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Moulding And The Art Of War

April 1, 1997

5 Min Read
Moulding And The Art Of War

The Art of War is a classic of the strategic sciences in competitionand conflict. It was written well over 2,000 years ago by a mysteriousChinese warrior-philosopher known as Sun Tzu. Sun Tzu believed that thebest way to win is to make conflict itself altogether unnecessary. Today,contemporary students of Sun Tzu around the world have applied his strategiesto politics and to business with impressive results.

Yeo Khee Siang, managing director of Techplas Industries Pte. Ltd. ofSingapore, has combined the strategies of Sun Tzu with modern Japaneseand U.S. management techniques learned during his previous employment witha major multinational company. The latter include such principles as teamworkand management by objective. "People are our biggest asset,"Yeo says. If what he says is true, he and the Techplas Industries managerialstaff have leveraged this asset into impressive growth, using strategiesover two millennia old.

Techplas Industries presentlyoperatesmore than 90 mouldingmachines in three plants, including one new plant in Singapore.Another is scheduled to begin production this year in Shanghai.

Techplas Industries operates three plants. Its original 50,000-sq-ftplant in Singapore is now dedicated to mould manufacturing. It moved intoits new 82,000-sq-ft (7,620-sq-m) injection moulding plant in Singaporelast year. The company runs a total of 88 moulding machines in Singaporeranging 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 TechplasIndustries Co. Ltd., a SD$ 1.5 million (US$ 1.05 million) investment inChina 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 manufacturersin Singapore, Techplas Industries produces parts for the IT and consumerelectronics markets, ranking the likes of Hewlett-Packard among its customers.However, unlike many other Singaporean custom moulders, the company alsomoulds 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 arenow racing to penetrate the medical market. Techplas Industries, in businesssince 1978, started its medical moulding operations 14 years ago. It startedwith three machines. Today, it has 35 medical moulding presses and a Class100,000 cleanroom.

Newcomers to medical are finding that this market can have a numberof special requirements, like Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs) and cleanroomsthat significantly add to the cost and complexity of moulding. Yet, TechplasIndustries has survived and thrived in medical. Yeo says much of its successcan be attributed to management principles that are more than 2,000 yearsold.

The Art of Leadership

As in The Art of War, where the management of troops begins with leaders,management at Techplas Industries begins with its managers. "I ama full-time member of the working staff. I am very active in the plantin my day-to-day job," Yeo explains. He and other members of the company'sexecutive management team own the company. Each has hands-on expertisein moulding and mouldmaking. "Hands-on experience among our managersis a must. Each knows his department job very well. In this way, all cangive good guidance to their staffs, and can communicate well with customers."

New employees find their managers to be like "Sifus," thewise old masters of martial arts in Kung Fu films. Managers may give anew employee a trick problem to solve, and then solve the problem themselvesin a manner that enlightens the employee. "Once a manager wins theemployee's respect, that respect is unconditional and no challenge willfollow. Respect earned by power and force is temporary, if it exists atall. Respect must come from the heart," Yeo says. Management styleat Techplas Industries is directly influenced by the following five principlesof leadership listed by Sun Tzu:

  • Intelligence: The ability to plan and ability to knowwhen to change plans effectively are the key attributes of a leader's knowledge.

  • Trustworthiness: A leader must exhibit a character thatmakes 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 trustyou."

  • Humaneness: To Sun Tzu, humaneness meant love and compassionfor people and being aware of their toils. To Yeo, it means that a managermust love his staff and his customers.

  • Courage: In The Art of War, courage means the abilityto 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 mustbe established in the ranks by strict punishment. At Techplas Industries,fortunately, it means an uncompromising adherence to the disciplines ofthe marketplace, like GMPs and cleanrooms. "Otherwise, your cleanroombecomes a dirty room," Yeo jokes.

These leadership principles and others from Sun Tzu are combined withmodern management techniques and hands-on management to strengthen thecompany. "We are $50 million in sales, but people are our biggestasset. We could go public and I could retire a rich man, but what aboutthe rest of the people here? What does the machine operator get if we gopublic?" Yeo asks.

"It becomes a commitment. These strategies from Sun Tzu are easyto say, but you must practice what you preach. All managers here have acommitment to our people, and maintaining this commitment is the biggestchallenge to our growth. Our company is growing. We have begun to investigatethe automotive market growth for future growth. So, we are re-emphasizingthese principles. We are all tied together."

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