Sunday, 27 September 2020 16:57

Engineering firm DEK Technologies looking to double its staff numbers

By
Drini Mulla: "DEK is an engineering company, run by engineers for engineers." Drini Mulla: "DEK is an engineering company, run by engineers for engineers." Supplied

When Drini Mulla started an engineering company in Melbourne in 1999 along with two of his friends, he didn't think it would become as big as it has. A chip designer, he has always operated on the principle that as he was an engineer and ran an engineering company, having a big public profile would never be a necessity.

But now that has changed. DEK Technologies, the company that Mulla and his friends — Eddie Yim and Kerim Tanovic — started, is now looking to increase its employee base from a little more than 500 to 1000. And he has realised that one of the best ways of attracting people is to make his story known.

There is a lot about Mulla that is old school. One has to only speak to him for a little while — and given the COVID-19 lockdown in Melbourne I spoke to him on a Zoom call — to realise that he is almost embarrassed to talk about himself. Indeed, he is a very different person to the average business owner that one encounters in Australia – or any other country for that matter.

For one, he is very precise and does not keep talking when asked a question; he replies with the facts and then stops. In the age of narcissism, he seems to be one of those rare souls who is not full of himself. One could call him a nerd and not be far off the mark. Somehow when I was speaking to him I kept recalling the main kernel developer at SUSE Linux, a man named Vojtěch Pavlík.

"I grew up in a small farming town in far North Queensland called Mareeba," Mulla, who is the chief executive of DEK, told iTWire. "My parents are avocado and mango farmers. As a boy/teenager I did what most farmers’ children did which was help our parents on the farm, socialise with our cousins and neighbours and ride motorbikes. We didn’t have mobile phones or the Internet, so entertainment was mainly via TV and radio.

"My parents were my role models and have been instrumental in shaping [me to be] the person I am today. They instilled in me values such as the importance of family, hard work, honesty, loyalty and ethics; values which I hold dear and use in doing business."

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Mulla standing next to a next-generation Sign Controller developed for a NSW "safety around schools" initiative. Supplied

Some of that sounds almost quaint in this day and age when making lots of money, and fast, seems to be about the only aim for someone who starts a business or else is looking to expand one. But then like I said, he is different.

Mulla's hobby while a kid was to build Dick Smith electronics kits. "This is what primarily influenced me to become interested in electronics," he said. "This ultimately led to me doing an electronics engineering course at Queensland Institute of Technology (now Queensland University of Technology).

"In my final year, Ericsson in Melbourne were on a recruitment drive to employ 50 graduates from around Australia and came to the university to conduct interviews. I was lucky enough to be selected as a graduate and moved down to Melbourne upon completion of my final year."

Ericsson has been a huge and important part of his life. "I have been working with them either as an employee or contractor for my entire working life," is how Mulla puts it. His company has operations in Sweden, Italy and Vietnam besides Melbourne, and he is now opening a branch in San Jose, California.

He has no fancy words to describe what his company does, either. He does not use words like synergy and incentivisation. "We are a technology outsourcing company that provides software and hardware development services. We help companies develop and maintain their hi-tech products," he said. "At this stage, we have no plans to go public."

Thus far, DEK Technologies has not sought to keep a high profile as it did not need to be well-known to attract business. "DEK is an engineering company, run by engineers for engineers," Mulla explained. "So having a high public profile has never been a priority for us. We often found when speaking to people about DEK, they were quite surprised about how successful we are and that we have a good story worth sharing.

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Drini Mulla and the staff at DEK Technologies' Vietnam office celebrating the receipt of an Ericsson supplier award. Supplied

"So far, our story has been published in a local council magazine promoting local businesses and articles related to our various awards. For example, we were finalists for the Telstra Business Awards each time we applied. We won the Northern Business of the Year award 2018, Hume City Business of the Year award 2017 and Ericsson Global Supplier of the Year award 2016, just to name a few."

When asked whether he would favour a new client who held out the promise of lots of money or an old client with whom he had already dealt successfully, Mulla had no hesitation on picking the latter. "We are a very loyal company and choose to work with customers who share similar values to us," he said. "In this case, we would stay with our existing customer as we’ve already established a relationship built on trust, ways of working and core values.

"With a new customer we would risk misaligned values and ways of working which can sometimes become more costly than retaining an existing customer. On top of this, we are a company built primarily on relationships and we are not just driven by profits. Having said that, we would obviously like to secure both projects."

Mulla does not try to be politically correct. Asked what drives his hiring policy, he responded: "We hire primarily based on merit. Even though engineering is a heavily male-dominated industry, we would certainly like to have more women in our company.

"However, this has been difficult to achieve due to the lack of female engineers. We hope that the government’s push for STEM education, particularly among girls, will help to change this over time. In any case, we are a very diverse workplace as we employ people regardless of gender, race, religion and those with disabilities."

