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Opportunities Amidst Covid-19 Adversity | Mr. Uday Shankar, Chairman, Star & Disney India

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20th May, 2020
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Opportunities Amidst Covid-19 Adversity | Mr. Uday Shankar, Chairman, Star & Disney India

Hello everyone. This is Ronnie Screwvala, co-founder and executive chairman of upGrad. I think currently, people are really hungry for inspiration and sharing experiences. And, I think that’s what we look forward to when in conversation with Mr. Uday Shankar. Uday, since 2007 took over Star TV as the CEO and now is the president of Walt Disney Company and chairman of Disney and Star in India.

He has contributed an incredible amount. Uday, I want to thank you for joining us. Today, we have working professionals, we have learners, we have leaders. So, I think all learners and all leaders, over to you.

1. What’s going to happen to the economy?

So, let me first tell you that there is no point, trying to soften the bad news. Let’s all get prepared for that. Those of us who are lucky enough to avoid the infection will face second-order challenges. Many of us will have to take a reduction in our salaries. The ones who are less fortunate may lose a job, those who have businesses will struggle with liquidity, cash and all of that.

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By most accounts, it looks like at least a couple of quarters will be totally lost in terms of economic value. Now, if that is happening and India is about a 2/2.5 trillion dollar economy, you can imagine the impact. This is a kind of economic setback that this country has not seen since independence.

Read more: Future of Work, Jobs and Careers after COVID19 – Webinar Post

2. What lessons can we learn during this period?

 The first and foremost lesson that we need to take from this whole thing is that it’s a crisis, it’s a setback, but the world is not coming to an end. The world will emerge stronger and we’ll find a cure for the virus and we will get about our lives and get stronger and get better. So, be positive and believe in this.

Talking about us as individuals, the most important thing that you can do today is to have that self-belief. Every crisis creates its own winners and even the absence of crisis has losers. Businesses go bankrupt, people lose jobs, people do not get increments and people struggle. And, even in the toughest of times, people are winners.

The challenge of coronavirus is that it’s a large-scale crisis affecting the whole society. But, to an individual who’s struggling or whether it is affecting many people, there is no comfort or no solace. Sometimes human beings, just because they follow their passion and because they are by nature adventurous, ambitious, they leave the comfort and go into a zone of discomfort. This situation is pushing us into the unknown. And, it’s the fear of the unknown that keeps us awake.

Read: 24 Productive Things to do for Professional Growth in Lockdown

3. Will we get liquidity for working capital? Will we be able to pay off our employees? Will we have to lay off our employees?

I will tell you that we should not worry too much about the unknown because it’s not in your control. I think all of us should reduce the risk that we take. All the risks that we have to take cannot be avoided but minimize your risk. That’s the most important thing.

What is it that you can avoid doing right now, and what is it that you must do right now? What is it that I’m really good at? Stay with what you’re good at and build on that. Don’t abandon what you’re good at, what your core skills are. Build around those core skills. Be curious, but do not abandon what your skill is, what your core strength is.

Reduce your liabilities at a time like this. Whether it is in business or your personal life… Whether it is a financial liability or otherwise, you should be carrying much less baggage. Don’t abandon your plans, but hold on.

Take a risk. It sounds counterintuitive. You might even think that I have lost it, but there is no better time than this to take some risks. But, take a very calibrated risk. And, again to strengthen your core because right now is the time when nobody is taking a risk.

Decide what it is that you will do and what is it that you will absolutely not do. What are the things that you will postpone and may consider doing later and what are the things that you will absolutely not do. Now, is the time to hit pause and review everything.  

4. Short term vs. Long term

All of us should be prepared for the situation to get worse before it gets better. The one thing that you should absolutely avoid in the short term. Do not expect the short term to get better. Please be prepared. As I was saying that you may have to take a reduced income, you may have to abandon plans.

A few quarters or even a year or two are not what we are planning for. I don’t like 100-meter sprints, but I really admire marathons. A marathon runner looks very unattractive, almost ‘unsexy’ in front of a sprinter, but the marathoner keeps running for two, three and four hours, and covers a distance and that is the ultimate skill… The ultimate test of character and success – endurance. And, build something that’s lasting.

So, I think my advice to youth is… Youth is impetuous, they’re impatient and that’s why it’s so delightful. They’re full of energy and they want to achieve everything overnight but that’s not going to happen. You will dissipate a lot of energy in trying to achieve that and you will get very frustrated. Take a deep breath and pace it out. Be prepared. You should judge yourself and your progress based on where you are in the next one year and then in the next two or three years.

