While ambition goes a long way, passion makes a world of difference in a lifelong career. Without it, the drive and energy required to forge something special, with meaning and relevance, go missing.
Stanley Koh was lucky. He found his real passion early in life, and after years of study and a period of working in a field that didn’t really fit his ambitions, he made the decision to jettison it and pursue what he’d always desired: directing a manufacturing business.
As CEO of Belton Technology Holdings Limited, Stanley has found his true niche and, since his appointment in January 2020, is using his wealth of knowledge and experience to transform the company into a regional – indeed, global – manufacturing powerhouse.
Belton was incorporated in 1988 as a coil manufacturer, but it has since expanded into a world-class manufacturer supplying machining, turning, stamping, extrusion, plastic injection moulding, surface treatment and flexible printed circuit assembly processes in addition to coils.
The company describes itself as a vertically integrated one-stop-shop solution offering full turnkey design and manufacturing services. It is equipped with in-house tool design and fabrication capabilities, materials laboratories, failure analysis capabilities and premium facilities for precision engineering.
It is also the world’s largest manufacturer and supplier of actuator pivot flex assemblies for hard disks. Stanley has had an eventful journey to reach the position of CEO at Belton. He graduated with an engineering degree from the National University of Singapore and began working as an engineer in an American hard disk drive corporation.
During that time, he pursued post-graduate studies, gaining an Advanced Diploma in Business Administration from the Association of Business Executives (UK), a Graduate Diploma in Financial Management from the Singapore Institute of Management and an MBA from the University of Strathclyde. But other ambitions called him while he worked at the American firm.
When meeting a crisis, no individuals, managers or education leaders have all the answers.
When Stanley was young, one of his goals was to run his own business and be an entrepreneur. The challenges of establishing his own venture and the rewards of engineering his own future would depend on his initiative and business skills honed during his studies.
He was attracted to the excitement of the travel industry at that time, so he entered into a partnership with a group of friends and together they bought a travel agency. It was a reasonably gratifying period for Stanley, during which he learned a great deal about the disciplines of running a business and the intricacies of gaining and maintaining customer satisfaction – lessons he has taken with him during his career.
But after being in the business for a few years, with the steep competition and highly regulated environment of the travel industry, Stanley decided to quit the business and return to his true passion: manufacturing.
It was then that he first joined Belton as a Senior Program Manager in Singapore, taking care of all the new customer product launches. In due course, he was promoted to Vice President, taking care of operations for the company’s Wuxi and Thailand factories, and the company relocated him to Singapore.
After some time there, he decided to join a listed company, Unisteel Technology, as Vice President of Sales and Operations, and was promoted to Senior Vice President of Sales and then to COO in 2014.
He filled that role until 2019. “It was a busy and rewarding period,” Stanley says. “I was privileged to experience the company delisting from the Singapore stock exchange and, some time after that, it was sold to an American private equity firm. After a few years, the American private equity company sold it to a Swiss company and, a few years later, it was listed on the Swiss stock exchange,” he recalls.
It was then that fate played its hand. Stanley’s earlier tenure at Belton had not gone unnoticed, and his knowledge and experience singled him out from other hopefuls when the company was considering candidates for its CEO position late in 2019.
“I had maintained a good relationship with the Belton founder’s family, even after I resigned from the company,” Stanley says.
“In January 2020, they hired me to join Belton Technology Holdings Limited as the CEO. Today, I’m based in both the Hong Kong and Singapore corporate offices. It is a role that allows me to use my strategic planning and leadership skills to effectively guide the organisation in reaching its vision and goals.”
I have to be fast and resolute in my decision-making, despite often having ambiguous and incomplete information.
Looking back on his first tenure with Belton, Stanley recalls some memorable milestones in both his own career and in the company’s history. “When I first joined Belton almost 20 years ago, we mainly had factories in China, and we had just started the Thailand factory,” he says.
“Now, 20 years later, we have expanded our footprint to Thailand, Japan and the Philippines. “Back in 2004, I was tasked with setting up the company’s Wuxi factory. Within two years, I had successfully transformed the factory into a high-volume production factory with about 4,000 employees.
I have benefited a lot from setting up that factory in China. I learned a great deal there. I discovered that commitment, dedication and staying focused are the key success factors for any leader.
“I even relocated my family to Wuxi for almost four years so that I could fully focus on developing that factory. While in Wuxi, I was honoured to be given the opportunity to serve as the Honorary Secretary of the Wuxi Singapore Club for six months, and Vice Chairman for three years. It was a very rewarding time for me.”
Simply does it
Stanley has a straightforward management style that has been forged from decades of experience. There are some fundamentals that don’t change, whatever industry or company an executive might be involved with. Foremost among those is that complexity is the enemy of efficiency, Stanley insists, so he prefers to boil situations down to their basics.
