PBA Regional Director Featured in The Business Times

13 Jan 10

The January 12, 2010 The Business Times article entitled "New Faces on the Block" reveals the entrepreneurial journey of PBA Regional Director Mr. Derrick Yap.

Mr. Derrick Yap tells the story of how he started working for Mr. Tony Yap, his father and also PBA founder and CEO.

Originally Published on January 12, 2010, The Business Times

New faces on the block

In the case of Derrick Yap, regional director of PBA Group, his father started piquing his interest at an early age, taking him along for meetings when he was in his teens.

Although he couldn't contribute then, he appreciated the experience to see how discussions were carried out. Just before enrolment in National Service, his father also sent him on a six-month work stint to Hokkaido, to experience what it was like to be working in a manufacturing plant.

Although Mr Yap joined the family business fresh out of school, most second-generation successors do so after cutting their teeth in larger organisations, such as MNCs - often in unrelated sectors - or banks.

The middle ground between experience and new ideas

LIKE many fresh graduates before him, Derrick Yap, 31, had wanted to join a multinational firm, either in the advertising, finance, or events management fields - because 'I felt that those were more interesting'.

But his father, Tony, founder of precision bearings and automation firm PBA Group, probably had other ideas for the business graduate from NUS.

'My dad kind of conned me,' Derrick laughs as he tells BT his story. 'He said, 'Come and work in the business for a while, and if you don't like what you see, then leave the business. It's not a full stop. You can still continue and pursue somewhere else.'

'But after I came into the group, I realised that there's a lot of things I can do. I mean, if I work for an MNC for example, I would be a very specific person. I may just be a sales guy, and know a lot about sales, but I won't be able to see such a huge spectrum of business. Here, I know how each department works.'

The younger Mr Yap started out as a sales executive. While everyone else had a portfolio to begin with, he had to start from scratch - a deliberate attempt by the founder. 'His belief is that things have to be a lot tougher for me than for others, because if things were on par, then it would be very hard for me to earn respect,' says Mr Yap.

He was later sent to the group's office in Malaysia to help grow the business there. In one year, Mr Yap doubled the revenue and profits of the Malaysian unit, beating his father's and co-workers' expectations. During the stint, he also developed a more efficient work system and helped to build a strong team there - so much so that the unit continued to do better after he left.

Although Mr Yap, now the group's regional director, grew to love the business, it was a challenge coming to terms with the management style of the founder.

'I tend to give my staff a certain goal or objectives,' says Mr Yap. 'As to how they reach, how they go there, I don't really delve much into it. Whereas, my dad would set the direction and also want to know every step of the way.'

Admitting that his style is not ideal for tackling new businesses or untrained teams, he has since reconciled it by complementing it with his father's approach, which he says allows the leader to help the team pick themselves up quickly when they fall. 'But that way, it's a lot slower in expansion because you are very limited by one person's capability. And that one person has to oversee so many things.'

Sometimes, father and son have opposing viewpoints. But mostly, they would throw the proposal to a vote among a core group of managers. Mr Yap says he gets a kick out of winning support for an idea that his father is not in favour of, and then managing to carry through that idea successfully.

'And he encourages you to prove him wrong. And when you do, it kind of feels good.'

But he had his share of failures too. A few years ago, when he was tasked with the charge of a subsidiary, he set the company in steep expansionary mode, winning deals that were too big for the company to handle.

'I was too eager to get the deal, without realising that I have to tie a lot of loose ends,' he says. 'Even though we got the deal, the backend had a lot of trouble delivering it. So the topline was good, but the bottomline didn't turn out to be as well. And after that, we had to do a lot of house tuning to answer to customers as to why there were hiccups.'

But he reckons that having bumps on the road is better than walking a smoothly paved one, or not embarking on the journey at all. At least he now knows to watch out for the bumps or to pick himself up again if he tumbles. He has also learnt an important lesson on humility.

'I find that in order for the second generation to take over, you must recognise that there are many, many areas where you are definitely not going to be as good as the old timers in the company, including your dad,' he says. 'And the old timers can be the production manager to the sales manager, or the logistics fellow. So that is important. If you think that you are always right and overrule everyone else, success if any is going to be long and painful (in coming).'

His advice to other scions joining their family businesses is to accept that they have plenty to learn.

'But yet you have to also be brave enough to voice out new ideas and then find a middle ground between the new ideas and the experiences and advice of the more experienced folks,' he says. 'Then it will be perfect.'