Q: What opportunities has the prevailing environment present- ed for the Softlogic group despite the adverse impacts experienced by many businesses during this time?
A: In the aftermath of the COVID-19 outbreak with restrictions on interna- tional travel, global tourism has been adversely affected and most hotels operating in the country have been irreparably impacted.
Nonetheless, there is a silver lining in everything and some hotels have tem- porarily been converted into quaran- tine centres. To this end, Asiri Health has been in the forefront of providing accurate PCR tests in all its hospitals – located in Colombo, Kandy, Matara and Galle – which is a national service.
Given the new corporate ethos of working from home (WFH) while children engage in home-schooling, the IT industry is performing beyond expectations. For example, we witnessed an unprecedented demand for smartphones, laptops and desktop computers.
It is likely that in the post-COVID era, the entire econo- my will experience an efficiency reset, and corporates will either survive this or disintegrate if they don’t adapt to the sea change in demand and supply matrices.
Q: How can business weather the impact of the COVID-19 crisis, in your opinion?
A: At the apex of any business is decision making – smart decisions can be converted into cash while others will slow progress. There are opportunities in everything, and you have to be ready to change and adapt your business model to tackle those challenges.
As Softlogic Holdings is a diversified conglomerate, we have also been lucky to be in the right sectors – viz. health- care, insurance, ICT, and retail and hypermarkets.
Some businesses – particularly those in the segment of international clothing brands – were impacted by import restrictions but local fashion brands witnessed a sudden uptick in demand and popularity.
Meanwhile, with the advent of IT plat- forms – such as AI, big data, and augment- ed and virtual reality – our retail and ICT proposition on these platforms experi- enced explosive growth.
Q: Could you outline the medium-term priorities identified by the group in the light of the prevail- ing corporate environment?
A: We are sanguine about the economy eventually rebounding when the spread of COVID-19 is controlled. Therefore, our vision and investment plans have not really changed, although there could be temporary setbacks to some ongoing projects and expansion plans in the present day.
As Softlogic Holdings is a market leader in modern retailing, our group commitments are expected to continue playing a role in shaping the retail, insurance and health- care sectors so it will be ready when there is an economic upsurge.
In the meantime, due to the opportunities for growth, our focus continues to be in the areas of digital platforms and supermarkets.
Q: Could you outline the impact of recent events in the context of Sri Lanka’s external trade prospects?
A: With tourism, apparel and tea exports, as well as work- er repatriations and foreign direct investments (FDIs), being negatively affected by the pandemic, Sri Lanka needs to be mindful about settling its debt obligations with multilateral organisations to ensure that its creditworthi- ness as a nation is uncompromised.
Therefore, we need to approach these conflicting goals –
i.e. of importing nonessential goods with the resultant diminishing foreign exchange reserves – in a balanced way that does not adversely impact the country’s long-term prospects with future global investors and multinational organisations.
However, we’re optimistic that when the pandemic abates, we as a nation will emerge stronger as a result of the lessons learned from managing the tide of uncertainty in these extraordinarily stressful times.