Dubai: Yogesh Mehta, founder and CEO of Petrochem Middle East, a chemical distribution major, is no stranger to upsets and setbacks. From starting the company on a shoe-string budget to facing losses during many recessions, Mehta is known for his adaptable and visionary moves that have made the company a multibillion-dollar enterprise today.
But what about COVID-19? After an initial setback, Mehta quickly reworked the math on demand-supply, included the chemicals that were the need of the hour and voila, his business was booming like never before. “This has been the worst outbreak of our times. We have seen Sars, Mers, Ebola, Swine flu, HIV, but not one single contagion had the power to bring the entire world to its knees as COVID-19 as done. While it has been devastating, for me as a businessman COVID 19 has been a boon, as my chemical business flourished,” said Mehta, who believes he might have caught a mild COVID-19 infection at the beginning of the year with his frequent travel, but recovered completely.
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Last year, Petrochem Middle East made business worth $1.2 billion (Dh4.53 billion), Mehta told Gulf News. The 220-plus global staff quickly adapted to the ‘new normal’ and they were marching ahead. Mehta learnt the lessons from the pandemic and adapted in a way to get a better grasp of the curve ball that life had thrown at him. He shared with Gulf News the lessons he learnt.
1. Embracing cyber communication with gusto:
“As movement restrictions were put in place and we all began working from home, there was a momentary setback. But ours is a B2B company and not a retail business that was directly impacted by lack of consumer footfall. As a leader, I had to inspire my team, re-group and re-strategise. We are a 25-year-old company and we are here for the long haul. I had to think on my feet and that is when I discovered the power and reach of online communication.
Prior to March 2020, we might have been using online communication system minimally. However, as soon as work-from-home started, we realised that it was not at all difficult for all 220 employees from around the world to stay in touch. Overnight, we purchased several laptops for our employees, installed the required software and began working efficiently with video conferencing. Today, we are so comfortable with it that we have seven-eight different video meetings through the day for sales, marketing, distribution, strategy etc, and there are 18-20 people simultaneously from around the world participating in them. Now this mode of communication has been expanded to our clients and distributors as well and even while sitting on the same floor, with social distancing norms, it is so much more convenient to get on a video chat for a meeting. Online meetings and lesser travel abroad are here to stay.”
2. Integrating and aligning to the needs of society:
“I had to spot the silver lining on a dark cloud. We are a chemical distribution company, so we quickly studied the market and realised we could now push other chemicals to the back burner and focus on chemicals required for hand sanitisers, namely industry-grade isopropyl alcohol and other inorganic chemicals. We began stocking up on all the chemicals needed to make hand sanitisers at our Jebel Ali Terminal and catering not just to the needs of the UAE, but also India, Egypt, Europe and many other countries in the Middle East. Our business volume was up eight times over the last few months. We worked closely with the Ministry of Health and Prevention to identify the gaps in the market for other health-care chemicals required and added those to our inventory too.”
3. Not losing the humane touch:
“Being a chemical supplier, we realised there was also a big need for the N95 masks, so we placed huge orders for that early on and were able to supply not just to the UAE, but to India and many other countries in the region as well. But everything is not about profit for me and it was important to give back to society. As part of corporate social responsibility, we distributed free masks to health-care workers and continue to distribute 100 N95 masks to doctors and nurses every day even now.”
4. Retaining the Petrochem family:
“At no stage did we think of cutting back salaries or firing employees. Each and every employee is hired after much deliberation. The company’s philosophy and work ethics are integrated into the DNA of every employee and we always look at a long-term relationship. In Dubai, we have about 140 employees. We retained our staff and in fact hired a few more over video interviews and I made sure everyone was paid in time.”
5. Accepting challenges and reworking business models:
“I believe we are at least six months away from finding a vaccine. So we are factoring in COVID-19 in our business plans for 2021, which will be drawn up in a few months from now. Our targets are definitely going to be realistic and conservative, considering that economies have shrunk worldwide and people’s buying power has shrunk. Those who do not accept the ‘new normal’ and want their businesses to revert to the way they were prior to COVID-19 will be in for a rude shock. There are new rules of the game and one has to respect those in order to be able to move forward.”
6. Small is beautiful:
“The pandemic has taught me and everyone else to slowdown our lives and enjoy quality time with our families. I love to spend time with my grandchildren and push back official schedules to be with friends and family. All of us were just hurtling down our lives. The pandemic has definitely slackened our pace worldwide. The days of reckless living and high spending are gone for good and we have instead been compelled to cultivate hobbies, nurture relationships, appreciate the natural beauty around us and be grateful for the blessings in our lives.”