Those were the words of Linde plc COO-elect, Sanjiv Lamba, as he delivered the official Opening Keynote at the gasworld Virtual Event 2020 earlier this week and reflected not only on a difficult 2020 but also how he sees the future shaping up in 2021 and beyond.
Having begun by taking the opportunity to pay homage to the ‘heroic’ workers in the gases industry that have essentially been on the frontline of the pandemic all year, Lamba turned to the shape of economic recovery across the Asia-Pacific region and what comfort could be drawn from this and the global trends that will underpin the industry going forward.
He explained, “For many of us and indeed many colleagues and people more broadly in business and society, 2020 has been a year that has not just been difficult but a year symbolised by the masks – the ubiquitous masks and how the grim realities of what people faced were largely hidden under those masks.”
“Now, people are all looking forward – 2021 is all about the hope, it’s all about the vaccines, notwithstanding the logistical challenges of distributing billions of vaccines across the world ensuring billions of people get vaccinated. Putting all of that aside, the vaccines offer hope and a semblance of normalcy. And therefore, a large part of 2021 as we look ahead is dedicated to that cause.”
“There is of course one other reason for that hope, and here I want to talk about how the economies of the Asia-Pacific are doing – and the best way to describe them, I think, is that they are chugging along, along a path of recovery, along a path of building momentum with every step they take. There are many examples to illustrate this point.”
Providing slides and particular examples, Lamba continued, “We have seen a very sharp recovery in China, for example, and of course the industry has stepped up to meet that recovery in a very positive way. We’ve seen a sharp recovery in South Asia, and one market in particular in India that has seen a strong rebound after one of the worst instances of volume and demand reduction that we saw.”
“We’ve seen slightly slower growths in the ASEAN geographies, a little more measured as they moved along. And then if I think about Taiwan, about South Korea, about the South Pacific nations, all of them probably did slightly better – it’s all relative of course – than many other nations and, therefore, the recovery there is shallow – notwithstanding the fact that it is in many ways perceptible.”
“So as you look ahead to 2021 based on the momentum we’re seeing here today, this chart courtesy of McKinsey illustrates what is happening on the recovery front. So what I’d like to say from these charts, and a little bit tongue in cheek, is that these recoveries, these curves, are how people are measuring the pace of change of what is happening and how quickly we get back to the new normal.”
Lamba then explained the sense of benefit or advantage one might say the Asia-Pacific region has in its approach to life and business as a whole, and how it has both quickly and appropriately re-calibrated to the new normal.
“It’s fair to say at this point in time that if we take a step back and just reflect, we are no longer talking about economic, growth, we are no longer talking about the pace of that growth, we’re actually focused enormously on the question, how do we get back to pre-Covid levels?”
“Even in Asia-Pacific, one of the fastest growing markets anywhere in the world, the reality has changed a little bit, we have re-calibrated and our thinking today is how do we get back to pre-Covid levels.”
“The only other comment I would make on that is, that as a region that believes in personal ownership and collective responsibility, that’s been a good mix for fuelling the recovery that we have seen – and of course, that is all helping with the Covid pandemic and the after-effects of that as well.”
“We will get back to pre-Covid recovery,” he enthused, “I have no doubt about that and I’m quite optimistic about how the Asia-Pacific is performing and moving forward. But the reality also is, we are learning to live with this virus. We are learning to co-exist and survive, and this economic recovery in Asia is a very positive story.”
“And I say this because, the unfortunate truth is that many other countries around the world are seeing a much slower pace of recovery and indeed, are still worried about the challenges that the Northern Hemisphere winter is going to bring. So, we must consider ourselves to be in a somewhat fortunate position that we are able to talk about momentum and realising recoveries in such ways.”
New market opportunities
Titled Asia-Pacific: Realising New Market Opportunities & Supply Chains, the gasworld Virtual Event 2020 represented gasworld’s first foray into virtual events.
It boasted a strong and wide-ranging agenda of industrial gas talking points and top speakers to match, touching upon trends and the hot topics of the day. As the Opening Keynote, Lamba primed this discussion with his own observations on the trend lines shaping the industry, and was keen to draw a line under a year that “I don’t think anyone really wants to talk about anymore.”
Looking ahead, he explained, “2021 is somewhat short-term and I think it’s important to talk about broader trends. Many people will agree with my comment that the Covid pandemic has fundamentally changed the way we do business, not just in this industry but more broadly.”
“So if that is indeed the case, what are the shifts that we are likely to see going forward? Today I would like to talk about three global trends. I could spend a lot of time talking about many more but, given the paucity of time, I’m going to focus my attention on three global trends that I think are meaningful for the broader industry, but I think are more relevant for our industry as well.”
Those trends were cited as digitisation (go digital, Lamba enthused), decarbonisation (go green) and the emergence of the hydrogen economy (go clean hydrogen) as a ‘unique opportunity’ for the gases industry.
Lamba was also keen to note that some fundamentals in our business will not change.
“Yes, some of these global trends will have an impact on our industry, hopefully a very positive impact, but some fundamentals don’t change – and those fundamentals are safety, competency and technology.”
“Our commitment to safety, our commitment to competency development, and our commitment to technology must be unwavering. These are areas that demand investment and attention if our industry is to move forward.”
For more information on the gasworld Virtual Event 2020, how you can catch-up on the discussion, debate and networking, or to take a look at gasworld’s upcoming virtual events programme beginning in February 2021, visit www.gasworldconferences.com