BONUS | Hanadi Khalife - Business Continuity in the Middle East & India (with Rouba Zeidan)

April 02, 2020 | 19 Minutes

Hanadi Khalife, Senior Director of Middle East-Africa & India Operations at IMA, joins Count Me In to talk about COVID-19 in the region and discusses the internal and external developments being implemented to safeguard human life and business continuity. In this episode, Adam also welcomes a new co-host to Count Me In, Rouba Zeidan! Rouba is the Communications Manager for the Middle East and India in IMA's Dubai office and she conducts an engaging and informative interview with Hanadi about all these timely issues. From addressing the challenging business decisions needing to be made to the positive advice for all business leaders, Rouba and Hanadi give great perspective and insight into how IMA and the region is handling this global crisis. Download and listen now!

Welcome back for a very special episode of Count Me In. I am your host, Adam Larson and I'm excited to announce Mitch and I will have a new cohost on the series, Rouba Zeidan. Rouba is the communications manager for the middle East and India out of IMA's Dubai office. She'll be joining our Count Me In team to bring you more global perspectives on accounting and finance by featuring inspirational stories and expert guests from the region and to welcome Rouba to the series. I'm happy to bring you right up to our first conversation today. Rouba spoke with Ima, senior director for middle East Africa and India operations Hanadi Khalife. They discussed the timely issues relating to COVID-19 in the region and all the internal and external developments being implemented to safeguard human life and business continuity. Please join me in welcoming Rouba to the team and a special thanks to Hanadi for this insight as we head over to their conversation now. 
Rouba: (01:00)
So we're going through a globally challenging period. I mean with IMA's regional offices based in the United Arab Emirates, I mean Dubai to be more specific. Can you tell us a little bit about how this region is coping with the situation and then what are some of the highlights of government level initiatives being taken? Surely Middle East and India as you may? 
Hanadi: (01:21)
Yeah, I think, I mean Rouba and I, you know, we're fortunate to have visionary leaders in the UAE who are shaping the future of this nation and the most progressive, yet very embracing way to ensure not only the wellbeing, but also the happiness. You know, we have a happiness minister of its citizens as well as the economist perspective of the country and the way the country has been managing the Covid 19 outbreak. It's no different. It's really commendable, I think how the country is mobilized to find the rights of the virus, the establishment of additional test centers, including drive-through ones, mass disinfection of roads and public transportation and the creation of public awareness campaigns. And I'm really particularly impressed with the recent ad campaign, because it wasn't aimed only at the awareness, but also at, you know, uplifting spirit and encouraging people to take the time to reflect and not to panic. This, of course has resulted in a full alignment, solidarity and commitment from the people to follow, really thought only the government directives. At the end of the day they are aimed at flattening the curve as quickly as possible, I hold back to a business as usual for the benefit of all stakeholders, especially the most vulnerable ones. Now on the regional level, the regulators and policy makers have also been very busy in all the GCC countries and they're proactively taking measures in order to reduce the negative economic impact of the Virus outbreak. Be it on the households, on businesses and the financial markets with seeing the rolling out of stimulus measures that help maintain households economic welfare. And I hope we see additional initiatives, that will be implemented similar to the Denmark government initiative. The largest two Arab economies are Saudi Arabia. Yeah. The United Arab Emirates have also launched stimulus packages aimed to support companies in the sectors that are more hardly hit like the tourism, the retail and the trade sectors. The central banks have also focused on assisting, SMEs. As you know, SMEs constitute more than 75% of companies in the region. So there are defending loan repayments, reducing, waving, processing and service fees, in addition to reducing interest charges and minimum balances requirements. Now, despite the current low oil prices, the UAE economic stimulus has a consolidated package valued at 126 billion. This is approximately 34 billion, while is why Saudi Arabia is worth 32 billion. Also the policy makers are supporting obviously the money market. For example, they recently the reduced, the overnight lending rate from 4% to 2.45%. I know you asked us about India because India is also a part of our market here. So India has entered stage three after the pandemic, right? Today, I think we're on day five of the nationwide lockdown. And, they're saying like the next 72 hours are extremely crucial to monitor if the infection will explode. The covenant that also has been proactive. They created essential relief funds. The health ministry inaugurated 24, seven national telemedicine and there are also 28 hospitals of Indian armed forces that are now reserved for covered patients. 
