Exclusive Interview with Sohail Nath, Director at Hindustan Syringes & Medical Devices Ltd.
How did HMD tackle Covid-19? When the lockdown originally started, it happened within 4 hours of notice. The most difficult part was at the beginning of the lockdown period, there was a lot of uncertainty present at
How did HMD tackle Covid-19?
When the lockdown originally started, it happened within 4 hours of notice.
The most difficult part was at the beginning of the lockdown period, there was a lot of uncertainty present at that time. We had to motivate our employees to come to work the next morning and spread the message – we would be operating, the same message was sent out to our “52 Essential Vendors” & subsequent letters were issued for them to be allowed travel. During this time few of our employees started fleeing to hometowns while few were beaten up by policemen and discouraged. To tackle the same, company Identity Cards were issued to all of our 1000+ employees. All of this was happening without few of our oldest employees present in the organization including our Head of Human Resources. We entailed in pro-active communication with the DC Office, CMO, S.P Police Office & SHO’s and sought help and their cooperation to address the ongoing crisis in March. They supported our organization, our employees & our key vendor’s employees by letting them come unhindered to work & go back home from work securely as well.
We got 6 Sanitization Chambers made (in-house) for our four plants. A lengthier gate entry procedure with regular temperature checks & sanitization and queues designed to implement Social Distancing were introduced. Buses for our female workers were doubled and proper seat numbers were allocated to all 18 + buses. We had to conduct training to raise awareness, and appreciation of precautions that had to be maintained. We made a 50+ slide PowerPoint Presentation to raise awareness on the Pandemic by demonstrating proper infection prevention procedures that have to be followed for safety while coming from Home to Work and back from Work to Home, we redefined Maximum Permissible Capacity of people in each of our Training Rooms and had our Senior Most Managers conduct Training Programs in order to spread the correct information.
As the lockdown started extending, more and more logistics & transportation challenges came up. We had to send our trucks all the way to Rajasthan and back multiple times to procure gasses used in our production processes. All our transportation partners had their operations shut down due to unavailability of drivers, so while we were able to produce the goods but we were not able to dispatch them. Our packaging suppliers started running out of their raw materials as the Paper Mills had been shut for more than a month now. However, lucky enough when we reached this phase, the government started easing restrictions. The government officers were really pro-active & helped with interstate movement of material as soon as they heard about the logistical challenges and agreed trucking of non-essential goods stranded in their warehouse along with our essential goods to enable cost economies.
We started implementing all precautions but were behind in the documentation of the same. To tackle the same, a COVID-19 Manual was made in April beginning with written procedures and directives on Entry/Exit, Sanitization of Vehicles & Trucks, Sanitization of Common Areas & Production Facilities and use of Mask and was updated to be aligned to WHO and Government guidelines. A special directive was made with Pictorial Description on Hand Washing. Forms were made for Essential Visitors on Self-Declaration basis. Aarogya Setu was downloaded on most of our employee’s mobile phones (except those without Smart Phones) and other 100 so called procedures, precautions, notices, directives & norms were made and adopted. All in all, HMD adapted to the “New Way of Living Life” by spreading awareness amongst our employees, by promoting Safe and Preventive Manufacturing & continuing to be the backbone of India’s healthcare sector.
Your Reviewed Business Approach in Covid19 Scenario?
CoViD-19 has been a difficult change to overcome. Hindustan Syringe & Medical Devices Ltd. is the backbone of India’s healthcare sector & it has been a challenge operating throughout the lock down as an essential product provider.
The most difficult part of dealing with the change has been the consideration of lives of thousands of our employees and their families and the behavioral change communication efforts to address stigma faced by some of employees to leave home every day for work as their landlords, society, neighbors, resident welfare associations doubted them as the virus carrier and harassed or shunned them.
Every decision taken by our company and our Covid-19 Task Force has been keeping in mind the welfare of our employees and their families. We have tried to maintain discipline through awareness and regular trainings adhering to all precautions governed by the World Health Organization.
