For a company that once filed for corporate rehabilitation, it’s extraordinary to see Vitarich, the Philippines’ leading integrators and feeds manufacturer, bounce back the way it has. It has grown as much as three times since The CEO Magazine last spoke with CEO Rocco Sarmiento in 2016.
Rocco has put in the hard yards to make Vitarich successful again. After going through corporate rehabilitation, the company could pay its creditors and officially declared that it no longer needed rehabilitation.
Vitarich now has close to 1,000 employees, and though the pandemic threw the company another major obstacle, its values, purpose and people kept it afloat. Here, The CEO Magazine sits down with Rocco to discuss where it’s been, where it’s going and the “soul-searching process” throughout.
How has the company grown over the past few years?
In 2016, our revenue was PHP5 billion (US$103 million) a year. We continued to grow and would have hit PHP10 billion (US$206 million) in 2020, but of course, the pandemic happened. We closed out 2020 almost broke even against 2019. As for many of our customers, it wasn’t easy. And when our customers get hit, we do too.
There are many moving parts, and luckily, we were able to reach a strong, stable place before this pandemic. It wasn’t a short process either. It’s like a soul-searching process. I wanted to improve our company’s inner workings through the years because when you’re in survival mode for a long time, your staff might not be the most optimised.
After all, we were trying to cut costs. We only kept the bare essentials. But now I have a good team. I’m very proud of them.
How do you keep your staff connected and engaged?
We promote a collaborative culture where everyone has a voice. I’ve created a group where we can actively exchange ideas. For a long time, the team relied on my decisions. It’s different now when you can designate them in a position where they should be exchanging their ideas.
We have council meetings, which help to keep us connected. We have a fantastic leadership team that we started last year, and they’ve been great.
They helped me manoeuvre through the pandemic. They are one of the main reasons we were able to finish off 2020 in a profitable position. We had to lay off hundreds of employees at our worst point, but about two or three months after, we hired 90–95% of the positions back.
No-one was prepared for a lockdown or a pandemic, so we’re lucky to be able to come out of it okay, because many businesses are still in trouble.
How do you foster a healthy company culture?
We recently established our new corporate values: leadership with integrity, excellence, and care for others. These are the anchors for our culture. We also re-established a sharper vision. Our statement of purpose is ‘Forging Livelihood, Nourishing Lives’. This keeps everyone aligned.
They know what the purpose of the company is and what we’re all about. Our stakeholder-engagement mantra is ‘A Lifetime Profitable Partnership’. Everything we do has to be following that. That basically means a win–win situation, because if the partnership is profitable for both parties, it can be sustainable.
Together these statements help equip our people. It was tested in the pandemic, but many beautiful things happened. We saw our third value, care for others, at work. For example, we had to cut costs.
For the next 12 months we are concentrating on food security and sustainability for the country.
We asked for voluntary salary cuts but, unfortunately, we still had to lay off some people. But if a manager’s staff were going to be laid off, the manager would cut his salary and allocate a portion of it to his staff so that they’d still be able to work. I was very proud to see my people volunteering like that so we could survive as a company.
What makes your company stand out in the industry?
The people. It’s all about the people. Our core values really make us different. I’ve managed a few companies in the past, but it’s different when everyone in the company cares about the same thing. It makes the operation more efficient.
It’s magical. Anyone can buy a feed mill machine, and anyone can put up a farm. The hardest part is running it and operating it at an optimum level. That’s where our people come in.
What is your vision for the next year?
For the next 12 months, we are concentrating on food security and sustainability for the country. That is our battle cry. We’ve been chipped at badly because of the pandemic. The industry cut down production of chicken, and importers brought in a lot of chicken, which further caused the industry to shrink.
Since we work with animals, it takes time to come up with the stock. It’s not like you can do it overnight. For example, there’s a six-month gap between when you place an order and produce the eggs. That’s why, this year, we’re going to work with the government to have some alignment with the private industry to avoid prices of meat or food, in general, being too high.
We want to contribute to the fast economic recovery of the country by producing food. We’re working with the government, industry associations, and other ancillary trade organisations. We are inspired by the government’s vision to address hunger and food security, and we want to do our part.
Many challenges and opportunities lie ahead, but the Vitarich family is ready to take them on.
And I realise that staying true to our values and purpose, coupled by quick, decisive and deliberate action will be the driving force to propel Vitarich to further growth, and the Philippines to being self-sufficient in food production.
What do you love most about your job?
This is going to sound corny, but I love working with the people. Aside from the places I get to visit, because I’m a nature lover, having everyone around doesn’t feel like work at all. It’s fun. Of course, we still have our KPIs, goals and deadlines. But it’s great that we can work and have fun with each other.
What are you most proud of?
I’m proud of how the company has evolved. We’re heavily invested in the people, and I believe this will bring us more opportunity. I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished, and there are more things to discover.
I believe we’re pointing ourselves in the right direction. Many challenges and opportunities lie ahead, but the Vitarich family is ready to take them on, and we’re all aligned. We’re more ready than ever for anything that comes our way.
Proudly supported by: