5 min read
In the span of a week, Nam Ho DMC went from organising group tours to delivering e-commerce packages in a game-changing pivot that its co-founder Mahesh Pawanaskar attributes to human capital.
When crisis first struck travel agency Nam Ho DMC during the COVID-19 pandemic, the company’s employees came to its rescue. Bookings were drying up then amid concerns of rising COVID-19 cases, resulting in “concerned faces all over the office, including our drivers who were looking for assurance that their jobs are going to stay,” described the company’s co-founder Mahesh Pawanaskar. One week after that moment of gloom, the mood had completely changed as the firm embarked on a new business model -- all thanks to one innovative driver.
“During our last week of travel bookings, one of our drivers came up to me and said ‘what's going to be happening from here on? The world is shutting down.’ I told him that we would find a way out of this. He then came back and asked me whether the company would consider door-to-door parcel deliveries,” recounted Pawanaskar. “This was early on in the pandemic and I started to connect with some e-commerce sites. I remember just one day after our last travel booking, our vehicles were on the road doing parcel deliveries.”
Nam Ho DMC, which claims to have the largest fleet of vehicles of any destination management company in Singapore, has made new use of its vans to become a trusted delivery partner for e-commerce sites such as Amazon, Lazada and Shopee. Even though the logistics operation was a product of challenging times, it’s grown so successful that Nam Ho DMC has added a full-fledged logistics division to its travel brand. It’s also invested in new vehicles and hired more employees since the pandemic began.
Logistics isn’t the company’s only pandemic pivot. It has launched a B2B marketplace called Nam Ho Mall for non-travel products. The company is also creating virtual tours and running another online marketplace called Buy Beyond Borders that targets Singaporeans looking to buy food items from Southeast Asia and China.
“At school, we learnt that every crisis is an opportunity. That proverb didn't mean anything to me until this pandemic,” Pawanaskar said. As he explained, a few factors underlined Nam Ho DMC’s victorious pivots: human relationships, being agile, and hands-on leadership.
Value your employees
The idea to become a logistics operator would have never materialised without an open company culture and Nam Ho DMC’s long-standing commitment to its employees, according to Pawanaskar.
“For me, the three Ps of successful business are people, people and people. So, if you have the right people, I think you’re sorted,” he said. “We believe that the voices of our employees are critical. Anyone from the ecosystem can give us an idea or opinion and we take it seriously."
Without strong commitment from each employee, there’s no way Nam Ho DMC would have made the delivery business work. In fact, it was sheer dedication that enabled the company to move from 200 to 2000 deliveries a day, especially with eight of its drivers over the age of 65. They had to quickly learn how to use app-based delivery systems but instead of complaining, they showed “resilience, positive energy and a willingness to fight,” said Pawanaskar.
“What’s helped me over the years is my communication with the staff on a personal level,” said Pawanaskar. “They know my family story, and I know their family story. They can always come have a chat with me and ask for help if needed. That bonding has really helped us to overcome this year’s problems.”
Close ties between a boss and employees goes a long way when it comes to teamwork and making simple activities such as group calls into daily habits helps boost morale, Pawanaskar explained.
‘Leaders must think and do’
When deliveries began, Pawanaskar joined his workers out in the field rather than sit behind his desk—a move that he said magnified the urgency of the logistics business and motivated staff to succeed.
“Between the other co-founders Ashish Dubey, Marshall Ooi and myself, we have this simple philosophy: ‘we don't only want thinkers in the system, we want thinkers and doers.’ Our company has a hierarchy for the sake of organization but when there is work, whoever is available will pick up that work and do it.”
But swapping the comforts of an air-conditioned office for carrying heavy items around is no easy task, as Pawanaskar explained: “The biggest challenge in moving from travel to logistics was the physical work but from day one, we're all on the ground, fighting this out in the heat and rain together."
Acting fast during a crisis
The speed at which Nam Ho DMC repurposed existing resources for a new venture also worked to its advantage. “For the first few months when the pandemic struck, we were running with the same fleet and the same team. Basically, we put all our available resources to more productive use instead of letting them go dormant,” Pawanaskar described. As an organisation, he believes that it's not only about the survival of the fittest, but also survival of the most adaptable.
“If we had waited longer with the false hope that things would get back to normal, I think we would have closed down,” he noted, adding his gratitude for the job support scheme from Singapore’s government.
Leverage your relationships
India is Nam Ho DMC’s top market for inbound visitors so when scores of agents in the South Asian nation started selling consumer products like foodstuff to survive the pandemic, Pawanaskar and the other cofounders saw an opportunity to build Nam Ho Mall. Most importantly, it helps “keep the connection and business continuity” with its colleagues in India until travel returns, said Pawanaskar. “If we’re able to establish Nam Ho Mall into a successful platform, it becomes another source of revenue for us and the travel agents.”
Nam Ho DMC’s human-centered approach to business applies to its competitors too. The Buy Beyond Borders e-commerce site sources items from other travel companies in Singapore. “These are technically our competitors but at times of crisis, there is no competition, it's all about survival,” said Pawanaskar. “Rather than looking at anybody as a competitor, if you can just join hands and do something to stay afloat, I think that's a way forward as far as the crisis is concerned.”
Looking ahead to a post-pandemic economy
Nam Ho DMC’s pandemic pivots have helped the company save jobs and whilst they will remain in place for the foreseeable future, the company remains committed to improving its core tourism business once travel rules ease.
In the meantime, the firm has been digitising its backend systems for productivity. During the downtime, the Singapore Tourism Board (STB)'s in-house consultants conducted design thinking workshops for the firm. These sessions helped us “ascertain the direction and the structure of the technology we want to use for our internal and external customers,” said Pawanaskar. This puts the firm in a better position to service the market more efficiently when it opens up.
Pawanaskar’s final words for the travel industry are a reflection of his personal philosophy: “Be adaptable, be open to doing all kinds of jobs. Profit all is a byproduct of good people. It's all about people, manage your people well and I think you can move out of any crisis swiftly.”
Special thanks to Nam Ho DMC for their support and contributions to the development of this story.
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