Hands-on for success
Delta Electronics Thailand chief Jackie Chang makes it a personal mission to ensure his staff enjoy their work experience.
As the top executive in charge of the fast-growing Asean, India and Australia-New Zealand markets of Delta Electronics, Jackie Chang is entirely occupied with work on weekdays.
But the 54-year-old Taiwanese executive has so far managed to spend time every morning to walk around the factory. The main reason for his daily routine is to ensure the safety of his people.
"Every morning when I arrive at the company, the first thing I do after putting down my things is walk around the factory for three main purposes. First is to make sure everyone is wearing a face mask. That's my first priority," says the president of Delta Electronics (Thailand) Plc.
"If they're not wearing a face mask, I'll ask them (in Thai), 'yak ja ao Covid mai' (do you want to get Covid)? Then they'll say 'khor tod ka/krub' (I'm sorry)," Mr Chang jokes.
His attempt to ensure everyone wore face masks began as soon as he took the helm of the 12,000-employee company in April last year, just as the first wave of Covid-19 was gathering momentum worldwide.
"The first day I came on board as president, I decided to distribute face masks for every employee. We tried hard to get masks but there were some difficulties because everybody was in a panic and the supply was not enough," he recalls.
"We tried every possible way to get masks from the local market and even tried to source from China. That's when we in the Delta group started to think about how we could help ourselves. We set up face mask production in China because quite a lot of the materials come from China originally, so getting masks from there would be easier."
Majority-owned by Delta Electronics in Taiwan and listed on the Stock Exchange of Thailand, Delta Electronics (Thailand) employs 12,000 people locally, 1,600 in India and 600 in Slovakia. The company has two manufacturing facilities in Thailand, one in Bangpoo Industrial Estate in Samut Prakan adjacent to Bangkok, and in Wellgrow Industrial Estate in Chachoengsao province.
"Everyone gets the same treatment," Mr Chang says of the mask policy. "Every morning we distribute one mask for each person who works in the Day Shift, and in the evening we give one to those working in the Night Shift. We are still doing that because we don't want to take any risk. We think that looking after everyone is the best thing we can do."
The second reason for his factory walks, he explains, is to ensure every staff member wears a seatbelt when they board the company's buses.
"Every morning, we have more than 30 buses leaving the factory to take the operators on the night shift back home. I will check a bus at random, walk up and remind everybody to wear a seatbelt," he says. "Belt is khem khat. I'm not good at that Thai word. So, I say seatbelt and they know because they see Jackie, they know what I'm asking for.
"If you don't wear a seatbelt and the bus suddenly stops, you could get hurt. You can't work and then your family doesn't have the income. It's taken some time but now the staff are used to it. Like wearing a face mask, it's the new normal."
The third reason for the walks is to make sure the factory is tidy and to see what improvements can be made.
"For example, we recently increased seating areas because in the past, when you walked into the factory, when the operators come early, there was no rest area or chairs they could sit on," he explains. "The only place they could find is in the canteen, but you have so many people -- maybe 1,000 or 2,000.
"I started to increase the seating area to make sure that when they have break time, after finishing their lunch, or when they come early in the morning, they can find some place to sit, so it makes them feel a bit better."
Mr Chang even takes time to check the cleanliness of the washrooms, and to ensure that temperatures at the facility aren't too high during the summertime.
When he sees something that needs improvement, he takes a picture with his phone and sends it to the factory manager. "Actually, our facility guy is quite busy in the morning because every morning I start taking photos, send them to him and say this is the area to improve," he says, displaying some recent examples on his handset.
"I sent this to the facility head and said the temperature in Plant 5 was high. He will do something," he says.
"That's what I mean when I say people should feel comfortable, safe and healthy when working in our company," Mr Chang says.
Taiwan-based Delta Electronics is one of the world's leading manufacturers of power supplies and fans that are essential to cool computers, smartphones, home appliances and, increasingly, medical devices and electric vehicles (EVs).
Bangkok is the regional headquarters for Southeast Asia, India and Australasia and oversees research and development hubs in Bangkok, India, the US and Germany. Delta in Thailand employs 12,000 people and accounts for about 18% of the group's US$9 billion in global revenues.
Despite the challenges posed by the pandemic in 2020, heavy worldwide demand for its products helped lift the net profit of Delta Thailand to 7.1 billion baht, compared with 2.96 billion the year before.
In the first quarter of this year it earned 1.76 billion baht, slightly more than double the 860 million it earned in the same period last year. Sales rose 49% to 19 billion baht.
The company's shares have been in high demand given its strong fundamentals. But a limited free float on the SET led to some spectacular price increases last year as wealthy retail investors competed to build up positions, analysts said.
Delta shares soared 280% in value from early November to late December, peaking at 838 baht in late December. The shares were trading just below 500 baht last week.
Next year will mark Mr Chang's 30th anniversary with Delta. He spent his first three years with the company in Taiwan, but in 1995 he got an assignment to Europe as a sales representative based in Scotland.
"We followed the customers," he says. "In the north of the UK, you have the so-called Silicon Valley of the UK and lots of IT companies located there like IBM and HP (Hewlett Packard). These companies are all located in Scotland and that's why I went there."
Similar to many, Mr Chang had a problem with the strong Scottish accent when he first arrived.
"It was a totally different world," he recalls. "I studied English literature at university in Taiwan and I think my English is good enough, but I have to admit that I couldn't understand a word they were saying.
"We joked that if you have three shots of whisky, you can speak Scottish," he amuses. "I lived there quite a long time. Once you get used to it, it's easy."
After a year in the UK, Mr Chang returned home to marry his Taiwanese classmate. They migrated to the UK where their daughter was born.
