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Mental Strength in Business – a casualty of the lockdown

Lockdown effect on manufacturing
Lockdown effects on business

In the business world, we don’t typically have room for emotions and mental health. It’s a given we expect of ourselves & others as we focus on delivering what we think is the most important goal – profit. I run a manufacturing business in Kolkata, India that employs 100 people.

My journey through these last few months has been a difficult one, but it gave me a new perspective on how we define success & health in the business world.

The Lockdown Nightmare

March 23rd or was it 24th? I don’t remember. However, what I do remember is the first day of the lockdown in Kolkata. An eerie silence enveloped the city. Could a big city like Kolkata, actually go silent? It seemed impossible, and yet it was happening.

And as my mind wandered in this direction, it was almost immediately pulled in another direction, guided by that sick feeling in my stomach – you know you get it when there is an utter sense of despair and nothing seems to be in your control?

My bag factory, with over 100 employees had to shut down overnight. The sound of the machines whirring and pitched voices trying to compete with that noise – managers barking out instructions, workers seeking clarification – the general factory environment that it was – had now given way to a deafening silence.

My factory was booked for 2 months of production. I had customers expecting deliveries for the summer season. Shipments were lined up; bags off the stitching line were snaking their way through finishing, final QC, and packing. And now all that didn’t matter anymore.

On that morning of the first day of the lockdown, I realized that what was happening was beyond anything I had even fathomed. There were so many questions and so few answers.

What the heck should I do?

As the owner of a small bag factory, focused on exporting cotton and jute bags, I did not have any board of advisors or directors, or a size-able management team. This was a family-run company, competing in a highly competitive landscape.

I had to figure this out on my own, but I didn’t even know where to start…

Hello Super-Cyclone Amphan

If the lockdown was not bad enough, on May 20th, our city was battered by a super-cyclone with wind speeds of over 160 kmph. My factory was flooded and stayed that way for 36 hours – with 5 feet of water in the production areas – all this during the lockdown.

Figuring out how to manage this situation and salvage the situation would have been tough enough in a no-lockdown scenario. The lockdown just made it worse…way worse…

Post-Lockdown – A reflection

Today, as I look back to the last few months, there is the minor matter of no new sales in the last 2.5 months and the business prospects looking quite bleak. However, I am relieved that I can see my factory getting back to full working capacity, with the additional COVID protocol in place.

I reflect on this extremely trying time, and I realize that the biggest challenge for me as a business owner, was staying mentally strong. Being mentally strong during this period was not easy. There were so many things which had gone wrong, as a result of this kill-switch called lockdown. There were very few answers readily available. The uncertainty of how things would pan out, was the biggest challenge for me. Added to this, being at home all day, was a constant reminder of how things were not okay on the work front.

This mental challenge was rubbing off on my interactions with family members at home as well – I was irritated for no reason; smiles had given way to frowns; I was not doing a great job as a dad either with my 5-year old son. Interaction with my 2-month old new born, was also down to a minimum. Basically, I just sucked at this whole mentally strong business, for a long time.

I can’t say that I breezed through this period with all the positivity that people talk about, and by pivoting my business into a new direction, which appears to have become the fashionable thing to say.

Getting back on our feet

I scraped through….barely…and I mean mentally. It was super tough and I came through it.  It was not a pretty fight, but I took the hits, fell flat on my face, but managed to get up again. I don’t think I need to be an expert in most of the things I have to do. I just try to get by without worrying about the optics of it all.

Deven, an MBA from Yale School of Management, started manufacturing premium custom cotton bags in 2007. Having studied and worked in the US for 10 years, he saw a way of being part of the growing eco-friendly movement in the US. His company, Patodia Organics LLP, exports customised premium bags using natural fibers, to an ever-expanding customer base in USA, Europe, and Australia.

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