Another way in which Mulla stands out is that he finds immense satisfaction in what he is doing. "I am extremely happy with what I am doing now. It’s something I enjoy and find much fulfilment in," he said.

dek hume

The DEK Technologies team at the Hume Business Awards in 2017 where the company won three awards (from left): Eddie Yim, director, Steve Dawkins, project manager, Drew Jessop (former Hume City Mayor), Drini Mulla, CEO and director, Bahar Noble, marketing, Robert Bunn, general manager and Patrick Klovekorn (former project manager). Supplied

He is not the type who agonises over decisions. "I tend to take opportunities as they come and am not really a person who plans their life to a T," was his way of putting it. "There have been several stages in my life where choosing one path over the other has resulted in me being where I am today.

"For example, deciding where to work after university and deciding to live in Melbourne has made a big difference as to where my life is right now. I am happy with the choices I have made."

Running the company takes up most of his time, but is not his entire life. "My passion outside of work is in construction and building. I like to do my own home renovations and I also have various housing development projects around Melbourne. This is something that I do in addition to DEK," he said, when asked.

"I enjoy working with my hands and building things which is probably a result of my agricultural upbringing."

Plus, he also has a bit of the humanitarian in him. "Something else that I’m passionate about is helping people who are less fortunate, particularly children. This led us to establishing the DEK Foundation eight years ago. We target to have about 10 community and charity projects a year.

"We work with our employees to organise food drives for the homeless and collaborate with Australian humanitarian Moira Kelly and organisations such as Kind Cuts for Kids (Professor Paddy Dewan) to provide support for treating critically ill children.

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DEK Technologies' staff let their hair down at Christmas. Mulla is third from left in the front row. Supplied

"Other initiatives have included offering scholarships to Vietnamese children living in villages, providing clean water to a remote village in central Vietnam and sponsoring Australian paediatric surgeons to various third world countries around the world to teach local doctors how to better treat children with debilitating/critical illnesses."

About the only detail that Mulla was reticent to provide for this interview was the company's annual revenue. But given the picture that emerged from his answers — his definition of success, for example — I realised that it was not very significant in understanding the type of man he is.

"A financially stable company means we’re doing well and awards provide recognition for the work that we are doing," he said. "However, success to me is about having good ethics, happy employees, satisfied customers and the ability for the business to continue to operate even under the hardest of circumstances."

Expansion is very much on his mind these days. "Our goal is to grow to 1000 employees over the next few years. We have grown from three people to over 500 without a sales/marketing team. DEK’s growth has mainly been driven by repeat business and word of mouth. We believe a sales/marketing team will help accelerate us to this achieve a growth target of 1000 employees," he said. "I have personally selected these people and continue to follow the progress of this dedicated team here in Australia."

Mulla says the sales and marketing team has had a positive effect on the company. "Our sales and marketing team joined around nine months ago and we have definitely seen a positive outcome," he stressed. "We have won a couple of significant contracts already with Australia’s largest telecommunications company, due to their efforts."

He has made provision for taking cultural and language barriers into account when hiring. "We have local dedicated HR/recruitment teams that are responsible for hiring of employees in our offices in Vietnam, Sweden and Italy," he said.

drini mulla national dress

Drini Mulla (extreme left) joins other staff from the Vietnam office at the DEK office to mark a decade in business. Next to him is Loan Phan who handles human resources, Sonia Tang, the wife of co-founder and director Eddie Yim, Daniel Tedesco, general manager, and Eddie Yim. Supplied

"In Vietnam, we have an Australian general manager who ensures we maintain a good balance of cultures and cultural fit between our global sites. We also have a full-time English teacher in our Vietnam office to help with any potential language barriers. Australia and Sweden share a similar culture and English is a second language to the Swedish people so we don’t have any real barriers to overcome."

Having operated in different cultures, Mulla says he identifies with both European and Australian cultures due to his heritage and upbringing, "having been fortunate enough to experience the best of both worlds".

"I have a Southern European heritage (Albanian) but was born in Australia," he said. "I find the Australian culture is quite similar to Northern European cultures found in the Scandinavian countries where speaking your mind is encouraged. We share common values and the work life balance is very similar. Hence [that's] why our Swedish and Australian offices have a similar cultural understanding.

"Having built an office in Vietnam, and travelled there multiple times a year, I have learned and experienced a lot about the Vietnamese culture and find that Southern European and Asian cultures seem quite similar in terms of the values they share which are highly regarded such as work ethics and filial piety."

On the home front, Mulla is as involved as he is at work, "I have a wife and three boys, aged 19, 17 and 12. My wife and I have been married for 24 years. We’re a close knit family and have a strong family bond.

"My oldest son is at university doing engineering, so he’ll come to me for advice on course work. I’m also hands on when it comes to supporting my sons in their sports, and ferrying them to their games and practice sessions."

How would be like to be remembered? "[As] an honest and humble person who tried his best in everything he did, enjoyed making people laugh, was genuinely caring and had a passion to help those in need around him."


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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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