How to survive a black swan event: An agile playbook for coming out ahead of the greatest crisis of our lifetime


There has been a lot of short-term thinking around COVID, starting with the government. I believe our government, like governments all over the world, dropped the ball. What gets to me is the self-deluding narrative that this crisis will be resolved like magic in a couple of months. Far be it for me to question the power of positive thinking – I’ve also read ‘The Secret’ – but even to an aam aadmi like me, this is just foolhardy thinking.

Let me illustrate – COVID is far more contagious than the flu – recent estimates have placed its R0 at higher than 6. Asymptomatic people are contagious, which explains why even with strict lockdowns, the infection only keeps trending upward. As we near the end of Lockdown 4.0, if quarantine eases, this vicious cycle of rising infections and lockdowns will only keep perpetuating until a vaccine is developed. A vaccine is at least 12 – 15 months away if not longer.

Different companies are employing different strategies, each suited to their particular situation — even Fortune 500 companies with billions in reserves are opting to conserve cash. Each of us is in a different boat, albeit weathering the same storm – some of us well equipped, but the majority holding on for dear life. I say this especially to companies walking around like it’s just another day in just another year. Parading your new hires in the face of businesses that are struggling is not a sign of success but immature, myopic and insensitive flaunting.

Black swan events are characterised by their extreme rarity, their severe impact, and the widespread insistence they were evident in hindsight. So, we are all underdogs in this fight – none of us knows what’s in store next except that the future is bright. To me the most important ingredient to bounce back when the tide turns is an ample war chest, which for most of us entails a lot of short term sacrifice. Not many are well-funded startups, luxury aggregators or traders who optimise profits.

We are in this for the long haul. I will say this again for emphasis – we are in this for the long haul. COVID will continue to disrupt our lives, our livelihoods, our financial plans for 12 months and beyond. This is not the time for myopic short term thinking.

The best safety measure against COVID is to boost your immunity while believing you are already infected and acting accordingly.

The same goes for your business. Face this crisis head-on. Conserve cash, retire debts if you can, and build your war chest bit by bit – the war has only just begun.

Protect your people, but use this as an opportunity to let them face the executioner. देखना है ज़ोर कितना बाज़ू-ए-क़ातिल में है | We were, are and will always be a war team. And COVID is just another agni pariksha for us. Not for us, protectionist mollycoddling. This crisis is helping us identify leaders among our second and third line.

Businesses in travel, hospitality, retail, personal care are the poster victims of this catastrophe. I want to posit; however, with all due respect to the industries mentioned, that manufacturing companies have it just as bad. But we are like the middle child in the story – excluded from the narrative because our challenges aren’t as obvious. For manufacturing companies like ours, especially, prudence demands to differentiate between cash flow cycle and profitability.

Manufacturing companies rely on skilled labour – most of these are migrants. Protecting the livelihoods of these essential workers – yes, they are also essential workers on whose backs our economy flourishes – has to be our single biggest priority. Even if it means temporary pay cuts for corporate teams to ensure essential workers are protected.

Reward maturity, but don’t punish dissent. There will be pushback – it’s reasonable and healthy. Meet it with open dialogue. Incentivise billing rebounds as the economy returns.

Now is the time for fiscal prudence coupled with one eye on opportunities emerging on the horizon. We are pivoting to buffer our business against whatever the future may bring through acquisitions and trade agreements, but this is a post for another day

Act for your clients, ignore the competition and the naysayers. Coming out intact through this crisis will take up all of your time and creative energy. This crisis is just a detour; you’ll realise your vision if you stay true to it.

We Indian entrepreneurs have always had to stand on our own two feet. We’ve never had true support from our government, not in 70 years of independence. It’s pointless pointing fingers, we all know the reality. We’re on our own, and we have to act like it.

Fabtech delivers start to finish solutions from design, manufacturing, project management. We’re enormously proud of our 769-strong team of Life Engineers at five factories across Maharashtra. We’re proud of the legacy we’re building. For us, this is a crash course in survival.

So fight the good fight. You, like the rest of the world, have the same opportunity here to rewrite your future. Go, build a legacy you can be proud of too.