The Art of War is a classic of the strategic sciences in competition and conflict. It was written well over 2,000 years ago by a mysterious Chinese warrior-philosopher known as Sun Tzu. Sun Tzu believed that the best way to win is to make conflict itself altogether unnecessary. Today, contemporary students of Sun Tzu around the world have applied his strategies to politics and to business with impressive results.
Yeo Khee Siang, managing director of Techplas Industries Pte. Ltd. of Singapore, has combined the strategies of Sun Tzu with modern Japanese and U.S. management techniques learned during his previous employment with a major multinational company. The latter include such principles as teamwork and management by objective. "People are our biggest asset," Yeo says. If what he says is true, he and the Techplas Industries managerial staff have leveraged this asset into impressive growth, using strategies over two millennia old.
Techplas Industries presently
operatesmore than 90 moulding
Techplas Industries operates three plants. Its original 50,000-sq-ft plant in Singapore is now dedicated to mould manufacturing. It moved into its new 82,000-sq-ft (7,620-sq-m) injection moulding plant in Singapore last year. The company runs a total of 88 moulding machines in Singapore ranging from 20 to 450 metric tons from a number of suppliers, mostly Nissei. Two machines are in its mouldmaking plant. All of its machines have robots. By mid-1997, full production is expected to start at Shanghai Techplas Industries Co. Ltd., a SD$ 1.5 million (US$ 1.05 million) investment in China that presently houses nine machines from 50 to 360 tons. In time, it will house 16 machines and incorporate mouldmaking capabilities.
Privately held, Techplas Industries has an authorized capital of SD$ 15 million (US$ 10.5 million), and average annual sales of SD$ 50 million (US$ 35 million). Like many other custom moulders and contract manufacturers in Singapore, Techplas Industries produces parts for the IT and consumer electronics markets, ranking the likes of Hewlett-Packard among its customers. However, unlike many other Singaporean custom moulders, the company also moulds for companies like Baxter Travenol in the medical market.
Many around the world see medical as a very attractive, "recession-proof" marketplace. In Singapore, a number of the leading moulding houses are now racing to penetrate the medical market. Techplas Industries, in business since 1978, started its medical moulding operations 14 years ago. It started with three machines. Today, it has 35 medical moulding presses and a Class 100,000 cleanroom.
Newcomers to medical are finding that this market can have a number of special requirements, like Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs) and cleanrooms that significantly add to the cost and complexity of moulding. Yet, Techplas Industries has survived and thrived in medical. Yeo says much of its success can be attributed to management principles that are more than 2,000 years old.
As in The Art of War, where the management of troops begins with leaders, management at Techplas Industries begins with its managers. "I am a full-time member of the working staff. I am very active in the plant in my day-to-day job," Yeo explains. He and other members of the company's executive management team own the company. Each has hands-on expertise in moulding and mouldmaking. "Hands-on experience among our managers is a must. Each knows his department job very well. In this way, all can give good guidance to their staffs, and can communicate well with customers."
New employees find their managers to be like "Sifus," the wise old masters of martial arts in Kung Fu films. Managers may give a new employee a trick problem to solve, and then solve the problem themselves in a manner that enlightens the employee. "Once a manager wins the employee's respect, that respect is unconditional and no challenge will follow. Respect earned by power and force is temporary, if it exists at all. Respect must come from the heart," Yeo says. Management style at Techplas Industries is directly influenced by the following five principles of leadership listed by Sun Tzu:
Intelligence:The ability to plan and ability to know when to change plans effectively are the key attributes of a leader's knowledge. Trustworthiness:A leader must exhibit a character that makes people sure of punishment or of reward. "This is a two-way street," Yeo elaborates. "If you do not trust your people, they do not trust you." Humaneness:To Sun Tzu, humaneness meant love and compassion for people and being aware of their toils. To Yeo, it means that a manager must love his staff and his customers. Courage:In The Art of War, courage means the ability to seize opportunities to make certain of victory, without vacillation. Yeo sees it as the bravery necessary to take on new and challenging projects, like its 96-cavity hot runner mould running HDPE parts in 5.3 second cycles; and willingness to take risks, like Shanghai. Sternness:To Sun Tzu, this meant that discipline must be established in the ranks by strict punishment. At Techplas Industries, fortunately, it means an uncompromising adherence to the disciplines of the marketplace, like GMPs and cleanrooms. "Otherwise, your cleanroom becomes a dirty room," Yeo jokes.
These leadership principles and others from Sun Tzu are combined with modern management techniques and hands-on management to strengthen the company. "We are $50 million in sales, but people are our biggest asset. We could go public and I could retire a rich man, but what about the rest of the people here? What does the machine operator get if we go public?" Yeo asks.
"It becomes a commitment. These strategies from Sun Tzu are easy to say, but you must practice what you preach. All managers here have a commitment to our people, and maintaining this commitment is the biggest challenge to our growth. Our company is growing. We have begun to investigate the automotive market growth for future growth. So, we are re-emphasizing these principles. We are all tied together."