“I like to keep things simple and not complicate matters,” he says. “As the CEO, I’m involved in making major decisions that affect the business, establishing a company culture, managing operations and allocating resources effectively. In today’s world, as things change very rapidly and dynamically, we need to have a very clear mind to deal with the ever-changing environment, and act confidently on the decisions we make.”
He is firm about the role of CEOs in decisionmaking – it is about tenacity in finding the next step forward and acting on it. There’s no room for hesitation or procrastination in ensuring that a business takes the steps necessary for its growth and endurance, he says.
“I have to be fast and resolute in my decision-making, despite often having ambiguous and incomplete information,” Stanley explains. “I believe a bad decision is better than a lack of direction. Most decisions can be undone, but you have to learn to keep things simple and move forward with the right amount of speed.”
The outbreak of COVID-19
Stanley needed that resolute attitude almost immediately after he assumed the role of CEO at Belton. Just a month later, the COVID-19 pandemic ravaged businesses worldwide, and especially in China in the early stages. He had to make decisions on the fly and not look back as he worked to protect the company’s 15,000 employees, its suppliers and customers around the world.
“The COVID-19 outbreak happened in January, and my corporate team and I worked day and night tirelessly, even over the weekends, to devise contingency plans to first ensure the safety of all our employees in different parts of the world,” he says.
“As a major strategic supplier to all the key hard disk drive customers, our immediate priority was to ensure that the supply chain to all our customers was fulfilled. It’s teamwork that helped Belton meet the enormous challenges the COVID-19 pandemic threw at the international economy and every business around the world. By harnessing the expertise of his executive team, Stanley steered the company through the immediate crisis and has placed it in a stable position to withstand ongoing challenges for the foreseeable future.
“When meeting a crisis, no individuals, managers or education leaders have all the answers,” he says. “Therefore, having collective wisdom, agility and compassion is necessary to build the most effective contingency plan. So ensuring our employees’ safety and business continuity were our biggest challenges.
We have provided all the necessary personal protective equipment to all employees and ensured that all our factories are safe to work in.
“We have also done a lot of effective communication with all our employees to address their concerns. We are transparent in our communication with all of them – it’s important that our staff feel supported and protected in a time like this.
Our core culture is giving mutual respect to all our employees.
We have also enhanced our deliberations between different locations to ensure our business continues without disruption. When the COVID-19 outbreak happened in China in January, our factory was forced to shut down after the Chinese New Year holiday.
In order to ensure our production continued without disruption, we used our geographical advantage with our other factories to supplement the production capacity for our China factory at that time.
“Later, when the COVID-19 outbreak also happened to other countries, our contingency plan to overcome the pandemic at our China factory was shifted to our factories in Thailand and the Philippines so that we could get through the most challenging period successfully, and liberate resources, people and geographical locations.”
Stepping up to industry 4.0
Notwithstanding the pandemic, Belton is in the process of transforming its operations for a digital future. Migrating complex manufacturing operations in several sites to digital processes is a gargantuan task, and will involve a seismic shift in the company’s corporate culture as it begins to adopt Industry 4.0 standards.
“We have already begun our Industry 4.0 journey. I will say that it will be a long journey and we are making progress step by step,” Stanley explains.
“With our digital transformation, we can make better decisions with all the data analytics at hand. This is happening in our daily business operations and our customer experience. For example, we are now working on a 2D barcoding system on our major products so we can trace them back to the manufacturing date and best production route of the products on a timely basis.”
The deal with clients
That digital migration will also encompass a renewed emphasis on how Belton deals with its clients. As Stanley points out, it is in a very competitive business environment and Belton has built a high level of trust with its customers over the past 30 years by concentrating on ensuring their satisfaction with every facet of their dealings with the company.
“We always believe in the philosophy of undercommit and over-deliver,” he points out. “Our customers know and understand that.” That’s not new to Belton – it has always supported its suppliers during difficult times and can point to many that have dealt with the company for more than 20 years, based on respect and transparency in communications.
Its long lasting relationships with suppliers is proof of its reputation as a trustworthy company to deal with, Stanley says.
A culture of respect
From its earliest days under its Founder, HP Chan, Belton has fostered an inclusive corporate culture that influences how decisions are made, about who is hired and how the company interacts with other businesses and the general public.
Stanley has continued that tradition, and built on it. As the company has grown and evolved, that internal culture hasn’t shifted in its mission to be a world-class manufacturer, and with the wholehearted support of its employees, it has sought recognition of quality and social responsibility in all its ventures.
The results are evident – Belton is certified to ISO 9001, 14001, 45001, 22301, 13485 and IATF 16949. It’s also evident on the factory floor at Belton. It is, Stanley explains, a happy working environment that provides the opportunity for employees to flourish with the company and achieve their own personal goals.
