DMS boss: peo­ple bet­ter than robots

The Orchardist - - Profile - By Elaine Fisher

“There are sig­nif­i­cant ad­vances in the use of ro­bot­ics in post-har­vest fa­cil­i­ties here and over­seas and as the cap­i­tal costs de­crease, we will see even more in use in New Zealand.

“I know tech­nol­ogy is im­por­tant, but I would rather have the best peo­ple than the best ma­chin­ery any day as it’s our peo­ple who en­able us to live up to our brand prom­ise of in­creas­ing grower profit.”

Derek, who has been the com­pany’s chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer for the past nine years, took on the chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer’s role in Oc­to­ber, af­ter the com­pany’s fi­nan­cial of­fi­cer re­signed.

The new role is a fur­ther op­por­tu­nity to chal­lenge him­self – some­thing Derek has been do­ing through­out his work­ing life, which has seen him em­ployed in jobs as di­verse as an engi­neer­ing ap­pren­tice to man­age­ment roles with fur­ni­ture and kitchen man­u­fac­tur­ing com­pa­nies.

Derek grew up in West Auck­land and at­tended Waitakare Col­lege. He stud­ied engi­neer­ing at UniTec and later gained a Bach­e­lor of Engi­neer­ing de­gree. “I served my ap­pren­tice­ship build­ing com­pres­sors.”

Derek’s lead­er­ship and man­age­ment skills were recog­nised early on and he was pro­moted to work in lo­gis­tics, pro­duc­tion man­age­ment and as group man­u­fac­tur­ing man­ager of an Asia-Pa­cific di­vi­sion of large Amer­i­can in­dus­trial man­u­fac­tur­ing com­pany Inger­soll Rand, in Auck­land. He loved the work, but not city liv­ing. “Even 25 years ago, Auck­land traf­fic was be­com­ing a night­mare. My wife Colleen and I came to Tau­ranga on hol­i­day and thought it would be a nice place to live.” The op­por­tu­nity to work for De­sign Mo­bel fur­ni­ture in Tau­ranga prompted the move south and Derek was closely in­volved with that com­pany’s growth in both the do­mes­tic and ex­port mar­kets.

Seek­ing yet an­other chal­lenge, Derek be­came chief ex­ec­u­tive of New Pack Pro­duce, a Tau­ranga com­pany han­dling a range of fresh pro­duce for lo­cal and ex­port mar­kets.

Later he was asked by Master­craft Kitchens to take up a short-term con­tact to over­see a fac­tory re-fit. He stayed for seven years and dur­ing that time helped the com­pany launch the Master­craft Kitchen brand na­tion­wide with up to 13 li­censed man­u­fac­tur­ers op­er­at­ing un­der that name. Nine years ago Derek joined DMS, a com­pany with core val­ues very much in line with his own.

Valu­ing, en­cour­ag­ing and fos­ter­ing per­sonal growth among staff at all lev­els is a pri­or­ity for both Derek and DMS, which aims to be “the em­ployer of choice” for its staff and those seek­ing em­ploy­ment.

“We em­ploy peo­ple based on at­ti­tudes, and whether they will live our six

core val­ues and ‘fit’ within our busi­ness, rather than skills. We can teach skills.”

DMS op­er­ates across three sites, the post-har­vest fa­cil­i­ties at Te Puna and Te Puke and the town of­fice in Tau­ranga, plus has a large or­chard man­age­ment team out in the field.

“It would be easy to op­er­ate in si­los but we make sure that doesn’t hap­pen by switch­ing or ex­chang­ing staff be­tween sites, hold­ing so­cial events, in­clud­ing sports chal­lenges and reg­u­lar full staff meet­ings. Com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­tween all our sites is para­mount so every­one is on the same page in terms of meet­ing our com­pany goals.”

Health and safety is of course a pri­or­ity but DMS takes that fur­ther by also fo­cus­ing on staff well-be­ing. “DMS is a sil­ver ac­cred­ited well­ness provider through the well­ness pro­gramme. This can in­clude sim­ple things such help­ing staff give up smok­ing or with gen­eral health with the help of a nu­tri­tion­ist, to ma­jor in­vest­ments in staff med­i­cal schemes.

“I’m pleased to say that our staff re­ten­tion is ex­cel­lent. We sel­dom lose peo­ple. As we are well recog­nised from our own in­ter­nal staff en­gage­ment sur­veys, we are just a great com­pany to work for. In other words an em­ployer of choice.

“We have many staff who have been with the com­pany well over 10 years. This is im­por­tant for our busi­ness as I think that sta­bil­ity has en­abled us to per­form at the level that we do – be­cause every­one knows their job very well, they know what’s ex­pected of them, and they know the level that DMS plays at.”

For DMS, the cus­tomer is the grower, which in­cludes those who pack with DMS as well as or­chardists who con­tract the com­pany to man­age their or­chards and pack their fruit.

“Ev­ery­thing we do is fo­cused on the grower and in­creas­ing their profit, which es­sen­tially means putting as many pieces of fruit as pos­si­ble in ex­port trays and car­ing for that fruit through­out the post-har­vest chain. “Our post-har­vest staff are awe­some and do a fan­tas­tic job, but so do our or­chard man­age­ment staff who are out in the or­chards in all weath­ers look­ing af­ter vines and fruit for our clients.”

That fo­cus from or­chard to cool­store is among the rea­sons DMS has, for the last six years, been con­sis­tently num­ber one for the low­est per­cent­age of fruit loss among the large post-har­vest com­pa­nies on Ze­spri’s an­nual fruit loss sta­tis­tics.

Derek says among the com­pany’s many at­tributes he ad­mires is the strong (and brave) lead­er­ship stand com­pany di­rec­tors Paul Jones and Craig Green­lees took six years ago when the vine dis­ease Psa-V was threat­en­ing the in­dus­try’s fu­ture. “DMS bought or­chards and es­tab­lished it­self as the “G3 Cham­pion” demon­strat­ing faith in the fu­ture of the new gold va­ri­ety G3 and the in­dus­try it­self.”

That faith proved well-founded as to­day vol­umes of both gold and green fruit are on the rise, as are grower re­turns. To meet that growth DMS will con­tinue to ex­pand, both in terms of fruit vol­ume and in­fras­truc­ture ca­pac­ity. “At the Te Puna site, we have laid the foun­da­tions for an­other two very large, fully racked, au­to­mated cool­stores.” This will in­crease the static cool­store ca­pac­ity by an­other one mil­lion trays ready for the 2019 pack­ing sea­son. An ad­di­tional pack­ing ma­chine will ar­rive in Jan­uary, ready for the 2018 sea­son at the Te Puke fa­cil­ity.

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