Q: What is on the horizon for John Keells Holdings (JKH) – and could you outline your group’s plans especially in regard to expansion? Additionally, what measures were taken to sustain growth in the past 12 months or so?
A: JKH has invested substantially in expanding its portfolio of businesses over the last few years.
Our flagship project Cinnamon Life is now in the final stages of completion. The group began to reap the benefits of these investments, barring the impacts of the Easter Sunday attacks and COVID-19 on leisure, supermarkets, consumer foods and insur- ance.
The project pipeline of the group now mainly comprises Cinnamon Life and the continued expansion of the supermarket business. The development will help not only establish Colombo as a tourism hub given its versatile facilities and iconic design but also generate more than 3,000 new jobs.
This development will have an 800 guest room hotel – including many speciality restaurants, retail and entertainment spaces – as well as over 400 units of residential apartments and an office tower with ample car parking, all of which will be connected with a future ready and smart city IT infrastructure. We believe its conferencing facilities will be a catalyst in establishing Colombo as a market for meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions (MICE). This has great potential given our proximity to India, which has a large outbound
Q: How can business weather the impact of the COVID-19 crisis?
A: Given the unprecedented nature of the pandemic, the need for evolution, agility and resilient business models is more pro- nounced. The volatile landscape also necessitates short planning cycles, and multiple scenarios aimed at managing costs and productivity, while preserving cash and optimising profitability.
At the onset of the pandemic, the group proactively rolled out initiatives aimed at cash and cost management, which has proved fruitful in minimising the impact and reinforcing a cul- ture of productivity.
It is pivotal for businesses to also understand possible shifts in the competitive landscape and continually adapt, and adopt digital solutions and process changes as required.
The uncertainty associated with the pandemic also requires constant communication with all stakeholders with well- defined processes. Ongoing, clear and transparent communica- tion of business performance and procedures, to both internal and external stakeholders, is also vital in ensuring resilience.
Q: And where do you stand on the growing debate about the pros and cons of working from home (WFH)?
A: The concept of WFH is one of the game changers that emerged from the pandemic, which brings benefits and some drawbacks. In our view, this can be managed if consciously addressed.
Whilst this is a clear opportunity for businesses and employees alike, resulting in better work-life balance, reduced commute stress, minimal impact on the environment and greater flexibility among others, WFH also results in isolation, less interaction and possible overworking risks.
To fully reap the benefits of this opportunity and make sustain- able changes that will strike a balance for employees, businesses and even the environment, emphasis must be placed on fostering a collaborative and interactive environment through innovative solu- tions, while focussing further on empowering people within a clear framework to maximise productivity and output.
Q: What are the group’s medium-term priorities given the prevailing corporate environment?
A: Whilst the immediate priority for the group will be navigating COVID-19 headwinds, looking beyond the impact of the pandem- ic, it will focus on the completion of Cinnamon Life.
We’re looking to establish the project as a catalyst for tourism in Colombo and the country while ensuring we continue to reap the benefits from investments in capacity enhancements.
We will also channel investments and resources toward our digi- tal strategy, data analytics for decision making and R&D, and fos- ter an innovative and inclusive culture.
Priorities such as these, which complement operational strate- gies, will ensure the sustainability of the business and determine global competitiveness. The group will also promote a knowledge- based economy by equipping the workforce with necessary soft skills and expertise to ensure sustainable development.
Q: What are some major projects undertaken by your group in relation to the level of social awareness in the corporate sector?
A: Empathising with individuals from diverse backgrounds, and understanding social and ethical norms for behaviour, is vital for inclusive growth. Although significant strides have been made in the past, the need to actively promote social awareness is more pro- nounced.
The corporate sector has the ability to be a driver of this positive change particularly in empowering women, differently abled persons, and the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer or ques- tioning (LGBTIQ) community, and embracing diversity especially in increasing their participation in the workforce.
In its 150 year history, John Keells has always been progressive in its approach to valuing diversity; we understand and acknowledge that our people are happy and do their best work when they’re treat- ed with respect, dignity and fairness. This is reflected in our values.
Immediately following the Easter Sunday attacks, we launched a group wide campaign and reinforced a message of strength through unity at all our business locations.
We were also the first Sri Lankan corporate to employ a transgender person in a customer facing role as confirmed by the National Transgender Network Sri Lanka.
Through John Keells Foundation’s Project WAVE, we work on com- batting gender-based violence and child abuse. We actively work with the UN Global Compact and IFC on their Target Gender Equality and SheWorks programmes, to increase women’s representation and lead- ership in business, and support them in our value chains.
These are only a few of the major projects we have undertaken in the recent past.