As Sri Lanka emerges from over two months of lockdown, attention is now turning to what the future economic landscape will look like. While people and companies are still contending with the immediate and urgent concerns of COVID-19, some are also contemplating what the post-COVID business landscape will look like in Sri Lanka.
Is a rapid economic recovery likely? Will the business and economic repercussions be with us for years to come? What will be the new normal? How will large conglomerates to the small and medium companies prepare themselves to succeed post-COVID? To discuss this and more, Stax collaborated with the Sri Lanka Institute of Directors (SLID) for a webinar entitled “Bounce back stronger to thrive in the ‘new normal’” on 1 May. SLID has been in the forefront of promoting good governance in companies across various industries while standing committed to helping directors achieve a high degree of excellence in their role and responsibilities as they steer their companies through and beyond the present crisis.
Stax Managing Director Dr. Kumudu Gunasekera was the moderator amongst a group of distinguished panellists that included Sunshine Holdings PLC Group Managing Director Vish Govindasamy, Retired Career Banker, Company Director and Member of the Monetary Board of Sri Lanka Nihal Fonseka, National Chamber of Commerce Sri Lanka Immediate Past President Sujeeve Samaraweera, and Stax Managing Director Ruwindhu Peiris.
The session started with Dr. Kumudu Gunasekera outlining the impact of COVID-19 on the global economy and the job market. A consequence of the impact has been the emergence of new trends globally – virtualisation of events and activities, automation of process and services, pureplay and hybrid online marketplaces, diversification of supply chains and customer centricity – were elaborated. It concluded with recommendations on the immediate areas that businesses can adopt to prepare themselves for the new normal.
Providing a macro-economic perspective of the post COVID business environment, Nihal Fonseka explained the Balance of Payment issue would be a critical factor for Sri Lanka. Speaking on the high level of debt the country would have to service, he stated that while a number of arrangements were in place to ease the burden to some extent, the country will be dependent on its trade performance going into early 2021. He also stated that the private sector would have to leverage on new opportunities at a fast pace and avoid being tied down by traditional businesses.
Subsequently, the panellists shared their ideas and perspectives on the present and future status of the Sri Lankan economy and how the industry might move forward as it looks to avoid the roadblocks thrown up by COVID-19. The panel was clear that this pandemic cannot be directly compared to previous economic events which in-turn demands higher forms of resilience amongst all companies.
Additionally, the societal impacts of the pandemic should also be viewed with the same level of importance as the economic impacts if the country is to sustainably move forward. The pivotal role of the SME sector in the recovery of the Sri Lankan economy and the support they needed was elaborated by the panel.
Speaking on the type of support required by SMEs, Sujeeve Samaraweera stated he was disappointed with the low level of support available for these businesses in terms of access to finance and markets. He also stressed the importance of an effective communication strategy which caters to the SME sector in order to avoid the hassle faced by the smaller businesses in running their businesses in the time of crisis.
Expressing his views on the 150-year-old tea industry in Sri Lanka, Vish Govindasamy expressed his confidence with regard to the demand for tea which he felt would sustain itself with the main markets such as Middle East and the Russian Federation. Govindasamy called upon the private sector to join hands in building the global brand for Sri Lankan tea as he was of the view that the industry had depended on the Government for too long in order to achieve this.
The webinar concluded with an optimistic message for the future – Although it is a worrying time for many individuals and businesses on both a health and economic footing, what COVID-19 has shown is that people and organisations need to be innovative, adaptable and resilient to thrive in the ‘new normal’.
Operating for over 25 years, Stax Inc. has advised 15 of Top 20 Global Private Equity Investors and 25+ Fortune 500 companies. Headquartered in Boston, with various branch offices spanning across Chicago, New York and Colombo, Stax Inc. has delivered over 2,500+ client engagements across diverse industries, covering 40+ international markets.