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“Besides clean surroundings, home, office and factory, one other aspect which matters most at present is clean transportation. Driving to office and back in a most hygienic vehicle is perhaps what all of us aspire for,” stated V.S. Parthasarathy, Former President – Mobility Services Sector (MSS) & Member of Group Executive Board, Mahindra Group, in an e-interview with Mangala Chandran, Editor-in-Chief, Clean India Journal. Parthasarathy has since moved on to explore newer pastures.

By far, one of the most affected segments has been transportation. How would you define this segment in the New Normal?

Speaking of mobility, the one sector which is close to me, the four ‘Ss’ largely govern our motto are Smart, Sustainable, Seamless and Shared mobility solutions. The moment we got into the pandemic situation, a new additional ‘S’ was included – Safe

We had to make mobility safe for people to travel.

In the earlier context, safety meant wearing a seatbelt and not driving too fast. Now, the cleaning aspect for keeping commuters safe has assumed larger proportions. Each of the units has devised a lot of activities around Safety, that have become the basis for a safe environment. From a process point of view, cleanliness became a priority. After every trip, we started cleaning the vehicles.

Earlier, we had created partitions to give each passenger almost an executive-like space… a cockpit or cocoon of one’s own, in which one could do everything. That was a Smart solution. Now, we have converted this partition into a Safety zone, providing a clean environment to the passenger and also enabling a separate cleaning process at the end of the day.

To make things even better, we have introduced an oxygenating mechanism twice a day, so that the air every passenger breathes is fresh on every trip.

The driver’s safety is equally important as any commuter’s. We have initiated periodic health checks for the driver and treat him as a frontline worker.

We have launched a free Emergency Services program for anybody in need. They can call us in the 12 cities in India where we have a presence. We are now able to use our assets to help those who are in need.

While lockdown restricted the movements of people, the government had mandated that essential services would continue running. How did you manage this?

Just like we facilitated the mobility of people, we also had to ensure the mobility of goods. How do we keep the warehouses very clean? How to protect employees and ensure their safety? How do we keep each facility up and running? If we detect a Covid-positive case, what do we do? How do we isolate that person and protect others? The entire ecosystem was built very quickly around this.

All businesses are running on one of the three speeds: 60%, 100% and 140% of normal. Logistics, especially, is running at 140%, which would not be possible without cleaning and employee safety.

What is the renewed importance of cleaning & hygiene in your daily life?

Personally, a hygienic ride is one where I feel safe at the end of the trip. It should leave me confident enough to take another one.

Whenever I go out, I sanitize my hands and also have a bath on returning. I make sure I send my used clothes for washing in a safe manner.

Caring for others is as important as taking care of oneself. When you look around, your family or friends… someone or the other has been deeply affected. You have to realise that something that may happen tomorrow, may even happen today.

Hence, cleanliness and hygiene are not just nice, they are necessary.

At the strategic leadership level, please share your leadership and management mantras.

The biggest management mantra has been moving for four ‘S’ to five ‘S’. We have projected that this is what we stand for, and communicated that to people at all levels.

Secondly, if you begin the change with yourself, it reflects on the outside. If you care for the driver, and the driver tells his passengers that this is how we do things, the message spreads far and wide. Caring has become more important in management than ever before. I joke that what else is there in life other than Stree-ling, Pu-ling and Feeling?

The third mantra is to use this adversity to drive diversity; not just when it comes to inclusivity but in terms of ideas. This is a good time to change business models. For example, if many people can continue to work from home, can more women be attracted to join and be retained in the workforce? Can infrastructure-based business models be replaced by something else? Employees now have different kinds of stresses; they need more bandwidth. Can the organisation policies be amended accordingly?

This is also a good time to fire bullets before you fire cannonballs. There are many business ideas you may have wanted to execute; now is the time to experiment, with small costs.

The last mantra is that the digital era has fast-forwarded 10x in this pandemic, and we need to figure out how to utilise it.

How have the budget for and focus on cleaning changed due to the pandemic?

I think the cost for cleaning and hygiene has gone up. Since many people are working from home, the focus on cleaning has shifted to employees’ homes. But if we look at warehouse cleaning before and after the pandemic, there is a huge difference. Wherever there is a customer contact involved, the cost of cleaning has gone up. The per unit economics may have gone up but this has been alleviated by other productivity tools, which is why overall expenses have reduced.

Rather than focusing only on cleanliness, we must look at safety as a whole. A clean environment is a safe environment. When you look at things this way, it is better from a budgeting point of view.

We shouldn’t just react; we should be proactive about the next set of challenges that will come to humankind.

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