By CHRISTIE CHUA
“It doesn’t matter whether it’s a technical or product problem, a sales or marketing issue, or even a challenge with getting financing – at the end of the day, it’s all about people and company culture.”
This is what Segamat Panel Boards (SPB) managing director Peter Fitch believes and for him, it is crucial that employees possess the right skill sets to sustain its markets and keep the company at the forefront of product innovation.
SPB is a company that originally specialised in high quality, thin panel medium-density fibreboard (MDF) when it was first established in 2002. However, the business climate has changed since then and over the years, the company has expanded its range to include value-added products such as printed paper foils, veneer and melamine laminates, door skins, prime and UV coated panels, and moulded door skins.
This innovation to keep up with the needs of the current market would not have been possible without the support of a dedicated team who share the company’s vision and values.
“We’re very lucky that a lot of the core senior managers have been with the company since we started business more than 15 years ago, from day one,” says Fitch.
“Research has shown time and time again that money isn’t everything. While it’s very important, of course, it’s not the be all and end all of somebody wanting to stay with the company,” says Fitch, when asked why he thinks SPB employees have remained loyal to the company for so long.
He says that having shared values and a vision that aligns with that of the company enables employees to take more ownership of their roles within the company. “They also want to see the company doing well and grow with the company – and I think most people have done that, so that’s why they’ve stayed,” he shares.
Indeed, a 2017 LinkedIn survey conducted on professionals in Malaysia revealed that while salary is a major consideration when making a career decision, intrinsic motivators such as cultural fit within the organisation and growth opportunities are also essential.
Building up trust
As a company, SPB is anchored by strong relationships developed over many years, and this applies not just internally with its employees, but also externally with its customers and suppliers.
Fitch highlights a few aspects that are central to building and maintaining relationships with external stakeholders, saying that they are a given in any business relationship: service, quality and value.
He adds that one aspect that is not discussed as much but is equally important is the value of trust. “A lot of our customers have been with us almost since day one – they’ve been with us through good and bad times. When we needed support, they’ve given it to us; when they’ve been through some hard times, we’ve also reciprocated by supporting them,” shares Fitch.
That has built up a lot of ‘trust credit’ between SPB and its stakeholders and allowed Fitch to forge some good personal relationships with the owners and senior managers of those companies.
He shares an example of the result of these relationships – being invited to the wedding dinner whenever one of his customers’ children get married.
Is it all right to mix personal relationships with business though?
Fitch believes it isn’t an issue as long as the personal relationship is kept professional, citing nepotism, cronyism and favouritism as absolute taboos.
One way to ensure the line between personal and business does not become blurred is to be very open in the way business transactions are handled – with no secrets or hidden agendas.
“Anything to do with business – in terms of the market price, quality, expectations of the customers and also of you as the supplier – has to be transparent and subject to scrutiny by not just auditors and external stakeholders, but more critically, by your own staff,” states Fitch.
“If your staff think you have a personal agenda, then they will lose faith in your company’s principles and policies, so this is very, very important.”
Fitch says that while SPB does not give any special favours to their stakeholders, it does strive to ensure it provides great service, quality and value.
“Service, quality and value open the door, but whether you get repeat or long-term business… that’s where trust needs to come into the equation,” says Fitch. “You can’t build that overnight; it’s not something you can buy. It’s something that you have to earn over a length of time.”