Manufacturing on 24 hours shift basis and being the backbone of our company made things little more difficult, however, the same was overcome by simply educating about new safe ways of learning to live life for the time being at home and communicating to work as well as the arduous task of motivating our employees to come to work every day so that unplanned absenteeism would not disrupt our mass production lines.
Strategic Appraisal of Healthcare Industry in Covid-19 times?
It should be highlighted, the fact, that all of us including healthcare industry have been going through an unprecedented war like experience to provide essential goods & services. Right before the lockdown was about to start in March middle & up until a week after it actually started, demand was high (due to scare & to build up on supplies) but supply was low (due to unavailability of labor, logistical issues among others). However, after that period, demand for medical supplies in India for Non-Covid consumables has been pretty low as compared to historical trends, mostly because of unavailability of patients at hospitals due to discontinued division of hospitals – between Covid & Non-Covid. Non-Covid patients suffering from a physical ailment of some sort are now scared to go to a hospital which has shared facilities for Covid & Non-Covid patients even if wards were on separate floors. This problem has disrupted supplies especially for Surgical items as elective surgeries were postponed or for IVD Blood Testing as risk of infection was high & prevention expensive, leading for us to focus more on the export markets.
Redefined / adjusted Short- & Long-Term Plans?
Covid-19 has changed the scenario of doing business. Hindustan Syringes & Medical Devices Ltd. has been a very traditional company since its inception with high technology being only present at our manufacturing stage but not our corporate level platform. However, the wave of pandemic has taught us to re-think some of our policies & thus initiated the digitalization of our Marketing function. We began to focus & make use of virtual communications like Video Calls & WhatsApp to substitute from Face-to-Face meetings. As a 63-year-old manufacturing business, it would be difficult for us to completely digitalize our operations but however, we will take best efforts to digitalize whatever left, if deemed possible. Our current Short-Term plan is to focus on the same which is being conducted under a Long-Term umbrella, hoping everything goes well.
Realignment with Emerging Supply Chains?
The world is going through a major transformation right now majorly because of the back lash created against China. Our country itself has started banning Chinese Apps which might be backed up by other countries too if negative sentiments continues to build. However, it is to be noted that such response may be short lived, if ultimately India’s manufacturers do not step up and/or if the government doesn’t support them with remedies, as ultimately a rational consumer will always go towards a more frugal product especially during the times of emptier pockets. HMD has a negligible number of Chinese suppliers & was fortunately not overly dependent as we are vertically integrated and make many of our own raw materials and components. However, we have capacity to fulfill any shifted demand of disposable syringe in our country.
Go to Domestic & Export Market Strategies, how you see this?
We are trying to fulfill the shifted demand by pro-actively acting on the situation. Moreover, we have started utilizing our resources on digital field and will try the new way of marketing in India as well as overseas by going digital. We are planning to implement our marketing strategies in Africa & India and are looking at a make-over of our Social Media platforms & increase our Web presence by trying to engage with users as well as consumers. We are planning to partner with an external digital marketing corporation & are hopeful this change would bring positive response for our company through better communication interface with our immediate customers & end consumers and users as well.
Potential Expansion/ Diversification/ Collaboration Strategies?
Lot of manufacturers in respective fields are deviating from their prime products and are diversifying their operations towards products which would help combat Corona Virus such as Masks, PPE Kits etc. However, at HMD we are sticking to what we know best, and our strategy is to continuously improve on our already existing product line & continue to be the pioneer in drug delivery products as well as to expand capacity of our AD Syringe, Kojak Selinge in order to gear up & prepare for upcoming CoViD vaccination drive.
Our everyday strategy is to maintain a happy & healthy environment in our organization amongst our talented employees even with respect to the ongoing misery around us. We are trying to promote & practice safe and healthy minimal stress ,manufacturing by religiously adhering to all safety protocols (recommendations & directives) by the World Health Organization & Government of India, both of which have been extremely helpful in spreading awareness & education. The latter has been very helpful with the ongoing challenges any essential commodity manufacturer would have faced in these unprecedented times.