Making gloves is a very specific task, and one that’s hard to truly prepare for. Throughout history, those people who made the manufacture of latex and rubber gloves their raison d’être are unlikely to have set out to do so, and instead probably happened into it.
That’s not to take away from the work done by the rubber glove market, which is expected to reach beyond US$122 billion by 2030. The industry got quite a boost from the personal protective equipment (PPE) measures prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic, and its momentum shows no sign of slowing down.
With that kind of money involved, those tasked with the creation of rubber gloves are putting their heads down and getting on with the job. Most of them are pouring a career’s worth of experience in other areas to bring something different to the table.
That is the case for Sitthichai Manasom, Director and General Manager of Ansell Thailand.
“I never meant to enter the rubber glove industry,” he tells The CEO Magazine. “But when I take on a role, I put in all my energy and effort.”
Once I joined Ansell, I immediately got to work improving the quality of the product and enhancing the production methods.
When Manasom joined Ansell Thailand in late 2019, it was a sharp left turn from the path he had followed since 1992. That year, he made his workforce debut as a service technician for Electrolux.
“After that, I moved to Essilor and then Indelor Lens as I studied for my electrical engineering degree,” he says. A Master of Business Administration followed, and in 2010 he moved to JohnsonFoils as a production manager.
“Then I was approached by Saint-Gobain, which has a big presence in Thailand. Eventually I was promoted to Plant Manager, a role I then took on for Armacell.”
By this time, mid-2019, Manasom’s experience seemed like a natural fit for Ansell, which had recently committed to a US$32 million expansion of its Thailand facility. Best known for its condoms, Ansell moved away from that market in 2017 to focus on safety protection solutions such as rubber and latex gloves.
Despite his engineering background, Manasom decided to join Ansell as Associate Director.
“One thing I’d become used to doing in my previous roles was implementing world-class manufacturing programs,” he says. “Once I joined Ansell, I immediately got to work improving the quality of the product and enhancing the production methods.”
Manasom’s efforts improved quality and impressed his higher-ups. Four years later, he’s now at the top – and with a PhD to boot.
“When I graduated and obtained my doctorate, I undertook new programs to refine our safety and sustainability,” he says. “The team and I put in a lot of effort, and we’ve won awards as a result.”
In fact, Manasom has been dedicated to bettering Ansell Thailand’s offerings since his arrival.
“Originally I was more focused on the operation side, but when I became General Manager, my focus shifted to how I could best lead my team,” he says. “We have a team of around 2,000 people. That’s a big plant, and they need to feel supported in the same way management supported me when I started.”
Leadership, Manasom says, is a job well suited to someone as used to getting their hands dirty as he is.
“In my experience, I’ve always been on the factory floor, taking a hands-on approach to work,” he says. “I know what it’s like to repair, to install, to maintain machines on the line. I’ve been there, so I know what people in those roles are feeling. My job is to take care of those people, so understanding them goes a long way toward doing that.”
I never lose my temper, I keep calm and try to find solutions, and when the team comes together, a tough job is made so much easier.
Ansell’s expansion of its Thai operations came as a response to growing demand around the world for the company’s chemical protection platform products – and this was before the pandemic. Ultimately, capacity was increased at the Thailand plant by 30 percent, a jump Manasom found himself managing.
“It was an exciting plan, but when COVID-19 hit we ramped things up even more to confront the pandemic,” he says.
The increased demand brought on additional challenges. In order to export products to the United States, Manasom found himself having to meet federal requirements, improve and maintain employee morale and stay safe all at once.
“When things come simultaneously like that, the first thing I think to do is keep up my own motivation levels and boost the team’s morale,” he says. “I never lose my temper, I keep calm and try to find solutions, and when the team comes together, a tough job is made so much easier.”
Focus on people, planet
Helping matters is Ansell’s internal culture, which places heavy emphasis on equality.
“We have foreign workers in our Thai plants from our neighbors in Cambodia or Vietnam, but we treat them as we would Thai locals,” he says.
Ansell’s shrewd choice of Thailand as its base of operations in the region has also paid off in terms of raw materials.
“More than 60 percent of what we need comes from Thailand itself,” Manasom says. “Latex, nitrile, it’s all close to us, and what we can’t get locally we source from Malaysia or Japan.”
These come from suppliers and partners in Ansell Thailand’s robust supply chain network.
Whoever we work with, we insist they comply with our sustainability standards.
“We have several key partners we work closely with to achieve our goals. And whoever we work with, we insist they comply with our sustainability standards,” Manasom says.
Chief among Ansell’s sustainability efforts is a move to reuse wastewater necessary in the glove-making process. The use of solar panels is also making an impact on cost and emission reductions.
“My plan is to grow Ansell Thailand, and we can only do that if we’re working for a more sustainable and efficient future, following the strategy of Ansell globally,” Manasom says.
“When I think about my own future, I think it’s intertwined with the evolution of the business,” he says. “I still feel like a plant manager, so keeping close to the ground and building our talent pool is key. I focus on our processes and I focus on our people.”