APRIL 22, 2020
Member of WDC Board of Directors
Director, Dimexon Diamonds
As I write this on April 14, 2020, we are completing the 20th day of the lockdown in India and, tomorrow, Prime Minister Narendra Modi shall address the nation on his strategy about how he intends to lead the way for India’s 1.3 billion people.
But let me take you back in time to December 2019.
My family and I had traveled on a holiday to Australia and visited the beautiful cities of Sydney, Gold Coast and Brisbane. We loved the Aussie lifestyle, their coffee culture and their serene way of living. It felt like a world away from our world. They really know how to live life in the moment.
Personally, I used the time to reflect on the decade we were to leave behind and at the same time, recharge and respond to 2020. With every new year we envisage hope, optimism and observe a new list of resolutions.
2020 seemed to have the ingredients of a stellar year – the macro environment was benign, currency markets were stable, the China-U.S. trade war had achieved its Phase 1 truce. Everything just felt well placed, at least when compared to 12 months earlier when we were embroiled in the midst of uncertainty.
But, as much as I was looking forward to 2020, in hindsight I really should have observed the Aussies more than I did, or then as Louis Tomlinson put it, “Live life for the moment, because everything else is uncertain.”
Fast forward to March 25, 2020, and the first day of India’s lockdown. What lay ahead were 20 more days of staying within our four walls and at best, looking out of the window to get some fresh air. As unnerving as it felt, I was comforted knowing that I was with my family and my parents.
What I had not figured out were the unknowns that lay ahead. Unknowns that I wasn’t even aware would ever exist. Who would have ever thought that we would be legally obliged to stay indoors for three weeks?
At the time, the buzz words that gained momentum were Work From Home. While it sounded possible and perhaps exciting too, I remained skeptical about this concept. I mean, and don’t get me wrong, surely some businesses can afford to, and can even excel by working from home. However, I wasn’t convinced. Not yet. Not entirely.
WDC Board Member Rajiv Mehta, working from home in Mumbai in April 2020.
On Day 2 of the lockdown, I decided to schedule a daily management video call that comprised of all my senior colleagues from work. If I had to subscribe to Work From Home, I might as well get started by meeting with them. After all, we are a people’s business.
I remember enjoying the first video call with the team. Seeing people through the screen of an iPad felt reassuring for some reason. You see, I’ve never been a purist for video calls as much as I have in this period. Perhaps knowing we can’t meet people makes you want to “meet” them even more.
Such is the human mind. It adapts, quicker than we realize. They say, it takes 21 days to form a habit or to change an old one. The idea was first written by Dr. Maxwell Maltz in his book named “Psycho-Cybernetics,” published in 1960. Through experiments, he wrote, “…it requires 21 days for an old mental image to dissolve and a new one to gel.” This could be that that once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, to dissolve all our old images and set up new ones!! This could be the big reset that India, and the world needed.
In those early days of the lockdown, I vividly remember that my wife, Dimple, and our three children, Raveena, Kareena and Rajveer seemed to have totally bought this idea of me Working From Home – to the extent, they figured this was getting quite fun. Dad does his video calls, meets us for a bit, we joke, laugh, talk, watch some NETFLIX and then he goes back to do some more video calls. He’s finally figured out the optimal work-life balance!!
This continued for a day or two until the initial euphoria started to settle and the reality of a couple of weeks of this locked life, started to dawn. Corona-talk had really started to peak and there was little being discussed other than the pandemic. At that point, I could see the peril in my family’s eyes.
Over dinner that evening, I remember speaking to the family – saying, “Guys, we are living through what will be considered a historic moment in modern history and when the next generation look back, they will try to understand how we survived this period. What we have is an opportunity to make these 21 days the most memorable days of our life. How would we live these days if our goal was to make these the most memorable days?” At first, I could see the confusion in their eyes but in a short span of time, they saw how the glass was not half empty but completely full.
Cooking has always been my passion, but I’ve found little time to pursue it. This was my time. What followed were Banana Nut muffins, Vanilla Chocolate Chip muffins, healthy cookies, healthy enchilada’s and more. I was starting to build an impressive catalogue of self-cooked food items.
On the work front, or shall I say, working from home, our company, Dimexon found an extraordinary way to make a difference to local communities by firing up our Diamond Manufacturing Unit’s industrial kitchen and providing more than 30,000 people in the city of Coimbatore with daily cooked and fresh food. This initiative met full-hearted support by the local government authorities.
Providing meals to the impoverished is crucial if we, as a country, have to successfully meet the lockdown’s objective. However, there was one more problem. You see, the number of medical ventilators that India possesses is only in the order of 40,000. In a worst-case scenario, we would need 4,000,000 ventilators, and that eventuality could be in front of us in a couple of weeks, months or at some time in the future.
The call was clear. If we could join in the initiative that other enterprises across the country were also pursuing and put together our resources and intellect in building a low-cost yet efficient ventilator, we needed to give it a shot. After all, we had nothing to lose. It reminded me of the father of our nation, Gandhi when he said “You may never know what results come of your actions, but if you do nothing, there will be no results.”
On April 2, I put together a team of seven engineers from our company and tasked them with coming up with a working model of a medical ventilator that could ultimately be used by medical institutions in India. Just two days ago, on April 12, over video call, I was shown two working prototype medical ventilators by our team in Coimbatore. We are now interacting with medical experts to additionally finetune the devices and prepare them for further improvement.
While these initiatives were being pursued and our daily management calls continued, our main eyes have been on our diamond business – or shall I say, the lack of it since the lockdown. Our objective during this time on the business front is clear. My finance and operations team at the company is working with me in putting together financial scenarios, and the focal point is managing cash flow. I remember a senior banker once telling me a couple of years ago that “Solvency is good, but liquidity is key.” While, as a company, over the years, we have increased our emphasis on cash flow, there has been no other time when this one financial metric has taken such center stage.
As businesses react to the unprecedented economic stall, I believe there will be pain this time and a lot of it. A lot of companies will dent their capital beyond repair and money is scarce. I hope companies will take necessary steps to do what is important to protect themselves and their people, because there will be better times ahead.
Over decades, our product, the natural diamond has built an enduring brand of emotional value in the eyes of the consumer – and it will take more than one pandemic to unsettle this trust. However, we, as people, as businesses and as nations must adapt, evolve and upgrade ourselves to the new normal that will be created. Going back to our old ways may not be an option available anymore.
Years later, when we look back at 2020 and reminiscence how we survived these times, we should be able to tell the next generation that these were the most memorable 21 days of our life, during which we upgraded our thinking, our humility and our actions. The stories we create at this moment, will resonate in the form of immense learnings for generations to come. In the words of Winston Churchill, “Never waste a good crisis.” Let’s do this, together!