The second day of our sister publication Autocar Professional’s virtual Two-Wheeler Industry Conclave opened with an exclusive tête-à-tête between the CEO of Royal Enfield, Vinod Dasari, and Murali Gopalan, consulting editor, Autocar Professional. 

The industry veteran, who was previously Autocar Professional’s Man of the Year in 2016, touched upon various topics, including dealing with COVID-19 disruption, leadership, digitalisation, opportunities and challenges, among others.

According to Dasari, Royal Enfield is dealing with the COVID-19 crisis by focussing on three fronts – what happens inside the company, what to do in the nearby ecosystem, and its duties beyond the fence. “Maintaining the essential automotive ecosystem, including the supply chain, transport, company, customers, dealers, and running the same is crucial, as is maintaining the channels of communication in current times,” he said.

Communication as a vital tool

The head of the iconic Chennai-based two-wheeler manufacturer highlighted the importance of open communication in difficult times. “For us, employee safety is paramount. Employees are part of our family. The first step is to protect the plant, offices, and employees. Informal communication has gone – you don’t see people in the hallway now. We address that through virtual town hall meetings, where we have open communication with dealers, employees and colleagues. We also introduced peer-to-peer problem solving wherein staffers were given targets during the lockdown (irrespective of the outcome) and got them engaged in the exercise.”

“Lastly, there’s peer-winning. How do you learn from each other? So, we introduced RED Talks (Royal Enfield Talks) on the lines of TED Talks, where experts spoke on various subjects. I talk about leadership, Siddhartha Lal  (MD, Eicher Motors) spoke about the company, and we also got someone to speak on family relationships,” points out Dasari. “The biggest challenge is leadership in current times is the capacity to connect with people virtually. It is not the same as connecting actually, in the real world.”

Dasari revealed that, in an effort to increase employee engagement with the management, Royal Enfield introduced the CEO circle, where he engages in a virtual discussion with different employees across the company, once or twice a week.

Coming to terms with COVID-19

The Royal Enfield boss said there are takeaways from the pandemic, which caught the world off-guard. “COVID-19 is a unique challenge. There’s no place to escape, it’s created an environment of long-term fear, so it is crucial to connect with people. Work From Home is a new dynamic, which is here to stay, and we have to come to terms with new learnings,” he said.

To bolster employees and dealers, the company introduced a number of online courses, but Dasari believes virtual interaction does not have the same emotional connect of a face-to-face one.

But there are positives too. Dasari said, “I wouldn’t have talked to so many people if it wasn’t for COVID-19, so it is a small positive. We don’t need to travel or commute, but I still prefer to meet people in the real world and engage with them.”

Royal Enfield’s CEO says that in the automotive industry too, the physical aspect will change: how do you deal with customers not wanting to go to workshops? He said that the company introduced Service on Wheels, a doorstep service initiative, which will be here for a longer period.

No change in long-term plans

One question that everyone is trying to figure out what happens in a post-COVID-19 scenario? Dasari believes that people will continue to be cautious, and manufacturers will need to reboot strategy to attract customers. Royal Enfield is all set to launch its newest product, the Meteor 350 on November 6. 

“Long-term plans – be they about products, our CKD plants that we are planning or growth in international markets – don’t change. All the near-term plans don’t make any sense. If no one knows where the industry will be five days from now, how can we predict the scenario five years from now? We can only hope for the best. I expect the festive season to keep the sales momentum going.”

Also see:

Royal Enfield Meteor 350 launch on November 6

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