Meet The Manufacturer Top 100 2019 Exemplars – 20: Thang Vo-Ta

Posted on 28 Aug 2020 by The Manufacturer

The Manufacturer Top 100 is a project that showcases the most dynamic leaders, young pioneers and unsung heroes working in UK manufacturing, all of which have been nominated by their peers.

Among the Top 100, however, our judging panel chose 20 individuals for special recognition. We call them ‘Exemplars’ – those who have exemplified remarkable leadership, daring or innovation within their respective field, and who set the direction of travel as we head into the new decade.

Thang Vo-Ta CEO & Co-Founder, Callaly

Thang Vo-Ta CEO & Co-Founder, CallalyHow did a Canadian who studied at MIT and who, after a career in investment banking, moved to London to become a property developer, go on to manufacture the first innovation to tampons in almost a century?

It all happened because of a chance conversation with a gynaecologist near London’s Harley Street.

Thang Vo-Ta met 71-year-old Dr Alex Hooi in London 14 years ago. Alex was expanding his practice at the time and the pair made an arrangement in which Thang would lease Alex an office space he’d recently built.

The men became fast friends because Thang relished talking to doctors, learning of their experiences. One day, Alex showed him the prototype for a period product he’d devised. His 30 years in gynaecology had taught him that a more effective and hygienic alternative to the tampon, pantyliner and pad was necessary.

“Alex had invented a two-in-one product that solved a lot of the problems of other products – with leaking, for example. If he saw an engineering problem because 70% of the time a product didn’t work, he wanted to solve it.”

Celebrating seven years of inspirational industry leaders

The Manufacturer Top 100 Logo 2019 - For Use in Slider BarLaunched in 2014, The Manufacturer Top 100 publicly recognises the most dynamic leaders and innovators in manufacturing.

Published by The Manufacturer, in partnership with Cranfield University, one of the country’s top centres of business education, the project is helping to dispel widely-held myths that vibrant manufacturing in the UK is a thing of the past.

Click here to make your nomination for The Manufacturer Top 100 2020, and to download a copy of the 2019 publication.

Thang showed the prototype to his then girlfriend (now wife) and his sisters, and all three agreed that Alex had hit upon a novel idea. Ten years and seven-figure sums later, Thang and his developers had patents in countries across the world, including Australia, Canada, Brazil, India, Europe, China and the US.

“We obviously needed a woman on board to perfect this product,” Thang said. “So, I asked the London College of Fashion who their most talented garment technologist was. They said, ‘Oh, that’s easy. It’s Eva, she’s a rockstar!’”

Ewa Radziwon, also a Top 100 awardee, began hand-stitching new prototypes, making them even more comfortable.

After hundreds of user trials and several false starts with developers, Thang’s team decided to manufacture the products themselves, with support from Innovate UK.

“I am such a big fan of theirs,” he said. “We wouldn’t be here without them. We have, with their support, been able to build an automated machine that now makes this product, which we’ve named the Tampliner.

“Of course, I didn’t grow up ever thinking that I’d found a tampon start-up. But there hasn’t been significant innovation in this area for 80 years, yet it’s something that half the world uses. And fortune favours the brave. You must be bold, never give up, and believe when no one else will. The responses we get from our users is what continues to drive us; that’s our biggest motivation.”

What is your favourite engineered/manufactured product?

Since childhood I’ve been fascinated with mechanical watches featuring the perpetual calendar complication. It’s a constant reminder of the marvel of engineering that a machine on one’s wrist can automatically adjust for the leap day every four years, powered by the natural movement of the wrist.

Please give one interesting fact about yourself that not many people know

I’ve been a guest performer on the Blue Peter show where I duly received a badge, which I gave to my then very impressed girlfriend (now wife).

If you weren’t in manufacturing what would be your dream job?

I’d be a music teacher or sports coach, trying my best to inspire my students to chase their dreams with reckless abandon.

The Manufacturer Top 100 is produced in partnership with Cranfield University – one of the country’s top centres of business education, and low-cost talent partner, Trust Hunter Ltd (Hunter).