Cooper Corp bets on discipline, empathy, communication to tide over the Covid-19 crisis

by Sumantra B Barooah 20 May 2020

When Farrokh Cooper, chairman and managing director, Cooper Corporation celebrated his 75th birthday in February this year, little did he (or anyone else) know that he would have to face an unprecedented challenge of his life just a little over a month later.

The Covid-19 pandemic triggered lockdown stalled all operations at the engine manufacturer’s plants, and virtually the entire nation’s economy.

“It was like a paralysis. People didn’t know what to do. And that has put the clock back a lot. Whether it’s the supply chain, the customer, everything,” Cooper tells Autocar Professional. The national lockdown meant the company “had to stop on our tracks and do nothing”.

Even as business came to a standstill, the Satara based engine manufacturer managed to keep paying wages and salaries on time, according to Cooper. What helped him and his company he says, is discipline. “Because of our financial discipline we were able to tide over the crisis. The learning experience is the more disciplined you are in life the more prepared you are,” says the veteran entrepreneur. He also terms it “unfortunate” that some facilities in the industrial area were still debating whether to pay salaries or not.

The Covid-19 pandemic has also put a spanner in the works for Cooper Corporation. The company has been working on expanding its engines portfolio in terms of power and fuel technologies. CNG is a big bet for the company, but now there will be a delay in the roll out of the new engines. “Everything will slow down, because the infrastructure has to be in place for the new technology,” says Cooper. 

It’s been only a week or so since Cooper Corporation resumed operations as lockdown restrictions eased in Satara. The company's employment strategy to engage local people is yielding benefits as migrant workers have been leaving for their respective homelands. “Starting again is going to be a long haul. These migrant workers are not coming back. We employ only local people so we are not affected,” says Cooper. The lockdown decision came as a “shock” but the ongoing period has also offered some learnings. For Cooper they are “look at your cost, challenge your own assumptions and see what better you can do to keep moving”. All levers will be pulled by the company, with an annual production capacity of nearly 30,000 engines, to come back on the growth track. 

The qualified agriculturist who has led Cooper Corporation fairly successfully in the business of developing and manufacturing engines and components says the quality of approach or attitude of an individual or organisation during a crisis period also matter significantly. “There’s always a saying that when there’s a crisis there’s either fright, flight or fight. So you have to decide what you want to do. So, we decided to fight rather than fright or flight,” he says.

As a core team at Cooper Corporation fought to keep some operations going, the company also joined hands in fighting Coronavirus in an around Satara, home for the Cooper family for over 100 years. Using the in-house fire truck Cooper Corporation engaged in disinfecting public places by spraying chemicals approved by the authorities. Food packets, gowns and masks were also distributed free of cost. “That we could do because we were disciplined,” says Cooper. As gen next gets more involved in the business it is quite obvious that the culture of discipline would be expected to be inherited. 

Since there’s a growing sense of community or collaboration among all to tide over the unprecedented crisis, what would be the key mantras to emerge successful? “I think it is essential to create empathy and communication. The more you communicate to your stakeholders, the more cooperation you will get,” says Cooper. And that strategy may also be leveraged as the Rs 600 crore (around half of it from exports) company resumes its business journey.  

Read more Farrokh Cooper's entrepreneurial journey — by chance