CEO, TK Group (Holdings) Ltd., Shenzen, China
Shenzhen, China — Michael Yung studied industrial engineering at the University of Hong Kong and worked in procurement for National Semiconductor Hong Kong Ltd. and AST Research (Far East Ltd.) before a fateful meeting with TK Group founder Alan Li led him to join the growing company's new injection molding business.
At that time, the young company had fewer than 100 workers. Yung oversaw its explosive growth. Today, TK Group (Holdings) Ltd. is a leading mold maker and injection molder with 2015 sales of HK$1.6 billion (US$201 million). The company has more than 3,000 workers in the Pearl River Delta and Germany. Customers include top Silicon Valley brands.
Yung's unusual resume also includes a master's degree in Buddhist studies from the University of Hong Kong.
Q: How did you get your start in plastics?
Yung: I was an engineer before in a computer company, responsible for procurement and sourcing. I met the chairman of TK, Alan Li, and we got to know each other. In 1989, he decided to expand into injection molding. That's when he invited me to join TK, as general manager of plastics. The title was big, but we had only a few machines. These machines were 15, 20 years old. This was a very good experience, because old machines often break down. So I had to learn how to operate them. Sometimes I had to repair them myself. In a small company, you have to learn to do a lot of things. I helped to fill orders, shipping and warehousing goods. I installed the first personal computer in the company.
Q: What advice would you give to anyone entering the plastics or mold making business now?
Yung: You need to have the passion and the interest in mold making or injection molding. Injection molding is quite an interesting industry in the way that you need to control quite a lot of different parameters — speed, pressure, temperature, and how you drive the material, the automation involved.
Q: What is your management philosophy?
Yung: I have a master's degree in Buddhist studies. Buddhism tells of the doctrine of dependent origination. It means that cause and condition are both sides of the same coin. [So] I always pay more attention to the causes and conditions than to the results. Look at an apple tree. Some people focus on the fruit. “When will it come?” they keep asking. And then maybe they think, “It's not coming, I'll add more fertilizer.” But if you have enough sunlight, enough water, good soil, you cannot ask the tree not to grow the apple. It will come out naturally. The result will be there. The result will not come out because of what you want, but because of what you have done, to create the right conditions.
Q: Overcapacity is a continuing problem in the Chinese plastics industry. How do you stay competitive?
Yung: Most of our customers are very cost-conscious. For them, we try to have good processes. We try to reduce scrap and improve cycle times. We also offer more cavities. If you have a mold with eight cavities, when we make your mold, we'll double it to sixteen cavities.
We also try to develop customers who are very demanding in quality, on workmanship, on production tolerance. Cost is not so important to these companies.
You need to be either the best or the second best. That was the management philosophy of GE's Jack Welch.
Q: Are you planning to expand production in China or elsewhere?
Yung: Unlike industries such as garments and toys, the mold industry is more capital- and knowledge- intensive. You need a lot of talent — technicians, engineers. So there's a difficulty in transferring this industry to Vietnam and Cambodia.
It also depends on the supply chain. The industrial infrastructure in Southeast Asian countries is still not that well developed. India is an option, but not in the coming one to two years.
Here in China, over the past 20 years, we have developed a lot of talent, not only in TK but in the whole industry. There are still a lot of ways to improve our overall manufacturing efficiency. And all of this requires talent and know-how. There is still further room to develop.
Q: Many manufacturers tell me that hiring and retaining workers is increasingly a challenge in China, especially the Pearl River Delta. Do you agree? What is TK Group doing to confront this challenge?
Yung: Frankly speaking, it's becoming more difficult. Like I think everywhere else in the world, [many] engineering graduates don't want to work in manufacturing but want to become a salesperson or an app programmer.
At TK we always have an internal training program. To train university graduates to become managers and engineers. We have one-and-a-half year of off-the-job training and another six months of on-the-job training. We do not have a binding contract with them, but we provide an opportunity to learn and grow.