Pubudu De Silva, Chief Executive Officer of Teejay Group and Janaka Nanayakkara, Group Head of Human Resources, discuss the culture of humility and resilience that is helping the company to expand overseas and grow at a phenomenal rate despite the unfolding pandemic crisis.
How is Teejay Lanka overcoming the many Covid-related challenges, unlocking new opportunities, and what is your outlook for the business post-pandemic?
It took us 14 years to become a $100 million revenue company, and in the last five years, we have doubled revenue to $200 million via strategic acquisitions and organic growth. The Covid-19 pandemic hit our clients hard in early 2020, sending us into a tailspin and then came the lockdowns, impacting our production in Sri Lanka and India. The unfolding Covid-19 crisis is unprecedented in scale. However, with a clear plan and commitment from teams, Teejay was able to adapt and recover from the initial shock. Now, we are poised for growth and will reach our revenue goal of $300 million by 2023.
While we ended the 2020/21 financial year with a 10% fall in profits, we managed to engineer a spectacular recovery in the first quarter of the 2021/22 financial year. Revenue grew 119% in the quarter from a year earlier while profitability surged by 1,086%. With our order books full, we expect to end the current financial year with healthy growth in revenue and profits.
We are in the process of increasing daily capacity from 75 tonnes to 105 tonnes by investing $26 million to expand capacity in our plant in India, modernisation projects in Sri Lanka and outsourcing capacity from a plant within Sri Lanka. We are also exploring new opportunities in new and exciting locations based on our customer and vendor partner requirements, proactively introducing new products with a sustainability focus, and working on a new front end business. We plan to generate an additional $50-100 million from a new customer base. All of this will help us reach our aspirational revenue target of $300 million over the next two years.
During any crisis, resilient leadership matters the most. Tell us how the leadership at Teejay Lanka is steering the company through this crisis. How are you balancing the day-to-day needs of the company while securing future objectives?
Teejay Lanka’s success can be attributed to dynamic and empathetic leadership and a dedicated and disciplined workforce. We introduced several measures to deal with the pandemic to ensure the infections, curfews, and lockdowns do not impact the company.
The pandemic throws a myriad of challenges, and each day is different from the one before. However, the leadership has demonstrated an ability to remain focused on the long term objectives while being flexible enough to pivot quickly or make decisions on their feet when new challenges confront the company daily. On the other hand, all our teams remain committed and galvanized around the leadership to ensure the company runs smoothly through this crisis. For instance, if team members are unavailable to complete a task, another is always ready to step in and take over the additional workload. The spirit of collaboration and dedication to ensure timely delivery of quality products is the driving force behind Teejay.
Building culture is necessarily a priority for leadership. What can you tell us about the culture at Teejay Lanka, and how you have built resilience into the organization’s DNA?
Even though we are a multinational manufacturing company with a presence in India and a suite of innovative, sophisticated products which we are consistently expanding, we had a very humble beginning. When Teejay Lanka was established in 2000, we did not have all the expertise and skills; everyone had to learn on the job to build this company from nothing. As a result, the company faced some financial difficulties in the initial years. We had to make personal sacrifices to ensure the company endured because we believed in its potential.
At the time, the country did not have a fabric manufacturer to supply the leading export sector of the country, apparel. The potential is still there. Each year, the apparel industry imports around $1.8 billion worth of fabric, while the domestic fabric industry accounts for less than a third of this value. The challenges in those early years forced us to learn everything about the business, work together as a unit, and take ownership of whatever we did from the production floor right up to the boardroom. We built our culture around this collective responsibility and commitment to make collaboration and innovation possible and drive growth.
Simplicity and humility have been part of our culture since the founding of Teejay. We have an open-door policy so anyone can approach the top management without an appointment. This culture of collective responsibility and humility was evident and also a great strength during the lockdown. In some instances, the management team joined the teams on the work floor to take up roles of those unavailable due to sickness thus filling up the numbers needed to complete the processes. Their commitment to tasks hitherto carried out by their subordinates which are very physical compared to their own white-collar roles displayed their humility and also their competence. In many cases during the height of the pandemic when positive cases were high, managers were found to be spending hours on the production floor alongside the rest of the workforce and operating machines which long years ago they had run as apprentices. This inclusive management style created a strong bond and instilled confidence that we could overcome the Covid challenges together. Today, even as the Covid-19 crisis unfolds around us, we are breaking production records, even with 20% of the workforce not being able to report to work sometimes.
What is Teejay Lanka’s approach to employee wellbeing and growth, especially in the distressing times we now find ourselves?
We are proud of the fact that not a single person’s job security was challenged. Even when we saw a reduction in orders and our production stopped in March 2020 due to the lockdown, we paid everyone their basic salaries. The management team had to absorb temporary cuts, but their salaries too were restored with arrears once the order book recovered. We continue to invest in the health and wellbeing of all our people, so everyone looks forward to reporting to work because they have confidence that they are well taken care of. We’ve had to endure challenging times before, but we never laid off people. We absorbed the hit but recovered fast because everyone from the shop floor to top management was on the same page. It was the same with Covid-19.
If people got sick and had to be quarantined, we took steps to take care of their every need. We paid salaries despite people not being able to report to work and provided essentials to their families. We provide counselling to workers to help them deal with the stress of getting sick and being quarantined. We collaborated with healthcare officials and ensured all our people got vaccinated within two months and have strict health and safety protocols in place. Since the majority of the workforce is from the Seethawaka area in the close proximity of the Seethawaka Export Processing Zone, we extended our support to the community by providing households with essentials apart from infrastructure development and maintenance work targeting this community. Right now, we are looking at how the new normal is shaping out to be and taking steps to make people happy at the workplace while placing all the processes and infrastructure for those working from home.
What is your strategy to make the ‘People Experience’ a differentiator that brings better results to your business?
Despite the pandemic, the commitment and resilience of our people have made a fast recovery possible and enabled us to invest in growth. Our main priority is to deliver on what we promise to our customers in terms of quality and timely delivery. Recently we hit our highest production output of four million meters a month, and the revenue we made in the June 2021 quarter was the highest ever. These results show that our investments in people and culture are bearing fruit even during the worst global crisis in recent memory. The commitment of all our people is rock-solid, and as we push towards our $300 million revenue goal, we are also exploring opportunities to expand in new locations. We are not slowing down because of the pandemic. For all of us at Teejay, the pandemic is yet another challenge to be endured and overcome, because that is what we do; resilience is in our DNA.