Activating ‘Ikigai’: Lao’s success tool

Alvin Lao, president and CEO of D&L Industries, finds balance and triumph through the rules of ‘Ikigai,’ the Japanese secret to fulfillment and success. On 12 December 2022, PSE president and CEO Ramon Monzon (right) hands over to Lao a plaque marking the 10th anniversary of D&L’s public listing. | photograph courtesy of PSE

Japanese follow a concept called “Ikigai,” which is a state of well-being induced by devotion to enjoyable activities. Often, this leads to a great sense of fulfillment.

They say, your Ikigai is what gets you up every morning and keeps you going.

For Alvin Lao, president and chief executive officer of publicly-listed D&L Industries Inc., his ikigai is keeping himself healthy and his well-being afloat as he leads his family’s decades-old business to endless triumph.

D&L Industries, a specialty food ingredient and oleochemicals producer, was founded in 1963 and was publicly listed in 2012.

Now 60 years later, the company is well-positioned as one of the leading and largest manufacturers in the country.

Lao acknowledged that being the anchor of a vital industry player like D&L could be a daunting but also a fulfilling task.

“We celebrated our 60th anniversary last year! We’ve been around for so long that we have a lot of structures and systems in place that serve as the foundation for our growth.

“As for me, I try to find my balance by spending time with family, or with friends from school and other organizations. I try to do Pilates twice a week. I’ve also been walking a lot more for around three years now, trying to get around 7,000 steps a day,” Lao said in an interview.

On normal work days, Lao shared that he is usually up by 6 a.m., even before his alarm goes off to make sure he gets to his office by 7:30 a.m.

“I have a short morning meeting with my head online, though most of my other meetings during the day are already in person,” he said.

At D&L Industries, Lao said he makes sure that every worker, regardless of rank, takes the consumer-centric approach to heart.

“It’s part of the DNA of being a business owner to constantly be optimistic. Of course, you’re allowed to be skeptical and to have a risk mindset, but it always helps to have a “glass half-full” perspective,” Lao recalled.

“We’re also quite paranoid about making sure that we are constantly focused on the needs of the customer and making sure that we fill those needs,” he said.

For this year, Lao had previously indicated that he is cautiously optimistic that the economy will further accelerate growth but noted that business challenges continue to linger.

Amid potential challenges, D&L remains bullish on further expanding its business with more production lines through its new Batangas plant.

D&L’s Batangas plant is more than double the capacity of all the firm’s existing facilities combined.

The plant sits on a 26-hectare property in First Industrial Township-Special Economic Zone in Batangas. It will mainly cater to D&L’s growing export businesses in the food and oleochemicals segments.

“Our current top priority is to ramp up the production from our facilities in Batangas. We started construction five years ago, and while some of the lines are already up and running, there are still some others that are under construction. With this new plant, we aim to reach one of our long-term goals of reaching 50 percent of our sales coming from exports, from the current 30 percent,” Lao said.

Additionally, D&L is also expecting that the planned increase in the biodiesel blend next year will help boost its business unit.

Wonders of coco fuel

D&L’s subsidiary Chemrez Technologies is the country’s biggest producer of quality coco-biodiesel and the increase in the mandated blend will have a large impact on its sales volume as well as margins because of the higher utilization of its biodiesel plant.

To help businesses combat the market challenges and volatilities, Lao said the government should offer support.

“My biggest request would probably be for the government to listen more frequently, as things are always changing. More recently, there has been a lot of volatility in raw material prices and also in interest rates, that’s been a pretty huge challenge for pretty much everyone. Continue to help us find ways to reduce costs and make processes more efficient,” he said.

D&L has yet to disclose its full 2023 financial results but data as of the first nine months showed that the company’s recurring income reached P1.8 billion, 29 percent lower than the previous year’s P2.5 billion.

The company attributed the decline to the incremental expenses it incurred due to the commercial operations of its Batangas plant, which it described as “a short-term pain for a long-term gain.”

Had it not been for the additional expenses of the Batangas plant, earnings would have only decreased by 11 percent year-on-year to P2.3 billion for the quarter.