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By Oskar Song Hauming

In the wake of COVID-19, the pandemic has called attention to shifting priorities for businesses, consumption patterns, and its ensuing economic challenges. Mr. John Hall, Managing Director of Global Business Oleochemicals, speaks about how he surmounts the challenges in the pandemic.

Prioritizing Our Employees Health

Governments around the world have imposed variations of a lockdown. With more than 37,000 people located in Europe, Asia and the US, the health and safety of our employees is our paramount priority. Our operational colleagues are required to be in the factories with strict safety measures, with most of the production coordinated remotely.

Meanwhile, we are also facilitating work flexibility to keep our major operational sites open and planning for the worst-case scenarios. We have learned lessons starting from our operations in China to anticipate the challenges for Europe as well as the US, and currently, Indonesia.

Working from home, John remains highly connected with his teams around the world. Implementing Business Continuity Plans, virtual meetings are set up to connect workers located at operational sites, with non-operational staff. He says, “I’m proud of the solidarity shown by staff spanning the vast business divisions of Group. In this challenging period, coming together to ensure our supply chain delivers, and that each individual does his or her part in cohering with safety measures is how I believe we can overcome this pandemic.”

Weathering changing consumption patterns in the first quarter of 2020

When the panic set in towards the end of February, people started buying more “essential items.” John noticed, within the last week of February alone, that his team doubled their typical monthly quota.

John shares that the production of Fatty Acids and Fatty Alcohols have been brisk, globally as priorities focus on disinfectants and personal care products. The Surfactant business has been growing rapidly to the orders for personal hygiene products. The upthrust in Glycerine demand has been so quick and sudden that most of the world is sold out or is in short supply.

“Due to the length of lockdowns required to ‘flatten the curve,’ the ‘hoarding’ behavior that spurred the uptick in business, we expect to see a dip as people start to ‘consume’ their stockpiles,” he acknowledges.

“Talking about our consumer markets, the lockdowns in Europe and the US should be ending soon, and a resumption of normal consumer patterns will hopefully materialize.”

Embracing the changing landscape for workplaces

Answering in-depth, John said, “I find that virtual meetings have been fruitful. Perhaps anecdotally, it has facilitated good discussions between management and customers from as far as the EU. Where before the pandemic, we would physically fly to the EU to discuss business contracts, our people have been more open to reviewing important details through virtual meetings now.”

He concludes by saying, “I think it is a step in the right direction. Our Group has managed to adopt flexible practices and embrace a different sort of workplace behavior.”