This guest commentary comes from GRI Managing Director Prabhash Subasinghe as he reflects on 2020 and shares his thoughts and focus in 2021.
When the Rubber Hits the Road: Building Resilience
The world faced one of the most turbulent years in our lifetime last year. Many companies talk about being resilient, but this is put to test only when you go through a year like 2020.
I am humbled and proud of how resilient we were as people, a company, and a country. Our fortitude drove the way we interacted with society and the way we managed our relationships with our stakeholders. GRI showed an incredible amount of resilience in all facets.
In March 2020, a critical moment of truth dawned as we saw what was happening around the world, wondering how long we could survive. When I now reflect, I realize we not only survived but thrived. I am proud to state that we never closed our manufacturing plants, even during the two-month lockdown in Sri Lanka. We continued operations and served our customers due to the resilience we had built within GRI.
I think we have been an exception to the rule, especially when we see many large companies in Sri Lanka and around the world struggle to maintain their footing. I think we have proven COVID-19 resilience in its truest form. From the way we connected internally and externally to uninterrupted business continuity, we worked hard toward an exceptional outcome in 2020. I am proud of TEAM GRI. And it has been a privilege to work with such an extraordinary and committed team.
Lessons from 2020: Taking Stock
We set out to survive the pandemic in 2020 but we thrived and had a better year than 2019. This is our remarkable story.
The first thing we did was to prepare for the unexpected in advance. In January/February 2020, we were fortunate to foresee some of the worldwide disruptions that would ensue and worked swiftly to get ahead. We looked at everything from cash conservation, operational continuity, logistics, securing raw material, shipping orders, etc. We gathered information required to make fast decisions and had contingency plans for every aspect of our operations that bring GRI’s products to life.
The second aspect was connectivity. GRI prides itself on close connections with our people and our customers, conducting business with a personal touch. This is very important to us and is a part of our success. We connect deeply with customers, spend time to understand their needs, and have built relationships that continue for decades. We adapted quickly to the new normal and sustained these connections with our customers. Surprisingly, we are now better connected than ever before due to technology but miss meeting in person.
Connectivity with people and a transparent culture is also a key part of our success and resilience last year. When most companies are still struggling due to circumstances beyond their control, the conditions in our ecosystem have been fortuitous. The resilience we built also helped us capitalize on these circumstances.
Our goal during this crisis was a simple one – to get to the other side. We set out to survive but we ended up thriving.
GRI is built on a foundation of growth, ambition, and dynamism. We are currently in our best position to grow, integrating vertically and horizontally. We primarily operate on a B2B model; however, we also have nine distribution and service companies in different parts of the world, which run on a B2C model.
We have diversified our business, growing from the material handling business to the agriculture and the construction tire business in 2018. The global agriculture tire market is a $10 billion business and GRI comes with a wealth of expertise and heritage. I would firmly say that the next decade is filled with growth opportunities for GRI.
In 2021, we start with our second phase of production expansion and will increase capacity of our new Radial Agriculture Tire Plant to 50 TPD. We will also look at expanding in new geographical areas in 2021 and widen our B2C business footprint worldwide.
Sustainability continues to be an important part of our growth vision. I don’t think sustainability is a choice anymore for businesses. You need to understand its importance and build it into your business. If not, I do not think you have a future, and many don’t realize this. Or they don’t see the value or talk about sustainability as something superficial and not a way of life. Consumer behavior around the world is changing and no matter what 2021 brings, the importance of sustainability will only grow.
Our GREENX circle, for instance, leans on Sri Lanka’s rich agricultural heritage that spans more than 2,500 years of sustainable agriculture, and connects Sri Lankan farmers with farmers worldwide. Our manufacturing plants also keep sustainability at its core by minimizing waste, maximizing energy efficiency and incorporating eco-friendly materials in production. In 2020, we were one of the first companies in Sri Lanka to introduce an eco-friendly solid tire into the world.
2021: A Year to Build
We should consider ourselves fortunate. We got through 2020 – one of the worst economic times in the world – and emerged stronger.
We need to be thankful that we have operated without disruption, that our employees are all with us and that our customers have business. Our ecosystems have not just survived but grown in many ways. I think first, we need to be grateful because many people have not had a similar fortune.
I see 2021 as a year of endurance and growth for GRI. Our sector has done well but we must look at the world and global economy at large. Our hope for 2021 is that COVID-19 would end. However, the economic recovery and the aftershocks will take longer to overcome and has already left adverse effects on the world. It will take a few years to rebound to where we were in terms of GDP growth.
I look at 2021 as a year to build and grow on the strong foundation we laid in 2020. Last year was our year of resilience. This year will be our year of rapid growth.
GRI has done well, but I think it is time for us to look beyond and see how we can be more helpful to everyone, inspire greatness and play even a small part to move people toward making a positive impact on our planet.
We believe that farmers who nourish the world, construction workers who build for the next generation, and forklift operators who move material to supply our needs, are noble. And we will strive to fulfil their aspirations for generations to come.