FOR Top Glove Corp Bhd founder Tan Sri Dr Lim Wee Chai, there is no such thing as “giving up”.
Having invested all of his and his wife’s savings of RM180,000 into the company when they ventured into the rubber glove business in 1991, Lim says failure was not an option for them.
“We faced a lot of challenges, especially at the start when we were building the business. However, I knew I had to succeed because we had invested all of our money into the business.
“There was no back-up plan and failure was not an option!” says the 60-year old whose company is now the world’s biggest glove manufacturer.
Growing up in the small town of Titi in Negri Sembilan, Lim’s exposure to the rubber business began early.
His parents owned a small rubber plantation and were involved in the rubber trading business.
The second of six children, Lim says he was a hardworking student in school as he understood at an early age the importance of education.
“I would help my parents with their rubber trading business and rubber plantation after school or during school holidays.
“I was able to balance both my studies and work quite well,” he says.
After completing his secondary education, he pursued his A-levels at TAR College, Kuala Lumpur.
It was there that he met his wife, Puan Sri Tong Siew Bee.
The classmates spent a lot of time together, studying and sharing ideas – moments which Lim describes at his fondest memories of his college days.
He then graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Physics from the University Malaya in 1982, after which he worked for two years as a sales executive and three years as sales manager at a subsidiary of OYL Industries Group.
It was during this stint that Lim says he worked for a demanding boss, who made him more resilient and diligent – traits which he says helped him in building his own business later.
Then in 1984 and 1985, Lim, together with his wife, pursued an MBA at Sul Ross State University in the United States.
Growing from strength to strength
Before deciding to invest all their savings into setting up Top Glove – their very first business venture – Lim and his wife spent a lot of time doing research.
“We saw good potential for the rubber glove business as emphasis on healthcare was and still is increasing all over the world.
“Also, as gloves are an essential item to the healthcare sector, demand is relatively unaffected by economic and political uncertainty,” he says.
When they commenced operations, there were about 250 glove manufacturers in Malaysia.
Demand for medical gloves had dramatically increased at the time due to the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
Most of these glovemakers, however, were eventually edged out as they were unable to meet the stringent quality standards imposed by the US, one of the biggest importers of Malaysia’s rubber gloves.
Top Glove started with one factory, one production line and 100 staff.
Their first factory was purchased from one of the many glove manufacturers who went out of business at that time.
Today, it is world’s biggest manufacturer of gloves with 40 factories, 648 production lines and a production capacity of 60.5 billion pieces of gloves per year.
They have 17,000 employees and manufacturing facilities in Malaysia, Thailand, China and sales offices in the US and Germany, serving more than 2,000 customers in 195 countries.
Lim, a proud Malaysian, says they are pleased that the success of Top Glove has helped put Malaysia on the map, and continues to contribute towards moving the country’s economy forward.
“For me, being Malaysian means having the ability to bring about change and transformation for the better, through hard work and working together.
“In the same way, we are proud that Top Glove is a homegrown Malaysian business, which has successfully transformed from a small manufacturing company into the world’s largest manufacturer of gloves through hard work and teamwork,” he says.
He adds that as an industry leader, the group looks forward to continue contributing to the “new Malaysia” and helping the country achieve developed nation status.
Running a country, he says, is like running a business – you need a strong foundation.
“I believe that being healthy is that foundation.
“It is important that Malaysians, as a people, are physically healthy in order to be able to contribute positively to our families, our companies and our country,” he says.
He adds that it is equally important to be mentally healthy, which means to “act with honesty, integrity and transparency at all times”.
The ingredient for success
Running a huge multi-national company is no easy feat.
To manage his busy work schedule and ensure he still has time to exercise and spend time with family and friends, Lim says he makes sure his day is well-planned.
He says he is able to do this because he lives by these words – “Work is my hobby, exercise is my duty, health is my wealth.”
“‘Work is my hobby’ is a reflection of how much I enjoy my work.
“I work seven days a week because I am passionate about my work, to the extent it no longer feels like work, but a hobby,” he says.
Lim says his commitment to exercising daily reflects his desire to stay healthy.
“My life target is to live until I am 120 years old and work till I am 120.
“Therefore, I need to ensure my body is healthy enough to do so,” he says.
Lim plays badminton and golf twice a week each and practises yoga once a week.
Asked about his secret for success, Lim simply says – there is no secret.
The ingredient for success, however, is hard work, continuous learning, employing the right people and good values.
“When we first started out, we still had a lot to learn but we did not give up. We continued to learn through other people and had hands on experiences with troubles we faced. We motivated ourselves to keep on going despite bumps in the road,” he said.
Lim also believes that good values are crucial for success.
His company’s business ethic is “Honesty, Integrity and Transparency”, which he says have been key to Top Glove and its employees’ healthy and continuous growth.
While the company is a global leader in its segment, Lim says being “number one” is not permanent.
“So even when you have achieved success, you must continue to work harder, smarter and faster, to remain ‘number one’ for as long as possible,” he says.
His advice for young Malaysian entrepreneurs who are just starting out in their careers?
“I would advise them to stay positive, motivated and never give up.
“When there’s a bump in the road you don’t stop your car, you keep moving forward until you reach your destination,” he says.
He encouraged young Malaysian entrepreneurs to continue gaining knowledge and to stay fit and healthy – mentally and physically.
“It is through challenges that you are able to grow into good entrepreneurs and responsible members of society. In every crisis, there is opportunity,” he says.
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