The UK office was small at the time, with only four people, but business was taking off, with sales doubling and tripling every year. Mr Chang stayed in Scotland for eight years and got UK citizenship before being transferred to the Netherlands.
The Delta operation in Amsterdam was near Schiphol airport, which appealed to Mr Chang because it was easier to travel around Europe to meet customers. He ended up spending 15 years in the Netherlands, the last eight as president for the whole EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa) region. He left Amsterdam in November 2018 and came to Thailand as vice-president for Southeast Asia. He was named president of Delta Electronics (Thailand) in April last year.
"Sometimes I joke that I'm half European because I stayed there quite long. 23 years total, including eight years in the UK and 15 years in the Netherlands," he says.
"I would say I love Europe, no doubt; otherwise I wouldn't have stayed there for so long. But don't get me wrong, I like Thailand very much. Right after I moved to Thailand, I experienced my first Loy Krathong festival. That was quite an interesting experience.
"(During my stay in Europe), whenever I went back to Taiwan with my family, we chose to stop over in Bangkok and have a few days' vacation to go to a beach in Koh Samui or Phuket to enjoy Thai cuisine," he says.
"Before Covid, I travelled a lot," he continues, naming Singapore, Vietnam and Australia among the destinations he visited in his new Thailand-based role. But since the pandemic hit, business travel has been put on hold and even leisure travel is limited.
Mr Chang says what he loves the most about Europe is how the Europeans enjoy their life.
"They will not devote 100% of their life to the company or business. The time you have with family and friends is the most excellent time. I couldn't get to that moment because things were really busy at Delta," he says.
"In the Netherlands you can take a boat along a canal and enjoy a lovely day. A lot of people who live by canal normally have their own boats, no matter whether it's small or big."
In the Netherlands, he observes, boats and bicycles have priority. "For example, if you drive a car on a motorway and a boat wants to cross, every car stops because they need to lift the bridge so that the boat can go through," he says.
"The second priority is the bicycle. If you walk in a bicycle lane and a bicycle comes, you have to give way to them."
Dutch culture, he says, is "the most straightforward culture I've ever seen … If they like you, they like you. If they don't, they tell you. For example, if they see your dress and they don't like it, they'll say, 'Why don't you throw it away?' They tell you just like that."
British people, by contrast, rarely tell others what they're really thinking, "so you have to guess".
In a more straightforward culture, it's easier to do business in his view. "You don't need to guess. … You know who you should talk to in order to get things done."
In the Netherlands, Mr Chang lived near the diplomatic quarter in The Hague. "Every day, I'd come home late and I'd see my next-door neighbour sitting in the garden drinking red wine, smoking a cigar.
"He'd look at me and say, 'Mr Chang, why did you buy the house? You never enjoy it. You should go live in an apartment.'
In Thailand, Mr Chang believes that quite a lot of people believe in the next life. "So, they have to be good in this life to make sure their next life will be better. In European culture, they are living well now. Forget about what will be in the next generation, the next life. That's slightly different."
In Europe, most countries have total paid leave of 30 days a year and employees are encouraged to use it all. In the Netherlands, people get 13 months of salary. The extra month is supposed to be earmarked for a holiday.
"They think that if you don't give them the chance to take a break from their work, they will easily get stressed," he notes.
"Psychologically, that's right. That's why when I moved to Thailand, I told my staff if you want to take leave, take it. Go ahead, I will approve it. But some need to have second in command to make it."
Europeans, meanwhile, work from 9am to 5pm but they work very efficiently. "Their productivity during their working hours is very high. … Dutch people only take half an hour for lunch. Many people eat and work at the same time."
For Mr Chang, his daily routine starts when he gets up 5am. He arrives at the office in Bangpoo around 7am, does his daily walkabouts and then gets down to work. He comes home in the evening and finishes dinner at 8 or 9pm.
"All these things make my weekday quite busy," he says. "I also need to find the time to study Thai every Wednesday and Saturday at 9 o'clock."
"Why 9 o'clock in Saturdays? Because after I finish my Thai lesson, my daughter wakes up. She studies online every day with King's College in the UK. After I finish my lesson, we can do things together. I really need to organise my time to fit in."
Given his tight schedule, he's given up golf for now and is spending his free time with his family on weekends. A round of golf, he notes, can take up half a day and that's time he doesn't have at the moment, even if the exercise would help.
"But you see every morning, I walk around the factory. It's good exercise also. I think I take roughly 8,000 steps which is equivalent to a 4.5- to 5-kilometre walk."
Quality time with his wife and daughter usually involves finding a good place to eat or occasionally swimming at the condo, shopping or walking around. Reading business books, the Harvard Business Review, or biographies of successful people helps him stay up to date in the fast-changing business world.
Mr Chang is always on the lookout for insights and tips that he can apply at work. "I would say the uncertainties of the market are the biggest challenges the electronics industry is facing," he says.
"With Covid, even once you start to have vaccines and make sure everyone has them, how about the next wave: will the vaccine work effectively to control it? You never know because it might take another two to three years to find out the ways that offer the best treatment."
Uncertainty also prevails about markets, climate change, nationalism and other issues. Many countries have developed a more inward-looking approach, which is something that makes the leader of any export-focused business nervous.
"You never know what could happen between the US and China," says Mr Chang. "Is it going to be in a good or bad direction?
"But as the Chinese say, you have risk but also you have opportunity. For example, demand for some Delta products, notably from data centres, has surged amid the pandemic. As well, the growing popularity of EVs means more demand for onboard chargers and converters.
"If you recognise the Chinese word wei which means risk, and ji means opportunity," he says. "These are the Chinese words for crisis, meaning risk and opportunities actually come side by side."
- Jackie Chang