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No need for Plan B

Interview - March 6, 2012
Mr. Deo N. Lall, Managing Director of Qualitech Machining Services, reveals how he mortgaged his house to start his business, and has never looked back

Minister Cadiz mentioned in our interview that local entrepreneurship needed to capitalize on the current opportunities and expand. What’s missing among local entrepreneurs to expand their businesses?

People don’t take chances. I saw the opportunity. I didn’t have any money and the only 'capital' I had was my house. So I spoke with my family and said: “Listen, I’ll take a chance, I’ll mortgage my house, open a small company, I have been successful in what I have been doing so far, and if things don’t turn out, we will have to sell our home, rent a house and start all over again”. I was confident enough to know that the plan B would not be needed, and that I was going to survive.

Since I opened the company a lot of my previous contacts called me to conduct business because they trusted me. I started with a small area, and within one year we needed more space. We were working seven days a week. We continued to grow and grow. So we kept on adding more machinery every year, and the customers asked us to get bigger because they wanted to give us more work, because they liked the quality, the service and everything else. I knew the opportunities were there, and I kept on reinvesting, and this is where we are right now, on two acres with a 35,000 sq ft workshop, we need to expand again.

I don’t want to get too big because I want to keep control. We have a lot of companies looking for joint ventures but we are careful to pick the right companies. We are definitely opened for new partnerships. For example, we just sign a contract with a company from the United States to  work with them to repair gearboxes  locally.

What are the competitive advantages that have allowed you to reach such a quick growth?

Quality and service. People in the Point Lisas Industrial Estate don’t have time, they want things to be done for yesterday, they don’t want to wait. We have been increasing the number of machines and improving the technology, so we can use faster production machines. So when you give them that kind of services they don’t really ask for discounted prices, and the profit margins grow with the years. And once you profit margin grows, your business grows.

How could Qualitech help in the diversification of the economy?

The diversification must be a priority. Qualitech could support the manufacturing companies because we have a lot of things we could repair and manufacture for them. In any industry, alot of machinery is manufactured in facilities such as ours. Any new industry can be supported by using us to manufacture some of their plant and equipment.

How are you ensuring the quality of that service?

We are ISO 9001:2008 certified since 2002 and as part of the system we certify and inspect everything that we do. We always have meetings with our staff and let them know what is going on and what services are demanded. At the end of the day everybody wants service and quality. We always have someone available, somebody is on call 24 hours a day seven days a week to provide service.

What have been the biggest challenges that you have had to face?

I would say hiring highly skilled people. Our type of work needs them and you do not always find them easily available in Trinidad, so we started taking on young people for apprenticeship programmes. But it takes a few years to train people to the level that you want.

We have a lot of long term employees because we put things in place for them: they have good health plans; we create retirement plans; we have people who started on day one with the company 17 years ago and are still with us. These are the things you need to encourage people, because money is not everything. And if you share the profits with the employees they are happier and they are willing to work harder.

Service is also a big challenge. When it comes to service, I look to what is logical. I put myself in the costumer's place and I ask what kind service would I like to receive.

You are located in Point Lisas, the industrial heart of the nation. With the growing number of US companies establishing themselves in the area, why would you say that Qualitech is the perfect industrial partner for them?

We are looking to work with a company that shares our point of view. Whatever they do must be in line with what we are looking for. Qualitech will share your same vision and goals and will work along with your company to ensure the venture is a win-win for both companies.

What kind of company would be the partner that you are looking for?

Companies that specialized in similar repair/manufacturing and preferably already established in Trinidad.  We could assist them to provide a service from here, rather than from the States. That is what we look for, people who could add value to what we do, and we could add value to what they do as well. We will want to complement each other and serve the local industry at the same time.

Qualitech grew following the demand from its customers. What’s the next step?

We want to be more high-tech and technologically advanced. We recently opened a separate company called Qualitech CNC Manufacturing Solutions Limited, which is a subsidiary of Qualitech Machining Services Limited. They have computerized machines and are able to serve the clients much faster. The customer saves 80% of the normal production time. Their production per hour is much better than Qualitech because of the speed of their machinery. That is where I see the future of our company, investing in new technology.

You mentioned before how difficult it is to find highly skilled people in Trinidad. How are you recruiting that top talent that will allow you to expand your company?

We look for people that have done the basic courses in operating machinery at school. And then we put them through the apprenticeship programmes for a five-year period. Training has become a very important component of our operations.

HSE is a top priority for Qualitech.

We have a safety officer and have a safety meeting with the entire staff every  week.  We are now implementing the STOW (Safe to Work) program, that is something overseen by the South Energy Chamber of Commerce; We keep records of how long it’s been since we may have had an accident, employee medical tests every six months, pollution control, noise levels etc.

What would be your recommendation for any investor coming to Trinidad & tobago?

You must know the culture and how people operate here in order to be successful.

How would you like T&T to be seen in the US?

What impresses people the most that come here, is the amount of talent that we have in Trinidad. Alot of Americans come down here and after working with Trinidadians, they ask locals to go back and work with them in the States. People are very productive and think very quickly. It is a fantastic country for young people, full of opportunities.

How does the future look like for Qualitech?

The future looks very bright. We are always looking for more people and more machinery to increase our production and quality of service.