Keventer Milk

Lessons the Pandemic taught me: Opportunity in Adversity

By Mayank Jalan | Date January 19, 2021

The hard and brutal reality didn’t register till I got a WhatsApp message from a colleague asking me, “Ab Kya”?
Now what?

When I received this message, I was at home, listening to our Honourable Prime Minister, addressing the nation, to brace for a nation-wide lockdown, that would come into force with the rising sun the following morning.

In West Bengal, we have heard a lot about lockouts, industries closing their operations in the wake of one or the other unsavoury incident, but this was an era long-gone and I had personally never experienced a “Lockout”. But ‘LOCKDOWN’? Being the first one-of-its-kind, we were all looking at each other to find answers to the never-ending questions – the how, when, what, because the only thing we knew was the ‘why’.

I felt uneasy, disturbed and disoriented. What it would be like if suddenly life comes to a standstill and remains so for eternity? What will happen to all the perishable stock at the factory if it is not sold tomorrow? Will I have to drain lacs of litres of milk? Will I have to tell my farmers to throw away lacs of kgs of bananas tomorrow?

Yet, as soon as I saw the WhatsApp message, I shot back, as if in a reflex action, without batting an eyelid, “Business as usual!”

On that fateful night, it was an audacious statement to make. How can we defy the inexorable reality of the day and go ahead with business as usual? To some it might have sounded like an empty rhetoric, an impossible claim of thoughtless bravado in the midst of a nerve-racking worldwide pandemic. Have I gone nuts?

What followed that night and then day after day, night after night, could easily be the staple of a blockbuster Hollywood thriller. In less than an hour after the Prime Minister’s momentous announcement, we swung into action, forming as many WhatsApp groups as possible, among our employees to communicate a simple yet poignant message. Come hail or sunshine, our show at Keventer would go on. Period.

The message had an electrifying effect that marked the beginning of a new chapter in our company’s history replete with moments of high drama, uncertainties and adventurism. The seemingly insurmountable challenge brought to the fore all the shining qualities and attributes of my colleagues; courage, fortitude, team spirit, bondage, sense of oneness and above all, putting duty over self, optimism over despair. In no time, the Keventer family turned into an unformidable army regiment battling in unfamiliar, rough, inhospitable terrain

Did we win the battle? The answer is too well known for reiteration. For us it was a stupendous victory if seen from the prism of numbers alone. On the morning of 24th March last year, the first day of nationwide lockdown, when all our competitors were groping in the dark, feeling lost in a hazy atmosphere, we did what we did every morning prior to the clamping of lockdown, ensuring with clockwise precision production and supply of our milk and banana to every nook and corner. Overnight the demand for our milk shot up forcing us to increase the supply by an additional thirty thousand litres. The demand in the market was for more but in our production facility not a drop of milk was left for distribution. Once we could breach the sound barrier, we did not have to look back. In the past ten months our market share in milk has been on a growth path, the future looks brighter than a year before.

Our success with milk bolstered us to do the same with all our products such as frozen food and beverages, as our team started visiting the market daily so that our connection with the retailers does not snap. The initiative bore fruits, we got unexpected results. In a show of defiance, our boys put up temporary shacks in front of those retailers who could not be persuaded to open shops. When others went indoors, preferring the safe, cloistered life in cocoons, we were out in the sun, constantly visible, swarming the market with our products. Consequently, we got our hard-earned rewards as fortune favours the brave.

To sum it up, our company showed no trace of any tremor during these troubled times earning kudos, encomiums from all around including our valued investors.

The all-important lesson we learnt from this calamity is pretty simple. In life there are no problems, only opportunities. We could, with determined collective efforts, turn a big problem into a bigger opportunity. As the proverb goes, when the going gets tough, the tough get going. The lesson should now serve as our beacon light, let us turn it into our leitmotif as we go forward and scale newer heights.

Our journey during those troubled months was far from being smooth as we had to encounter roadblocks and other difficulties every now and then on a daily basis. On the day the world first heard of the deadly COVID-19 virus, I took a personal vow, that I shall come to office Monday through Saturday, from eight in the morning to eight at night and if needed, also on Sundays. A few days into the pandemic a very senior colleague came up to me with an earnest appeal, “Sir, you must not come to office. What will happen to the organisation if God forbids something untoward happens to you.”

I heard him out patiently, understood from where his concerns emanated but I refused to budge. In this crisis, I had a special responsibility of leading my team from the front. We had to negotiate peculiar problems that came our way. We never gave up. I knew I had to be hands on for any situation, round the clock.

Today it gives me enormous satisfaction that I chose to do exactly what was expected of me. The crisis provided me a unique opportunity to watch from close quarters your indomitable zeal, courage and dedication to work amidst humongous difficulties

I bow to you all with respect and humility.

COVID-19 came to our house also. Many of us including myself suffered from it, but we overcame it.

I have always believed that victory is made, not given and self-conquest is the greatest of victories. We have been victorious and now it’s incumbent on us to continue this habit.