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COVID: Israel bans travel to India, six other countries

Israel has temporarily barred its citizens from travelling to India and six other countries, citing high COVID-19 infection rates there.

A joint press release issued by the Prime Minister’s Office and the Health Ministry on Friday said that Israelis will not be allowed to travel to Ukraine, Brazil, Ethiopia, South Africa, India, Mexico and Turkey.

This regulation will come into force on May 3 and will remain in place until May 16.

Non-Israelis, however, will be able to travel to these countries, provided they plan to reside there permanently, the press release said.

The regulation will not be applicable to those who stay at airports in transit in one of these countries for a time period of up to 12 hours while waiting for a connecting flight.

The Israeli government also authorised its health and interior ministers to appoint representatives to head an appeal committee and the panel reviewing special cases.

Meanwhile, the Health Ministry proposed that those returning from the seven countries enter a two-week mandatory quarantine, even if they have been vaccinated or recovered from COVID-19, local media reports said.

Those who have received two negative COVID-19 test reports will be required to be in a 10-day quarantine, they said.

These additional restrictions are also expected to come into force on May 3, but are subject to the approval of the Knesset’s (Israeli parliament) Arrangements Committee.

A record 3,689 daily COVID-19 fatalities pushed India’s death toll to 2,15,542, while the infection count reached 1,95,57,457 with 3,92,488 more people being confirmed positive for the disease, according to the Union Health Ministry data updated on Sunday.

The active cases have crossed the 33-lakh mark, the data updated at 8 am showed.

Israel has reported 838,481 COVID-19 cases so far with 6,363 deaths.

Saudi Arabia bans entry from UAE, Vietnam, Ethiopia and Afghanistan

Saudi Arabia will restrict travel to and entry from Ethiopia, UAE, Vietnam and Afghanistan over coronavirus concerns, the state news agency (WAS) reported on Saturday.

The ban goes into effect on July 4 and will apply to anyone who has been in those four countries within the last 14 days, it said. Saudi citizens returning before Sunday will be exempted.

How Raymond got its mojo back through CEO Sanjay Behl

One evening in March 2013, a man named Sanjay Behl called on Raymond Group chairman Gautam Singhania at his mansion in Mumbai’s Warden Road. He was there to be interviewed for the job of CEO of the 91-year old textile company.

Singhania had decided to step back and hand over the reins to a professional, but Behl was an unusual choice for CEO. He was a veteran at

Reliance Communications


Hindustan Unilever

and had little knowledge about the textile or fabrics industry. He had previously sold mobile telephones at Nokia and tooth paste and soaps at Hindustan Unilever. In his own words, “those days I knew more about soaps, detergents, mobile phones than fabrics”.

Yet, Singhania settled on Behl because he felt the latter understood the pulse of consumers. Behl’s association with consumer-centric companies like Hindustan Unilever gave him an insight into the minds of customers. Singhania was also looking for someone outside the textile business to bring in a fresh perspective to Raymond. Ravi Venkatesan, the former Microsoft India boss, who chairs the


advisory board, says he helped hire Behl. “He had a reputation of getting things done.”

At Raymond, Behl had plenty of things to do. Once an iconic brand, Raymond was struggling against newer Indian brands and foreign competition. Operating margins had fallen 5% since 2010. The brand was growing slower than the market and interest costs were spiralling out of control. Between July 19, 2012 and July 19, 2013, the day Behl joined Raymond, the stock tumbled 38.2%, losing ` 885 crore in market cap while the Sensex rose 16.6%.

Over the meeting that lasted until dinner, Singhania made it clear that he wanted Behl to bring back the lost glory of Raymond’s brand by 2020. He wanted Behl to turn the suiting and manufacturing behemoth into a lifestyle, fashion retail company. Three years since Behl took over as CEO, the stock has doubled outpacing the Sensex’s rise of 34%. Revenue has grown 37% and profit more than tripled.

The task of turning Raymond into a true lifestyle, fashion retail company is still a work in progress, but it is safe to say the company has turned around. For Behl, it was far from easy. “Before the action, there was a period of inaction because I came from a different industry. I was a noaction CEO for 6 months,” Behl told ET. “I went on the field, in manufacturing plants, met people and learnt.”

Until 2000, when the apparel market shifted to ready-to-wear garments, Raymond’s business was dominated by its suiting pision.

The company was known more for its fabrics, but suddenly found that it had to hit the ground running on ready-towear apparel. Not that the fabrics pision was kosher. Cost of doing business was rising and tailors were leaving the profession, making it hard to stitch expensive suiting fabric.

STITCH IN TIME Behl started with simplifying the company structure and broke it down into customer centric pisions rather than product centric verticals. He then moved to pesting or shutting down non-core parts of the business. Raymond shut down low cost fabric brands while selling off carpets, curtains, upholstery businesses. He also outsourced the technology to Accenture.

He shut down 75 under-performing, non-strategic stores. Behl got a free hand to accomplish these tasks. Singhania had stepped back entirely from operations. “Operationally I have been given the all the wheels to run this company. He (Singhania) is in (office) a day a month. The way this company is running is differently now from the way a family business is run,” says Behl. Singhania says his role is to steer the company. “I am involved as much or as little as required.”

Venkatesan says Raymond is a promoter driven company. “Fortunately, Singhania and Behl have excellent chemistry. It has been important in Behl’s success. He has got complete operational freedom.”

The steps taken by Behl led to a painful drop in workforce by a fifth. Up to 500 people had to leave. Behl then shifted his focus to the top management. “Six months after I joined, I invested half my time getting the right people,” says Behl. Of the 75 people who reported to Behl, 25 were replaced with talent from Hindustan Unilever, Tata


and other competitors. Many company loyalists were asked to go.

