The Peak (Malaysia) - - Contents -

Low Pooi Choon, Man­ag­ing Di­rec­tor of Sun­ship Group, shares with ThePeak the chal­lenges of de­vel­op­ing one of Malaysia’s lead­ing ship­ping and lo­gis­tics com­pa­nies.

Look­ing back, what do you con­sider the defin­ing fac­tors for your trans­for­ma­tion of Sun­ship Group to a ma­jor lo­gis­tics ser­vice provider in Malaysia? An amal­ga­ma­tion of lead­er­ship, fore­sight, cal­cu­lated risks, good re­la­tion­ships and part­ner­ships, and a stroke of luck – be­ing in the right place at the right time and good net­work­ing led to what the group is to­day.

Con­tainer ship­ping started in Malaysia in 1973 and I was one of the pi­o­neers re­cruited to wel­come the first con­tainer ship to Port Klang. In 1985, long be­fore global freight for­ward­ing be­came the in-thing, I knew that we had to ex­pand from just ship­ping to be­come an in­te­grated lo­gis­tics provider. My pro­pos­als were ini­tially re­jected by my pre­vi­ous em­ploy­ers, not be­cause they didn’t want to but be­cause it was not part of their global core busi­ness.

In 1994, when Sun­ship was formed, my dream was re­alised. The tim­ing was per­fect when SDV Trans­port (now known as Bol­lore Lo­gis­tics) came seek­ing part­ner­ships in South-East Asia. Malaysia was its first tar­get for its global ex­pan­sion plan. To­day, the net­work within Bol­lore stretches to 106 coun­tries with 600 of­fices. This of­fers the op­por­tu­nity to have a global net­work and to add value to cus­tomers.

We branched away from tra­di­tional con­tainer ship­ping and ex­panded to spe­cialise in project cargo, ships and space char­ter­ing and RORO Ser­vice, adding value by pro­vid­ing door-to-door ser­vices and even, at times, door-to-line ser­vices. We fore­casted that the ship­ping agency busi­ness would be a sun­set busi­ness. Own­ers will merge or sell out, and we were right. To­day, only 12 con­tainer ship­ping lines con­trol the global con­tainer lift­ings as against

104 then. Our move to con­cen­trate on con­ven­tional, RORO ship­ping paid off when Pro­ton and Pero­dua started their ex­ports.

We de­cided to look east and west, part­ner­ing with the French and Ja­panese to po­si­tion our­selves as a global player. Our part­ner­ship with Bol­lore and Toy­ota’s ship­ping sub­sidiary Toy­ofuji Ship­ping, form­ing Toy­ofuji Lo­gis­tics Malaysia (TFLM), fur­ther com­bines the strength and ca­pa­bil­ity of or­gan­is­ing the full range of trans­port and lo­gis­tics func­tion, co­or­di­nat­ing the han­dling of not just cargo but au­to­mo­tive.

We’re also proud that UN­TAED ap­pointed Sun­ship to source and de­liver re­sources dur­ing the han­dover af­ter the in­de­pen­dence of East Timur in 2002. Also, af­ter the 2004 tsunami in Aceh, we were ap­pointed by the In­ter­na­tional Red Cross to as­sist source and de­liver aid to the af­fected sites, pro­vid­ing the to­tal pack­age from sourc­ing to fi­nal des­ti­na­tion lo­gis­tics. Con­sid­er­ing the busi­ness you are man­ag­ing, what do you re­gard as the cru­cial fac­tors for you to stay on top of your game? By be­ing on top of the lat­est news and trends, one is able to an­tic­i­pate how to steer the group in the right di­rec­tion. Re­ju­ve­nat­ing con­stantly, men­tally and emo­tion­ally, is also a key in­gre­di­ent to stay­ing on top of the game. Be­ing the Na­tional Vice Pres­i­dent of the SME As­so­ci­a­tion Malaysia and the Deputy Chair­man of the Ship­ping As­so­ci­a­tion Malaysia, as well as sit­ting on the board of Port Au­thor­i­ties in Malaysia and rep­re­sent­ing Port of Mar­seilles in ASEAN, also lend me a com­pet­i­tive edge to an­tic­i­pate the needs of the In­dus­try.

