We have had the utmost pleasure of meeting people over the years, but we are absolutely thrilled to catch up with a true renaissance man for this issue’s cover story interview. We sat with Dishan Wijayawardena, Senior Business Development Manager – Nestlé Lanka PLC - Maldives Sales – whose energy had sparkled Nestlé to span its reach from the capital Malé to the far-flung islands.
This active fan of sportsmen is well-known for his amazing relationships with the local community representing Nestlé. He shares his unfailing dynamism, aspirational vision of the profession and more importantly, his vast experience of the Supply Chain with Swiss food giant, Nestlé.
1. Could you first tell us about yourself and your innate and strong interest for the Brand?
My primary education was completed at S. Thomas’ College, Bandarawela which is tucked away in the beautiful low-lying hill town in the Central Highlands of Sri Lanka. My parents provided me with the best of education and facilities which laid a strong foundation for me to become who I am today. I grew up and spent my years away from home at the college hostel. I learned to associate and network with people as the college student diversity consisted of other religions, languages and culture. It was during my college life that I established my passion and love for sports, especially cricket and basketball. The moment the classes were done with, I would partake in sports activities, because there was nothing else to do. I believe taking part in sports is very important in becoming a well-rounded, principled and developed individual.
Soon after I completed my higher studies in Sri Lanka, I came to the Maldives and started working for East Investment Pvt Ltd, now known as BestBuy Company Pvt Ltd. This was a life-changing experience, as my first corporate experience was in an overseas country. Here I would like to pay my gratitude to my late uncle Mr. Kamal Siriwardena who provided me this opportunity and got me into this industry. He guided me and helped me to learn the basics and is responsible for the professional who I am today.
So, the strong bond that I have for Nestlé started at a very young age. This is because during my childhood I grew up with brands such as Milo and Maggi and in 2008 when I got the opportunity to work at Nestlé Maldives it was a childhood dream come true.
Today 15 years later, I am proud to say that I head the Nestlé Operations in the Maldives.
2. During these years at Nestlé, what have been your greatest challenges and accomplishments of which you are most proud?
For me, the priority has always been to ensure that the supply chain is both a driving force in developing our business and in meeting the expectations of our customers and consumers. The challenges involved are therefore structural, operational and organizational; i.e., to plan, anticipate and adjust our organization as best as possible to maintain an agility that allows us to adapt quickly to our environment. I therefore remain proud of our teams and the agility and speed with which we have been able to adapt our model to the changing external business environment, while maintaining a service rate that meets the expectations of all our customers and consumers.
Speaking of my proudest moment and accomplishments, I would say it is none other than the strong link I have been able to create along with our brands specially Milo. The Nestlé success story in the Maldives is definitely attributed to the strong team we have in here, especially my sales team and the distributor partners. I would like to extend my special gratitude to the top management of Nestlé Lanka PLC who has been right behind me throughout these 15 years where I have seen how the Maldives have transformed to a global tourist destination. I remember when I started working here, we had a very limited portfolio and today we have built up the business and added so many categories. We continuously strived to make a mark in the Maldives and associate our brands to have a clear Nestlé footprint in the Maldives.
3. In your opinion, what are the main impacts on the Supply Chain approach for Maldives? How do strategic regional logistics and operational logistics best fit to provide quality products right on time without fail?
One of our driving principles when it comes to our Nestlé Maldives operation is that we want our products to reach our customers whenever, wherever and however. As you are aware, Maldives attracts tourists from around the world. Hence, we need to cater to the needs of a wide range of consumers – both local and foreign As we bring down the world’s best Nestlé products to the Maldives, it is necessary that we maintain strong relationships with global Nestlé markets as well as a strong local distribution setup. So, in order to cater to the needs of both the tourists as well as the local community, having a strong end-to-end supply chain process is a must. Accurate forecasting, planning and in today’s dynamic environment and having contingency plans are mandatory requirements to ensure that our products are available to consumers whenever, wherever and however.
4. With the pandemic and disruption in business, what is a key category of focus at the moment for Nestlé?
I think all our categories continue to play a key role in supporting consumer’s health and wellbeing, and in delivering pleasurable moments as part of a balanced diet. In this new reality, our Nestlé brands continue to be seen, more than ever, as trusted products which meet the needs of the whole family and different consumption moments, from early childhood to elderly age.
5. Nestlé’s much-loved Milo brand has become the first Ready-to-Drink beverage in Sri Lanka to switch to paper straws. Do you plan a similar sustainable move for the Milo products distributed in the Maldives?
Yes, we have already done so. We launched paper straws for our RTD Milo packs during the Euro 2020 in the Maldives. This switch will help us to eliminate six million plastic straws a year and ensures our Milo RTD pack is 100% recyclable. This initiative is one of the many actions we are taking to reduce the impact of our packaging, and is part of our global ambition to make 100% of our packaging recyclable, and cut our use of virgin plastic packaging by 1/3 by 2025. We are proud to implement key actions that will have a positive impact on the Maldives’ environment, and are committed to making products that are not only good for our consumers but also good for our planet.
To support the packaging change, our ongoing wide-scale consumer awareness campaign is expected to reach all across the Maldives by mid-August, with the goal of inspiring behavioral change and promoting responsible disposal.
6. Your brand has nurtured sports and many talented athletes across the Maldives. Can you tell us your involvement with the sports community?
For the past 15 years, Nestlé has played a vital role in nurturing sports across the Maldives. We believe that physical education and activities are a vital component in ensuring the health and wellbeing of a child, making it essential for them to engage in sports from an early age. It also teaches them essential skills like teamwork, leadership, discipline etc. and can motivate children to excel academically.
