How are Malaysians keeping their companies going with the pandemic into its second year?

Many are focusing on the wellbeing of employees and remaining optimistic.

Fern Batik founder Fern Chua, BMW Malaysia head of corporate communications Sashi Ambi and Ernst & Young PLT country managing partner Datuk Rauf Rashid (Photo: Suhaimi Yusuf, Sam Fong, Haris Hassan/The Edge)

More than a year into the Covid-19 pandemic, many businesses have weathered what they hope to be the worst of the storm. The crisis is far from over, but the rollout of vaccination programmes offers a glimpse of hope and light at the end of a long tunnel. We ask some Malaysians how they are keeping their chins up and their companies going through it all.


Rema Chetty
Director of people experience, Volvo Car Malaysia

The lockdowns and disruptions have given rise to a new perspective on how we approach work. For employees, it is both the joys and challenges of working from home. For employers, the need to be flexible and adaptive while trusting employees to get on with work and do what they do best.

At Volvo Car Malaysia, our employees are our lifeline. We hold true to our legacy of being human-centric, where our strong people policy calls for us to put employees first. While we await an improved situation with the vaccines, we continue to offer our employees the option of working from home and at flexible hours. This enables them to take care of important family matters if need be.

We have not allowed the pandemic to hinder career growth. We promote upskilling through training sessions conducted remotely. In a time like this, it is important for us to keep our employees motivated, yet still be understanding of the support they may need.


Sashi Ambi
Head of corporate communications, BMW Malaysia


(Photo: Sam Fong/The Edge)

Flexibility is important for business continuity to minimise impact in the event something unfortunate happens. Everyone is miserable with the current situation, so we are driven to find creative solutions and continue to delight our stakeholders offline and break the mundaneness.

As a team, BMW has strived to find ways to give back where we can in these troubled times, and we have been working closely with Refuge for the Refugees to ensure aid is distributed to some of the most vulnerable people in the community by solving logistical challenges. Being able to make someone’s day, whether a customer or someone in need, gives us hope in turn.


Lee Sze Suen
Founder and CEO, Suen Jewellers

The quick rollout of the vaccination programme is crucial for the economy. We see the UK and parts of Europe already getting to grips with the infections. It is discomforting that the virus is still in the community and hence, businesses will continue to suffer until we tackle the issue of community infections.

We are raising the bar in regards to our SOPs at the boutique. We sanitise daily and masking is a given. We are doing our best in the circumstances. It is all very emotionally draining for everyone, but we are doing our best to keep our spirits up.


C K Chang
Founder of Oxwhite

One year of lockdowns and disruptions have led to a change in customers’ lifestyles and buying patterns. Customers are spending more time at home and more prudent with their spending. We have responded to this by changing our product offerings to suit their lifestyles by seeking to fulfil their basic needs rather than creating novelty products to encourage impulse buying. This has kept our business going through multiple lockdowns and disruptions, and the staff remains optimistic that we will weather this together as job and salary stability are important to them.

With the availability of vaccines, the prospect of interstate and international travel increases. This will not only allow us to source for more premium quality items from factories around the world more conveniently, but also allow staff who have families in other states to reunite after a long period of separation. At Oxwhite, we are encouraging employees to utilise their annual leave on the day of the vaccination. On the next day, they will be given medical leave without having to show proof of a medical cert.


Chen Tien Yue
Executive director, Royal Selangor


(Photo: Patrick Goh/The Edge)

One of the biggest challenges is dealing with the uncertainty. We had to communicate a year ago a clear strategy to our teams, a strategy where we would have more control of our destiny even in such uncertainty. In our case, it involved developing more products you would use at home during this pandemic such as our mobile phone pod amplifiers, Phonos. We then communicated often and transparently about the progress to our teams. By showing them the results of their efforts, and not “waiting for things to return to normal”, we have kept ourselves productive and optimistic through such challenging times.


Lester Neil Francis
Country manager, Technogym Malaysia

When this started last year, we were pretty much making it up as we went along, as there was no rule book for this kind of situation. It not only affected our business locally, but also our operational efficiency with global partners. We focused on staying positive, balancing the health and safety of our employees while ensuring that we still managed to keep the lights on.

One year on, we have certainly got better at this. The team is constantly being reassured that we have their back, that their safety and well-being are our top priority. We also emphasise open conversations and communication channels with all levels of personnel, being transparent with what’s happening internally and addressing any/all related concerns.

Now, as we finally see light at the end of the tunnel, we remain optimistic. Business is improving, and this further proves that we have weathered the worst, and are stronger and better prepared to endure similar challenges.


Fern Chua
Founder, Fern Batik

It has been a roller-coaster ride with the lockdowns and we are still in survival mode. We are so thankful for local supporters who have helped to keep us going. We have also made the effort to provide options more suitable to current lifestyles, such as easier-to-wear and more budget friendly items. We kicked off our sustainability efforts to minimise wastage of our batik fabric, making fabric face masks and gifts like headbands and accessories that people can purchase for loved ones. So some good things have come out of it, I guess.

It is hard to say what the situation ahead will be like. We had a pretty good month because of Ramadan, which is usually one of our best seasons. But we are heading into another lockdown again. For now, we are just trying to provide comfort, financial security and stability for our staff during this turbulence. It has really taught me how to save for rainy days as a business owner and to adapt to the unknown.


Datuk Rauf Rashid
Country managing partner, Ernst & Young PLT


(Photo: Haris Hassan/The Edge)

Agility, flexibility and technology will remain the mainstays of businesses to enhance their resilience, focus on sustainability and accelerate transformational growth. Companies need to continue accelerating digital transformation and deploying technology at speed. And transformation needs to be driven by people and ultimately serve people. So, businesses should continue to invest in their people. Finally, the organisation’s purpose will keep the team together.

This may sound clichéd, but for a professional services organisation like ours, our people are our No 1 priority. Their health, safety and well-being remain most important to us. We provide our people with a holistic range of well-being benefits and support, including specific well-being initiatives in response to the pandemic.

We continue to focus on enhancing the support, regularly reviewing our plans, policies and processes to ensure they are responsive to the evolving landscape. And we maintain transparent, regular and consistent communications with our people, which goes a long way in building trust, confidence and optimism.


This article first appeared on May 10, 2021 in The Edge Malaysia.


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