Trained as an economist, Pang Teck Wai says he has devoted every facet of his career to understanding development and growth. When he was appointed CEO and Director of Palm Oil Industrial Cluster (POIC) Sabah, the Malaysian state was in need of industrial development. He stepped up to the task and led an initiative to use the palm oil industry as a platform to drive development and growth in the region.
POIC Sabah’s mission is to develop Malaysia’s economy by industrialising the palm oil sector. “We have a 15-year plan to achieve a higher economic status, as recognised by the World Bank,” Pang explains. “We believe the palm oil sector can potentially generate an income of US$12,000 per capita, and 35 per cent industrial share of GDP within a 15- to 20-year time frame.”
He says there are three factors to achieving the company’s goals. First, socio-economic and political forces create the context. “Politics play an important part in this economy,” he says. “We invest time in understanding the landscape.”
Second, a focus on strong private–public sector networking. This requires effective presentation and communication skills to push the company’s vision and gain support.
Third, POIC hires people fit to implement its projects. “Whether it is developing a port, managing infrastructure development or talking to investors, we recruit top-quality employees,” he explains. “If they fit the company environment, it means we have a strong team capable of outworking our vision.”
Pang implemented a balanced scorecard system to ensure a healthy workforce. Every staff member links to the outcome of the company’s goals and vision.
He also encourages managers to embrace their positions and direct their teams. “Managers can determine the path they lead their team on, guided by the mission, goal and vision of the company,” he explains. “We uphold passion and commitment at all times.”
Pang emphasises the importance of continuous learning and communication within the company. “We must understand the competition and expand our knowledge of the industry,” he notes. “Every morning, my team meets to address problems and determine goals on a project-by-project basis. We drink coffee, discuss issues and agree on solutions. However, there is a lot of laughter in between.”
When foreign investors visit Sabah, Pang says they typically point out the lack of infrastructure and industrial land.
POIC Sabah needed to understand what investors saw as essential support and invest in building it. “The question we asked ourselves was, ‘Do we build the infrastructure first or attract the investor first?’” he says. “We decided to invest in building the necessary infrastructure first.”
The company’s development model is based on Michael Porter’s clustering concept: industries generally succeed due to a concentration of clusters of interconnected companies, service providers and specialised suppliers in a certain geographic location.
POIC built an industrial site near a major town, where support services are accessible. “Investors need schools, hospitals, airports and transportation nearby,” Pang notes. “We identified the ideal location, Lahad Datu, so our site would be attractive. This allows the business to operate efficiently.”
He believes the modern palm oil industry may change from its use of cheap labour and oil. “POIC is trying to transform the current focus on quick palm oil production and basic refining. We seek a higher-value product by linking planters to technology providers,” he explains. “We will produce technologically advanced products, specifically in oleochemicals and biochemicals. We are promoting awareness of this process that is transforming the palm oil industry.”
So far, Pang has successfully convinced the federal and state governments to secure funds to build the necessary infrastructure for development. “We have succeeded in developing industrial land in particular,” he notes. “We have built various seaports, designed specifically to assist the palm oil industry. We have influenced government policies regarding palm oil and other industrial sectors.”
“We have influenced government policies regarding palm oil.”
As with many organisations, POIC’s greatest success has also been its greatest challenge. Receiving approvals and investment from the government was a difficult task. “The state and federal governments are where we get most of our funding from,” Pang explains. “However, many people feel that our program’s objective is too ambitious. So, we need to continually prove ourselves and do our best to earn respect.”
Nevertheless, POIC Sabah is earning both the government and the community’s esteem. The company invests in the city through career development and corporate social responsibility programs.
The first CSR program was centred around education, through 11 local secondary schools. “We teach the students about career prospects in the palm oil sector,” he says.
“Many live in rural areas and are more familiar with traditional jobs. We give them information about the industry and explain the benefits of this career path. The palm oil industry is expanding, so seeking employment in this area provides opportunity and higher pay.”
Another of POIC Sabah’s CSR programs is mangrove rejuvenation. To develop its seaports, the company is forced to clear mangroves, so it tries to compensate for this. “We replant the mangrove, to reintroduce wildlife that lives in the swamps,” he explains. “We do this in partnership with the Sabah Forestry and Wildlife Departments.
Other stakeholders include schools and government departments, including the Environment Protection Department. This strategy helps us offset our development over the next 10 years.”
The environment in which the company works means staying on top of political news. Pang catches up on the news every morning since the government directly affects the outcome of POIC Sabah’s work. “Their policies affect us. We have many workers from the Philippines and Indonesia, so their policies also affect our labour, trade and investment.”
His vision for creating growth and development, and making a difference in society motivates his work. “The idea that we could significantly transform the economy from agriculture-based to an industrialised state pushes me,” he explains.
It takes courage to do what he does and this has been the guiding principle throughout his career. “As I work towards the goals I want to achieve, I must do so with a high degree of resilience, confidence and determination.”
1. Have a deep understanding of the vision of the company.
2. Genuinely believe in the possibility of achieving its goals.
3. Be passionate about championing the mission.
4. Take significant steps with big ideas or "daring to be different".
5. Think strategically, based on research and information on the industry's best practices.
6. Make knowledge and good EQ underline all decision-making.