Fabio Alves Da Silva slays dragons in gum factory fight
For young men who have a boyhood fantasy of drawing a sword against a monster and saving a kingdom from devastation, they might feel an easy affinity with the real story of Fabio Alves Da Silva and his gum factory.
Mars Wrigley’s Shanghai factory in the suburban district of Songjiang is now operating rhythmically and smelling of candy, gum and mint. Fabio, its Brazilian senior factory director, chats with his colleagues or delivers presentations in a glass-walled meeting room. Things have turned normal again. The net sales of the factory this year are expected to hit US$600 million.
However, back in January 2020, Fabio arrived at the Mars Wrigley factory totally unprepared for what was about to befall him.
“Coming back to Shanghai, for me and my wife, who is more Shanghainese than Ukrainian with her 17 years of living in the city, is like coming back home for us. So we were excited. We arrived last year, January 11. And we went to celebrate the Spring Festival. Then the pandemic started. Five or ten days later, it took dimensions that nobody really expected,” said Fabio, who, after 22 years working for Royal Canin, got the opportunity to come to Mars Wrigley in Shanghai last year.
The cultural diversity in Brazil helped the young man land in a foreign country, especially in China, smoothly.
“The culture in Brazil is very diverse. Everybody can be Brazilian,” said Fabio, who is also celebrated for his national traits of a can-do attitude and the ability to adapt fast. “And I think that what the Brazilians have in common with the Chinese is also the personal relationship, though the cultures are so different at the same time. Normally when we build the strongest friendship is when we are having dinner, when we celebrate together, or as we go through a huge challenge together at work or at school.”
The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic last year was such an unprecedented challenge for the Songjiang factory, for Fabio and for his Chinese colleagues.
The stay-at-home quarantine rule caused a sharp drop in off-line customer flow and sales revenue. In the first half of 2020, when the pandemic was at its peak, product sales of the factory reduced by 20 percent.
“Shall we stay? Shall we go? The company proposed that I should go. My family and my friends outside the country said you guys should leave. And fortunately, we didn’t. We decided to stay and I think that was the right decision,” said Fabio. “The leader is the last one to escape from the fire. It was great because I really had to rely on my team and it was good to build the trust. Because I was not able to read the news coming through, I was like blind, I could only hear what they told me. And my strategy was to really have 100 percent trust in my team.”
Assisted by officials from the district’s economic and technological development zone, Fabio quickly threw himself into the battle against the pandemic.
Employees who returned to Shanghai at that time were required to stay at home for a 14-day quarantine period and report their temperature daily to the community.
At a time when there was a severe shortage of thermometers, Fabio coordinated with the purchasing team of the company to buy about 400 thermometers and mail them to quarantined employees’ homes.
Even when product sales declined by 20 percent in the first half of 2020, Fabio never thought of downsizing or cutting pay.
With might and main, Fabio spent five months coping against the pandemic with the factory workers and achieved fruitful results in food safety, cost control, quality management and sustainable development. Starting from the third quarter of last year, the company started to grow again.
In a 2020 global employee engagement survey launched by Mars, the Songjiang factory’s performance reached a historic high.
“My approach is to really talk to humans, not talk to the positions. If you work with me and you are one of my managers, I don’t talk with the manager, I talk with you, the person. So then I can really understand what you think, what you value, that I can readapt to your style, not ask you to adapt to my style. My strength is the ability that I try to connect with the person,” said Fabio.
“Last year was a challenging year not only for Mars, but for every one of us. So if we look at our portfolio, normally our products are sold to people who need to go out to buy chocolate, to buy chewing gum, to buy mint. With the pandemic, we lost a lot of our people going out. But thanks for all the foundation we’ve built during the pandemic, now we can be more online, not only relying offline. A lot of learning we are applying now,” Fabio added.
“Fabio is a role model for Mars. He is doing his best on his job and engaging all the people around him. And together they make Mars Wrigley great again in accordance with its corporate purpose, ‘Better Moments Make the World Smile,’” noted Kent Tu, the CA head of Mars Wrigley East China.