Asia Pulp and Paper VP Tim Ooi says karma and conservation are the backbone of his business success
Back in 1999, when Tim Ooi was asked why he was choosing to join Asia Pulp and Paper (APP) and move to China, he would delve back into his past for one explanation for his decision.
“I remembered what my father had told me when I was young,” recalls Ooi, now APP’s senior vice-president, sales and marketing, Far East Asia, as well as president and CEO, APP Japan. “He said that four great inventions had come out of China: gunpowder, the compass, paper-making and printing.”
But, when Ooi initially joined APP as deputy general manager of its sales office in Chengdu, paper-making businesses on the mainland were only just beginning to catch up with the types of modern technology and processes being used elsewhere in the world.
Beyond the issues of sustainability, environmental impact and efficiency, these businesses were also lagging behind in the sheer scale of their production.
“At that time a Chinese company producing 10,000 tons of paper a year was a big company,” Ooi explains.
“The chairman of APP, Teguh Ganda Wijaya, has been one of the most influential people in this industry. People thought we were crazy when, under his leadership, we invested in modern paper-making machines from Europe in order to produce half-a-million tons a year. Now our capacity in China is up to 11 million tons a year.”
The image of the paper-making industry has not always been a one good, whether because of the destruction of forests or because of pollution caused by its factories.
But driven by rising public awareness, the growth of the green movement, government regulation and the business philosophies of a new generation of industry leaders, this is changing.
“We have 2.6 million hectares of concession in Indonesia and 300,000 hectares in China, and in 2013 we launched our Forest Conservation Policy with the aim of zero deforestation by 2020.”
But, Ooi adds, in point of fact APP has already achieved this zero deforestation target.
“Now the consumer trusts the certification labels and we have very transparent chains of custody.”
He believes manufacturers who don’t adhere to international standards will eventually fold. “In recent years a lot of small paper factories have shut down. In China alone, a million tons of production has transferred to us from such factories because we are environmentally friendly and we have a sustainable business model. We have the best waste water treatment systems, we have the most efficient solid waste management systems, and we have zero air pollution.”
Ooi, who is Malaysian Chinese, majored in mass communication for his undergraduate degree from the National University of Malaysia. Before joining APP, he worked first for an advertising agency in Malaysia and then a Taiwanese textile manufacturer.
Ooi says his chairman has played a key role in his own development as a leader. In his first position with APP, Ooi had 25 staff working for him. “Then after one year I was invited to come to Guangzhou. There I found that one order was equivalent to a whole month’s sales in Sichuan.”
Since that time the extent of his responsibilities has increased dramatically. “Mr Teguh Ganda Wijaya always reminded me that you need to think big. Before, I never believed that I could manage more than 1,000 staff, or that I could manage [APP’s operation in] Japan. But he always told me that the number of people you manage is not important, you just need to believe in yourself and challenge your limits.
“Our chairman manages more than 300,000 employees and he can do this because APP has a clear mission and vision: to become the most respected paper company in the world.”
Ooi’s own management style is a reflection both of what he has learned during his time with APP and of his personal philosophy.
“I tell my staff that they must be confident and believe in themselves. Second, they shouldn’t think too much about commercial issues, because I don’t think you can build a sustainable business if you spend every day thinking about how much profit you want to make and how you can cut costs. But if you have a very positive mindset and care about your partners and employees, you will enjoy good returns.
“I believe in karma and karma is about cause and effect. We plant trees, we take care of the environment and we try to build a sustainable business model so, finally, we will enjoy the returns.”
He notes that the demand for printing paper has been affected by developments such as the growing use of tablets and e-books. “But we also produce packaging, tissue paper and speciality paper, and the world consumption of packaging just keeps on increasing.”
This article appeared in the Classified Post print edition as The whole package.