Home >Companies >People >Pandemic has redefined boundaries of operations: MK Surana

For Hindustan Petroleum Corp. Ltd (HPCL), India’s third-largest oil refining and marketing company, covid-19 has redefined the boundaries on several grounds. Being in the business of essential commodities, HPCL was required to continue its operations during the lockdown, while ensuring the well-being of its employees. In the middle of the pandemic, M.K. Surana, chairman and managing director, HPCL, saw the need to focus on technology. Edited excerpts from an interview:

What lessons have HPCL learnt from the covid-19 crisis?

The covid-19 lockdown brought a sharp focus on the use of technology on a day-to-day running of the business. Remote working, on-line approvals, meetings through video conferencing, contactless payment solutions, digitization of key documents and processes, and inbuilt controls became the order of the day. The situation also necessitated flexible rules, greater empowerment, multi-tasking, strong communication framework, agility and adaptability to the evolving situation. Some of these will continue to be a part of normal operations and may bring new business processes and cost-efficiency. The situation also demonstrated that the people need less supervision than one would have liked to believe. We also realized that many of the support systems in the office environment were avoidable overheads.

How do you plan to adjust to the changed realities?

Covid-19 has redefined the boundaries on multiple grounds. Being in the business of essential commodities, HPCL was required to continue its operations, while ensuring the well-being of its employees and the workforce. HPCL continued operations across all its operating locations, but with reduced staff and strict SOPs (standard operating procedures). Office work was carried out either from home or through skeletal staff in the office. Shift timings were adjusted, business processes were redefined, all meetings were held through VCs, employees were empowered at all levels and approvals were granted via digital means. Retaining confidence of the customers, stakeholders and business partners during this period was important. To give an example, HPCL, along with other public sector oil marketing companies, delivered about 5 million LPG cylinders every day to households across the country during the lockdown period, to avoid any inconvenience to the general public, especially when most people were required to stay put at home. While demand is returning to normal now, during the peak lockdown period, demand was a serious concern and required constant adjustments in production and tighter supply chain management right from crude to products. Liquidity management, ensuring safety of the employees and proper communication with key stakeholders were critical to manage the situation. But thanks to the commitment and the resilience of the entire team, we have been able to handle it reasonably well so far. There are new learnings and the situation is evolving. A cautious approach will be required to be followed till full normalcy returns.

Has covid-19 forced the company to extended timelines for any of your projects, or to rework the capital expenditure programme?

We are continuing with our planned capital expenditure programme. Some of our major projects are in advance stages of construction. Fortunately, for us, most of the material and equipment for the projects were at the site even before the spread of the pandemic. After the announcement of the nationwide lockdown in the last week of March, we were also required to shut down our project sites for the safety of the workforce, and as per government directives. But with subsequent announcements of phase-wise relaxations by concerned authorities, we resumed our project sites gradually from 20 April. As of now work has restarted at all our project site.

At the same time, we have necessary safety precautions to ensure welfare of the workforce. Some of the workers who had gone back to their hometowns have started returning. I won’t say that the situation has returned to pre-lockdown levels in terms of manpower strength at sites as of now, but there is substantial improvement. There may be some impact on schedules due to the complete stoppage of work during the lockdown, and onset of the monsoon, but we are trying to work out the mitigation measures.

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