5. Careers in Media

When people are sitting at home the one thing that they all want to consume is media. And, whether it is serious media like information, news and knowledge. There is a lot of good that the media does. Today, whenever the world is uncertain, the one thing that we gravitate towards is media, is content. We want to know because we want information. The media brings in information and awareness. This gives you a sense of comfort and assurance in the volatile world, in the uncertain world.

If you don’t mind the relentlessness of it and if you don’t mind challenging yourself every single day and if you don’t mind what you’re saying to be judged by everybody who’s watching or listening or reading you, then there is every reason to be in the media.

6. About upGrad

 I think upGrad is doing some amazing courses and people should definitely see if anything makes sense for them. And, they should do that. But, by and large, the biggest asset and this is one thing that I say with absolute confidence, is that there is nothing better than curiosity and learning to get to a better place in life. Today, you have online courses available that allow you to make that choice. Why would you not take advantage of that?

7. Perspective on China or Japan versus India today in the economic context

There is a culture of discipline in these countries. So, people are following the discipline of social distancing, keeping personal hygiene, putting masks, and using sanitizers. But, life is back to normal and it is because people are doing the right things. My one learning is that China really realized very quickly that the virus was going to be around for some time and knew how to create normalcy within that context.

I think South Korea has done a great job and the message that comes from countries like South Korea and Singapore, even Japan now, is an investment in healthcare. Having a great healthcare infrastructure is going to be remarkable because those who don’t have it will have a much bigger challenge versus those who have it.

Also Read: Role of Big Data in COVID-19 Aid

8. Ronnie’s Mantra

 I have two mantras. I think less for more is what I’m obsessed with. Just being a little bit more focused and actually having a higher impact. And, less for more is a mantra that I think I’ve evolved and strengthened in my mind.

The second one for me has been breaking glass ceilings because I think glass ceilings are meant to be broken but somehow we never go out and have the guts to break them, and then we kind of look horizontally instead of looking vertically. So, these are two things that really stuck with me and evolved.

Concluding remarks

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The lockdown induced due to the Covid-19 virus has changed the way the world has gotten accustomed to functioning. However, the world has faced immense challenges before and withstood those challenges.

We have the opportunity to utilise this time to prepare ourselves to create a better future. In tough times, we need to rely on our conviction to keep going. Now, is the ideal time to be positive. The world has not ended so far and it won’t end this time again. If we are safe and healthy, then we will be able to finally triumph. A problem with all of us is that we only read the success. Rarely, do we get a full insight into the journey to success. We have to create our own success journey now.

Utilise upGrad’s limited-time free courses during this lockdown. Hone yourself and rise to the challenge.



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We are an online education platform providing industry-relevant programs for professionals, designed and delivered in collaboration with world-class faculty and businesses. Merging the latest technology, pedagogy and services, we deliver an immersive learning experience for the digital world – anytime, anywhere.
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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1How has COVID-19 impacted the jobs in India?

The COVID-19 pandemic has not left any industry and field untouched from its effect, be it alone employment, which was the worst hit. Due to many businesses' closures and shutting down, a multitude was sacked. At the pandemic's start, salaries and wages were reduced, but when the situation worsened, and no end to it was visible, countless were seen on the wallaby track. When the lockdown was imposed from March to May 2020, the economy was shut down, which prompted the unemployment rate in urban areas to reach 20.9% during April-June 2020 quarter. The pandemic pushed 23 crores of people below the poverty line, leaving masses without even bread and butter.

2What opportunities are there in COVID-19?

When one side faces dark, the other side has a light over it. The challenges COVID-19 has presented before us are not easy to fight, but it has also provided us with opportunities to come out stronger when the pandemic ends. The opportunities here do not in any way mean the business growth the online sphere has received. Here it means the possibility to have more time with family, that too not in movies, festivals, restaurants, etc. The chance to reflect and reconsider, innovate, reconnect, and help the environment to breathe. The qualities of modesty and acceptance, which were for long not felt, came to sudden realisation with the stoppage of the world.

3What are the career opportunities in media?

At some point in time, each of us craved to have a name and some fame. For some, such a phase was short-lived, while for others, it becomes their intent. To enter the media industry is not easy, but what is more difficult is to sustain. The media industry offers enormous career options for one to pursue. Journalism, cinematography, screenwriting, art direction, advertising, public relations management, corporate communication, etc., are a few to be listed. After setting one's heart on to a career, many courses are available to help you reach your ultimate destination.

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