Royal Enfield’s Vinod Dasari: ‘The biggest challenge is the capacity to connect with people virtually.’

by Nilesh Wadhwa 27 Oct 2020


The second day of Autocar Professional’s virtual Two-Wheeler Industry Conclave opened with an exclusive tete-a-tete 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.

The overarching shadow of the Covid pandemic refuses to part way from any debate and Dasari is right when he said, “We are all living in strange times and have to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic both professionally as well personally. There are 4 types of feelings – people are bored/ stressed and their learning has stopped. Then there’s frustration, especially for two-wheeler manufacturers as we know there is a lot of demand but are bound by supply constraints and lockdowns in several parts of the country. Third is anxiety – What is unlock now, and what is lock now? Is it the right time to launch new products? But the most important feeling is of gratefulness – despite such challenging times like this, we are blessed to have work to do, our families are safe, and we are earning a livelihood.”

According to Dasari, Royal Enfield is dealing with the Covid 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 eco-system including the supply chain, transport, company, customers, dealers and running the same is crucial, as also maintaining the channels of communication in current times,” he said.

Communication as a vital tool
The head of the iconic Chennai-based two-wheeler OEM highlighted the importance of open communication in difficult times. “For us employee safety is paramount. Employees are part of our family. The first step for is to protect the plant, offices, 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 week.

Coming to terms with Covid
The Royal Enfield boss said there are takeaways from the pandemic, which caught the world off-guard. "Covid 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 albeit he 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 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 scenario? Dasari believes that people will continue to be cautious, and OEMs 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."

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