The average age of the senior deck fell to 43 from 54, while the overall average age at Raymond came down to 36 from 39. Raymond then sharpened its brand positioning in apparel business and did away with the overlaps in the positioning of its different brands. The Raymond brand is now positioned as classic premium, Park Avenue as contemporary premium, ColorPlus as smart casuals and Parx as economy casuals.

Raymond is back to being a venerated company, but the transformation has only started, according to Behl and Singhania. “We keep reinvesting ourselves and lots of work need to be done,” says Singhania. Behl says until now, the company had gone for renovation rather than expansion. “I have shut more stores and businesses than started. It has been a cleaning and efficiency exercise. It is now a lot more nimble and future ready operation.”

Now, Behl aims to make the organisation market dominant. “Two of the four brands I have in apparel must be in the top 5 in the country. At least one of them should be the mind share leader. People should think Raymond when apparel like they think Raymond for suits. Last year, Raymond formed the advisory board to help Raymond carve out group strategy plans for the coming years. “We created the advisory board with experts from various fields to have independent point of view about the decisions we take in the company,” says Singhania.

Besides Venkatesan, who is credited for helping expand the tech company’s business in India seven-fold to nearly $1 billion, the board has former PepsiCo India head Rajeev Bakshi; former Shoppers’ Stop CEO BS Nagesh; investment banker Mickey Doshi of Credit Suisse India; Christian Stahl, equity partner at PE firm Apax Partners and Richa Kar, founder of online lingerie retailer Zivame, which has attracted Ratan Tata’s investment as members.

“What we do is bounce off ideas like entry into new segments, international partner collaborations, explore women or children segment,” says Behl.

NEW ROADS Raymond recently formed a new business ventures team of seven members. It is exploring several pathways into the future, including introducing women and children apparel, licensing out its brand, outsource some of its manufacturing, acquire design boutique firms globally.

Raymond, with inputs from the advisory board, has also revamped its digital strategy and is strengthening its digital analytics team to understand its customers better. The company insists, however, that it won’t sell at discounted prices on ecommerce sites as it would destabilise its thousands of stores in India.

“I have a large stake in physical retail. My franchises will stop buying from me and for strong brands price stability is a virtue,” said Behl, who wants return of capital to increase to 18% from 11% by 2020. “The entire digital, omni channel framework has been formed on basis of all the inputs from the advisory board, including the decision to not discount.” Behl actually wants to increase the number of stores to 1,500 by 2020 from 1,040 at present.

He has also set ambitious plans to expand globally. Raymond recently moved a team to Dubai to develop the region for its products, valuing the market at `500 crore. Raymond is also exploring the US and Europe markets for B2B opportunity.

For that, Behl is setting up a plant in Ethiopia as the country gets preferential treatment in terms of import duty on goods manufactured there. “We believe that Raymond’s efforts towards stepping up its brands, and distribution network augurs well towards creating a profitable branded play in the next few quarters once the investment starts yielding results along with improvement in the macro environment,” wrote brokerage Sharekhan in its recent report.

Singhania is content. “Investors finally see value in the company,” he says. “I have a sound sleep every day.”

Arvind eyes Rs 12,000 crore revenue from textile business in next 5 years

Textiles maker Arvind Ltd is planning to invest Rs 500 crore per annum for the next 4-5 years with an aim to double revenue from its textile business to Rs 12,000 crore. The company is in the process of de-merging its brands and engineering businesses into separate entities.

“In the last 5-6 years we have not put much capital in the textile business. We are very excited about textiles..we see tremendous growth opportunities… This capex will take the business from a single digit growth rate at present in to double digit growth rate.

“We are planning to double our textile business from Rs 6,000 crore to Rs 12,000 crore in 5 years time. We plan to invest Rs 500 crore every year for the next five years to expand its textile business,” Arvind Ltd Executive Director Kulin Lalbhai told .

The company will fund the expansion from internal cash flows.

“We are looking dramatic ramp up in garmenting (making garments from fabrics) from 10 per cent at present to 50 per cent over time. A big chunk of this planned investment will be for garmenting”, he added.

The company is also looking at developing 3 large garment clusters in Jharkhand, Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat. Each of these clusters will employ 4,000-8,000 workers. It already has a cluster operational in Ethiopia in Africa, which the company uses to reach out to America and European markets.

“All of these clusters are in execution mode. By end of the third quarter or beginning of fourth quarter we will begin work in Jharkhand and Gujarat. Cluster in Andhra Pradesh will take a few more quarter to be operational. These clusters will be like a global supply chain,” Lalbhai said.

Arvind Ltd is also planning to foray into performance and functional clothing (active wear) and synthetics.

It also considering scaling up its

technical textiles


Lalbhai said the de-merger process, after which all the three businesses will be listed separately, will be complete by end of the third quarter of this fiscal.

World Bank warns G20 against doing too little now to address debt problems

WASHINGTON: World Bank President David Malpass on Saturday warned G20 leaders that failing to provide more permanent debt relief to some countries now could lead to increase poverty and a repeat of the disorderly defaults seen in the 1980s.

Malpass said he was pleased by progress on debt transparency and debt relief, but more needed to be done.

“The debt challenges are becoming more frequent, including in Chad, Angola, Ethiopia and Zambia where, in the absence of more permanent debt relief, the poverty outlook remains bleak,” he said in remarks to a summit of leaders of the Group of 20 major economies.