Promising SME500 2013 Feature Article on PBA Regional Director Derrick Yap

24 Oct 13


Second-generation successors to a thriving family business usually have it easy, but it’s certainly not the case for Mr. Derrick Yap. Especially when he has a pair of particularly big shoes to fill – that of his father, Mr. Tony Yap, founder and award-winning entrepreneur of precision bearings and automation firm PBA Group.

Straight after his A Level examinations, Mr Yap was whisked off to Hokkaido, Japan by his father to work in a bearings factory, toiling alongside Japanese and Chinese workers in an unforgiving environment where he got paid in meal stamps. “It was like prison,” laughs the business graduate from the National University of Singapore, peppering his story with anecdotes of his experiences. “He never let me have it easy – I was forced to be independent and work for what I wanted.”

This tough love approach adopted by the elder Yap would continue well after his graduation, when instead of pursuing his interests in advertising or finance, he was convinced to try his hand at the family business. “I started out as a sales executive – basically the lowest rung of the company ladder – because he thought nobody would respect me if I didn’t learn the ropes from top to bottom.” But it was a challenge, not unlike the ones thrown out by his father throughout his young adult life, which he met with relish.

Later sent to PBA’s Malaysian office to further the business, his innovative methods helped turn a seemingly dire situation around, doubling revenue in a single year and surpassing his father’s expectations. While Mr. Yap, currently the Group’s regional director, admits it wasn’t love at first sight, he has slowly grown to embrace and inherit his father’s passion for the business.

Rather than reinvent the wheel, however, Mr. Yap is fully focused on finding the right balance between traditional practices and introducing new ideas to the two-decade-old company – despite meeting with his fair share of failures in the past, the road to success has been a valuable one. He has initiated a gradual shift away from its original specialty in ball bearings trading, with diversification efforts in the areas of linear motors, spindles, IT services (managed by Mr. Yap’s brother) and aerospace spare parts now bearing fruit, investing heavily in research and development as well as infrastructure. The global dream of Mr. Tony Yap is well on its way to fulfillment by the younger generation.

Up Close & Personal

Tell us about your father and how he started PBA.

My dad came from a poor family and was a sailor – a ship’s engineer. He met my mother in the 1960s and she basically put paid to his seafaring career, so he sought alternative employment in a sales role in bearings at a Japanese company. A European bearings firm then approached him to be their Asian representative; he started the company in his thirties in a tiny office with hardly any capital – he was the upstart trying to sell to the big boys. But he built up the brand and slowly went regional.

What is a common philosophy you both share?

From a business point of view, always change before you are forced to change. You should know when and where to redirect your resources, because if you allow circumstances to dictate when you need to change, your reaction time is already slower.

What’s in the pipeline for the company?

We plan the list the company within the next three to four years. The way we are heading now – manufacturing and contract manufacturing – will need plenty of capital. We bought a new place in Yishun, expanded in Malaysia and last year, which was a slow year, we upgraded our infrastructure. But I have to stress we’re not going to be family-run – the company has lots of professional people. The plan, of course, is to go global.