There are individuals in this nation that when they walk into a room or when you hear their names, people pause….because their very presence inspires hope. When they speak, you stop to listen and when they give the thumbs up to a project, you’re inspired to join in and support it too because you know that their motives only come from a good place and their intentions are aligned with making this small island a better place to live, laugh and leave positive footprints. One such individual is William Mahfood.
A man who usually shuns the limelight, Mahfood decided to step out of his comfort zone and sit down with BUZZZ MAGAZINE for an exclusive interview so others can truly get to know a little bit more about him….a little more about this manufacturing mogul who through his company, is not only changing the lives of those Jamaicans who are a part of Team Wisynco, but who, through dedication to nation building, is transforming Jamaican goods and services into a first world, competitive industry.
When Bigga started I would never have guessed that one day our beverage portfolio would be expanded to be the biggest in the Caribbean…
When asked about the genesis of Wisynco, William proudly shared the story of the early years and how a small shop located in downtown Kingston, morphed into the group that it is today, situated at Lakes Pen in St. Catherine. “The foundation is really Mahfood’s Commercial Limited at Harbour Street which Sam Mahfood started in the early 1940s. He passed in 1962 and left the business to his four sons Ferdie, Sam Jnr, Joe and Robin. They inherited a wholesale, haberdashery and dry goods business and by 1964, they decided to go into rubber boot production and sought financing. This is how West Indies Synthetics got started with one machine making Iron Man rubber boots. By the 70s, they expanded into Gator shoes and were also making plastic bags and plates and by the late 1980s when I finished university, we had three operating companies, Wisynco Fisheries, Wisynco Trading and Gator Shoes companies.”
Armed with a degree in industrial engineering from North Eastern University in Boston, when he joined the team, he felt the company needed to venture into new territories so they got into consumer goods with brands such as Ocean Spray and Welch’s and began building a remarkable portfolio. However, the high-interest rates that defined and defiled the mid-1990s saturated the economy and instead of concentrating on foreign goods, Wisynco made the decision to go into manufacturing with the first product on the line being the now popular Bigga soft drinks. “When Bigga started I would never have guessed that one day our beverage portfolio would be expanded to be the biggest in the Caribbean,” he confessed. “Added to this was our interest in Trade Winds, the makers of the Tru-Juice brands, our groceries lines with Hawaiian Punch, Kellogg’s, Red Bull and you can begin to understand the depth of our portfolio. Over the last five years, we have also sought to develop our capabilities in terms of distribution. Then we got into restaurants with two popular franchises, Dominoes and Wendy’s in 2009, and founded Wisynco Foods. Today we have 20 outlets. We also sought to build our service level for customers….we tapped into the importance of finding out our customers’ needs and satisfying them. Over the years as an organisation, this has been our competitive advantage.
In 2014, recognising the shift in consumer behaviour, Wisynco decided to go natural, and this they did with the acquisition of some 50% of Trade Winds Limited – a partnership which then saw them heading into agriculture. “We have some 3,000 acres and we are planting a lot more than just oranges. What is big for us now is our green juice line as we have fused pak choi, cucumber, string bean and callaloo together and people love it as well as our beetroot and carrot juice. We are reaping success as we bring strong marketing support and distribution and Trade Winds has great products, so together the synergy is harmonious.”
With a staff complement of 2,500 and an additional 700 at Trade Winds, Mahfood is responsible for a lot of people, but thanks to having the right systems in place which makes the ship run like a well-oiled machine. Though growth and expansion have been steady and seamless, the company has not been without its fair share of challenges over the years. The main one was well publicised as last year, they were impacted by a huge fire that would have crippled a lesser entity…but not Wisynco. “The fire was May 26, 2016. I can never forget that date as it is etched in my memory.
I had just taken my mother to Canada when I got the call. I flew home the next day and the entire management team had a meeting to strategise how to ensure that the fire would have the least amount of impact to consumers, our operations and to staff.”
Attributed to a possible electrical fault, the fire certainly did a number on their operations. Because all the material and packaging were flammable, the fire quickly destroyed the offices, the building, cold storage facilities, 100% of the raw material and all of their finished goods. “Not a single case was saved, yet within six weeks we were up and running; production was never stopped. We rented warehouses around Spanish Town to get back up and within a week and half we were back delivering. By July, we were back up and running at 70% capacity. Yes, it was a huge setback but it was also a lesson that was truly inspiring as we got such amazing responses from our customers and our staff which highlighted the true potential of the Jamaican spirit. We are blessed to have companies and suppliers who gave us all the support we needed. It was phenomenal.”
To Read More: Purchase your copy of Volume 9 #4– September-October 2017