students for showing tremendous fortitude in these challenging times, coping with uncertainties and still participating in all extra and co-curricular activities. “Resilience is about future proofing and ensuring sustainability. It reflects in the spirit of optimism that the students exude.”
‘Do not use yesterday’s logic for today’s challenges”
There were two panel discussions. The first one on ‘Supply Chain Disruptions’ was moderated by Professor Jitamitra Desai, Chair, Supply Chain Management Centre and faculty from the Decision Sciences area of IIMB. The panelists were: Sonny Kunnakkat, Head – Global Engineering Services Worldwide Ops and Head – Site Operations, India, Applied Materials, Ushasri Tirumala, Senior Vice President and General Manager, Manhattan Partners and K K Mishra, Director, Railways Ministry of India.
Ushasri TS said that the greatest danger during turbulent times is to act with yesterday’s logic. “New operating models and flexibility are very important. The only thing certain is the uncertainty. How we react to that, how we get ready for the new environment is crucial. During these times, digital agenda is accelerated, infrastructure and processes are upgraded. But supply chain resilience is not about technology alone. We need a transformation in people/processes/culture. Effective new business models should integrate the human and digital resources to better meet the uncertainties of the times. We need to be prepared to reinvent for better standardization, consolidation and upgradation for Indian supply chain. Moreover, they need to be aligned to global supply chains.”
Sonny Kunnakkat while talking about how his organization is dealing with the current crisis, said that the employees and culture are the superheroes. “While we try to learn from the past, we realize that only learning from history is not enough. Easy to fix measures are also needed. Operational productivity depends on infrastructure and agility.” He said that in case of MSMEs, he would like to see changes in cost of capital and ease of material movement.
K K Mishra gave the government perspective of the supply chain scenario in our country, focussing on energy and the transportation sector. “Disruptions often bring out positive opportunities. Hence innovative governance and technology are crucial. Be on your toes, know your limitations and resources, be ready to reinvent, find out if your product is still relevant in the post pandemic world. Be agile and adaptable. So, skilling, reskilling and upskilling are the keys to stay relevant.” He pointed out that a lot depends on producers and consumer, with the government being the facilitator, and added that in sectors like agriculture, the country will achieve more success if government and the private sectors moved in the same direction.
The panelists were unanimous in their opinion that shared supply chain between different players will prove cost effective and resilient. Surviving in the current, disruptive world needs transformation of people, process and culture.
As part of the conclave, a Case Competition called Locomote had been conducted, where teams were required to submit a solution to a problem statement. Locomote was designed to bring out the innovator and businessperson in a participant. The results were declared, whereby the team from IIMB bagged the top spot, while the team from IIM Rohtak was the runner-up. The EPGP team also made a contribution to BOSCO, a Bengaluru-based charitable organization.
The Vikatan story: Fireside chat with B Srinivasan
Post lunch, there was a fireside chat session: ‘When Strategy meets Persistence: Lessons for Managing the Pandemic from the Vikatan Group’. Moderated by Professor R Srinivasan of the Strategy area, the discussion featured B Srinivasan, MD, Vikatan Group. “I told my mother, with pride, that I am speaking at IIMB today and she was very happy because she always wanted me to do an MBA, but I had joined the family business right after graduation,” said B. Srinivasan of the Vikatan group.
He urged the millennials in the audience to imagine a world without cable or satellite TV and FM radio. “Newspapers only carried news. Magazines were literally the only alternate source of entertainment. Today, readers are supplying news. They are the Davids taking on the Goliaths (big media houses).”
Observing that social media has truly democratized news by removing the gatekeepers of news (publishers), he said: “At Vikatan, we have always been interactive – short story contests, viewer ratings of stories. It’s just that the element of interactivity has moved from being a postcard to a click or QR code.”
On the economics of running a media house today, B Srinivasan used the YouTube-Netflix analogy where everything on YouTube is free while to be on Netflix, one has to pay. “We have attempted to move from a YouTube model to a HotStar model, where is a freemium where news is free but perspectives, analysis and opinion are behind a paywall,” he explained.
Vikatan’s OTT strategy, he said, was the result of a two-and-a-half year-old plan. (Incidentally, Balaji’s hugely popular TV drama, Pavitra Rishta, is Vikatan’s story.) The group now has 6.5 million followers on YouTube and is the first YouTube-certified partner in India. They, and not the channels, hold the IPs for all their programs. “OTT is a game of extremely deep pockets, which global giants like Amazon, Disney, Viacom, have. Getting into this game of digging for gold, calls for huge investment. We prefer to work with the shovels by providing a variety of shovels to those digging,” he said, adding that when he joined Vikatan, his father said to him that newspapers were primarily social service; business cane afterwards. “I did not believe that one should come at the cost of the other, and by the grace of god, I have managed to do both successfully. We have found the niche between good reporting and money making.”
In response to an audience question on whether the print media would survive, B Srinivasan said: “Print media will survive by staying relevant. When the radio/ TV/ films/ cable TV/ mobile phone came along, they said it was doomsday for print! That did not happen, did it? If the radio, a 100-year-old invention, can continue to adapt and stay alive today, then print certainly can. We should attempt to stay relevant in the minds of the consumer by making the online-offline connect.”
India must lead innovation in the global apparel business: Kulin Labhai
This was followed by the speaker series talk: “The Future is ‘Phygital’: Transformation of Customer Journey”, featuring Kulin Lalbhai, Executive Director, Arvind Ltd. “Arvind Ltd has futureproofed business by pivoting models when required. COVID just proved to be an accelerator,” he remarked.
