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Balancing act of a down-to-earth leader (part two)

?It is a normal practice for me to attend the morning talk at our factory as an observer on the side,? says Yongkiat Kitaphanich, the president of Somboon Advance Technology Plc (SAT).

A “walk-the-talk” executive, Mr Yongkiat strongly believes in reaching out to his people, so he regularly practises what he preaches.

“The session is held for no longer than 15 minutes every Monday morning, where the head of the factory will come to share related issues with the workers,” he explains. “It’s also a platform for rewarding quality recognition, cost saving, and so on. Previously, during my time as vice-president, I also gave a speech once a month.”

Addressing quality at all times is necessary and important for an original equipment manufacturer (OEM) business, particularly in the automotive industry. All personnel are constantly reminded of QCDEM – the five factors that underpin the competitiveness of the business. These represent the core capabilities of the Somboon Group (SBG) companies, of which SET-listed SAT is the flagship.

“These five factors start with Quality, followed by Cost, Delivery, Engineering and Design, and finally Management,” explains Mr Yongkiat. “These five competitive factors are considered carefully by our customers to ensure that we will always deliver the products as they require.”

Areas of excellence: “Understanding and anticipating technology trends is our first core capability,” Mr Yongkiat continues. “In this regard, we have to tell ourselves to move forward with new technology in order to be able stay in the league and serve customers well. As well, speed to market is second to none in terms of our unique capability.

“We have to be able to foresee and forecast what will be the future of customer and consumer
expectations in the automotive market. That way, we can grab the market first.

“Cost competitiveness is our third key competitiveness factor. It is a unique characteristic of the spare parts industry which is highly sensitive to costs for products that do not differ very much. Cost control is in every breath we take.

“Quality excellence is last but not least. This subject relates not only to the product itself but also the process, supply chain and also ensuring an environment for sustainability of the business in the long term.”

A veteran of the automotive and parts industry, Mr Yongkiat obtained his first degree in mechanical engineering from King Mongkut’s University of Technology Lad Krabang. He has been in the business for 23 years since he came back to Thailand in 1990 after obtaining a master’s degree in Industrial Engineering from Waseda University in Japan.

“My brothers furthered their studies in Western countries,” he says. “In my case, I decided to go to Japan, although I was aware at first that it would take a longer time to finish the degree there because we would have to study the language for at least one full year first.”

He finally stayed for five years in Japan — one year as a research assistant, two years studying for his degree and then some time working with Japanese businesses.

Mission aims high: SBG is currently pursuing Vision 2013-17, which focuses on growing in the Asian automotive industry. It is a challenging mission, although SBG is a well-established company with a long track record of continuous success. In this regard, the supporting missions are well crafted to ensure the company is heading in the right direction with solid energy.

“Our six missions cover the main activities of the group. First, we intend to enhance management effectiveness in order to add value for our stakeholders,” says Mr Yongkiat. “Second, we are dedicated to serving our customers with high-quality products and services.

“The third mission covers design and new product development. Partnering with customers is critical in this regard.

“Productivity improvement in production facilities is also part of our focus. We wish to be continuously environmentally friendly while also leading in terms of overall manufacturing cost and efficiency of technology.

“Our fifth mission relates to employee skills and their quality of life. Cultural diversity is also something we are concerned about. Maintaining and enhancing corporate governance is certainly an important mission as well. In this regard, we also consider risk management, and accountability to stakeholders including society. All of these intentions are based on knowledge and ethical issues.”

The mind of a strategist: “Both vision and mission are typically issues considered at board level,” he continues. “Our four key strategies form the links between the implementation of practical activities and upholding the vision.

“Growth through strategic partnering is a key strategy that demonstrates our view toward partnerships. We truly believe in business networking to maintain our current business and product portfolio.

“Value added in design and development is a second key strategy. New product development and design ability are key issues for us. The third one is operational excellence which mainly revolves around productivity and cost control.

“The last important strategy relates to being an aligned organisation.

Under this strategy, there are both ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ issues — human resources issues in particular. The goal is to ensure that organisational development enhances the culture in ways that allows employees to respond in line with SBG’s direction.

“For me in particular, I truly believe in allowing my people to be happy in order to deliver value to our organisation,” he concludes.

Sorayuth Vathanavisuth is principal consultant and executive coach at the Center for Southeast Asia Leadership and lectures at Mahidol University’s College of Management. His areas of interest are corporate strategy, executive coaching and leadership development. He can be reached at