As a manufacturer of high-quality wood-based material since its establishment in 2002, Segamat Panel Boards Sdn Bhd has continued to improve its products and services to meet the needs and requirements of its customers. Peter Finch, the company’s co-founder and managing director discusses the challenges facing the wood and timber-based panel industry at large.
Looking back, what do you consider the deﬁning moments of your ﬁrst 100 days in this position?
Luckily, being a CEO, as opposed to a politician, the benchmarking of my ﬁrst 100 days in office was not an issue. As a co-founder of the business, it was more important to take a much more longterm view to ensure the sustainability of the business. That being said, the most deﬁning moment when starting the business was the realisation that, as CEO, one had huge responsibilities not just for the business, per se, but for all employees, customers, suppliers and their dependants.
What do you regard as the crucial factors for you to stay on top of your game?
Nothing in this world can be taken for granted. Change is inevitable, and some say that change is the only ‘constant’ in life. To complicate matters further, the rate of change is increasing, so to stay on top of your game is to embrace change and strive for continual improvement. This mindset is not just necessary but has become crucial for the survival of your business.
What do you foresee are the game-changing challenges facing your industry and how do you propose to overcome them?
I have already penned an article on some of the challenges being faced by the wood and timber-based panel industries. We are challenged by international, national and industry speciﬁc issues. Internationally, we are seeing a retreat from globalisation and a growing tendency for protectionism. Malaysia is essentially an export-orientated economy, so it is very important for Malaysia to maintain neutrality and forge free trade agreements not just within ASEAN but unilaterally with other nations.
Nationally, I believe the biggest challenge facing Malaysia is human capital. Malaysian manufacturing, construction and even services have become addicted to ‘cheap foreign labour’. To escape from the middle-income trap and this overdependence on foreign workers requires investment in a quality education system. A quality education system not only provides the skills necessary for achieving developed nation status but also the creativity and work ethic required.
As an industry, we have very speciﬁc problems and issues that are unique but also can be related to the larger national and international issues mentioned earlier. Our industry is export-orientated and international trade barriers and restrictive practices all play a negative role in promoting these exports. Nationally, we are competing with our peers in Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, China and Australasia. To do this. we must remain competitive. The most important resource any country has should be its people, which is why for long-term sustainable development, the most critical investment is the investment in human capital and the education system. As a nation and an industry, we need to not just prepare for but must embrace what has become known as the 4th Industrial Revolution. This Industry 4.0 is a terminology that encompasses automation, artiﬁcial intelligence, blockchain, ﬁntech, the Internet of Things and the list goes on. This technology will turn traditional economies on their head. If Malaysia wants to remain a signiﬁcant player in the changing economic climate, it needs quality, competent and creative human capital. Mirroring Malaysia as a nation, our industry grew and thrived on the abundance of natural resources – in our case timber and speciﬁcally rubberwood. When you travel around our beautiful country, it is still lush and green; however, we are becoming increasingly challenged in obtaining sufficient quantities of sustainably supplied rubberwood and mixed tropical timbers. This issue will need to be addressed in terms of ensuring commercially sustainable supplies of timber to maintain the industry.
Single out a leader in the corporate world you wish to emulate.
There are so many admirable, capable, compassionate, successful and wealthy business leaders. My interest is more those who work behind the publicity to actually make the ideas of these visionaries come to fruition. In my opinion, an excellent example is Gwynne Shotwell, the CEO of SpaceX. As a co-founder with Elon Musk, SpaceX has grown to more than 6,000 employees and contracts valued at USD12 billion. Shotwell runs the day-to-day operations and customer relationships, but her official title might as well be rainmaker. She takes Elon Musk’s seemingly outlandish ideas (and idealistic timelines) and makes them happen.
As CEO, what most excites and worries you?
The future excites me and all the possibilities that it may bring. There is so much to look forward to and the opportunities are endless. Technology can become a great enabler and we really cannot imagine all the beneﬁts this could bring. As a CEO, I am excited by the prospect of transforming our industry into an innovative and sustainable business that could drive growth for Malaysia in the foreseeable future.
Why is trust considered a powerful currency of the CEO?
Rather than using ‘trust’, I would use the word ‘Integrity’. This should be prerequisite for all CEOs and leaders. It is deﬁned as a person being honest and having strong moral principles. You may have strong environmental, business, religious or secular principles, and from these, people will know what you stand for. So, by deﬁning your principles, you give a very clear signal to your stakeholders what your company also stands for.
It is said that it’s lonely at the top. What do you think must a CEO do to overcome this loneliness?
If a CEO claims to be lonely, then I don’t think he or she is an effective CEO. At the end of the day, business is about people, whether you are interacting with customers, employees or customers. The rule should be that these relationships should be, where possible, friendly but always professional in nature. If a CEO desires emotional or spiritual relationships, then it would probably be best to obtain that from family and/or support groups such as religious congregations.