Placing people over profits

Rupkatha Bhowmick

Retail conglomerate Kamal Osman Jamjoom (KOJ) Group has consciously decided to place people over profits, as businesses and people continue to grapple with the impact of COVID-19 pandemic.

“Every company has its own unique situation and priorities. At KOJ Group, we have decided to choose people over profit. In the short term, profit is depressed, but we have decided to protect our people and share the pain. That has been our philosophy right since the COVID-19 outbreak,” emphasises Hisham Al Amoudi, group CEO for KOJ Group.

“People are already vulnerable due to the fear of the virus and its impact on business and economies. Instead of neglecting or isolating them, we must protect them,” he adds. “As leaders, we need to be brave, walk the talk and stand together with our people. Importantly, we must treat people with compassion, dignity and fairness. Our people have helped us to come this far; today, standing with them is not a choice – it is our responsibility!”

Sharing the pain

The KOJ Group has made a conscious decision not to make redundancies. Instead, the company has decided to share the pain together.

As such, Al Amoudi decided to forego his salary. The senior executives at KOJ Group have also sacrificed a portion of their salaries. “In March, when the retail stores closed temporarily, we lost around 50% of revenues. But we paid everyone 100% salary. In April, all of us decided to share the pain. The office staff sacrificed anywhere between 25-and-35% of their salaries. In May, ahead of Ramadan, we decided to pay a 100% salary to our front liners. We will review the situation on a month-on-month basis. The results have been positive, so far; as our people have come up with ideas to trim costs – be that rent, OTB (open-to-buy) forecast and other expenses. It has helped us to mitigate risks and manage cashflow, thereby protecting the business and our people,” he shares.

“Think about it – during the lockdown period, our stores were temporarily closed. Our brick-and-mortar sales declined by 90%. Even though losses mounted, liquidity was healthy,” Al Amoudi adds. “As phased reopening of stores began in certain GCC countries, our sales rose, initially by 50%. Meanwhile, our online business grew by over 1,000%. Our liquidity has improved. These results have been made possible by the support of our great team. Cash is important, but not more than the people who help generate sales, profit and cash.”

Ensuring health and safety

Alongside protecting jobs, guaranteeing the utmost safety of people – both employees and customers – is a significant focus area for KOJ Group. Besides abiding by the set guidelines around strict disinfection and sanitisation of facilities – both stores and warehouses – as well as social distancing, wearing face masks and gloves, KOJ Group has undertaken several additional measures.

“We have both GCC nationals and expatriates in our workforce, and each person is treated similarly – that’s irrespective of the current crisis. In the Gulf countries, as part of public healthcare, the governments are looking after every person, especially COVID-19 positive cases. On our part, we have ensured that the insurance companies would cover sudden illnesses arising from COVID-19. If for some reason, none of the options work, we have promised to take responsibility for the required treatments,” Al Amoudi elaborates.

Winning with the power of people & technology

KOJ Group has recorded over 2,900% growth in e-commerce in 2020, so far, over last year. Al Amoudi says that this growth has been driven by the company’s digital transformation journey, which began three years ago. “Our businesses – including Nayomi, Mikyajy and Early Learning Center – were ready to serve customers online, while our people – at every level and function – reskilled themselves. Our leaders have leveraged technology to lead change within their respective departments and teams. We have had the right skillsets to undertake the digital transformation journey, since 2017, with our tech-savvy people taking the lead role and helping others to learn.”

Also watch: Retailers accelerate digital transformation

In that sense, KOJ Group has beautifully infused the power of people with the power of technology. “We started using Zoom almost two years ago, much before it gained the current popularity. Our people were already working from home even before it became a new norm. All these require a paradigm shift and our transformation journey will continue,” Al Amoudi cites.

Creating a positive work environment

Creating a positive work environment has many benefits; it fosters a growth-oriented approach for people and the overall business. To bring about positive changes and create a safe work environment, leadership plays a vital role. What differentiates a leader is their humility and urge to learn every day.

“Our mission statement is to build a successful business that improves the quality of life of our people, creates meaningful jobs in the communities we operate and challenges people to grow ethically while having fun. And COVID-19 has allowed us to test how true we are towards our mission and values,” states Al Amoudi.

As a leader, it’s important to be humble and disciplined, he observes. “It is also crucial to own up and take responsibility for our mistakes. When we do that, we lead by example; our people are not afraid to make mistakes and learn from them. We have successfully created a spirit of respect and equanimity in our organisation. Importantly, we work ‘with’ each other; each one of us specialising in our fields. The idea is to complement each other.”

“I spend sleepless nights thinking about our people amidst so much uncertainty; but I am also optimistic about not only overcoming the crisis but also emerging stronger if we really, truly stand together with them,” Al Amoudi concludes.

 

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