Q: What is on the cards for Aitken Spence in the future?
A: We are on an accelerated strategy to improve our processes and technology as the future lies in upscaling these areas. We’ve also taken steps to develop robotics in the company to meet future demands. In addition to the new initiatives planned, we’re aggressively looking at new invest- ments.
Q: How can business weather the impact of COVID-19?
A: For Aitken Spence, being a diverse multinational organisation is a major rea- son we’ve been able to weather this storm. In times such as these when some industries face challenges, our diversity helps cushion the blow – this is similar to how a supportive family takes care of its members when there’s hardship.
The crisis has accelerated automation and digitisation. With our commitment to prioritise employees, we have upskilled the workforce and repositioned skilled employees in subsidiary companies. This has fostered greater collabora- tion and skill sharing.
It’s important to revisit strategies, improve efficiencies and explore new ways of doing business. Change is inevitable, and a company’s ability to adapt and grow will determine its future development. It is extremely important to take a peo- ple centred approach, building strong relationships by work- ing together to overcome these tough times.
These efforts can boost business resilience in the wake of a crisis.
Q: Where do you stand on the debate about work- ing from home (WFH)?
A: The success of WFH depends on the industry the compa- ny is in as it isn’t practical for all to work from home. With the right procedures in place, WFH can be successfully implemented while enabling a better work-life balance for employees.
WFH cannot completely replace the office working environment. Studies indi- cate that employees can feel socially and professionally isolated and demotivated when working from home for a long peri- od.
It is important that employees stay engaged with their supervisors and col- leagues, work to a schedule and plan regu- lar visits to the office to ensure they remain productive.
Q: What are the group’s medium- term priorities given the prevailing corporate environment?
A: This is a steep learning curve and as the crisis continues, we’re evolving together. We remain on a path of reinventing, and our priorities focus on reevaluating strategies and business models, and strength- ening resilience to manage any crisis and emerge stronger.
We’re exploring opportunities to reposition the existing workforce by matching skill requirements across sectors and operational functions, by providing training and develop- ment with an emphasis on technology, to ensure that they’re armed with the new skills and competencies required for the post-COVID era.
Another priority is the impact of climate change on busi- ness and vice versa, which is becoming increasingly rele- vant.
The global scale of this pandemic is a reality check that we must change the way we live and work to adapt – and most importantly, mitigate possible adverse impacts on the envi- ronment.
Q: In the past 12 months or so, what steps were taken to sustain or grow the business?
A: Since we are an organisation with businesses across many sectors, multiple measures and re-strategising were undertaken.
For instance, improving operational efficiencies through increased automation processes and enabling staff to work remotely, thereby reducing office space and other linked over- heads.
In the past 12 months, most of our operations have been working throughout even during the lockdown. Exceptional performance was displayed by the plantations, renewable ener- gy, maritime and freight logistics, insurance, elevator agency and money transfer services. This shows resilience despite the setback faced by the tourism industry.
Q: What are the challenges facing sectors that your group is part of?
A: The tourism segment is facing the main challenge as oper- ations have once again been curtailed. We hope that a new nor- mality will prevail with the implementation of required health protocols.
The group’s new iconic venture and Sri Lanka’s first waste to energy project with an investment of Rs. 13 billion will com- mence operations by the end of the year. This would provide a sustainable solution to Colombo city’s waste management problem while adding renewable energy to the country’s ener- gy profile. Some other projects that were in the pipeline have been delayed due to the curtailment of global travel.