We asked some of the CEOs and Heads in our Company to tell us how they and their teams dealt with the long hiatus, the the work-from-home situation, the vast changes that took place from March 2020 onwards. The pandemic hit us, but it also unlocked our strength. And our executives kept the organisation together, never failing to motivate their teams, and taking care of their staff.
Laurent Kuenzle, CEO Asian Trails Ltd. tells us how they tackled the completely different scenario to keep going.
First of all I would like to thank Fairfax and Thomas Cook, and in particular Madhavan Menon, for their continued support and assistance throughout these incredible times we are all living through. The key elements to survive a crisis are cash flow preservation, cash injections and cost cuts. We cut our costs like never before, and what was hardest were, of course, the initiatives we took with regard to staff. We became leaner in our organization, but in this drive also made sure that we as the employer would help as many of our staff as possible to survive this crisis, albeit at considerably lower salaries and reduced conditions. This was tough on many who look after their families and siblings, but they will be forever grateful that we kept them on board. Besides cash and the cost to restart the business, staff will be the key element when business returns, and we will be in a pole position to gain market shares, since many of our competitors will neither have the funds nor the staff to restart a quality operation. This will be different from destination to destination depending on local factors and the competitors landscape. It doesn’t mean that our business will grow exponentially right away, because many of our existing clients will have suffered during the crisis, and will produce less passengers than in the past. But it will definitely give us a competitor’s advantage and emphasize what our brand stands for: Reliability, quality, competitive prices, product innovation and technological advancements.
What , in your opinion, are the top three challenges that you faced in the past year?
There were so many challenges, I don’t know where to start, but in a nut shell:
- Cash flow preservation by cutting costs, managing payments to suppliers as well as client deposits, and collecting outstandings from clients.
- Implementing work from home policies, keeping staff motivated and engaged, putting procedures/systems in place for managers and staff to keep in touch with clients and keeping them entertained
- Dealing with government information and constantly changing regulations
What measures did you take to meet these challenges?
- Focusing on people internally and externally, and keeping them as happy as possible with webinars, quizzes and fun things that can be done remotely
- Constant communication with staff, clients and suppliers
- A pragmatic and practical approach in cost cuttings by streamlining and re-sizing the organization, moving to smaller/cheaper office spaces, salary and bonus cuts and tight control of all day to day costs.
- Focus on technology and fast tracking technology projects
What was your key message to your team during the lockdown and how did you keep your team morale high?
- Stay safe, healthy and happy ! Make sure to have a daily routine even if you work from home. Keep to a schedule, set yourself objectives and keep busy. Do what you always wanted to do but never had the time for. Exercise. Cook healthy food. Learn, learn and learn.
The pandemic revealed our vulnerabilities, but it also surfaced extraordinary human resourcefulness and potential. Do give a couple of examples/illustrations.
- People care more about each other. Little, irrelevant things taken for granted suddenly become important. We realize how lucky we were to have the lives we had, and we dream about getting our ‘normal’ lives back.
List five words to describe your team.
- Resilient, caring, innovative, flexible, responsive.
What message would you like to share with your team today?
- ‘This too shall pass’. We can look forward to a bright future at Asian Trails and ATM, and I thank each and everyone for all the sacrifices they have made, for themselves and their families, for their own good and the good of the company.
We will prevail !