Encouraging children to participate in sports and providing opportunities to identify and nurture young sports talent also helps ensure the development and self-sustainability of our sports sector. They are our next generation of elite athletes, coaches, officials, volunteers, administrators and visionaries for Maldives.
Sports Scholarships was first introduced in the Maldives in 2014 and its primary objective has been to develop skilled young Maldivian sportspeople. This programme was supported and sponsored by Milo from the outset. Nestlé Maldives, as a part of this programme, holds the “Milo Colors Award” event annually to acknowledge students who excel in the field of sports at a national level. Through our Milo partnerships, we remain committed to continue being a huge supporting driving force in helping to shape the youth of today for tomorrow's sporting needs.
7. What are the areas where Nestlé stays different from other brands in the Maldivian market?
The main ways we differentiate ourselves locally is through trust and relationships, quality, transparency, scale, and a strong vision supported by innovation and renovation.
Our strong bond with the local community is one of the key elements that helps the company thrive in the Maldives. The trust our consumers place in us is key, and we ensure we uphold this by ensuring the highest quality standards and offering transparent labeling information on all our products. Keeping the needs and preferences of our consumers at the heart of what we do is probably our biggest success. Our success also lies in our long-term relationships with strong and reputed distributor partners in Maldives, such as Lily Enterprises Pvt Ltd, Lily International Pvt Ltd, M H A Pvt Ltd & Seenco Pvt Ltd.
We also have the advantage of a very diverse portfolio from all over the world, catering to consumers from early childhood to old age, for every consumption moment and need. Finally, while we focus on excelling in the current environment, where the margins are getting tighter due to higher cost of commodities and tough competition, we also don’t lose sight of our vision for the future and where we want to be. Innovating new products and renovating existing ones is an ongoing process and one we do well as we have the largest R&D network of any food company in the world. Our innovations and renovations don’t just focus on product recipes but also packaging and processes as we transform ourselves to ensure our products are not just good for consumers but also for the planet. All of these are what helps us to be a leading company wherever in the world we operate.
8. What would you like to say about the Tourism sector and its opportunities in the Maldives?
As the largest industry in the Maldives, tourism certainly plays a huge role in the country. What we see and read is that tourists are continually looking for new experiences, and we believe that good food can play an important role in shaping these positive new experiences. The pandemic has also increased the demand for trusted and familiar products more than ever. Nestlé is able to support the tourism industry in both these areas.
In addition to making a diverse range of our global favorites available in the Maldives, we have always been passionate about supplying food and beverage solutions that specially cater to the out-of-home culinary sector in making delicious food quickly and in large quantities for their consumers, and therefore have been an integral part of the Maldivian culinary industry since its inception. With our global expertise, our food service arm, Nestlé Professional, has been dedicated to being an inspiring growth partner to the local HORECA (Hotel / Restaurant / Café) industry. We have been delivering creative, branded food and beverage solutions to our ever-growing HORECA customer base across the Maldives - leveraging the strength of our brands and versatile product portfolio to drive profitable growth for them . In addition to product solutions, we have also placed focus on helping to develop the local culinary industry in the Maldives. We have been the platinum sponsor for the Food & Hospitality Asia Maldives (FHAM) continuously for over ten years. FHAM is the Maldives’ premier culinary industry event, which is organized in collaboration with the Chef's Guild of Lanka & Maldives, where world-renowned Chefs and culinary judges get together and share their experiences with local Chefs, whilst also giving them the opportunity to compete, be recognized and receive feedback for improvement. This programmes gives the young aspiring chefs in the Maldives to develop their skills which ultimately helps them to be employable globally. It’s been truly an honor to be a part of this programme and give back to the Maldives.
We have also held a few culinary events in partnership with nearby resorts to Malé to promote our products. This is something that we look forward to hosting in a much broader way, to offer resort guests a multi-sensory dining experience. It would be an initiative dedicated to food, that is designed to ensure that guests would enjoy a unique and unforgettable culinary experience.
9. As a veteran in the industry, what would be your key advice for those who want to branch out in the supply chain and logistics?
I believe that when you wake up every morning, it’s important you have a clear focus and mindset on what you have planned for the day. My advice to anyone wanting to venture into this trade is to ensure that you enjoy what you do and so success will follow you.
My philosophy is to follow the 3 P's:
Passion – To be successful in any industry, you must be passionate about what you do, so that you’re fully focused on delivering what is expected of you. Also, when you're passionate about work you don’t feel it’s work. Even when you’re in a crisis situation, you view the crisis as an opportunity.
Perseverance – The current market is very dynamic. It is truly a VUCA environment and the challenges you face day in and day out will try to weigh you down, but you have to be persistent in what you do so that you come out of the challenges much stronger than when you went in.
People – This is the most important P, because this industry is built around people. You need to create a climate of trust with both internal and external stakeholders and for you to do this, you need to better understand and anticipate the needs of these people.
10. What role does self-care and work/life balance play in corporate success?
As the saying goes, "Health is Wealth," I firmly believe that taking care of your mental health is as important as looking after your physical health. Therefore, work life balance is very crucial. I also think having time for yourself is very important in order for you to reflect and improve yourself as an individual.
In my case, as an expatriate living in the Maldives while my loving wife and two kids reside in Sri Lanka, I continue receiving their tremendous support throughout the years that have passed. It has been a key pillar of strength for my success both in my personal and professional life. In my view, this is also the most vital element for my success. Today’s working world poses many hurdles in this area and I always believe that any happy employee will be much more productive and motivated with the support from their family and loved ones. I proudly quote myself on this topic as I know how much my family is behind me, supporting through thick and thin. Love what you do and enjoy with your family, after all it’s your masterpiece.
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