Explaining that digital changed the centre of gravity away from the retail store and made the customer the centre of things, Kulin said: “It’s not just about e-commerce but about building capabilities, processes and people for the digital age. We took the call to build a start-up within Arvind to attract a set of people who could build an omni-stack for the company. We gave e-sops to the 24-year-olds that we hired. We had slowly built an omni-channel by connecting online and offline inventory. Then COVID struck and 90 per cent sales went away! Nothing, no management textbook, can prepare you for this! The importance of speed, agility and decisiveness can never be overstated. We cut our Q1 cost by 70 per cent. We shut down 10 per cent of the networked stores. We had to recapitalize the company and brought in 700 crores of equity when the whole country was in shutdown mode. We started a strong pivot on digital as online was the only show in town.”
According to the Stanford-Harvard graduate, the India story, in apparel, is just starting. “In the textile business, India has a responsibility to understand new technologies and dominate them. Innovation in this sector will come from India, China & SE Asia,” he added.
From redesigning websites to digitizing operations to sourcing alternate suppliers
The second panel discussion: ‘Changing Consumer Preferences and Evolving Business Models’ was moderated by Professor R Srinivasan of the Strategy area. The panels featured industry leaders such as Rashmi Shukla, Business Head, Jaypore, Aditya Birla Fashion & Retail Limited, ABG, Sivaramakrishnan Ganapathi, MD, Gokaldas Exports, and Manisha Seewal, Group CMO & CEO, Carro, Jualo.com. “Increased digital engagement, rural internet penetration through mobile phones, rent / lease rather than buy, and growth of gig economy workers mark the change in the consumer world,” pointed out Prof. R Srinivasan. Agreeing, Manisha Seewal said, “Pay as you use models are rapidly gaining traction. We have done it with cars and we see far higher demand than supply.” According to Rashmi Shukla, athleisure grew exponentially in COVID times and Jaypore pivoted from tussar and chanderi clothes for social occasions to comfortable clothing for those working from home and at home.
“Brands have pivoted to e-marketplaces in COVID times and retailers are providing omni-channel models. This has encouraged consumers who are also becoming brand promiscuous,” explained Siva Ganapathi of Gokaldas Exports. “E-commerce and digital allows for consumer hearing. Earlier, you had to depend on your store manager. Now, we have powerful listening mediums. We saw a shift in home goods sales – it is now 10x of what it was in the beginning of the lockdown. We could onboard 300 new vendors in this category and we did it in a matter of weeks,” said Rashmi, observing that digital onboarding is faster than opening a store. Though factories were shut and supply chains were disrupted due to worker migration, she said artisans who had their global orders cancelled due to COVID were more than happy to sell through Jaypore, giving them an alternate supply chain.
The Business Conclave also featured a talk by national award winning filmmaker Gautham Menon, followed by a conversation between Dr Viral Acharya, C.V. Starr Professor of Economics at NYU Stern and former deputy governor of RBI, and Dr. Chetan Subramanian, Dean of Faculty and Professor in Economics and Social Sciences at IIMB.
Filmmaker Gautham Menon on the business of art
The second talk of the speaker series was titled: ‘The Art of Business in the Business of Art’ and featured Gautham Vasudev Menon, national award-winning director and producer, screenwriter and actor.
Gautham Menon said he considered OTT platforms to be alternatives rather than disruptive forces. “On OTT platforms, you reach a wide audience around the world – so make best use of it. The content of the OTT medium is far more interesting than the stars in the film or web series. Even the way you make these films is different. You have to be smart to figure out how each platform works and plan your approach accordingly. Right now, I am focussed on creating interesting content for a wider audience. It is good to know the science and art of your job to remain at the top of the game. The process, strategy, planning and business behind film making – all these add up to the magic of film making”.
Responding to a question on whether critics influence his work, he replied that he did not focus on critics as he thinks his art cannot be reviewed. “I put forward my vision, after which I move on to my next film”.
Dr Viral Acharya’s views on restoring financial stability
In a fireside chat on ‘The Quest for Restoring Financial Stability in India’, Dr. Viral Acharya, C.V. Starr Professor of Economics, NYU Stern School of Business and former deputy governor, Reserve Bank of India, and Dr. Chetan Subramanian, Professor of Economics & Social Sciences and Dean Faculty at IIMB, discussed IMF’s recent prediction that the Indian economy would contract by 10.3% in FY21.
Dr. Acharya pointed out that the economic outcome in the COVID year was linked to the health outcome. “India has been struggling with the number of cases rising exponentially, errors in testing/reporting, a chaotic lockdown, low availability of technology for many who need to work from home, etc. But growth was slow even before COVID. In fact, inflation had started rising before COVID. The disease has only brought home the truth in a harsh manner,” he said.
He added that India’s growth has been declining even without high inflation, which he thinks is linked to the financial and banking sector. “Since the global financial crisis, India has not been able to find a stable job creation method. Rising fuel and food prices is another issue. Often, the inflation targeting framework has a short-term approach – it is not about growth in the next three decades, but more for the next quarter.”
In order to strike a balance in such challenging times, Dr. Acharya recommended that growth should be thought of as high priority, structural deficiencies in the economy have to be minimized, and more jobs need to be created. “A cautious risk management approach may be helpful to work out a long-term strategy to counter the current challenges,” he added.