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Saturday July 9, 2011

Up close and personal with Datuk Dr Ang Bon Beng

IT may come as a bit of a surprise when Datuk Dr Ang Bon Beng, executive director of Edaran Tan Chong Motor Sdn Bhd (ETCM), a local distributor of Nissan cars, says he was never a man with big dreams.

What's harder to believe is that Ang, who is one of the most well-known and respected people in the local automotive industry today, used to earn a living driving taxis and lorries.

“I never had big dreams. (But) I had small yet realistic ones,” he says modestly. “Big visions come from small dreams,” Ang adds.

The eldest of 10 children, Ang was born in 1949 in Kepala Batas, Penang, to a taxi driver father and homemaker mother. Life back then was about living day to day and making ends meet; sometimes living off just biscuits and water.

After completing his Form Five education, Ang had no choice but to start working, as his parents could not afford to finance his education any further. To help support the family, Ang started driving his father's taxi to earn a living.

“My father drove in the day and I would take over in the nights. It was tough. You would hope to make at least RM10 a day, but sometimes you can't even reach that.

“Sometimes, the taxi would break down and the repairs would cost RM20 or RM30. On certain days, if you are unlucky, you get stopped by the police and the passenger you're carrying is forced to get off and you don't get paid,” Ang reminisces.

In 1970, after several odd jobs, a friend approached Ang for a salesman job with the Tan Chong Motor Group. At the time, the company was expanding its presence in Penang. In the hopes of earning a better living for himself and his family, he took the job.

Despite knowing next to nothing about selling cars, Ang knew he had found his calling.

“After going through so much of hardship in life, selling cars wasn't hard. I persevered in taking on the challenges that Tan Chong had set out for me to do. I was motivated to push myself further each time I achieved my sales target.”

Ang was promoted to sales manager in 1981. The following year, he was posted to Sarawak and appointed Kuching branch manager. In 1989, he was made northern states manager, overseeing branches and dealers within Penang and Kedah.

Ang was eventually made sales director in 2001, and in the following year, he was appointed executive director for ETCM a post he still holds today. Ang also sits on the board of various subsidiaries of the Tan Chong Group.

The driven man

With over 40 years of experience under his belt, Ang is arguably one of the longest serving individuals to be involved in the automotive industry in the country.

Not many can lay claim to starting off from the front-lines of the automotive business and making it all the way to the top within the same organisation.

Humble beginnings: Dr Ang with his first car in his younger days.

Under Ang's helm, the Tan Chong Group has survived three recessions.

During the global financial crisis in 2009, while other car companies were struggling to manage inventories and pushing sales, Ang practised an internal safeguard strategy, or vision statement, called “Control the free-fall.”

The strategy was to drive his workforce to work harder in the downturn (than they usually would in good times) or risk spiralling down in terms of sales.

That vision statement worked well for the company despite a fall of 2% in total industry volume, Nissan sales in 2009 increased to 29,683 units from 28,313 units in 2008, which was a 5% increase.

This year, ETCM and other Japanese makes are facing a new kind of challenge production disruption as a result of the earthquake that hit Japan in March. On top of this, the recently amended Hire-Purchase Act 1967 (HPA) that took effect on June 15 is also causing a slowdown in vehicle registrations for all car companies.

“To drive my workforce and to safeguard against any impact, we are applying a vision statement called 55%-45%. I tell my team that if they feel they have put 100% into something, it is only 55% and there is still (a potential of) 45% more to go,” says Ang.

Ang says the strategy for this year is to still be able to continue growing market share within the local automotive industry.

“You constantly need to move forward and be able to expand your business. It's what the shareholders demand.”

Ang says one of the most important recipes for success is having the ability to adapt to changes around you.

“The market is constantly evolving and you have to keep up with the pace of the dynamics, and as a chief (of the company), you need to set a good example to your people. If you don't equip yourself with the latest strategies or knowledge, you'll be squeezed out by your competitors.”

Ang says he makes it a point to communicate with the sales advisors, all 700 of them, on the importance of staying ahead and being able to adapt to the changes, especially in times of challenges.

He reminisces about the time when Nissan Motor Co Ltd president and chief executive officer Carlos Ghosn visited Malaysia in 2008.

Ghosn had limited time here and with 20 minutes to spare, Ghosn wanted to visit ETCM's Serendah (Rawang) manufacturing plant, which is nearly an hour's drive from Kuala Lumpur!

“When our people were told that they had to find a way to transport him (Ghosn) to Serendah in 20 minutes, they thought it was crazy. The only way to do it is to fly him there by helicopter. “So we did just that we flew him by helicopter.”

The moral of the story? Be prepared for change at any given time, says Ang.

“I always talk to my people on the importance of change in a rapidly changing environment. It's demanded of them if they want to survive.”

At 62, Ang, who has a PhD in business administration and master's degree in law, seems to show no signs of slowing down. Despite the qualifications that he already has, Ang is considering pursuing a masters degree in psychology.

“Having the (working) experience is one thing but (having the) academic qualification is also important,” he says, adding that pursuing a masters degree in law helped him understand legal documents and terminology associated with the automotive industry better.

“It (academic qualification) is an important asset that helps to improve my performance in this company,” Ang says.

Ang's constant pursuit of knowledge and self improvement are traits he has inculcated in his children. He is quick to admit, however, that despite being able to provide a privileged life for his family today, in no way are his children having it easy.

“They say I'm a tough father,” Ang enthuses, adding that when he looks back at his career, he considers joining Tan Chong and marrying the right woman the best decisions he's ever made.

BIO

BORN: March 17, 1949
PERSONAL: Married with four children and two grandchildren
HIGHEST QUALIFICATION: PhD in business administration, University of Honolulu (Hawaii), USA
CAREER: Executive director for Edaran Tan Chong Motor Sdn Bhd and sits on the board of various subsidiaries of Tan Chong Motor Group
FAVOURITE FOOD: Char kuey teow with duck egg and loh mee with vinegar
FAVOURITE PLACE: Kepala Batas, my hometown
HOBBY: Listening to Buddhist music
PHILOSOPHY: Believe, commit, do and deliver
INSPIRATION: My father for instilling the right values in me; Tan Sri Tan Yuet Foh (the company's late foun der) for motivating me in pursuing career advancement; and Datuk Tan Heng Chew for grooming and preparing me for the cor porate world

“In pursuing a career, you need a lot of support from your family. My wife has always supported me all the way. I'm still faithful to her,” he says with a laugh.

Ang, who has been married for nearly 40 years, has four children. Sadly, his youngest son passed away in a car crash in 2009.

As the chairman of the Penang State Social Welfare Council of 20 years, Ang spends time with the senior citizens at the old folks home in Bukit Mertajam whenever he can.

“It gives me satisfaction to be able to improve the lives of others. Their most common lament is that they wish they could turn back the clock, so that they won't repeat the mistakes of their past and be where they are today.”

Ang says he often shares his experiences (at the welfare home) with members of his staff.

“I tell my people that they should always make the best use of their time and not waste it doing unproductive things.”

That message is in fact a philosophy that was passed down to Ang by whom he considers his greatest mentor his father.

“My father always told me that if you keep walking, you will reach your destination. Along the way, it may rain and someone (or something) might get in your way and end up slowing you down.

“It might take you a little longer, but as long as you keep on walking, you will reach your destination. Eventually, you'll be there.”

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