Resilience is a key trait of entrepreneurs, as is flexibility and adaptability. You had to change your original plans for this year, what does resilience mean to you and what advice would you give to other entrepreneurs on how to remain resilient during these times?
Any good business plan must have the ability to adapt, built into it. It is very rare, even if there isn't a global pandemic, that the assumptions you built your business plan on at the start of the year (or earlier) remain valid throughout the period of performance. So the ability to react to a changing environment is something we pride ourselves on. Similarly, if the entrepreneur behind a business is not able to adapt or react to change, the execution of that business plan becomes fraught with risk and uncertainty.
Each of our businesses had to adapt at the start of this pandemic and that is continuing even today. Key strategic activities we were undertaking had to be put on hold; we had to make sure that we were solid and secure as a business, to weather this storm. I’m thankful that until now, we have not had to furlough any staff, even though we had the option to do so. Our ethos is that if we are able to carry on funding our operations ourselves, there are many businesses that can’t and need government assistance, so why divert potential financial support from them?
In addition to this, I've always believed that during times of crisis, businesses that survive come out of that period so much stronger. These are the businesses that are able to pivot to deliver compelling value propositions that are related to their core business mission and vision, but are adapted to satisfy the changing current and future demand. So whether it is our manufacturing business, Jaltek, that placed a heavier focus on our medical expertise to assist with the provision of key medical equipment or whether it is Equivital, where we expanded our product ecosystem to include social distancing and other monitoring capabilities, we have tried to adapt to the current situation, but also staying true to who we are and what we want to build in the future.
There is no doubt that these new focus areas for each of our businesses will remain as an addition to our core business, but they will also need to adapt. For example, once the social distancing protocols are relaxed and/or removed, our social distancing devices can become proximity sensors that help to prevent accidents between humans and machinery, on industrial and construction sites around the world.
How has it felt to be an important factor in supporting the fight to combat COVID-19?
This pandemic has been an awful event, unprecedented in the effects it has had on our globalised societies and economies. The global economy will take years to get back to pre-pandemic levels, with statistics such as GDP decline and unemployment numbers showing how badly we are being impacted. The effects of the massive interventions that central banks and governments have had to resort to will be felt for decades by taxpayers and that's just one aspect of the economics picture. Social economics, health economics and behavioural science studies show that there are challenges across every aspect of our lives.
However, I believe there will be benefits as we come out of this crisis as well. Firstly, as a society, we will not take for granted our ability to meet friends, go to the restaurant, see family etc. Secondly, pre pandemic, technology was important but was almost seen as a convenience in certain sectors such as video conferencing, fitness and some retail segments. Now that people have realised its value, the true benefits of technology are being more widely understood. As an example, I can't travel to meet customers and staff but using Microsoft Teams actually allows me to be more in touch with people all around the world, more regularly. Online shopping, streaming services for entertainment, virtual fitness classes, all of these have become the norm and have created what is being called the "stay at home economy". This will hopefully last post pandemic and actually lead to greater efficiencies for us all.
From a personal perspective, it is inspiring to see our businesses being able to assist during this pandemic. We've always maintained that the ability to positively impact people's lives is the greatest success a business can have. We are also very clear that we are not aiming to unfairly profit from this situation which is why we have reduced pricing and margins in a number of areas that means our services are more widely accessible globally.
Providing help runs in the family with your sister, Ekta now providing healthcare support in UK hospitals. Ekta can you tell us more?
When I saw the situation in Italy or Spain and knowing that in the UK we were between 2 and 4 weeks behind, it was a natural reaction to offer help to my medical colleagues. With the government launching a comprehensive medical returner programme, the process was fairly easy. As I haven't practised for a number of years, I was first issued with a license to practise by the GMC. Since then I have undertaken training to work at the Nightingale hospitals and will be further deployed in a North Central London hospital based on clinical need. The acute need was dealt with really well by the NHS planners and government, but there is now a large backlog of normal patient care work that doctors like me, will hopefully help clear quickly. I would like to hope that people who have waited for procedures or appointments are able to be seen quickly and their needs dealt with efficiently.