Belton Technology Holdings Limited
Belton Technology Holdings Limited is headquartered in Hong Kong, with sales and liaison offices in Singapore and Denver, Colorado, and sales and engineering offices in Tokyo and Nagano, Japan. It has manufacturing plants in Wuxi, Shenzhen, Dongguan and Zhuhai in China, Ayutthaya and Pathumthani in Thailand, and Laguna in the Philippines. The company has approximately 15,000 employees worldwide.
“Our core culture is giving mutual respect to all our employees. In everything we do, we want to give our best efforts,” he says. “We have created a friendly working environment, and I think this is very important so that problems and issues can be brought up openly to be discussed and resolved amicably. This healthy working environment is one of the reasons that our turnover rate is very low. Many of our employees have grown with the company. We are like a big family, and this has been developed with our core corporate culture of respect.”
In fact, Belton Technology has a codified set of corporate values called iPERFECT. This code was formed by company founder, HP Chan, who has since retired and handed over the helm of the business to his daughter, Vice Chairman Catherine Chan.
“iPERFECT stands for integrity, proactive, excellence, respect, focus on customers, enterprise, commitment and teamwork,” Stanley says.
“We always strive for perfection. It is also our slogan for corporate values. In order to support iPERFECT, we take action, respond, behave, share and live by example with that in our daily work. The power of living these corporate values strengthens both our employees and the company’s commitments. We believe that the power of winning corporate values can enhance our corporate culture and contribute to the company’s success and business strategy.”
Young minds, old hands
Part of that successful strategy is attracting bright young people to the company, keeping its pursuit of innovation at a peak. Attracting clever young minds is not a major issue, according to Stanley; he is more focused on ensuring the combination of young minds and older experience is a sound one. That is another focus of iPERFECT’s values.
“Attracting them is not much of an issue. The challenge is to integrate this innovative mindset of a young workforce and current experienced senior workforce as a team,” he says.
“In the past few years, we have launched different kinds of team-building activities to provide a platform to share expectations, experience and knowledge in order to minimise the gap in this two-generational workforce. Retention of all our staff is key. To retain our energetic young workforce so they build a career in the company, we are currently developing a program to monitor this talent pool, with four elements in recognition and rewards, with a succession plan, transparent career paths, advancement and benefits.”
Setting the standard
Stanley looks back to his own experience not long after his graduation, when he decided to follow his passion and first joined the manufacturing industry. He wouldn’t change it for any other, enjoying a career of great energy and scope, many challenges and just as many rewards. He now capitalises on that experience as a mature leader with the capacity to both teach and learn.
“Over so many years of work experience that I have accumulated, I would think that my leadership style is more coaching and consultative,” he reflects. “My door is always open, and I listen to ideas and options from employees before I make decisions.
“I received some advice from my mentor many years ago. He told me to be humble, respectful and kind to people, to persevere and be focused on my work. That’s the advice I like to pass on to our employees now.”
Belton Technology Holdings Limited: A Timeline
• 1988 Incorporated in Hong Kong, with mass-volume magnetic coil winding and assembly for hard disk drives.
• 1991 Founded Belton Electronics (Shenzhen) in China, with high-volume magnetic coil winding operations in China.
• 1995 Established Beltontech in Johor Bahru, Malaysia.
• 1996 Established customer liaison offices for Belton Technology (Los Angeles, US) and Beltontech (Penang).
• 1998 Established customer liaison offices for Belton Industrial (Singapore) and Belton Technology (Colorado, Denver, US).
• 2000 Established Belton Industrial (Thailand).
• 2002 Established NMBG (HK), a partnership with Marubeni Corporation (Japan) and North Corporation US.
• 2003 Opened 52,000-square-metre facility in Bantian, Shenzhen. Established Belton Electronics (Wuxi) in China.
• 2008 Opened 23,000-square-metre facility at Belton Industrial (Thailand). Belton Technology Canada was incorporated.
• 2009 Belton Technology Group iPERFECT corporate values concept was launched.
• 2012 Belton Technology and Totoku Electric Co formed joint-venture company Beltontotoku Technology.
• 2015 Acquired a new property to expand its Thailand facility.
• 2018 Acquired another property to continue its expansion in Thailand.
• 2020 Stanley Koh rejoined Belton as CEO.
Active minds also need active bodies, so Stanley is an avid walker, spending time during brisk walks considering the challenges he faces each day at work, as well as looking further ahead to the company’s longer-term goals.
With several corporate locations and thousands of people in his thoughts, he has a quite strict regimen to maintain his focus. But it’s not all work and no play. Stanley also enjoys reading books, keeping up with world news and catching up with good movies.
It’s important, he says, to stay in touch with the events of the world so he can be prepared for any eventuality. That attitude is the product of his mentor’s advice long ago to persevere and remain focused. He has never strayed from it.
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