When William Sim entered the world of electronics, he received a piece of advice from one of his CEOs that has remained a cornerstone of both his personal and professional life. “He said, ‘People are the single most important resource in any organisation. It is the resource that drives all other resources,’” the now President of Heilind Asia Pacific tells The CEO Magazine.
William has spent most of his working life either on the manufacturing or the distribution side of electronics. He began at Philips Semiconductors, working in sales and marketing roles before getting bumped up to general manager for South Asia–Pacific. William left Philips (which had changed its name to NXP) in 2006, and became senior vice-president of Global Operations at semiconductor distributor WPG.
He then moved on to Arrow Electronics as the vice-president of Global Alliance before taking up his current role as president of Heilind Asia Pacific. A subsidiary of US-based Heilind Electronics, Heilind Asia Pacific specialises in distributing interconnect and electromagnetic products, switches, relays, thermal management and circuit protection products.
William Sim leads Eastern expansion
With its headquarters in Hong Kong, the company made a foray into the East, which was filled with challenges, especially in its first year. “We were basically unknown in Asia when we first came, so we spent a lot of time and effort on marketing activities and exhibitions to publicise our presence,” William says.
“The market at the time, and still today, was crowded with distributors that had longstanding relationships with suppliers, so we introduced the concept of ‘Distribution As It Should Be’. We spent a lot of time selling our concept and telling potential customers that we have a business model that is being used successfully in America.”
We introduced the concept of ‘Distribution As It Should Be’.
The company survived due to its business model and because it took calculated risks, something William believes is necessary in the distribution business. “We built inventory before customers placed orders. Sometimes it fails, but we have been successful more times than not. Over the course of our operations, customers have appreciated the way we do business.”
Heilind’s culture based on valuing people
Having been president since the company’s inception five years ago, William made sure he based its culture around valuing people. This has yielded positive results in terms of employee satisfaction. “We have a very low staff turnover, which is unique in the market,” William says. “For instance, in the first year, we employed about 30 people, and 27 of those are still with the company.”
William believes in empowering his staff and knows it will allow the business to achieve its goals. “We believe every individual in the organisation is important. We try, as far as possible, to have all workers involved in decision making, which allows them to take ownership of what they want to do for the company,” William says.
William says there is no one style of leadership, but as president he ensures he has:
– A distinct vision of where the company is going;
– clear KPIs;
– the ability to pre-empt challenges
– and courage to make changes;
– an understanding that all problems stop with him;
– and a belief that each person is important to the organisation.
“I want our employees to feel like they belong and to learn and grow with the organisation. When someone makes a mistake for the first time, they are not penalised; instead, they are encouraged to learn through the process. They know that my door is always open and they can come and talk to me about what they think we should be doing differently.”
William is also a fan of rewarding success. “Our people understand and support our business goals, and we make sure we keep them abreast of our progress and milestones,” he says. “Each time the company achieves a milestone, it gets published in our newsletter and is celebrated in the team. And every year, we have a company outing and include every single person, right down to the store hands.”
“Distribution is a relationship business”
William’s attitude towards his employees extends to his partners and suppliers. “Distribution is a relationship business,” he says. “We do not manufacture products, so we are dependent on suppliers, and on customers to buy from us. Every distributor offers the same thing, so it boils down to how well we manage relationships with all of our stakeholders.”
When the company first came to Asia, it spent a lot of time establishing relationships with suppliers, forming strategies with them on the types of services it should provide, what it should stock, and even how it should set up its offices.
“Over the years, suppliers change, so we try to keep up with what they require,” William says. Since the company brought large stock quantities into Asia, it has been able to do away with minimum order quantity and shorten turnaround times for customers.
On top of that, William adds, it doesn’t select market segments but rather provides services to everyone from the small equipment manufacturers to large original equipment manufacturers. “We are moving away from some of the bigger distributors who are very selective in the customers they want to engage. As long as customers want this kind of service, we will provide it.”
Heilind Asia–Pacific’s next step
The company’s next step is to evolve along with the shifting needs in the electronics industry. “In the past, the distribution market was basically about buying and selling, but this has since changed to a number of additional services that offer more value. In Asia in particular, we see ecommerce becoming increasingly important, so you get a lot of stockists putting their inventory into a platform where people can just go in, and buy and sell.” As a result, the company plans to make a name for itself in the digital space.
“We have been in the market for five years and have gone beyond the initial phase of transition and consolidation,” William adds. “We will finetune some strategies and make use of social media tools to continue promoting our brand because this is something that is prevalent in the market.”