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What’s keeping auto bosses busy in the lockdown?

3rd May 2020 9:00 am

It’s all about striking the perfect balance. Find out what the people at the helm of the auto industry are doing during the India-wide lockdown.

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Be it reading, exercising or even just binge-watching as much content as possible, the ongoing nationwide lockdown has got all of us discovering (or in some cases, re-discovering) new ways to pass time, while perfecting our work-from-home routines. In a series of interviews conducted with the individuals at the helm of the most prominent car companies in India, we found out that auto bosses aren’t all that different from us.

Here’s what the India heads of Mercedes-Benz, Audi, Volkswagen, MG Motor, Porsche and Lamborghini are doing to achieve the perfect work-from-home and life balance while keeping the wheels of the auto industry turning.

With sales temporarily suspended, what's your area of focus during the lockdown?

The plants may be shut, but there’s still plenty of work being done behind closed doors – be it everyday operational work or even COVID-19 relief efforts. Rajeev Chaba, president and managing director, MG Motor India even quipped that the folks at MG Motor India are probably working more now from home than earlier!

One thing all the company heads can agree on is that this is an opportunity to take a step back and really plan the path ahead. “Of course, a lot of planning for the future happens like preparing for the ramp-up of the production and sales after the lockdown is over,” said Martin Schwenk, MD and CEO, Mercedes-Benz India.

Offering some further insight into Volkswagen Car India’s current thought process, Steffen Knapp, Director, Volkswagen Cars India added: “I think even after the lockdown, customers are still going to be hesitant to go to big crowds, to go to dealerships, to be out in malls. So we have to find different ways of interacting with them and different ways of bringing them the experience of driving a Volkswagen”.

How is work-from-home going?

Most company heads are enjoying the fact that the new work schedule is allowing them to spend some quality time with their families. As Lamborghini India head, SharadAgarwal put it, “The best part of being at home is that it gives us more flexibility. We can adjust our working hours keeping in mind our families’ schedules and we have more quality time which we can spend with them.”

Another thing that all the company heads agree on is that they don’t miss the travel and hours wasted stuck in traffic. “I would definitely say the best part is to not have to travel to my office in Chakan. It takes me around two and a half hours every day on the road to get to the factory, and home again. Now I manage to do 45 minutes of exercise instead,” said Schwenk.

What do you miss most from your office?

Humans are social animals, so it’s no surprise that all of the company bosses admitted that they miss the daily, tangible interaction with their colleagues - be it for brainstorming or even some chitchat before winding up the day’s work. “Definitely the social interaction with co-workers. We have a very open culture in the office; so most of the day I have my colleagues coming up to me, catching up with work, discussions and opportunities, roadblocks. And we take many decisions on a day-to-day basis while interacting with each other,” said Balbir Dhillon, head of  Audi India.

MG Motors’ Rajeev Chaba revealed there’s one more thing from the office that he’s missing: “Office coffee is better than home!”

Could work-from-home become a more common feature in the future?

While most of the carmakers already had some sort of work-from-home policy in place, it looks like the lockdown has revealed quite a few of its advantages. Several company heads have admitted that it’s a format that they’ll continue evaluating for the future as social distancing becomes the new norm for the time being.

Pavan Shetty, Director, Porsche India said: “I think it is fantastic that you don’t have to get up early in the morning and get into your formal attire! On a serious note, I think working from home has its own advantages. For example, you’re saving so much time travelling; the fatigue associated with travelling is completely gone and all of this can be channelled and focused towards more productive work.”

Of course, you can’t overlook the advantages of working in a specially-allocated workroom either. As Schwenk put it, “To my surprise, I have to say that some meetings are much more efficient. This is particularly for regular reporting meetings. But, on the other hand, spontaneity and creativity suffer without physically being together and direct interaction.”

How do you keep your team motivated?

“For me and my team, it’s very important that we keep up the morale. That with all the sorrows and worries that we have, we stay having fun in the journey that we have together,” said Knapp.

A motivated team has always been essential, and in trying times like these, driving ambition is more important than ever. Schwenk, Knapp and Agarwal pointed out that Mercedes, Volkswagen and Lamborghini are all focusing efforts on further training staff and upgrading their skillsets. Agarwal even revealed that Lamborghini has been hosting scheduled quizzes via Skype to “share knowledge and upgrade ourselves so that we can be better prepared for the times ahead.”

What do you do to keep entertained and fit?

We couldn’t wrap up this list without giving you some lockdown entertainment recommendations. So here’s what the various car company heads are currently reading and watching:

Rajeev Chaba (MG Motor India): For the first time in my life I watched a couple of Netflix serials – Designated Survivor and Fauda – and I’m enjoying it! I’m also reading 'Trailblazer' by Marc Benioff.

Martin Schwenk (Mercedes-Benz India): Saving time on travelling, I did dig out my Kindle again. Besides reading a lot of business-related publications, I’m now reading a book called ‘A Burnt-Out Case’ by Graham Greene, an English novelist. It’s not an entirely easy read, but it's one with a lot of food for thought.

Sharad Agarwal (Lamborghini India): One thing I’m enjoying at home these days is to try out new things. I’m trying out various cuisines, cooking meals for my family. I’m also hooked on to various web series these days. One of the ones which I’m really hooked on to is Manifest and also Game of Thrones.

Balbir Singh Dhillon (Audi India): I’m currently reading ‘Good to Great’ by Jim Collins. I like this book because it describes how companies transition from being good to great, and the author’s perspective makes really great sense. I’m hoping that I’m able to use some of the learnings from this book in my day-to-day work to make my organisation a better organisation for the future.

Pavan Shetty (Porsche India): I’ve been able to catch up with my workout sessions; of course, it’s digital workout sessions with my trainer. Right now I’m reading this interesting book ‘You Are the Placebo’ by Dr Joe Dispenza. It talks about health using quantum physics. 

Also see:

Global car sales down 39 percent in March 2020 due to coronavirus

New car, bike warranty extensions due to COVID-19 - A complete list

How India's automakers have joined the fight against Coronavirus

How coronavirus has hit the global auto industry: a timeline

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