The Bold Visionary

ICE Talk Speaker: Chairman and CEO of YCH Group, Dr. Robert Yap shares why true entrepreneurship cannot accommodate complacency

Issue: Jun 2011

Mr Yap in Monte Carlo
Dr Yap, the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur Of The Year Singapore 2007, represented Singapore at the World EOY Awards held in Monte Carlo in 2008, where he was subsequently inducted as a lifetime member of the World EOY Academy

Innovate to survive – you could say this mantra has shaped the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur Of The Year Singapore 2007, Dr Robert Yap, in many ways.

As soon as Dr Yap, Chairman and CEO of Singapore's leading end-to-end Supply Chain Company, YCH Group, graduated with a Business Administration degree from the National University of Singapore in 1976, he was ushered straight into his family business. "As the eldest son of the family, I was tasked to join YCH upon graduating from university to help turn things around; not just for my immediate family, but also for the fate of the 103 drivers whom we treated as part of our extended family," recalls Dr Yap.

Founded in 1955, YCH Group started out as a passenger transportation company. But when crisis struck in the 1970s, the family business lost its main contract of ferrying PUB (Public Utilities Board) workers. The business was left stranded with several empty trucks and no passengers to ferry. To revive the business, Dr Yap took the bold step of reinventing itself and started up a cargo transportation arm, leveraging on the growing trade activities of the Singapore ports and rapidly including extended logistics services such as freight and warehousing management along with Singapore's industrialisation expansion.

"My first loves were Finance and IT. While I didn't get to do what I loved, I ended up loving what I do by merging my interests into the traditional transportation business and this has moved the company many ranks up the value chain today," shares Dr Yap.

Today, the small transportation company has evolved and transformed into a leading integrated end-to-end supply chain management and logistics partner to some of the world's largest companies in the hi-tech/electronics, chemicals/healthcare and consumer goods industries. YCH Group has also created its own suite of innovative award-winning end-to-end supply chain management solutions that have gained the company the coveted Best Domestic Logistics Service Provider in Singapore and the Best IT/Electronics Logistics Service Provider in the region at the 2nd Annual Frost & Sullivan ASEAN 4 Logistics Awards in 2007. Recently, the YCH Group was conferred ‘Enterprise of the Year' award at the Singapore Business Awards 2011.

The Innovator

The accolades and awards garnered by the Group serve as a strong affirmation of Dr Yap's leadership and boldness to think out of the box to continuously transform the business. YCH Group has overcome three recessions over the last 56 years.

"When I took over the helm, I realised simply maintaining status quo on our current situation was not enough. Hence we pushed ourselves to think out of the box and strove to continuously move up the value chain. I believe that the differentiating factor to our success today is that we were one of the early adopters of IT in a seemingly manual and labour-intensive industry in those early days," shares Dr Yap.

Today, YCH invests a high percentage (compared to rest of industry) of their budget solely into IT developments, as technology has become the driving arm of innovation and YCH constantly innovates to cater to our customers' individual needs.

"Personally, it is a great feeling to be able to incorporate the things I loved into what I am doing. In life, not all of us can end up doing what we love, but we can always choose to love what we do!" expresses Dr Yap.

Birth of The Book
Dr Yap graduated from the Harvard Business School Owner President Management (OPM) program in 1994 and was conferred Doctor of Philosophy (Ph. D), honoris causa, in Business Administration in 2001 by Wisconsin International University

The True Blue Entrepreneur

By accepting the challenge to step out of his comfort zone as a young lad to help revive the business and turn it around to what it is today, Dr Yap is, by all counts, considered a true blue entrepreneur.

He epitomises the true spirit of entrepreneurship, bearing the key qualities of a great entrepreneur: passion in his field; astute business acumen; and an exciting vision for his industry.

"A true entrepreneur recognises opportunities, has the guts not only to dream big, but to also lead a team to deliver the vision. He must not be afraid of taking chances, for they are what propel you to greater heights. But of course, risks taken must be calculated. If not, they are merely foolish leaps of faith. An entrepreneur does not stop at one accomplishment; he must always be hungry for more. It is also this hunger for success that drives true entrepreneurs to constantly want to improve," observes Dr Yap.

"My personality and character of wanting to be one step ahead at all times drives me to innovate. I do not like to follow. I want to be different and lead. I have a competitive streak and I like to win," adds Dr Yap.

Entrepreneur: Born or Made?

While he thinks that certain qualities of an entrepreneur are innate, he believes that nurturing the right mindset is what makes an entrepreneur. "How we become entrepreneurial is very much dependent on how we discipline ourselves to think and focus to reach the lofty goals we set. Of course, we cannot discount the fact that some element of luck is needed to be a successful entrepreneur. But ultimately, traits like focus, perseverance and determination, which are cultivated over the years, are what set true entrepreneurs apart," said the guru, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in the 2nd ASIA Logistics Award in 2003 for his significant contributions and thought-leadership to the Logistics and Supply Chain Management Industry.

Dr Yap also warns that complacency could stumble an entrepreneur. Thus true entrepreneurship means not allowing complacency to get the better of oneself and having to stay vigilant even in the calmest of times.

Dr Yap's entrepreneurial success serves as an excellent example of transforming a traditional industry into a forward-looking one and is one role model for many to learn. Dr Yap is thus going to share his experience with CapitaLand staff at its ICE talk in June. CapitaLand's ICE program, which strives to build the staff's innovative, creative and entrepreneurial DNA includes regular ICE talks with entrepreneurs. Such talks offer staff the opportunity to interact with successful entrepreneurs and to learn from them. Dr Yap will be sharing how he builds the entrepreneurial culture at YCH. He hopes the participants will better appreciate the following key messages after his sharing:

  1. Embrace the Chinese philosophy of "先苦后甜" or "bitter first then sweet" attitude; you are in for the long haul.
  2. Believe in yourself as you can do more than what you think you can. Most of us don't realise we can actually accomplish great things until we try or are forced into a situation. So, why wait for that to happen?
  3. Do not be afraid to make mistakes – make as many of them as possible, but do not repeat the same mistake twice.
  4. Use not just your head but also your heart when you make decisions. Really "feel" for what you do.
  5. The strength of the young lies in their vigor and dynamism; use these qualities to the fullest with passion, vision and focus.
  6. Entrepreneurs must always be creative and innovative – that's how ideas are built upon ideas and dreams are lived. Do things that can make a difference!
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