He may have aspired to be an entrepreneur, but he never envisioned himself becoming one by taking over the family business. When the passenger transport company his father established hit a snag after losing one of its main clients, Dr Robert Yap was roped in by his father to help the enterprise regain its footing.
Despite his initial reluctance, he rose to the challenge and led the supply chain and logistics firm out of the crisis. Today, as Executive Chairman of YCH Group, he continues to be at the forefront of the business, making tough but impactful decisions that keep the company one step ahead of its competitors.
FRESH GRAD, FRESH START
Like most fresh graduates, many have high hopes of joining multinational corporations and industries that promise an attractive starting pay. Even Dr Robert Yap, Executive Chairman of YCH Group, was no exception either. As a young boy, he witnessed how his father toiled away from as early as 5am until midnight daily and experienced firsthand the hard work of running the company when he helped out at the workplace. As such, he had decided to seek employment in trendier industries than secure a job at his family's logistics company.
However, his plans of starting his own enterprise or working in a bank upon graduation did not realise as Dr Yap had to help out in the family business when the company hit a rough patch during an economic downturn. Nevertheless, his efforts and business savvy impressed his father who felt that Dr Yap ought to continue working so as to salvage the company.
“My dad asked me what would make me stay. I said, okay, if I can run the business my way, then you can retire,” recounted Dr Yap with a laugh.
Without hesitation, his father agreed and the deal was sealed with a momentous handshake, which Dr Yap acknowledged as more than just outright approval. It was a promise, an important commitment he made to his father.
RUNS IN THE FAMILY
While being the boss is no walk in the park, Dr Yap was clearly cut out to be an entrepreneur after all. In fact, he had originally intended to be an ITpreneur, or an entrepreneur with a focus in information technology, because of his passion towards IT. That same passion and budding entrepreneurial spirit gave him the drive to transform his father’s humble passenger transport company into a supply chain and logistics market leader.
Noting business opportunities in cargo transportation as well as the potential of the personal computer, Dr Yap decided to work on growing and advancing the logistics enterprise by integrating IT with the company’s transport operations.
While he could have easily sought out available IT solutions in the market, Dr Yap chose to invest resources in creating and developing software that the company could own and utilise to facilitate its daily supply chain and logistics functions seamlessly.
“Others felt like I was showing off by combining both machine and IT when I partnered with a software engineer to build our company’s own software. Where bigger companies used legacy systems, we worked on advancing our capabilities that meant building greater capacity at a lower cost,” said Dr Yap.
His perseverance paid off and the venture into the cargo business proved lucrative – MNCs approached YCH Group to purchase and implement their quality supply chain and logistics solutions. The corporation also grew exponentially when it leveraged on the increase in trade activities in Singapore. In this aspect, Dr Yap successfully married his work responsibilities with his IT interests to boost productivity through innovation, thereby ranking YCH Group alongside the major logistic and transport players in the region. While he states matter-of-factly that he has no role model as he feels entrepreneurs themselves should work towards becoming their own role models, he mentioned that he does look up to his father as an exemplar.
“My father is a big-hearted man; he treated all his employees like family. When the company was at risk of bankruptcy, he did not want to retrench his people and instead, strived to get through the tough times with all the staff. This value of a family is what YCH Group continues to encapsulate in our business today,” said Dr Yap.
TAKING THE WHEEL
When asked what he gleaned over the years on entrepreneurship, Dr Yap responded that different people lead in different ways. His personal style, he revealed, is attacking to defend.
Other than assertiveness, Dr Yap also highlighted the need for entrepreneurs to be knowledgeable about how their business runs inside out and to demonstrate strong EQ in understanding the skills of employees, and delegating tasks that play to their respective strengths. Leaders should also be able to identify other potential leaders and empower them to guide the company unitedly towards a common goal.
As Dr Yap pointed out in an analogy, as long as the team “goes in the same car, you can allow the driver to change depending on the circumstance and the situation.”
He also emphasised on the importance of taking risks, elaborating that he wants to push people to excel. Although challenges may surface when risks are taken, these can be overcome and will in turn form invaluable experiences and lessons in the entrepreneurial journey.
“There is no limit to what people can achieve – the limit is only set by the individuals themselves, but even that limit can be crossed,” added Dr Yap.
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