The Future Starts Here: Hugo Teoh Leads Pecca Group Into Tomorrow

The Executive Director of Pecca Group Berhad, Hugo Teoh Zi Yi talks about the legacy behind the family business, managing expectations and his direction for the future.
text by Daween Maan
Hugo Teoh Pecca Group

Hugo Teoh Zi Yi, Executive Director of Pecca Group Berhad  (Photo by Robin Yong)

The weight of the future scales differently for all of us; for Hugo Teoh Zi Yi, it means hefting the expectations of his family, their business, and their legacy. The Executive Director of Pecca Group Berhad is earnest about his position, responsibilities, and the future of the company, in a way that suggests the bulk, while not entirely a boon, is not much of a burden either.

At only 31, Hugo has been serving on the board of the company started by his father, Datuk Kelvin Teoh for almost four years, overseeing diversification and business development. The premium upholstery provider has made a name for itself in the automotive industry, providing premium leather seats upholstery to major car manufacturers like Perodua, Proton, Toyota, Mitsubishi, Nissan and more. The company’s expertise also stretches into the aviation industry.

Pecca recently posted its best quarterly earnings ever, but true to its name – which means imperfect in Italian – that doesn’t mean it’s good enough for Hugo.

“This year is quite challenging,” he says seriously. “Some parts are doing well, some not so well, but my job is mainly to look for new business and new products. Besides the automotive industry, our aviation business is also doing really well.

One could argue that Hugo’s job is basically to secure the company’s future, spreading its eggs into as many baskets as possible, and in that role, he isn’t alone. His sister Kelly Teoh has been expanding on the company’s healthcare endeavours, something that began during the Covid-19 pandemic when they manufactured face masks.

“I would say we’re a very traditional family business,” Hugo tells me with a grin after taking his time to choose his words. “My dad is strict and has very high expectations of me, but I know it’s because he wants us to succeed. I would say we manage our relationship quite well; we have a good relationship.”

Hugo Teoh Pecca Group

Hugo Teoh Zi Yi, Executive Director of Pecca Group Berhad  (Photo by Robin Yong)

He admits though that it wasn’t always easy to separate the professional from the personal and it took some maturing on his part. When I ask if he ever wanted to work away from the family business to avoid the messy overlap, he laughs and says, “I tried.”

 But I hate to admit it, my dad was right. He told me ‘Why build something for someone else?’ when I can work here and build it for the family. Those early days were tough, I couldn’t always handle criticism, whether from my dad or my peers. Now I look at the bigger picture and I don’t take all criticism to heart.”

Hugo’s tone changes when we start talking strictly about business. His steady head and steely determination come through when he speaks of the company’s direction.

“Of course we strive to be better. When we started, we were just a tier three subcontractor, doing the small work – cutting and sewing. But then we moved up and started developing our own car seat upholstery designs, sourcing our own materials, we became tier two. With aviation, we want to keep moving upstream and become a tier one.”

Pecca Aviation has been instrumental in the group’s increased success. In line with its core business, the company produces seat covers for commercial and private aircraft and is the first Malaysian company to receive Production Organisation Approval certification from the European Union Aviation Safety Agency, spearheading the groups international expansion and offering a glimpse into its future.

“We want to become a one stop solution company. So, you’re not only talking about leather seat covers; we supply whole seat structures and other interior items: trays, belts, overhead storage. We also provide maintenance, repairs, and deep cleaning of the aircrafts.”

As the person focused on the future, Hugo is well aware that surviving and thriving as a company is about more than just generating revenue but also keeping the management of the company with the times. He admits that sometimes the way things are, aren’t always the best they can be.

“I think we can always be better, no matter how good you already are. My main job is how we improve, and I think as a company you can be more systematic with some things to ensure you are always good and fair, especially to your employees.”

“It is very important to get the right people,” he says, speaking about the over 900 employees stretched across multiple divisions at the company. “I want people who are more capable than me, and then make sure they are treated fairly. There must be clear goals, a good KPI system, and a good reward system. I’m always working with HR to make sure we are doing a good job, because that will also attract more talents to us.”

Hugo Teoh Pecca Group

Hugo Teoh Zi Yi, Executive Director of Pecca Group Berhad  (Photo by Robin Yong)

Despite ‘change’ being a major part of his docket, Hugo is aware that not everything in a company needs to change, and that some things are better kept the way they are.

“The one thing that my dad has always emphasised, and that I would never change is in giving true value to our customers. What we want to deliver is the best products in the market, in terms of quality, pricing and time of delivery. We don’t take shortcuts, we don’t cut corners, we want to offer the best.”

As the head of the company and his family, his father’s presence and influence still looms large over his life and Hugo doesn’t try to hide it. After all, he is the next generation, the current one is still at the wheel, and he doesn’t mind that at all.

“I know some people will say: ‘You just inherit everything from your dad.’ They are not wrong, but I cannot spend my time trying to justify myself to anyone; it would be a waste of my time. I let my actions speak for themselves.”

“I don’t think about it,” he admits when I ask him about taking the helm of the company. “It will be a tough task. This whole company is my dad’s DNA, so to try to reach that level would need a miracle. But one thing I learned in the last ten years is that it’s not about becoming like my dad, I just try to be a better me.”

“So, I don’t put that pressure on myself, I believe in myself and keep striving to become a better person. And if one day I have to take over the company, I will ensure that we continue to move in the right direction.”

This story was first published in The Peak Malaysia June 2024 Issue.

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