Balancing tradition with modern management practices

The Maliban Group of Companies, led by Kumudika Fernando as the Managing Director, is the pioneer biscuit manufacturer in Sri Lanka. Kumudika’s innovative approaches to change management and business strategy have made a significant impact on the company’s ability to innovate, maintain its stronghold among Sri Lankan brands, and become a global player. Her unique perspective, gained from her educational background which includes a master’s degree in biology and psychology from Notre Dame de Namur University, USA, informs her leadership style. For the past 7 decades, Maliban Biscuit Manufactories has been continuously striving towards progress and success, earning the trust and respect of multiple generations of customers. The company’s biscuits are now available in over 100,000 stores across Sri Lanka and are exported to more than 50 countries, including the US, UK, Australia, and the Middle East. The Maliban factory produces over 25 million packs of biscuits every month and employs more than 3000 people at present. Kumudika Fernando is the driving force behind the aggressive infrastructure upgrades at Maliban, leading the company to be world class. In this article, we will delve deeper into the work and achievements of Kumudika Fernando and explore how she has become a trailblazer in the corporate world through her innovative approaches to change management and business strategy. 

Responding to emerging FMCG trends with innovation and high quality

We inquired from Kumudika about the emerging trends in the fastmoving consumer goods (FMCG) confectionery industry and how Maliban is adapting to meet these changes. She pointed out that the confectionery sector is witnessing a surge in demand for healthier and more natural products, a rising interest in distinctive and exotic flavors, and an increased emphasis on sustainability and ethical sourcing. Maliban has implemented several strategic measures to respond to these trends and maintain competitiveness in the FMCG market for confectionery products. One of the key approaches is prioritizing innovation through exploring new and unique flavor combinations, product formats, and packaging designs. Additionally, the company remains committed to ensuring the highest production standards and quality by sourcing the best ingredients and maintaining its reputation and heritage in the industry. To build brand awareness and strengthen the customer base, Maliban recognizes the growing need to invest significantly in marketing and advertising. The company is creating emotional connections with its customers and building brand awareness. Furthermore, Maliban is also establishing valuable partnerships with wholesalers, distributors, and retailers to expand its reach and improve the distribution network in diverse geographical locations and demographics.

“In response to these changes, Maliban is developing new products with innovative ingredients and flavors that cater to evolving customer needs while maintaining our 70-year legacy of delivering trusted quality and taste. Furthermore, we are enhancing our supply chain to ensure ethical and sustainable sourcing and investing in new technologies to boost efficiency and reduce our environmental impact” Kumudika Fernando iterated. Maliban’s continuous commitment to achieve excellence has resulted in numerous awards, which is not surprising given the company’s sound strategies.

Maliban’s competitive edge and recognitions

Maliban Biscuit Manufactories (Private) Limited has been providing Sri Lankans with high-quality biscuits and snacks for almost 70 years, consistently meeting the highest standards. The Nielsen Brand Health Track shows that Maliban has earned the highest brand equity in the biscuit industry in Sri Lanka and is the country’s top manufacturer of quality biscuits and snacks. Internationally, Maliban has expanded its brand presence to over 50 international markets across five continents, making it the largest Sri Lankan exporter of biscuits and snacks to the European market. Maliban has partnered with globally reputed retailers with the strictest food safety standards to ensure the highest quality. Maliban is the only Asian brand that is the 3 time recipient of the Global Performance Excellence Award (World Class Category) presented by the Asia Pacific Quality Organisation. They have also been recognized with the National Quality Award four times over the past two decades, Sri Lanka’s highest national award in quality and process excellence. Kumudika Fernando says “We are humbled that Maliban has won the FMCG Brand of the year at SLIM KANTAR People’s Awards 2023″ 

Committed to Quality 

Maliban is a IS0 9001 Quality Management System certified company which demonstrates its commitment to quality. Kumudika shows that the awards they have received in recognition of this commitment, mentioned earlier such as the National Quality Award, and the three consecutive Global Performance Excellence World Class Awards, encourage them to stay on course.

At Maliban, quality is at the very heart of our company’s values, and we hold ourselves to the highest standards possible. Since our inception, we have been committed to providing our customers with the best possible products, and we continuously strive to improve upon our already high standards. Our manufacturing facility in Ratmalana employs state-of-the-art processes to ensure that we maintain the highest levels of quality in all of our products. We only use the best ingredients and the latest technology to produce safe and responsible products that exceed our customers’ expectations. Quality is not just a buzzword for us; it is a fundamental aspect of our company culture, and we take it very seriously and embeded in our DNA”

When she mentioned the cultural significance of Maliban, we wanted to inquire about another crucial element of their culture – the representation of women in the workforce. Before posing the question about the representation of women in the workforce, we first asked for her assessment of Sri Lanka’s overall progress in empowering women. As a female MD with extensive experience, her insights provided valuable perspectives on the topic.

Promoting gender equality

Kumudika points out that while Sri Lanka is gradually making progress in reducing the gender gap, the pace is relatively slow. However, there is a growing trend of women taking up leadership roles in various organizations, and more businesses are committed to promoting diversity and inclusivity in their workplaces, leading to an increase in the representation of women in the business sector. Additionally, women make up the majority of students in higher education. Sri Lankan women have also been achieving remarkable success in various fields, including business, Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM), and information technology.

She strongly feels that “ there is still a long way to go to achieve true gender equality and promote female empowerment in all aspects of society including the workplace, schools, and homes. To accelerate Sri Lanka’s progress towards empowering women, both men and women from the public and private sectors need to come together and work collectively towards this goal” Maliban has made significant strides in promoting gender diversity, transitioning from an all-male leadership team in its early days to achieving 30 percent female participation. The company’s goal is to increase the overall representation to fifty percent in the near future, with women occupying thirty percent of middle management positions, and eighty percent of the frontline workforce” Kumudika informs “we have implemented support mechanisms that cover recruitment, selection, career progression, grievance handling, and employee wellbeing, to optimize female representation across all levels of the company. This comprehensive approach towards diversity, inclusion, and gender equality has made Maliban a highly empowering workplace for women”. Next, we asked Kumudika Fernando to give us a summary of her own experience as a leading female professional in Sri Lanka’s corporate world and how she was prepared to take on the leadership role in this pioneering company.

Hands on and driven

Kumudika’s answer encapsulated her determination and commitment to achieving her goals and pursuing her passions despite any gender barriers. She is deeply connected to the company she works for, Maliban, and shares its spirit of maintaining high-quality standards. Kumudika’s strong work ethic and attention to quality is reflected in her hands-on approach to production processes, spending time at the factory every week to maintain a close involvement in ground-level operations. This highlights her leadership style as being grounded in practicality and attention to detail “Throughout my career, I have remained focused on achieving my goals and pursuing my passions, regardless of any gender barriers that may have been present. Maliban holds a special place in my heart, and our shared values have empowered me in various ways. My father, who serves as the company’s Chairman, had a unique leadership practice of visiting the factory every morning to inspect processes and talk to employees. This practice has been ingrained in me, and I continue to visit the factory early in the morning to conduct my own rounds, Quality is at the core of our ethos at Maliban, and I am deeply involved in ground-level operations to ensure adherence to the highest quality standards. Spending at least 10-12 hours weekly at the factory helps me maintain a hands-on approach to production processes, which has proven to be invaluable in my role as a leader and custodian of Maliban.

By: Jinashri Samarakoon Wijesundara

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