The way Haris Arshad sees it, developing and maintaining a stellar reputation is the single most important part of running a successful business. “You must be seen as a company that is responsible and doing the right thing,” Haris tells The CEO Magazine. “Because reputation does matter, especially in a market such as palm oil that’s besieged with many issues.”
As the Managing Director of Sime Darby Oils, Haris has carefully overseen the cultivation of a reputation that truly sets the company apart from its competitors. This is achieved partly through the selection of like-minded, respected suppliers with whom they’re ethically aligned and share a similar end-goal; and partly by ensuring nearly every facet of the production process is done in-house, making them one of the few companies in the industry to do so.
“For the most part, our supplies today are coming from our own group,” he explains. “Sime Darby Plantation today is the world’s largest producer of sustainable palm oil with its own supply chain – we grow the product, we process the product, we market the product and we sell the product.
“Our customers want to know precisely where the products they buy come from.”
“The integration of upstream milling, refining, logistics and the supply chain, all the way to the customer’s factory, is a big deal. It goes back to the issue of provenance, and the fact that our customers want to know precisely where the products they buy come from. It’s not good enough for me to tell them that they are coming from our refinery; I have to be able to tell them from exactly which mill or estate.”
Indeed, in a time when concerns around transparency and sustainable practices are at the forefront of our collective consciousness, Haris says, “It’s essential to be agile and respond to all these emerging issues, particularly around food safety, provenance, traceability and sustainability”.
Haris’ career spans countries and companies, from his earliest days at Cargill in Malaysia, the Philippines and Singapore in the mid-90s trading of palm products, to climbing the ranks of Nestlé in Kuala Lumpur, London and Singapore over eight years. He then worked with Unilever as the Director of Commodity Price Risk Management before ultimately joining Sime Darby Plantation in 2014, where, prior to the Sime Darby Plantation demerger, he headed the Global Trading and Marketing unit as well as the Plantation Division’s Downstream Manufacturing organisation. In 2019, Haris was brought on as Managing Director of Sime Darby Oils, the same year the company consolidated and restructured its divisions.
Looking to the next chapter of Sime Darby Oils, Haris says the focus will be threefold. “The first is around process improvement,” he says. “We operate 11 manufacturing facilities in 12 countries. Each of these sites has the potential to improve so we look at our existing assets and consider what we can do to make it run better. We’ve also embarked on an industry-wide digitalisation process, which is enabling us to undertake all these manufacturing sprints.
“We are exploring how we can apply technology to help us care for our assets and remotely manage our operations. That’s a big thing for us because, initially, everything was run almost on a silo basis, whereas now you tend to connect all of your assets together.”
Second, Sime Darby Oils is implementing an initiative that they have termed their ‘Culture of Care’, which is a cultural transformation to create the right behaviours in terms of working safely and in a socially responsible manner. “That revolves around personal safety, accountability and responsibility, not just to yourself, but also to your business partners, to your community and the environment – in a holistic sense.” This also plays into its talent development programs, which champion career evolution.
And finally, Haris says that they are prioritising the company’s commercial capabilities. “You can have all the bells and whistles and all the right assets and people, but if you don’t have the right commercial skills, you’re not going to make money – especially in a commodity market like this, where there’s huge volatility. We have to make sure we have the right systems in place to enable our team to sell and to create well.”
“I tell my people that I’m not always right, and if you see that I’m going down the wrong path, you have to tell me, otherwise we’re all going down that wrong path.”
As a leader, Haris believes it’s vital to allow staff to make mistakes in order to learn, which is a strategy that ultimately encourages employees to be bold and make decisions themselves, as opposed to somebody making decisions for them. “I tell my people that I’m not always right, and if you see that I’m going down the wrong path, you have to tell me, otherwise we’re all going down that wrong path.”
Haris employs an open door policy, but one that ultimately comes with a caveat of collaboration: “I say, ‘If you come to me with a problem, don’t expect a solution from me; rather, you should come to me with a problem and let’s see how we can solve this together’”. It’s a mentality that sees all employees contributing to a company that they feel invested in the success of – a surefire way to continue growing a functioning, happy and healthy business.