Interview with Dr Robert Yap, Executive Chairman, YCH Group
Drive down the Pan Island Expressway towards Corporation Road exit and odds are, you will notice a distinctive building with a blue U-shaped logo that stands out in the distance. Approach the building at 8 Bulim Avenue and you will see the intricate design of Supply Chain City (SCC), a newly opened facility spanning two million square feet.
While it also represents the headquarters of YCH Group, a leading integrated end-to-end supply chain partner, it is designed with the industry in mind, not just to benefit one company.
“The aim of SCC is to create an ecosystem for all supply chain and logistics players to come together and collaborate with one another. I am very passionate about helping to push the industry forward, and I see SCC as an important piece of the puzzle that will make a difference in this aspect,” says Dr Robert Yap, Executive Chairman, YCH Group, the mastermind behind SCC.
This issue of Supply Chain Asia magazine will touch on the iconic history of YCH, as well as Dr Yap’s dreams for SCC and hopes for Singapore’s supply chain and logistics industry.
The boss’ son and the coolie
Anyone familiar with YCH knows the story behind the growth of the company. YCH, taken from the initials of the late founder, Mr Yap Chwee Hock, was established in 1955 as a passenger transportation company. The company, however, faced a crisis in 1977 when it lost its main contract, which forced Dr Yap to join the company and help out even though he initially had no intention of joining the family business after graduation. Instead of simply looking to replace the main contract partner, Dr Yap decided to focus on higher margin cargo transportation business.
“When I first joined the family business, other workers looked at me as just the boss’ son, but I was truly determined to help turn the company around. When we won the Port of Singapore Authority (PSA) tender project, it was a good start to finally make use of the more than 100 idle trucks in possession. But more than that, it was a crucial point for us to use this opportunity as a launchpad to rebrand YCH,” says the Executive Chairman.
In the 70s, most of the cargo or freight are not palletised. Additionally, YCH drivers know how to transport passengers, but not how to move or handle the cargo.
“This was when I decided to make an example of myself. I rolled up my sleeves and started to carry the cargo into the trucks. When they saw me on the ground sweating and getting my hands dirty, that was when they joined in and helped to move the cargo. I still remember that hardship to this day, but that hardship helped in creating a good atmosphere and a positive working culture,” reminisces Dr Yap, who refers to the feeling as a strong gotong royong spirit – Malay expression to describe a community that mobilises itself to help each other.
The birth of SCC
When YCH received notice that its DistriPark will have to be torn down to make way for a train track, the Singaporean Executive Chairman decided that this is the chance to transform the company’s headquarters.
“Over time, we transformed YCH DistriPark from an old-fashioned refurbished factory, into one of the most modern distribution parks in the country. It initially felt like losing a baby because we were very attached to it. But after some sleepless nights, I decided to turn the situation around. Should we just buy a piece of land and build the exact same thing? No, this is the time for us to build something better to put us on a different level,” says Dr Yap.
Instead of just building another headquarters facility, Dr Yap decided to develop the idea of bringing the different supply chain and logistics players as well as professionals together to connect, collaborate and form partnerships with one another. He developed the idea to create a “nerve centre with a human-focused environment designed for social interaction and knowledge exchange.”
“So SCC is designed as an ecosystem for all the right players to come together. This is why SCC is filled with spots for people to connect and host meetings. Currently, we have the foodcourt ready, but soon, we are looking at setting up a gym and cafes. We want people to find everything they need in SCC; we want people to live and breathe supply chain,” says Dr Yap.
With all the related supply chain partners and support systems under one roof, SCC aims to meet the following objectives:
Living Supply Chain SCC needs to play its part by providing first class operations for the future of Singapore. With the country’s limited land and talent supply, SCC wants to encourage adoption of highly automated systems and future-ready solutions (such as robots, automated guided vehicles, and drones) to lead the transformation of a supply chain landscape.
Experiential Workplace Learning Learning is a vital component to get ahead in the professional life. In order to boost talent in Singapore, the industry needs to embrace upgrading new and relevant skillsets. One institution at SCC is Supply Chain and Logistics Academy (SCALA), which aims to provide bitesized learning programmes (such as modules for inbound/outbound, inventory management, familiarity with different picking technologies and ASRS).
Asia Network of SC Thought Leaders Having a network of industry thought leaders is crucial to lead, advise and mentor young talent. This is where trade associations, such as Supply Chain Asia (SCA), come in. SCA encourages and supports Asian thought leaders by providing them with networking opportunities and the latest industry news. They also represent the community of supply chain and logistics professionals in the region.
Reinvent Tomorrow Technology-focused companies, such as Y3 Technologies, that are focused on creating and introducing new, innovation solutions and ideas for the industry are highly welcomed at SCC.
Nurturing Disruptive Innovators SCC is also opened to start-ups that aim to join this ecosystem and take advantage of the facilities and knowledge available. Supply Chain Angels, YCH’s venture arm, leads the way to ensure start-ups based at SCC have the right support that leads to success.
More than just the face of YCH
Dr Yap is not only the Executive Chairman of YCH, but also the president of Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF), Singapore Chair of ASEAN Business Advisory Council (ASEAN BAC), founding chairman of SCA as well as chairman of SCALA. What motivates him to be so heavily involved in so many initiatives?
“The supply chain and logistics industry has given me everything to get me where I am. So I enjoy using my expertise to help others and to play a part in helping Singapore on the world stage by producing results and top talents. For example, for ASEAN BAC, I am excited to push our local small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to go global and succeed outside,” says Dr Yap.
For SNEF, Dr Yap believes “in the importance of tripartism”. Working together portrays an image of a very progressive country and with harder push for more investments to come in, the industry will grow and subsequently provide more jobs.
“I understand the importance of SNEF. It helps to ensure harmony in the industry. It also ensures that employers do not take advantage of workers and it promotes an inclusive society. I find my role quite rewarding to ensure tripartism remains an important pillar in Singapore,” says Dr Yap.
Dr Yap’s support for the industry began years ago, and he was one of the first people to support the formation of SCA by founder and president, Mr Paul Lim.
“When he approached me for SCA, I thought it was a good idea. At the time, the community was mostly only made up of logistics companies and a few brand-owners. It was a very competitive environment and there is a general lack of collaboration. I did not expect SCA’s profile to grow this big after just 12 years. I credit Paul’s motivation and passion for the industry, which makes him the right guy for this mission. I supported him wholeheartedly,” says the founding chairman.
Keeping it in the family?
“I do hope YCH continues to stay as a family business. Ultimately, the business is very diverse. Our business involves logistics, technology, human resources, finance, training and more. They can choose any industry focus. However, I won’t force them if they do not have the passion for it. When you commit to something, you just want to do it well. Even my own father did not force me into the business,” says the father of six.
Referring to his father as the most influential person in his life, Dr Yap was ready to leave after the company found its footing again, but his father wanted him to stay.
“I did not expect myself to join the family business. I found it boring at that time because it was just a transportation business. When my father asked me what it would take for me to stay, I jokingly told him to retire. Amazingly, he did and I took over the company. The rest is history,” says Dr Yap, who initially wanted a job in the banking or technology sector.
Without his father, Dr Yap may not have ended up in supply chain and logistics, a sector which he has fallen in love with and dedicated his professional life to. “After 40 years in this industry, I am still learning so much. This industry has so much potential and future, and for people who are ambitious and willing to make a difference, this is the industry for them to make something happen,” says Dr Yap.