The pandemic made home-delivery a high growth industry

Remarks Given By Frank F. Islam To 9th All India Minorities Business Summit & National Brand Awards on Trends, Challenges & Opportunities post Covid-19 24th January 2021

Frank F. Islam delivering online speech at 9th All India Minorities Business Summit & National Brand Awards on Trends, Challenges & Opportunities post Covid-19
Frank F. Islam delivering online speech at 9th All India Minorities Business Summit & National Brand Awards on Trends, Challenges & Opportunities post Covid-19

Distinguished Guests; Awardees; Friends; Ladies and Gentlemen:

Thank you for that kind introduction.  It is my pleasure and privilege to be here to address all of you again for the All Minorities Business Summit and Awards ceremony.

First, thanks to Danish Reyaz for his leadership on this event and inviting me to speak on this special occasion.

I spoke at the 8thAll Minorities Summit in 2019 during very different times.  The title for my remarks then was Entrepreneurial Leadership and Civic Engagement. The title for this talk as we look back on the extremely trying and challenging and turbulent times wrought by the coronavirus pandemic and look forward to the times ahead is Business Trends, Challenges & Opportunities post Covid-19. 

At the outset, I must say that while that is the title for my comments this year, during these transitional times we also need entrepreneurial leadership and civic engagement.  In fact, we need it more than ever.  I explain why this is in the final part of my speech.

I will provide my remarks in three parts:

  • Part 1: The Impact of and Challenges Created by Covid-19
  • Part 2: TheBusiness Opportunities Created by Covid-19
  • Part 3: Entrepreneurial Leadership and Civic Engagement

That is my outline and I will adhere to it.  Let me begin though with a saying that I think is most important for today. That saying is “When the going gets tough.  The tough gets going.”

As minority entrepreneurs and business people, I know that you are tough.

You were not born with a silver spoon in your mouth.  You probably couldn’t get a bank loan and had to finance the start-up of your own business but had to do that yourself and with the help of friends and family.  My guess is that you probably had some sleepless nights, as I did with my business, as you worked with your team to ensure that your business would make it through its start-up year and be successful in the long run.

Through those trying times, you stayed tough and that is why I know you and your businesses will be central to ensuring the recovery of the Indian economy post Covid-19.

Part 1:  The Impact of and Challenges Created by Covid-19

That said, let me now turn to the impact and challenges created by covid-19.  The across the board impact was the shutdown and lockdown of the economies in India, the United States, and around the world.  Those shutdowns and lockdowns caused millions of businesses to close, employees to be laid off, economic collapse and enormous pain and suffering in all nations.

The impact has varied considerably by industry segment. Research from the U.S. on small business – and from the littledata I have seen from other countries – shows that:

  • The industry segments hurt the most and which remain hurting are: accommodation and food services, arts, entertainment and recreation, health care, personal services, and education.
  • The industry segments which were hurt initially but seem to be coming back now include: retail and wholesale trade, transportation, and manufacturing.
  • Those industry segment which appear to have been hurt the least by the pandemic include: information technology, professional services, utilities, finance and insurance, and construction.

That is a general overview of the impact of covid-19.  Each of you in this audience know what that negative impact has been and the challenges that covid-19 has created for you and your business.

Covid has created many challenges both great and small. I want to highlight three.  They are: The struggle for survival.  Maintaining relations with customers and clients.  And, modifying the business model.

As I briefly discuss these challenges, I ask you to reflect on what you did with your business to carry it through these turbulent times.

Without question the biggest challenge for many businesses was the struggle for survival. Keeping the doors open, if that was possible for your business, or if it was not securing the necessary resources to keep the business afloat until it was possible to reopen.

Sadly, many businesses in India, U.S. and around the world did not meet this challenge.  Millions of once-viable businesses are no longer with us.  The fact that you are at this Summit attests that you and your business did that and are preparing to thrive rather than merely survive in the years to come.

One of keys to survival was meeting the challenge of maintaining relations with key customers and employees.  Notice I said maintaining those relations. The pandemic made it essential for businesses to reach out to those customers and employees and to reassure them that the business valued them and would do whatever it took to keep the relationship in place.

For many businesses, this necessitated communicating electronically rather than in person.  Some businesses were already adept at this.  Others modified their business model and ramped up quickly to enter the on-line world.

Modifying the business model is the third challenge I wantto emphasize.  For some businesses, it meant moving to a virtual communication mode. For others, it required delivering goods or services to a customer’s home.  For others, it meant reducing hours of operation, the level of staffing, or the very nature of the goods or servicesprovided themselves.

It has been said that necessity is the mother of invention. The pandemic required businesses to be inventive by finding and implementing new ways of doing things in incredibly short time periods and under enormously stressful circumstances.

I know that the Award winners andall of you in this audience havedone this.You are here because you have met and mastered these challenges.  I applaud you for that.

Part 2:  Business Opportunities Created by the Pandemic

Enough for the challenges or what I would call the dark side of the pandemic.  Let me flip the light switch and look at the bright side.  What are  the opportunities that have been created by covid-19?

There are three industry segments that have had the greatest advantage because of the opportunities presented by the pandemic. They are: technology – especially big technology; streaming services; and, delivery services.

As the pandemic forced people to stay home and go online rather than to go out, it rapidly accelerated the growth and profits of the big five technology companies: Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook and Google.  They now account for approximately 22 percent of the S & P 500 – never before have 5 companies been so dominant on Wall Street.

The pandemic also caused movie theaters and entertainment venues to close and drove the growth of people watching online streaming of videos rather than just watching traditional cable TV at-home.  Big businesses such as NBC Universal and WarnerMedia launched new services.

Performers and others established their own sites to do streaming as well.  And, of course, there was the explosive growth of the zoom video communication services which became a primary source of communications contact for millions of people and businesses around the world.

