While the world is still reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic, personal protective equipment has become more important than ever with manufacturers across the globe working around the clock to cater to demand.
When it comes to protective gloves, Dipped Products PLC, based in Sri Lanka and a sector of Hayleys PLC (one of the country’s largest multi-national business conglomerates, founded in 1878) has got it covered.
After the COVID-19 outbreak was declared a pandemic in March 2020, the World Health Organization called on industry and governments to increase the manufacturing of PPE by 40% as rising global demand, panic buying and misuse disrupted the global supply, placing the lives of healthcare workers at risk.
Gloves were one of the items included in the request, creating both a challenge and an opportunity for Dipped Products PLC (DPL), according to CEO and Managing Director Andrew Ng.
“2020 was a difficult year due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Andrew tells The CEO Magazine. The island nation went into a lockdown on 20 March and, although the restrictions gradually eased, tighter restrictions were later reintroduced to keep the pandemic under control.
“Now, that obviously impacted us. However, due to the resilience and resourcefulness of our team, we were able to restart our factories within 25 days of the lockdown,” Andrew recalls.
“We managed this by putting various safety checks in place to guarantee that the workers coming to the factories were COVID-free and that there was adequate segregation and social distancing, as well as enough PPE, to prevent any outbreaks in the factories.” Staff were somewhat sceptical about returning to work at first.
“That eased as they realised the extent of the measures we had put in place including PPE, face shields, workstation partitions, and free herbal drinks and vitamins to strengthen the body’s immune system.,” Andrew says.
“We brought in buses so that staff didn’t need to mix with the public while travelling to work and provided free special canteen food that was prepared and transported in an aseptic manner.”
DPL is one of the world’s top five manufacturers in the hand protection glove industry.
Originally from Malaysia, Andrew’s journey to a life in Sri Lanka took him by way of Australia where he studied engineering at the University of New South Wales followed by a Master of Business Administration at Deakin University. Andrew joined DPL in 2018 after an extensive stint with Ansell.
“I had actually been in the industry for about 25 years at that point when this opportunity arose with DPL,” he shares. “DPL is one of the world’s top five manufacturers in the hand protection glove industry.”
Andrew had been travelling to Sri Lanka among many other countries during his long career in the glove industry. “Sri Lanka is one of the main glove producers around the world alongside Malaysia, Thailand and China,” he explains. “So it is not a new country to me, nor the people, nor the culture.”
Drawn to the incredible opportunity to head up a company as CEO, this familiarity helped Andrew make the decision to move to Colombo. “Since I had already been here many times over many years, it’s been easy for me to fit in.”
The blessing of his family was also essential. Fortunately, they agreed to make the move with him, even though they were not familiar with Sri Lanka as Andrew was. “For them it’s new,” he says.
“For them to be with me really helps a lot with my morale and my mental state.” LOOKING AHEAD Once on the ground, Andrew found that he had to overcome the cultural differences as well as the language barrier as he took on this new role.
“Sri Lanka is a former colony of the British and most people here speak English,” he says. “All the business transactions are in English so it’s not an issue for me there; it’s only when I need to speak to people on the shop floor that there are some challenges. I would need an interpreter to do that.”
After a hectic year, Andrew has no intention of taking his foot off the gas. Currently in fourth place in terms of producers of hand protection products globally, he aims to move the company into the top three within five years. “In our growth plan, I am very blessed to have an incredible team of highly skilled, innovative and determined people to put DPL on this growth trajectory,” Andrew says.
I’m very proud of my team who came up with innovative ideas about how we could operate in less than ideal conditions during the pandemic. We actually achieved about 20% more output than ever before.
“As manufacturer of three product categories – consumer, industrial and medical, we protect hands from all sorts of activities, be it household use to many occupational hazards globally. We are one of the few players in the world that actually makes all three. And we will be adding a fourth category soon.”
In order for DPL to expand this footprint and achieve its ambitious growth plans, innovation is crucial. “We have got to have new products that will allow us to give superior protection at a competitive price,” Andrew stresses.
“This is why DPL is currently investing heavily in R&D, upgrading its research laboratories, and developing new talents for polymer coating, material science and engineered yarn technology. The company is also focused on “niche” specialty and extreme protection products to protect users from heavy chemical, high cut, electrical power insulation and other hazardous environments.
“Our R&D team is working on five technology platforms including green technology that will produce the next generation of patented products from DPL,” Andrew explains.
Unleashing the team
When contemplating the company’s success in the face of adversity during 2020, Andrew is quick to share the credit with his team. “I’m very proud of my team who came up with innovative ideas about how we could operate in less than ideal conditions during the pandemic,” he says.
“We actually achieved about 20% more output than ever before with these innovations and engineering solutions to keep up with demand.” In the darkest hour of the lockdown, almost all of DPL’s associates came back to work with confidence in the preventive safety measures that had been taken in all its facilities.
To ensure business continuity, each factory operated in a bubble to ensure the safety of staff, preventing any potential transmission of the virus from one facility to another.
Andrew adds that each factory head “took the baton and ran with it”, driving productivity, continuous improvements, breakthrough ideas, engineering modifications and safety within its bubble. “They did a fantastic job,” he says proudly. “Really, last year was about unleashing the human capital that we have built.”
Taking the lead
Providing the team with the freedom and tools to thrive is a cornerstone of Andrew’s leadership style. “I have given trust to the team and allow them to express themselves, take ownership and accountability in decision-making. Then I let them run and see how far they can go, and I am amazed with the results.”
While last year represented the “pinnacle” of these efforts, Andrew says this empowered style of working has been the norm among his team members over recent years. “One of the things I learned when coming here was to respect the culture, respect every individual that has worked here, and appreciate their contribution to the company. There are no individual superheros but super teams are rewarded.”
Ensuring that all of the factories work together smoothly is also high on Andrew’s agenda. “Although there is some friendly competition between the factories, there is a sense of collaboration and no animosity.”
Andrew is incredibly mindful that his responsibility and that of DPL goes beyond its own team. With rubber being a large part of the company’s raw material supply, DPL works closely with its rubber planters, farmers and smallholders of rubber plantations across Sri Lanka to give them the support they need, whether that be better rubber clones, tree saplings or fertilisers.
“We also have training sessions on how to get greater productivity from the tapping of rubber trees, as well as helping the community through projects such as creating cleaner water supplies, tree planting or the adoption of a school,” Andrew explains.
“By working very closely with them to increase productivity, we also get a continuous and consistent supply of latex, so that’s a very good partnership – not just a business transaction but something that gives back to the community and helps them advance.”
With Andrew’s focus on business growth, new product development and keeping employees safe over the coming years, DPL is making sure we are all in safe hands.
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