From The Straits Times Archives

Thomas Chua: Transforming Teckwah's long-term business strategy

This story was first published in The Straits Times on Sep 30, 2013

FROM its birth in 1968 through to the early 1990s, Teckwah Industrial Corp grew steadily.

As a printing and packaging firm, it thrived through the booms and busts of economic cycles, serving major customers in the IT industry.

But managing director Thomas Chua was not satisfied with this trajectory. He felt the firm could do more to ensure it sustained its growth through future decades.

When, in the mid-1990s, he came across Spring Singapore's Business Excellence Initiative, he realised this was the key.

The initiative helps organisations to identify the steps they have to take to achieve a higher level of performance.

This is done through an assessment of an organisation's performance against the requirements of an internationally benchmarked business excellence framework.

Experts will then guide the organisation as it develops and strengthens its management and processes to deliver sustainable growth.

"It was a holistic programme that looked at leadership, strategic planning, customers and employees," Mr Chua said.

Teckwah soon became one of the first few local firms to sign up for a Singapore Quality Class certification, which helps companies embark on the business excellence journey. "I thought it was good to have an outsider to come in, assess our business, spot areas for improvement and teach us about best practices."

As a result of the certification programme, Teckwah learnt to pay more attention to issues such as human resources.

"Previously we were focused on sales, sales, sales. I spent 80 per cent of my time meeting customers, entertaining them, getting to know them," he said.

"But the Business Excellence Initiative made me realise I should also spend time on staff issues."

The experts who assessed the firm also found that Teckwah was not doing enough to benchmark itself against similar companies in the same industry.

"We didn't even know how to start doing this, which companies we should be benchmarking ourselves against and how to go about it," Mr Chua added.

"But the programme helped us find ways to overcome it. Now we tap our contacts to find out which companies are good in certain areas, then we pay them a visit and we see how we stack up against them."

Most importantly, the business excellence journey has transformed Teckwah's long-term business strategy.

"The framework taught us that we should think strategically, and how. We became more forward-looking and thought about how our business would be affected by market and technological trends," Mr Chua said.

For example, the company spotted early on that technological advances would some day render paper software manuals - one of Teckwah's main products - obsolete. But by employing its newly learnt strategic thinking process, Teckwah could identify related business opportunities that would help it to continue growing.

Today, the firm offers a variety of solutions including business process outsourcing, e-commerce, Web-based procurement and fulfilment, service parts logistics and reverse logistics.

"We now position ourselves as a project manager, and this has helped take our business to new heights. We help customers manage their inventories and fulfil their orders in the region."

Since embarking on the business excellence journey, Teckwah has won the Singapore Quality Award twice, in 2006 and 2011.

In 2006, the firm impressed the assessors by implementing a crisis management initiative.

Even now, it undergoes regular drills - mock scenarios in which a major calamity or a pandemic has occurred and the company has to map out what it will do to keep the business running.

yasminey@sph.com.sg

The Singapore Quality Class (SQC) offers certification for achieving excellence across key management systems and processes. The SQC provides organisations with a holistic model comprising seven areas of excellence, namely, Leadership, Planning, Information, People, Processes, Customers and Results.