DMS boss: people better than robots
“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.