Malaysian youth becomes cabinet maker, just like dad

Chin thinks that working with his Dad is ‘easy because he’s cool and not too fussy’. Photos: The Star/Yap Chee Hong

Chin Chow Jack is only 24, but he has a deep-rooted passion for cabinet-making – a skill he has learnt since childhood.

It may seem odd for a child to be interested in carpentry, but Chin grew up in his father’s cabinet factory in Pandan Mewah, Ampang in Selangor, where he used to help out (as much as he could) from the time he was in primary school.

His dad Peter Chin Kok San, 66, has been running his carpentry business for nearly 35 years.

Chin (left) and his father Peter share a deep bond rooted in their shared love for carpentry Chin (left) and his father Peter share a deep bond rooted in their shared love for carpentry“When I was in primary school, I would spend my school holidays at dad’s factory. I’d follow my dad when he went to meet clients, and I would handle simple tasks like measuring cabinet doors, assisting with installations and reading blueprints. One could say that I grew up surrounded by cabinets,” says Chin with a grin.

To him, it was almost a given that he’d eventually join his dad in the business: the young man started working with his father after completing his Form Five.

Peter says: “Chow Jack spoke about wanting to earn a good salary from the time he was young. I told him that to achieve that, he’d need to run his own business and work really hard.”

While most of his peers gravitated towards desk jobs or careers in marketing and technology, Chin wants to run the business his dad built. He is committed to mastering the craft ... and growing his savings.

“Even while schooling, I used to accompany dad on his cabinet installation trips, often traveling to various locations, sometimes even out of town. I also learned how dad interacted with clients, and came up with the best design plans to fit their budgets. I think this experience made me comfortable with sales, and it sparked my interest in cabinet design and interior design.

“After completing each installation, dad made it a tradition to treat me to a meal, where we’d share stories and connect on a deeper level. These experiences have strengthened our bond and instilled in me an appreciation for craftsmanship and also for maintaining family ties," says Chin, the youngest of two siblings.

Chin (right) embraces modern methods while respecting Peter's traditional ways.Chin (right) embraces modern methods while respecting Peter's traditional ways.

Navigating generational shifts

Peter hopes to groom his only son to inherit the family business someday. Yet, he knows there are challenges, mainly due to their “generational differences”.

“Sometimes, it can be difficult to teach Chow Jack the ins-and-outs of the business as our approaches are different. In the past, children simply followed their parents’ instructions. Nowadays, we need to sit down with them, have meaningful conversations, and help them understand how things work,” he says.

“For example, when materials are delayed, I always call customers to explain the situation. Chow Jack might overlook this, thinking it’s not important. Communication and interpersonal skills are vital in running a business, and it’s an area that children of the current generation need to improve on," shares Peter, while his son smiles sheepishly.

Chin prefers to use computer-aided design to customise designs efficiently.Chin prefers to use computer-aided design to customise designs efficiently.

In the 1980s, Peter worked as a quality control inspector in a beverage factory in Kuala Lumpur. To supplement his income, he worked part-time as an apprentice at his brother’s cabinet factory in Ampang from 1989. Three years later, in 1992, he quit his full-time job and became a partner in his brother’s business. After some years, Peter took over the family business.

“I entered the carpentry business seeking financial stability and better work hours. Ultimately, my decision to pursue entrepreneurship was driven by the desire to provide for my family while spending quality time with them."

When asked how he learned the intricacies of the business, Peter says: “To me, cabinet-making is straightforward. It’s all about calculations and mathematics-planning the design, taking measurements, and keeping things simple. I never took a course; I learned on the job.

Peter believes in do-it-yourself repairs to cut production costs, rather than relying on external technicians.Peter believes in do-it-yourself repairs to cut production costs, rather than relying on external technicians.

Chin relies mainly on computer software to design cabinets, while his father still prefers to design freehand.

“Dad and I have different methods of working. He’s more old school where he sketches patterns and jots down measurements in his notebook.

“I prefer using computer-aided design (CAD) and software tools for creating cabinet designs. CAD software allows instant creation and modification of cabinet designs. You can quickly change colours, styles, and dimensions, making the design process fast and flexible. This helps in visualising and customising designs efficiently,” says Chin.

Stand by me

While the father and son duo might have different working styles, Chin is happy to have his father by his side to teach him tricks of the trade.

Whenever they have disagreements, they discuss them in the office to avoid bringing the issues home.

Peter says, “If my son makes a mistake, I let it happen because learning from errors is important. Later, I will show him simpler, cost-saving ways of doing things. Experience teaches us valuable lessons.

“We talk through issues, sometimes over the phone, but we make a point to leave work discussions at the office and keep our home life separate.

“My son lives five minutes away from us, but he comes over for dinner a few times a week. Most often, we have lunch together too,” he says.

Chin says most of the time, their disagreements are not personal but revolve around “technical issues”.

Peter (center) cherishing precious moments with his children Chin (right) and Yun Yee (left) during their younger years. Photo: Peter ChinPeter (center) cherishing precious moments with his children Chin (right) and Yun Yee (left) during their younger years. Photo: Peter Chin

“We usually solve it on the spot. Thanks to dad’s experience as a quality control inspector, he knows his way around equipment repairs. He’s teaching me how to handle machinery and troubleshoot issues.

“He believes in do-it-yourself repairs to cut production costs, rather than relying on external technicians. I think it is easy working with dad because he’s cool and not too fussy.”

Running a family business demands sacrifices which means Chin is unable to take leave or holidays at will. His priority is meeting deadlines, placing the business above personal leisure.

“Long holidays aren’t our thing because our business always comes first. If we’re swamped with orders, our focus is on meeting deadlines rather than taking time off."

But this Sunday, Chin and his sister, procurement officer Chin Yun Yee, 27, plan to take their parents out for a meal to celebrate Fathers Day.

“Taking my parents out for a meal on Mothers Day and Fathers Day is a tradition we’ve held dear since childhood. It’s a way to show gratitude to them ... and a reminder of their guidance and sacrifices for us.”

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