January 25, 2021

Prominent brands built on new business models, new social media strategies and reorientated work arrangements to overcome the challenges faced during the pandemic, a survey of 20 C-suite executives revealed. Some of the participating companies include Lazada, GoJek, Decathlon, NTUC FairPrice, SingaporeLife, among others. The survey was conducted during video and email interviews. 

These business leaders shared the struggles faced, strategies implemented, and lessons they had gleaned from leading throughout the crisis.

“For FairPrice, we embrace technologies that are transformative, progressive and forward-looking, which are essential for us to remain relevant to those we serve. FairPrice will continue to invest on both online as well as physical stores as we improve the customer journey for both and also make it as seamless for the customers on whichever platform they choose,” said Seah Kian Peng, Group CEO, FairPrice Group.

Angel Ding, Managing Director of Angliss Singapore said, “The pandemic has caused a decline of 30 per cent in business and this is the greatest impact we have ever faced”. Yet it is then that Angliss Singapore continues to pursue new possibilities to expand a new business model (B2C). Angliss Singapore has transformed from a leading distributor of premium gourmet brands to also include serving the end consumers directly, by supplying them with quality and fresh ingredients to prepare meals. “Our company’s vision of serving those who serve great food continues to be a driver for Angliss Singapore, to be a gamer-changer and a trusted brand in the industry.”

Besides the fall in revenue, operations-heavy companies like Lazada also faced the challenge of accommodating all their staff in remote working arrangements. “We had a week to get ready for it and the first thing was to ensure that we have the infrastructure to support. In our case, it was close to 10,000 people working from home. Lazada is an operations heavy company so we have a lot of people who are out in our facilities and involved in the logistics operations. Of course, you can’t do all of that from behind the screen,” said Magnus Ekbom, co-founder and chief strategy officer of Lazada Group.

Despite the similar and unique challenges each business faced, all business leaders conveyed a singular idea unanimously: the crisis presented a huge opportunity to accelerate change and challenge the old assumptions of doing business.

Nils Swolkien, Managing Director of Decathlon revealed that within a matter of 48 hours, they transformed two of their physical stores into an e-Commerce warehouse, with a large part of the team being converted into a User Happiness Center. This was done in response to the sudden spike in online orders during the lockdown. Albeit a major learning curve for the staff, the experience united the team tremendously and forged a new work spirit in terms of flexibility and agility.

The C-Suites have also projected the changes that they foresee in consumer trends within the industries they operate in. Lien Choong Luen, General Manager of Gojek Singapore, observed that the volume for point to point transportation would remain, but people are likely to take shorter trips, with work from home arrangements extrapolating beyond Covid-19. It would be critical for ride-hailing companies to balance supply and demand with consumer pattern changes.

With regard to the lessons gleaned through leading during the pandemic crisis, Rieko Shofu, group CEO of POKKA said, “One thing we have learned is how important it is to strengthen your capability in the peacetime to prepare for the emergency situations. Pokka has been through restructuring and organisational upgrades throughout the year of 2019, such as streamlining of operations. It strengthened our business as we entered 2020, enabling us to build resilience through this kind of unprecedented event.”

On the note of the future’s plans and outlook, Hari Krishnan, CEO and managing director of PropertyGuru said, “We have been really tested this year, but our team has been found to have a tremendous amount of resilience and unity.  Besides our team, our customers and investors are stakeholders that we focus on and we are glad that all three have really shown a lot of trust in us. If they are going to show that kind of faith in us in a year like this, I have confidence for the future.”

The effort and commitment to business excellence prior to and during the pandemic crisis has been reflected in 15 brands being cited by consumers as their preferred choices in a survey conducted in July 2020 with the participation of 1,500 consumers. The preferred brands across industries and being conferred the title of “2020 Top Influential Brands” include Angliss, Decathlon, POKKA, NTUC FairPrice, IG, NTUC LearningHub, Beijing Tong Ren Tang, Häagen-Dazs, AOX, Property Guru and Chow Tai Fook.

At a time where the labour market is faced with great uncertainty and employee morale is at an all-time low, PKF, KFC, Pizza Hut and Lazada are lauded by their employees through anonymous surveys as excellent employers. These four companies were awarded the title of “2020 Top Employers” for scoring above international benchmarks. They surpassed industry standards in having meaningful employee engagement, strong alignment between employee & company culture, and relevant HR practices in this digital age.