Having maintained its manufacturing presence through tough times and expanded beyond its traditional paints portfolio, DuluxGroup continues to empower the people of Papua New Guinea
Writer: Tom Wadlow
Project Manager: Vivek Valmiki
“Since arriving the experience has been amazing. The role is challenging and yet very interesting with a lot of freedom to bring change and drive improvements. The people are wonderful. They are sponges for knowledge and experiences and have accepted the changes that the management team is driving.”
Simon Barstow is a staunch advocate of all that Papua New Guinea has to offer.
As General Manager for paints and coatings firm DuluxGroup PNG, he has grown a passion for the country ever since arriving in 2017.
“This is one of the most beautiful countries I’ve lived in, all very clean, unspoilt and natural,” he continues. “It’s important to support the community so we are actively reviving the ‘Divers of Lae’ club to add new activities for the broader community and to help drive tourism – the scuba diving in PNG is world class so I’m lucky to be here to experience it.”
Barstow’s move to the country has a touch of fate about it. Had it not been for a last-minute trip cancellation while working for Diageo, he would have immersed himself in Papua New Guinea some 25 years earlier.
Today, Barstow justifiably paints a positive picture, striking an enviable work-life balance in what is a hidden gem of a nation 150 kilometres north of Australia.
However, he is the first to acknowledge that the country’s economy has passed through somewhat troubled waters of late, a journey which has strengthened the resolve of DuluxGroup and its commitment to the island nation.
“PNG’s economy is quite flat at present and is waiting for future large-scale projects to be realised. The recent successful holding of APEC for the first time in PNG has seen positive announcements for a range of these projects” he explains.
“With the market being stagnant we have seen some other paints manufactures pull back and stop production. DuluxGroup PNG is now the only local paints manufacturer in the country and we are committed to this market and to driving local employment.”
A long-established reputation, uncompromising approach to health and safety processes, and the backing of a regional parent organisation in Australia has enabled DuluxGroup PNG to establish itself as a truly responsible native.
By manufacturing locally and minimising the need to import products, the Company has empowered local people through employment.
“People are one of the most important parts of any operation so having the right personnel is paramount,” Barstow says.
“DuluxGroup PNG has always prided itself on high employee welfare standards and has provided ongoing training for them, making sure that they have a safe place to work.
“We are actively involved in developing our local team and have recently moved a range of people around into new roles with training and support to help them grow. We have just taken on board a new young local graduate into the Quality team as part of the DuluxGroup graduate programme to grow and develop his skills.”
Of the Company’s total headcount of 105, just five are expat managers.
“All foreign managers are tasked to grow and develop their teams with a vision that they need to eventually ‘localise’ their positions,” Barstow adds. “I’m passionate about one day seeing one of our local managers taking the helm and assuming my role.”
DuluxGroup PNG’s responsibility as a good corporate citizen extends into the wider community, the firm supporting a number of charities, schools, events and attractions.
For example, the City Mission of PNG in Lae recently asked for support to develop its new orphanage, and DuluxGroup donated the required paints and helped to train the centre’s local rehabilitated youths so that they could arrange the application themselves.
The Company has also embarked on a sustainability project to recycle used solvents that were typically shipped overseas for destruction. Now DuluxGroup will recycle locally and reuse, generating savings which will help to fund CSR initiatives.
For Barstow, seeing local people thrive through employment and community initiatives encapsulates his love for working in developing countries such as PNG and Vietnam, where he spent more than 25 years of his career.
“I’ve grown to love the challenges of the developing world where a lot of patience is required,” he says. “With a hands-on attitude, an ability to sit with the staff and train them, you can get back amazing results which is what has driven me.”
DuluxGroup PNG – the basics
DuluxGroup PNG began life under Orica in 1968, and today stands as a leading marketer and manufacturer of premium products that protect, maintain and enhance working and living spaces.
Its range includes retail paints, stains and varnishes, protective coatings, decorative concrete, commercial construction concretes and chemicals, industrial waterproofing and jointing systems, powder coatings, fillers, adhesives, sealants, paint brushes and rollers, specialised household cleaners, garage doors and electronic openers, seeds, fertilisers, pesticides and potting mixes.
“DuluxGroup PNG has been the market leader for quality paints for quite a while,” says Barstow. “We have a factory and head office in Lae, Morobe and a sales and distribution centre in Port Moresby.
“We have trade partners nationally so have an ability to provide distribution to all areas of PNG. Along with product supply, DuluxGroup PNG provides our customers with training, full technical support and the required programmes to help them grow their businesses.”
These results are already starting to be realised, with DuluxGroup PNG currently active in a number of new projects that will expand its capabilities and offering.
Contrary to popular opinion, the firm produces and markets a range of products far beyond its traditional core of decorative paints. For instance, it has taken on distribution rights for Hempel coatings which are designed to support the marine sector.
“Further, our Speciality Chemicals division accounts for 30 percent of our business, supplying a range of products to the major operators in the extractive sector,” Barstow adds. “We are actively expanding this range and have recently moved into supplying high quality feed ingredients to support local foods producers.”
A key priority is to complement this with a well-developed technical support offering.
Barstow continues: “We will be launching locally the Dulux DuSpec System, a DuluxGroup system for fully specifying the right paints and protective coatings, which also comes with all the technical datasheets needed to show clients how the application process works. Our team are undergoing training in Australia for this.”
This has been put to good use in a big development involving the upgrade of the ANGAU hospital in Lae, where the Company has been working very closely with architects in Australia on product specs and with local teams on the ground.
In addition, DuluxGroup PNG has taken on board a specialist to support the Dulux & Hempel protective coatings business, a role backed up by the technical team in Australia with a view to training local employees on the application and inspection of these products.
This ever-diversifying portfolio of expertise will come into its own as PNG’s economy picks up, with the renewal of large infrastructure projects set to provide a much-welcomed boost to the country’s construction industry.
“As the construction sector sees growth we will see a whole range of new developments starting, which will drive business for companies such as DuluxGroup, local hardware retail groups, local contractors and local tradesmen,” explains Barstow.
“The larger scale projects will require speciality products and our aim is to support the local industry with the right products to provide good asset protection. We will aim to provide technical support and training to allow as much work as possible to be sourced locally.”
DuluxGroup PNG is ideally-placed to fulfil this predicted uptick in demand, and Barstow hopes to have made significant progress during the course of 2019 and beyond.
He concludes: “The future is looking positive and it is expected that major projects are realised soon and that the PNG economy comes back on track, recent market reports paint a very positive picture we are confident that this will happen.
“With all of this coming together I’d like to report back in a year’s time that we have achieved our goals and targets, and that we are all celebrating our success at DuluxGroup as well as the country’s success.”