Rouba: (05:17)
Amazing initiatives. I mean it's, it's wonderful to see how aggressive and fast governments are reacting. It is certainly reassuring. So as I mean, as a leader in this region, you've obviously had to take some decisions, some difficult decisions yourself to ensure that, you know, the business continues and then your staff are safe. I being one of them can bear with how well you've managed this fire, but what have been some of your guiding principles during this really difficult time? 
Hanadi: (05:49)
You know, as a member based not-for-profit organization at IMA, it has always been a purpose before profit. So before any decisions we consider the impact on our employees, on our members, CMA candidates on our supply chain and of course more broadly our value chain. So business continuity is about sustainability to us and not short term gains. And the tone at the top was very clear, and that was communicated from day one by our president and CEO Jeff Thompson. It's really about the safety and health of employees. This is the number one priority as well as abiding by the instructions and measures, that I would expect the government had put in place. This directives really cascaded to regions and guided our decisions. So we all have to act now on our social responsibility duties and we have an obligation to contribute and containing the Virus. I mean it's really spreading like wildfire and play our role and flattening the curve. The earlier we control the spread of the virus. The earlier the economic activities where the earlier we can say businesses from shutting down, the more we can save God the wellbeing of the people and the welfare of the societies we live in. 
Rouba: (07:13)
So would you say the IMA network globally is still fully operational, conference calling and systems? Everything was put in place. How soon into this crisis? All mobilized? 
Hanadi: (07:25)
You know, it was really from day one and you would have expect a business to slow down, but the whole team globally is probably busier than average. We are all very connected every day engaged. So it, eally has, we started, we didn't waste time. We started from day one. We took it seriously. I mean I think we were the first to really, take this outbreak very seriously. 
Rouba: (08:01)
So I mean all of this crises, how is IMA managing the task at hand and what are some of the immediate actions that you've taken? 
Hanadi: (08:09)
So I believe communicating business priorities is the number one step when managing any unanticipated situation that can result in business disruption such as Covid 19, outbreak it clear the message internally mitigates any confusion in terms of actions and responsibilities required from each team member and his or her capacity. And that will really help them guide the individual decisions. And in the current environment where uncertainty is the name of the game, it's also important to alleviate the anxiety and stress. So I'm sure you've heard of many companies that from the first week of the lockdown has laid off employees, implemented cuts or forced days off. We, on the other hand, is should each and every team member that, that health and safety is our priority. But also assured them of the financial stability and strength of a IMA. Our human capital after all is our most valuable assets and our decisions are stemmed from this priority. Now on an operational level, we were the first to move to a work from home environment. We made sure that we are all connected and have the digital and online platforms that support, that supports our business continuity. All this haven't been made easy because we do have very strong, strong core values and they became part of our team DNA. So business continuity is less challenging for us. And as I said, our purpose guides our decisions. And now more than ever, these extreme times are with members. I will see I'm a candidates and our partners are counting on us. So we have to keep providing them with the resources and products that they need in order to have them strive towards that ambitions or their business scores. The delivery channels of course have been some of them have been disrupted, but with the weekly move to other platforms that enable us to continue to deliver value and modify our offering to the current needs of our stakeholders and of course as you know, the CMA testing remain a priority for many candidates around the world. So we are ensuring that their learning continues by putting in place online resources for their use, extending our testing windows, waiving cancellation fees, put exam scheduling and most importantly keeping them engaged. 
Rouba: (10:50)
I mean we also have a huge part of the business and the operation is it revolves around CMA candidates and with testing coming up and sold them so many of them around the world. Also scrambling, you know, to continue this how is IMA making sure that, you know, the learning actually continues. 
