Venkat Subramanian, managing director, Saint-Gobain Gyproc India outlines the new economic and business imperatives triggered by Covid-19 pandemic. This article is an adaptation of Subramanian’s conversation with Deepak for #BPHILeadershipSeries.
Let me begin by acknowledging that Covid-19 pandemic is teaching us a lot of things and we are faced with challenges and opportunities therein. As I see it, the ongoing crisis has two dimensions: health and business. The former has called for ensuring the safety for our employees, plants and other establishments. The pandemic is not going away any time soon. So, we have to learn to live with the virus by adhering to all safety measures such as wearing masks and maintaining social distancing, besides other steps as and when required. The latter dimension is of business and economy, which have been severely impacted following the announcement of lockdown by the Prime Minister. We barely registered any sales in the whole of April across our markets in the country. But, let me also say that we have witnessed bounce back in our southern markets in the first half of May. We are hopeful that our company will soon realise the movement in other markets as well.
In my assessment, the outlook for the hospital, school, warehouse, affordable housing and office sectors seems to be bright. I think that these sectors will come back swiftly once lockdown is over, considering that these markets are underpenetrated. But, the hospitality and tourism sector is going to bear the brunt. If I look at the total real estate pie, developers will experience extra pressure owing to financing woes and a dearth of labour in the short-term.
New Work Mode
The health-cum-economic disruption caused by Covid-19 may give birth to a new normal. Work-from-Home (WFH) may emerge as a necessity for many organisations, with two or three days a week of WFH becoming the done thing, if not the entire week. Switching to WFH would require the management to figure out its short-term and long-term implications. WFH will compel them to ask, “How will teams perform while being away from the office? How can we utilise the space in our office?” It will also throw up challenges for employees, of ensuring privacy and distraction-free workspace at home, as most Indians live in small spaces that are shared with family members and even pets. WFH may require employees to relook their home ambience through the prism of ergonomics, lux levels, room temperature, broadband connectivity, etc.
Healthcare: A Sunshine Sector
We are bullish about the prospects of the country’s healthcare sector, in the light of the need to ramp up infrastructure – isolation wards, hospital beds, ICU units, etc. Our expectations also stem from various projections, including the one by India Brand Equity Foundation that estimates Indian healthcare to be a Rs 20 lakh crore industry. Healthcare infra will have to be augmented as India has become the diabetes capital of the world, and there are a large number of cases of cardiovascular disease, cancer and mental disorders. Besides, we will also have to confront a huge ageing population in the future. We are already working with 25 hospital chains and 75 hospitals, and are hopeful of working with more such clients.
R&D makes us Future-perfect
The building and construction industry is leaning towards minimal use of natural resources such as water and sand and embracing new materials. The customers are seeking a resilient design that calls for the use of robust materials. Besides, they want to erect structures quickly, and that requires a productive and skilled workforce. We have eight R&D centres that enable us to anticipate future needs and develop new materials in a shortened time frame. Our gypsum plasterboard for false ceilings and drywall partitions, acoustical ceiling tiles and gypsum plastering solutions are high-performance materials that are energy-efficient, eco-friendly, and time-saving for our customers. I think that our products will witness accelerated demand as customers continue to reimagine space, owing to challenges posed by the Corona crisis.
Building a Skilled Ecosystem
Skill development, especially for drywalls, is a big focus area for us. It may be easy to find a carpenter or plumber, but not so a drywall specialist. So, we have decided to set up skill development schools in UP, Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh, and Telangana. With the help of local panchayats, we are identifying school dropouts who are willing to engage in this occupation. We are offering them a 300-hour theory-cum-practical residential course on the false ceiling and drywall installation and helping them to get employment with our contractors. Our students can earn anywhere between Rs 10,000 and Rs 50,000 a month. This initiative is helping us build an ecosystem of skilled workforce in the country that will be tapped into more than ever before, in the face of a new world being shaped by the pandemic.