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Lockdown stories: Vandana Saxena Poria

28 May 2020: Vandana Saxena Poria, entrepreneur, mentor and adviser to entrepreneurs across India, shares her secrets for successfully continuing to work during lockdown.

As a chartered accountant, entrepreneur, ex-director of the UK India Business Council, TEDx Speaker, mentor and angel investor, perhaps it was to be expected that the coronavirus measures would not slow Vandana Saxena Poria down.

Born and raised in London, Poria moved to India in 2005 to set up a content research and creation company. For her contribution to the British Business Group in Pune, which she helped re-ignite, she was honoured with an OBE from the Queen.

Now during lockdown, she is continuing to innovate, providing help and support to her clients and looking at new ways of working that can exist beyond the lockdown.

“There is a lot of demand for high-quality innovative leadership training and consulting,” she tells ICAEW Insights. “So, I have augmented my team with freelancers to be able to run more sessions.”

Despite India’s central bank, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), announcing a series of measures to help relieve some of the financial stress caused by the pandemic, including a three-month moratorium on all term loans and expanding liquidity in the system, Poria says there is no support from India’s government for businesses like her.

Her clients highlighted their agility in the situation by immediately cutting non-essential costs that wouldn’t materially impact their businesses and implemented measures to ensure the continued functioning of their businesses such as providing laptops and internet dongles.

“My clients reviewed their cash, spoke to banks and communicated with their staff and clients to ensure transparency as much as possible. This has worked in their favour - many clients had their staff voluntarily agree to pay cuts and deferred payment structures. A number of clients looked at how they could pivot their businesses to support the industries that would experience growth in the lockdown such as healthcare, internet-based companies and online education.”

Embracing technology

For her part, Poria has embraced technologies like Microsoft Teams and Zoom to keep her business going. Previously, Poria would communicate mostly via email but since the lockdown she has been picking up the phone and setting up video calls, “so I can see my clients and hear what they are going through”. 

“My leadership work is all about supporting leaders to deal with change, so this is an area that has grown. Clients have been asking for advice on how to engage their teams, how to keep them motivated and how to handle the stress of getting work done with increased family commitments and responsibilities at home.”

In spite of her success in supporting their businesses to continue to function, Poria isn’t underestimating the huge challenges that lie ahead.

“How long will this last and what will the post COVID world look like? We are actively working on pivoting the business and building agility skills, so they are flexible to move quickly when new opportunities are spotted. For example, a real estate-focused CRM company I work with realised that their core sector was suffering. They have now reached out to high-growth COVID markets such as health tech.

Reach out to experts

Post-lockdown, Poria says that working from home should become a clear possibility for many staff and “should be encouraged more”. She is also certain that webinars could become more popular.

Webinars have proved a hit and we will be doing more of them for knowledge sharing, especially as we can get people from other time zones to join us and share experiences.”

Her advice for other accountants around the world is to use this time “to reach out to experts” who may have more time on their hands currently and to consider investment in research and development.

“This is actually a time to spend on R&D. As ICAEW members I am not sure how much time we spend being creative, or thinking holistically about efficiency. This is a time to get diverse perspectives - reach out through the network to others. I have found the ICAEW network amazing. Everyone is willing to help.”

But crucially, she says, it’s vital to accept the situation and “that things will take a long time to get back to what we thought was normal”.