Though the term “family business” may call to mind visions of local mom-and-pop firms, family-controlled companies play a significant role on the global stage. To many, it connotes a small or midsized company with a regional focus and a familiar set of problems, such as disputes over succession. While plenty of firms certainly fit that description, it doesn’t reflect the influential role that family-controlled enterprises play in the world economy. One such robust business is MAL ENTERPRISE (PVT) LTD, backed by its strong Managing Director’s mindset, Disura Fernando.
To provide some context, MAL ENTERPRISE is a family-owned business established in 1997 and has a rich history of over two decades. To deliver consistent quality to their consumers, Sirimal Salwathura, the company’s founder, formed the company with his grandson and consistently provided a wide selection of high-quality domestic and commercial cleaning tools at affordable costs, available at leading supermarkets throughout the island.
Disura attended the elite S. Thomas’ College Mount Lavinia throughout his formative years to begin his compelling journey. Like any other adolescent, he was quite involved in his extracurricular activities, serving as the College Captain of the Squash Team from 2013 to 2015 and as a Prefect. In addition, he was awarded the 2014 Rajah Asirwatham Memorial Prize for Advanced Accounting in London. He also completed his Bachelors of Commerce with a double major in Accounting and Finance at Curtin University in Singapore when he was only 20 years old. Finally, Disura, a determined individual, completed his Masters in Business Administration with honours at Cardiff Metropolitan University in 2020. What an accomplishment!
Instantaneously after graduating, Disura was offered a position in one of the world’s top four accounting firms, which he considered as he aspired to work in the corporate sector. Still, he ultimately decided to give back what he had learned from his motherland by starting his own business and obliging his parents’ businesses. As a result, the young prodigy returned to Sri Lanka in 2017. It began assisting his father’s businesses, allowing him to gain exposure in the business sector while pursuing his master’s degree. At the same time, Disura’s grandfather was looking for a buyer for his business so that he could retire. He then decided that now was the ideal time to buy the firm and retain it in the family, and in 2018, he formally began his role as Managing Director of MAL ENTERPRISE (PVT) LTD, alongside his family the board.
Disura initially considered leading the company to be a difficult task to take on, especially considering he was just twenty-one years old. However, he was confronted with problems that required him to learn through his own experiences. He was able to adjust and manage the stakeholder relationship while also creating trust and understanding with them and moving the business ahead in a favourable business environment.
The job description included more than just managing and guiding the organization. Disura had to understand every precise detail of the items they had at the company from the manufacturing process to distribution from the beginning, and he claims that textbooks would not have taught him the amount of dedication and skilful labour put into the operation. As a result, he describes his journey as an interesting one in which he strives to give more value to the organization.
In a dynamic business world, things sometimes flip completely: The apparent strengths of a company can quickly turn into weaknesses — as a small and seemingly unimportant rival manages to leverage the more prominent firm’s size and capabilities against it. Conversely, a company’s apparent deficiencies may become advantages. In the right-side-up world, strengths remain strengths, and weaknesses remain weaknesses. That does seem to hold in stable environments where technologies and market structures are more or less fixed. But as many well-known strategy theories recognize, the business landscape is far from unchanging. More often than not, the upside-down world is the one we live in. Disura reminisces taking leadership and team responsibilities throughout his sportsmanship journey, which played a crucial influence in managing the firm and leading it on a new path when asked how his talents and flaws have impacted the role he holds. He stated, “As a millennial, there’s so much perspective and potential we can add to businesses, and as for me, interpersonal skills played a major role to bring out Mal Products to the light of modern trade such as Keells, Cargills, Arpico and Softlogic Glomark.”
Family-controlled companies surpass their peers because they focus on resilience, not short-term results. During economic booms, this approach leads them to forgo some opportunities (and hence do slightly worse than their counterparts), but it puts them in a position of strength during downturns when they shine. In addition, conventional wisdom holds that the unique ownership structure of family businesses gives them a long-term orientation that traditional public firms often lack. But beyond that, little is known about precisely what makes family businesses different. In this context, when asked about the pros and cons of having a family as company partners, Disura acknowledges that the expertise and apprehension passed down to the next generation has been a significant benefit. As such, he was able to rely on them for assistance.
Furthermore, he notes that bearing in mind the company was founded more than two decades ago, the manufacturing business process system and operations were rather traditional. They were not properly maximized by adapting to the ever-changing business environment. Given this, managing the company while also transitioning from obsolete methods of operation was a significant hurdle that Disura had to overcome in a short amount of time. However, he adopted revolutionary new production techniques to create one-of-a-kind cleaning equipment to liquidate the market requirement gap.
Subsequent to his grandfather’s reign, one would give thought to what Disura’s aspirations for MAL ENTERPRISE (PVT) LTD’s future might be. To this, he makes a riposte on how he was able to develop a subsidiary brand called ROPCO Products, which specializes in janitorial cleaning supplies. Furthermore, he has begun distributing to the high-end market, where the brand’s items are manufactured to international standards. On the contrary, he inclines to build a PET bottle recycling plant, export products abroad, develop 100 per cent eco-friendly items to cut carbon emissions, and become the No. 1 cleaning tool brand in Southeast Asia.
Family values are a thread that easily ties family education and spirituality together. Although in consideration of the values, Disura has converged from his family going forward in the business, he reciprocates that when he took over the company, his father’s counsel to him was, “Workers are your Assets.” He still complies with that advice and is incredibly delighted to have a strong team of employees to work along with. Employee motivation, according to Disura, is a direct outcome of their interactions with management. Thus it’s critical to be thoughtful of employees and treat them fairly. “Make unique items that are effective and efficient,” his grandfather once told him, “evolution of the mop, in the past we used a rag to wipe the floor!” As a result, Disura modernised traditional dust mops for the local market at affordable prices, which are now available at all major supermarkets.
The simple conclusion reached is that family businesses focus on resilience more than performance. They forgo the excess returns available during good times to increase their survival odds during bad times. Trends are speeding up. If that continues, the resilience-focused strategy of family-owned companies may become more attractive to all companies. In a global economy that seems to shift from crisis to crisis with alarming frequency, accepting a lower return in good times to ensure survival in bad times may be a trade-off that companies are thrilled to make. At a time when executives of every company are encouraged to manage for the long term, formidable family businesses as MAL ENTERPRISE serve as role models.
Over the long term, MAL ENTERPRISE, backed by it’s tenacious managing director endeavours to be the world’s most sought-after cleaning tool producer while promoting a healthier environment, motivating employees to create novel cleaning equipment, and committing to corporate social responsibility in environmental protection. Disura ends his account with a memorable quote, “Never retreat when you fail. Believe in yourself and keep moving forward.”