‘Lanka has huge opportunity to strengthen local fabric production and capture more market space’ | Daily News

‘Lanka has huge opportunity to strengthen local fabric production and capture more market space’

Due to supply chain challenges the industry has faced over the past two years, Sri Lanka has a massive opportunity to strengthen the local fabric manufacturing and supply chain capabilities and to capture more market space.

“We also have the ability to capture more market space in the short to medium term, due to the recent volatility in Bangladesh which has made Sri Lanka more price competitive overnight,’’ says Director Corporate Affairs – MAS Holdings, Rajitha Jayasuriya in an interview with Daily News Business.

Excerpts of the interview.

Q: Growing our export industries is critical for Sri Lanka at this economic juncture, and companies like MAS play a major role in this. What are the biggest challenges MAS is facing right now and what is the company doing to overcome them?

A: The current economic crisis in Sri Lanka has led to a fuel shortage which is certainly challenging for the entire manufacturing sector. However, with the support of key government ministries, we have been able to overcome this in the near term by securing direct importation and fuel supply to our businesses through LIOC and have in place arrangements with leading bunkering agents in the country. In such a context, even though operations may continue relatively unharmed, maintaining customer confidence in Sri Lanka as a competitive manufacturing destination becomes challenging. This is not an issue of capability or the country’s attractiveness as a destination but more to do with concerns about political and economic volatility in the country. For MAS, our long-term strategic partnerships serve as an advantage. Our operations over the years and our growing portfolio have helped build customer confidence in MAS’ resilience.

Another concern is managing the drain of existing talent and attracting the best talent out there into the country and our businesses. Our talent attraction and retention efforts target the transition from a pure contract manufacturing location to a more design, innovation and product creation centre. We understand the strength and value of our employees and remain focused on their wellbeing. We always try to stay on the front foot in terms of our measures to ensure business continuity and most importantly, the retention of our key talent.

Q: Are there any opportunities at all that are opening in this context?

A: China is the leading raw material supplier to the world and the Chinese market has always been a difficult market to penetrate. However, with China’s zero-COVID policy, the country has been in strict lockdowns regularly for extended periods of time.

While Sri Lanka faces its own share of issues, we must realise that we are not the only country that is facing economic downturn and political instability; Ukraine being a case in point. Globally, most countries including the West are facing several headwinds. Our focus should be on adapting to change and continually exploring new opportunities. This is vital not only for the growth and success of the industry but also to bring the country back on track. Ensuring we regain political and economic stability will be key to these efforts.

Q: How do MAS’ customers view manufacturing potential in Sri Lanka and how does MAS maintain its position as a market leader?

A: Our relationships with our key customers have never been transactional, we pride ourselves in building long-term strategic partnerships with them. As an organisation, our focus is to remain dynamic and agile so that we are able to build new skills and capabilities at speed when needed. Our focus on innovation, sustainability, product creation and our digital offensives also ensure that we remain a key strategic vendor to our long-term customers who trust and rely on MAS to maintain their market positions irrespective of the multiple headwinds we face.

Transparency and communication are key, especially in times like these, to ensure that our partners are well informed and always reassured. Our customer relationships thrive on trust and respect, which we do not compromise.

While MAS continues to invest in Sri Lanka, we have also built a vast and widespread global ecosystem to remain competitive and support the needs of our customers. As a result, we have the capacity and the agility to secure the interest of our customers by mobilising our facilities globally and ensuring that operations are not disrupted. During the recent political unrest in Haiti for instance, our global eco system allowed us to ensure the minimum disruption to our customers.

Q: In Sri Lanka, currently, businesses are facing multifaceted challenges and are making every effort to maintain growth. Does this impact the company’s commitment to social responsibility or its ability to focus on those elements?

A: Since independence, we have faced multiple challenges, from a prolonged war to the Tsunami, the Easter Sunday bombings, the COVID-19 pandemic and the hardships of today. Yet over three decades, MAS has been a resilient organisation that despite all adversity has never wavered in its commitment to the nation or its people. With a workforce of over 90,000 in Sri Lanka, our people remain our strongest asset.

As a company, it is in our DNA to do what is right not because it is measured or looks good, but because our social and environmental commitments are a part of our daily operations and ingrained in our DNA. So, wherever MAS operates it by default contributes to and uplifts those communities. We cannot separate the two.

MAS’ Ocean Strainer sustainability project which is selected as a finalist for the Fast Company’s 2022 World Changing Ideas Awards, and the launch of The MAS Foundation, an independent non-profit organisation to help overcome the social and environmental challenges, are two of the most recent examples of this continued drive, despite the current context. We also collaborate with other leading corporations to extend our socio-economic outreach beyond the communities we operate in, to help uplift the lives of our people.

Q: How do you support employees in such a volatile context?

A: The wellbeing of our employees and their families is key to our success. This commitment to secure socio-economic needs extends beyond just our employees, but also to the communities we operate in. Even during the pandemic, MAS set up a number of fully equipped Intermediate Care Centres for COVID-19 patients, including employees, their families and community members.

We made it our mission to ease the burden faced by our staff, providing care packages for families, providing work flexibility, and vital support for our staff’s mental health and wellbeing. Despite external challenges, even today, MAS is stringent in following ethical work standards and ensuring our workplaces are safe and secure. We see the daily struggles of our large workforce, especially those at the plant level, and we continue to extend our support to them with additional meals and other concessions like food and medicine needed for them to be able to sustain their families as well.

MAS has always been transparent about being a responsible and ethical business, this is something valued by employees, especially the younger generation who demand accountability from their workplaces and hold companies to higher standards.

Q: World over, businesses and countries are facing supply bottlenecks and rising shortages. Has this slowed down MAS’ growth and expansion? Does it impact innovation and productivity?

A: MAS is continuing to grow its capacity in Sri Lanka and expanding operations globally. The company’s growth strategy is focused on continued investments in the country and our people. While challenges exist, we keep driving innovation and leading the product creation space in the apparel industry. We also partner with several of our key customers to build product creation and innovation centers in Sri Lanka as they too recognise our capability and strength in this space.

Our commitment to innovation has resulted in MAS being recognised as the leading innovator in apparel and one of the region’s most innovative companies by Clarivate in 2021.

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