Knowl­edge is power; with that, one is able to diver­sify and ac­com­mo­date ac­cord­ing to lo­cal and in­ter­na­tional eco­nomic en­vi­ron­ments and busi­ness trends. Fur­ther, as a per­sonal prac­tice in life and in busi­ness, it is al­ways good to for­mu­late short-, mid- and long-term plans and goals. Look­ing into your crys­tal ball, what do you fore­see are the game-chang­ing chal­lenges fac­ing your in­dus­try? China has be­come the top global player in lo­gis­tics. Malaysian ports used to rank them­selves among the world’s top 10 but have fallen since China’s boom. Re­gion­ally, Thai­land and Sin­ga­pore have been pick­ing up as well, so, in South-East Asia, Malaysia has lost its com­pet­i­tive edge in terms of ac­ces­si­bil­ity, free trade and pric­ing. The ship­ping in­dus­try it­self is shrink­ing, with many con­glom­er­ates sell­ing out or merg­ing in an at­tempt to strengthen their po­si­tions, ex­pand their net­works and re­duce costs. In Malaysia it­self, Sun­ship is one of the very few com­pa­nies left that does ship­ping rep­re­sen­ta­tion, as most ship­ping com­pa­nies are do­ing it them­selves.

Our na­tional eco­nomic poli­cies are rel­a­tively weak and in­con­sis­tent, and the lack of and un­fair dis­tri­bu­tion of gov­ern­men­tal in­cen­tives have made it dif­fi­cult for many SMEs to sur­vive. There has also been a ma­jor brain drain over the decades, where many ed­u­cated young pro­fes­sion­als would pre­fer to mi­grate and work abroad. Our young mil­len­ni­als re­quire more mo­ti­va­tion and skills set.

Sun­ship has also been for­tu­nate to have strong part­ner­ships and a rep­u­ta­tion built up over the years in the in­dus­try. Our group net­work spreads glob­ally, which al­lows us to cap­i­talise on the ex­per­tise of skilled in­tel­lects for their re­spec­tive en­vi­ron­ments. We pride our­selves on the motto of ‘Think Global; Act Lo­cal’. Sin­gle out a leader in the cor­po­rate world you wish to em­u­late. Robert Kuok. Even with his suc­cess, he is still hum­ble and gen­er­ous. I had the plea­sure of read­ing his bi­og­ra­phy, and I ad­mire how suc­cess­ful he is and how much he has con­tributed to Malaysia, Asia and our so­ci­ety. Even at 94, he is still will­ing to do his part to help Malaysia. In terms of his busi­ness, he be­gan by trad­ing agri­cul­tural com­modi­ties be­fore di­ver­si­fy­ing into in­dus­tries that are in­ter-con­nected. At his peak, he be­gan giv­ing back, help­ing out many through­out his life­time. Sun­ship would like to em­u­late him. As man­ag­ing di­rec­tor, what ex­cites and wor­ries you most? Ex­plor­ing new ter­ri­to­ries and out­do­ing our­selves. We started di­ver­si­fy­ing since 1997 and have no plans to stop. Ev­ery ac­com­plish­ment I have been able to see makes me proud. From a hum­ble be­gin­ning to what I am to­day, I would love to see con­ti­nu­ity and sta­bil­ity even af­ter I am not around. I am ex­cited to see young blood learn­ing each day, mak­ing their own mis­takes and learn­ing from them, and then to even­tu­ally suc­ceed, con­tin­u­ously evolv­ing and rein­vent­ing the wheels to suit the times.

Of course, that is also a worry as most mil­len­ni­als have a laid­back at­ti­tude. Older gen­er­a­tions like my­self have seen poverty and know what it is like to be hun­gry. We learned how to adapt and have a clear di­rec­tion in what we want. Most mil­len­ni­als have grown up with a shielded, com­fort­able life, and I hope that they will even­tu­ally find a way to suc­cess. What are your strate­gies to make Sun­ship the most suc­cess­ful com­pany in your in­dus­try in Asia and glob­ally? We would not claim to be the most suc­cess­ful but we are one of the more suc­cess­ful ones in our in­dus­try, and we did it by hard work and plan­ning. By es­tab­lish­ing more strate­gic part­ner­ships and al­liances from the east and west to forge for­ward, tar­get­ing niche mar­kets to gain com­pet­i­tive ad­van­tage and stream­lin­ing fi­nances, Sun­ship is able to stand uniquely as a sig­nif­i­cant player.

Michael Oh is chair and CEO Coach of Vistage In­ter­na­tional Malaysia, a global CEO re­source and net­work of chief ex­ec­u­tives.

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