Hanadi: (11:11)
I think I've been communicating business priorities is the number one step when managing any anticipated situation that can result in business disruptions.  Now, I know you asked me about the operational level. So we were the first, as I've said, to have the work from home, decision and we made sure it would all connected, and that was easy for us because when you have strong core values that become part of your DNA, business continuity becomes a less challenging. As I said, our purpose guides our decisions. And now more than ever in these extreme times, our members, our CMA candidates and our partners are counting on us. So we have to keep providing them with the resources, the products that they need in order to help them strive towards that ambition. We've changed the delivery channels of our services, but we moved quickly to other platforms to enable us to continue to deliver. you asked me about the CMA candidates and the testing center. This is, this really remains a priority for many candidates around the world. So we are ensuring that the learning continues by putting in place online resources and most importantly keeping them engaged. 
Rouba: (12:37)
That's all excellent stuff. One of my favorite messages, from, you know, we had a town hall, a global town hall with our CEO and president and the entire team. And one of the core messages was that if we are to come out of this stronger, we need to be a learning organization. So what would you say are some of the key benefits or learnings that you liked that are coming out of this, this crazy transition? 
Hanadi: (13:05)
Yeah, I think even if it's crazy that there are lots of, learnings. and I think the first thing is that it gave us the opportunity, to really reflect and connect even more with, with each other. we are rethinking and companies should be rethinking their business models from a digital transformation perspective, agility level, and of course the supply chain. Yeah. For me, this transition will expedite the adoption of new technologies. and probably, the assessment of the supply chains, the supply and change. We'll move perhaps to a more local suppliers. We're rethinking the market verticals we operate in no doubt, that will be a dramatic on the whole ecosystem of work and of education. so we are going to learn a lot as individuals, as companies, schools companies will assess the works from home model, the online tutoring, the delivery touchpoints of the products and services. And I think also this transition is reaffirmation that localization is a double edge sword. So local companies who read I little and their supply chains, on exports, companies who are more agile will be the ones who would recover faster from the crisis provided of course. they received adequate support from the government. And a key learning for me is the importance of corporate social responsibility and the necessity for the oil, the society constituent to work together, for the benefit of the society and the planet. Because all of us individuals, companies, government, our actions and decisions are interrelated. Definitely interesting times ahead. And I hope to understand the lessons learned and act upon them because most, most of the time we tend to have a very short memory. But I hope that this won't be the case. 
Rouba: (15:23)
Yeah, I hope not either. I mean, there has to be a learning, right. So, I mean some other leaders, in the region and globally going through the same challenge, what advice would you give to these leaders from your experience? 
Hanadi: (15:40)
Yeah, it is indeed very challenging times. I mean, we've been dealing with complexity, volatility, uncertainty and disruption for a few years now. You know, there's the saying change has become the business constant, but I think the crisis that we're facing now is of a different magnitude. So the pace is much faster and the risks, the risks, have greater impact. So actions now and those of our teams will determine the fate of our business. We need to both as leaders now manage and lead effectively. So as managers we need to make immediate choices and allocate resources and as need. Those we also need to pull back a little, take the holistic view of challenges of opportunities and come up with plans to ensure business continuity, at the end of the day organization that would show it as a yes, we'll make it through again, setting the business priorities. Strategize frequently is that the crisis management unit that works on scenario plans and action plans. And I believe the speed of action at this point is more important than getting consensus on the decisions we need to stay focused, engaged with our stakeholders, coordination, solidarity between OI stakeholders. I'd also crucial and for those who still under estimate the seriousness of the situation, I hope they are very, very few by now. I advise them not to fall in the optimism bias or the worst stick that has in the sand and pretend this is not happening. And on an individual level, my final advice is probably influenced by my NLP training. I'd really like to invite and urge everyone, leaders, individuals, to take care of the emotional and mental health as well as the wellbeing and the wellbeing of the people around them. 
Announcer: (17:43)
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