Logistics firm YCH Group executive chairman Robert Yap dreams of robots transporting goods

YCH Group executive chairman Robert Yap used his love of IT to transform the company from a family business into a logistics firm with warehouses across the Asia-Pacific
YCH Group executive chairman Robert Yap used his love of IT to transform the company from a family business into a logistics firm with warehouses across the Asia-Pacific. ST PHOTO: NEO XIAOBIN

Forced into business, YCH chief was driven by his passion for tech

Businessman of the Year Robert Yap dreams of drones that can fly among thousands of stacked pallets to count inventory and robots transporting goods from place to place.

Dr Yap, executive chairman of logistics firm YCH Group, told The Straits Times: "When I entered, it was not a sexy business. It was a lorry transportation company dealing with gangster drivers.

"I was forced into it, so I thought, why not transform it into something I love? And IT was my love."

With the personal computer revolution under way in the 1980s, Dr Yap, who was named Businessman of the Year for transforming YCH from a family business to a logistics company with warehouses across the Asia-Pacific, sought to incorporate technology as the firm transitioned to an integrated logistics company.

He wrote its very first warehouse management system software and crunched data that told customers how to optimise their businesses.

YCH now invests 3 to 5 per cent of its revenue in technological developments every year.

Dr Yap's passion for technology is made manifest in Supply Chain City, the new $200 million flagship headquarters in Jurong that will be operational come July.

The development includes the world's first Fusionaris, a combination of an automated storage and retrieval system with ramp-up warehousing, and research and training facilities.

Its warehouse will tap on radio-frequency identification technology, Wi-Fi and even drones to check and count inventory. "We're saving manpower from doing boring things," noted Dr Yap.

The staff will now optimise and manage inventory for their clients instead of just counting it. "And when people learn more and get more productive, they are also paid more."

In line with this, the company has an industry training centre in the works. "Logistics is a sunrise industry, what with e-commerce growing so fast today," said Dr Yap, who took over his family business in 1977.

The training centre will take in both students and those keen on switching to a career in the logistics industry. Dr Yap hopes to keep YCH's "family enterprise" culture going, even as the company looks to grow internationally.

Long-time employee and general manager Noormah Othman noted: "You don't have to be a Yap, he treats you like family".

Ms Noormah said that at management meetings she would be the only Muslim out of some 20 people, yet Dr Yap would never fail to cater halal food.

"He's that kind of boss," she said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 06, 2016, with the headline 'Robert dreams of robots'. Print Edition | Subscribe