Finally, the pandemic made home-delivery a high growth industry for delivering everything from groceries to meals to medical supplies.  There were big players in this segment such as Uber and Doordash.  It was also a segment for a lot of small players in urban areas as they carved out neighborhoods and communities for their delivery.

Those are the big three opportunity areas.  Let me now focus on five opportunity areas that the pandemic has made especially promising for small businesses. They are: telemedicine; educational technology; supply chain management; physical fitness; and e-business.

I assume that some – perhaps many – of you may have already modified your business model to incorporate some aspect of the big three opportunity areas of technology, video communications or delivery services that I have described. As I review, these small business opportunity areas I would ask you to consider whether they or some spin off might have potential for you.

There are numerous opportunities in each of the small business areas. I will highlight some online and technology ones.

In telemedicine, there is a need for customer service, health report maintenance, and medical assistance solutions.  In educational technology, there is a need for on-line curriculum, learning management software, and virtual classroom apps.  In supply chain management there is a need for needs assessment, supply tracking, and delivery management solutions.  In physical fitness, there is a need for instructional videos, equipment redesign for use at home, and health improvement progress monitoring tools.  In e-commerce, there is a need for new apps and virtual solutions across a wide variety of industries including finance, insurance, retail, media and marketing.

Those are just the tip of the business opportunities iceberg that have been created by covid-19.  The list goes on and on.  For me to be exhaustive on themwould be exhausting.

Part 3: Entrepreneurial Leadership and Civic Engagement

Therefore, rather than continuing todiscuss those generic opportunities.  I will shift to part three of my talk and to discussing your role and responsibilities in entrepreneurial leadership and civic engagement.

Entrepreneurial leadership and civic engagement are always important. Given the current condition of India’s economy and the additional harm that has been created by covid-19, the importance of leadership and engagement is orders of magnitude greater.

As you all are painfully aware, India’s economy shrank 7.5 percent in the three months that ended in September. This moved India into its most severe recession since at least 1996.

The economic decline and covid-19 have had a devasting effect on West Bengal just as it has in all the states of India. Professor Mahmood provided excellent insights on that impact in his remarks on West Bengal so there is no need for me to go into detail on that impact here.

What I will do is to outline a singular opportunity which exists for you in each of your businesses.  This opportunity exists regardless of your industry segment.It is to do what I call “breakaway planning.”

Breakaway planning has two dimensions. The first is planning to put your company or a new business start-up in the forefront of its industry segment.  The second is to do this by enabling the local economy to breakaway from the grip of the covid-19 pandemic.

The covid-19 crisis presents both an opportunity and threat.  I would note that the Chinese symbol for opportunity and threat is the same.

Breakaway planning ensures that covid-19 is converted to an opportunity.  It allows you to take what could be a once in a lifetime chance to review, revise and revamp the business model of your company because of the destabilizing conditions created by the pandemic.

The essential elements of breakaway planning are the classic components of traditional strategic planning.  They are conducting an environmental scan and doing a Strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and Threats (SWOT) analysis.

In the environmental scan, you thoroughly and critically examine your firm’s customer environment, competitor environment, physical environment, legal environment, political environment, social environment, technological environment, and economic environment to determine what has changed because of the coronavirus.  In the SWOT analysis, you assess your firm’s Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats to determine how they have changed because of the coronavirus.

Based upon the results of those assessments, youdecide whether your businessdelivery approach and core business functions should be altered.  And, you determine whether there are business lines be dropped or new business lines be developed to ensure that your business thrives over the next 3 to 5 years.  The final part of this planning is to determine how your businesses can contribute to the recovery and rebounding of the economies and communities in which you do business.

Breakaway planning takes your business beyond the survival planning that you had to do at the onset of covid-19. It is planning to position your business for success as covid-19 winds down and post COVID.

Breakaway planning is the right tool for entrepreneurial leaders.  As I explained at the 8th summit, entrepreneurial leaders are dreamers who dare.  They are seekers who seize the moment and take calculated risks to create the enterprises and jobs of the future.

All of you participating in this Summit are Minorities and are entrepreneurial leaders.  You have proven that because of your substantial accomplishments.

As I said at the outset, you are tough and daring.  Entrepreneurial leaders are also tender and caring.  They demonstrate those traits through their civic engagement.

Through their civic engagement they work for country and community welfare and promote economic and social equity.  The pandemic has made your civic engagement more important because it has most severely impacted minorities, females and others who are lower on the totem pole.

I know that those of you who are Summit award winners and all of you are at the Summit are already civically engaged.  Because of the devastating impact of covid-19, there is a need to redouble your efforts to ensure that as you take your business forward you implement initiatives and take actions to move others who are less fortunate forwardas well.

I opened my comments with the statement that when the going gets tough, the tough gets going.  In closing, let me share two quotes with you that I believe are also of great relevance now.

The first comes from Mahatma Gandhi who famously instructed us “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”  The second comes from Dr. Martin Luther King who was a disciple of Gandhi said, “Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness.”

I am confident because of who you are as minority entrepreneurs that you have been and will continue to follow the advice of Dr. King and Mr. Gandhi. You will “walk in the light” and you will “be the change.”  You will confront the challenges and create the opportunities to convert the covid-19 pandemic from a crisis toa building block for a better and braver India.

Before I close my remarks, let me state that for those award honorees, this day is your day. Let me extend my congratulations to those of you receiving the awards this evening. For those of you are not receiving the awards this evening, this day is your day also. For those in the audience who are contemplating becoming entrepreneurs, I say join us. we need you and India needs you.

Thank you for letting me share my thoughts with you. I wish you continued success in your ventures and your journey. Your success will be India’s success. God bless you for all that you have done and will do.


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