TMCnet Feature
August 27, 2020

Vijay Eswaran's Outlook on Suppliers at the UN Global Compact Leaders' Virtual Summit 2020

The United Nations recently hosted its 20th anniversary Global Compact Leaders' Summit. On June 16, the Global Compact South East Asia Regional Networks (ASEAN) participated in a discussion on sustainable, resilient supply chains, deliberating on how small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and corporations in Southeast Asia can work together to strengthen the sustainability of SMEs. They also discussed how these actions can make them more adaptable and resilient to future crises and how converting their full potential is a key pillar of contributing to the sustainable development goals. Participants included: Ho Meng Kit, chief executive officer of Singapore Business Federation; Pieter Nuboer, Asia Pacific president of DSM (News - Alert) Nutritional; Shahamin S. Zaman, executive director of GCN-Bangladesh and Asia Pacific Regional Network council chair of the UN Global Compact; and Vijay Eswaran, executive chairman of the QI Group of Companies.

Moderated by Bart Edes, representative of the Asian Development Bank, the panel came together during a global pandemic. With economies suffering, businesses changing their concept models, and people adjusting their work-life conditions, it is an essential time to discuss how the future will be impacted indefinitely. According to Edes, the panelists covered imperative topics related to sustainable and resilient supply chains, including:

  • The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on SMES in Southeast Asia.
  • Practices of companies and suppliers in responding to the health and economic crises and ensuring business continuity.
  • Innovative and collaborative actions between SMEs and corporations that will make sustainability initiatives for SMEs more feasible.
  • How businesses can make internal improvements to drive and support sustainability efforts throughout their supply chains.

The goal of the discussion was to provide viewers with a "renewed sense of business leadership and motivation underpinned by the global goals… to cascade positive change through their own supply chains and the communities in which they operate."

Vijay Eswaran, founder and executive chairman of the QI Group of Companies – a multinational conglomerate with diverse interests, including direct selling, real estate, education, retail, and hospitality – was one of the four panelists present. His decades of experience and understanding of global changes provided him with unique insight into the changes foreseeable in the future.

Shift to E-Commerce

To start the panel, Edes prompted the panelists to share introductory thoughts on the session topic and provide some thoughts on how they see the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and associated economic crisis on business in ASEAN. Eswaran spoke about the shift to e-commerce.

Vijay Eswaran started his company more than 22 years ago with the core concept of selling products and services. Even at this time, the company utilized e-commerce; however, this was in conjunction with more traditional selling methods, including direct selling. This method permitted the company to grow exponentially, and now, it serves more than 30 countries and has more than one million people in its database. However, as the COVID-19 pandemic swept across the world, this hybrid method is no longer optimal, and according to Eswaran, it is one of the most significant challenges that companies are facing. Today, there has been a transition to a totally digital, internet-based experience, and it has come as a surprise and challenge to many. Eswaran further discussed the variations in business models and outlined his perspective on how companies can adapt to these deviations to find future success.

COVID-19 Impact on Suppliers

Moving forward in the discussion, Edes shifted the topic to a question on sustainability, specifically regarding how companies and their suppliers can work together to mitigate the risks of the exposed sustainability hotspots across supply chains. In essence, economies around the world have been reporting how COVID-19 has impacted their systems, and for many, this has included a disruption in supply chains. The majority of these reports have indicated a negative response to supply chains; however, Eswaran identified the current and future potential of such changes.  

First off, Eswaran confronted the topic of governments assisting businesses and how the aid supporting their ongoing functions is not sustainable. In hopes to keep economies moving forward and alive, stimulus packages have been provided to residents and businesses to ensure that operations continue. However, as the pandemic shifts how consumers interact with purchases, businesses must adapt as well. Old methods may no longer be optimal in the near future. 

Eswaran reflected on the changes that the QI Group has made as a result of the pandemic:

“We had to re-engineer everything we had done, so the first few weeks of COVID [were] devastating for everyone, including us. Sales took a dive, but then, after that, just as any other internet company… and companies in the supply chain, some of them have taken off; they have been seeing triple-digit sales moving through the last couple of months, and we have been one of those [that] have been fortunate enough to be able to change fast enough that our sales basically [have] started to… surpass the norm, so to speak, within the digital space.”

However, not all industries have witnessed this phenomenon. Eswaran identified that his company’s subsidiaries, such as its hotels and university, had to make drastic changes to try to survive during these times. They have only kept the necessary people active to keep the operations running, and sales have been on a decline.

He concluded that "moving forward, [there] will have to be a hybrid. [Businesses] cannot just rely on a mall and people walking in; malls may not be something that we need to see or may not be part of the landscape in the next decade or so. Things are changing, and they are going to be changing in my mind permanently."

A Focus on Sustainability: One Planet, One Purpose, One People

Another aspect that has been present throughout the pandemic is society's shift to focusing on developing a more sustainable future. As we have witnessed the ongoing impact of a global pandemic, consumer demands have shifted. We are starting to see the true impact that our destructive lifestyles have had on the world around us, and we are beginning to reimagine a more sustainable future. Eswaran recognized this idea not only from the perspective of the consumer but also regarding the impact on the earth. He said that the fact of the "matter is we need to come to terms with a new reality… We're [going to] have to treat planet Earth a lot better because she's needed this reprieve; she's needed this break."

Therefore, suppliers, just like anyone else, require a complete redesign. Eswaran believes that they need to conform to the changing dynamics and address the issues of sustainability. To help assist in the transition, Eswaran's company developed a code of ethics: One Planet, One Purpose, One People. The idea is to implement a new standard that requires products to be a sustainable part of the circular economy. No longer will suppliers limit their outlook on price and profit; instead, they must look at the overall impact of their products.

Though the impact has been evident, suppliers were not the only industry impacted by COVID-19. We have also seen a transition to working at home, retailers trying new sales methods, and new companies arising to accommodate the unique needs of consumers. If anything, COVID-19 has brought a new awareness to the need for change, and it has forced a revolution in how we operate businesses, proof that adaptability is a must for all businesses.

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