Diversifying his customer base

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In Part 1 of our look at Penang-based medical devices company, Straits Orthopaedics (Mfg) Sdn Bhd, founder TH Su, shared how he built the company from scratch into a RM53 million a year business with 99% of that coming from exports.  In Part 2, he stressed on the importance of human capital, his view of regulations and his game plan to accelerate growth next year.

What has been the toughest hurdle faced so far?

The toughest hurdle in this business is securing people with leadership skills who are firm and fair when managing people; who can work very hard; who can recognize and seize opportunities before the window closes; who want to do something good in their lives; and who understand the why of what they are doing thereby enabling them to reduce seemingly complex issues to simple operations so that those who are not so blessed can follow and engage in gainful employment.

As Malaysia does not have an orthopaedics industry, every person in our company is organically developed. The speed of developing such human assets is an important factor that will determine the rate of expansion of our business.

Needless to say, in today’s environment, money capital is no longer the most important asset. Human capital is – and it is not an asset that you can easily go out and buy. We need to retain what we have, and use them to train others.

We are lucky. Today, we have an excellent team of senior management, middle management and shop floor management working with operators, and each, constantly learning from the other. Our people are the most important component of our quality management system — not equipment.

Do you feel the regulations in the healthcare market are inadequate or if there are too many regulations?

The primary purpose of a regulatory framework is to prevent unsafe and ineffective products from entering the market, and this is mainly achieved by having a regulatory framework that:

  • cautiously and ethically encourages and not stifled innovation;
  • only allows safe and effective products to speedily enter the market

all, in the interest of improving human lives.

We have seen in many parts of the world, unethical medical experimentation on humans in the pursuit of a cure; or of insufficient trials before these so called solutions are put into the market.

It is easier to see when a framework is inadequate but not so easy to judge when a framework is over-regulated. A framework of any country may appear over-regulated therefore giving rise to speculation that it is disguised as a trade barrier. Judgment should be postponed until we have understood the history of that country that made that country put up such a framework. Where a framework appears over-regulated, it is common to see that they had had horrors for which the framework is designed to prevent from happening again.

Having said all these, it is good to be reminded that every regulatory framework is always evolving, all, in the interest of improving human lives, and will always be subject to these 3 pressures:

  • The need to speed up and not stifle innovation;
  • The need to protect the public from unethical or inadequate experimentation;
  • The need to protect the public from unsafe and ineffective products.

What is your game plan for 2013 and how will you achieve it.

For the last 4 years our growth rate is practically flat at sales of RM53 million per year. We used it to consolidate our quality management system. We are now ready to grow again. The planned target in 2013 is to grow the business by 20% while at the same time be more internationally competitive in serving our customers. By doing so, we can enable our customers to be more competitive in the markets they serve. In this regard, here is the plan:

  • Diversify our customer base in orthopaedics. We have already started in 2012, and this will bear fruit in 2013;
  • With quality as a given today, we are continually improving our processes to:
    • reduce lead time and improve speed to market, and
    • reduce our prices to our customers by leaving out processes and operations.
    • Develop suppliers to add to our capacity.

Develop processes to allow us to manufacture arthroplasty products, especially medical grade forgings and castings; and implant coatings.

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