Pushing for reinvention
Ask Dr. Robert Yap, Executive Chairman of YCH Group, on how his company became a top supply chain and logistics provider in the region, and his answer is simple: “We don’t sit still.”
Indeed, YCH Group has been in a constant state of evolution since its inception. Founded in 1955 by Dr. Robert’s father, the company operated primarily as a passenger transport business – and continued to do so for the next 20 years. As market needs shifted, YCH Group transformed and expanded its offerings to warehousing, international freight forwarding, and integrated logistics and supply chain solutions. Today, it is Singapore’s largest home-grown supply chain solutions company and is a trusted partner to numerous brands across Asia Pacific.
Since joining the family business in the 1970s – and assuming leadership some years later – Dr. Robert has been the driving force behind YCH Group’s emergence as an industry leader. “We don’t wait to follow; we look at how to embrace innovation. That’s how we grew our entire value chain,” he asserts.
Ever forward-looking while remaining true to its roots as a family business, YCH Group saw Dr. Robert’s son, Mr Ryan Yap, join the company in 2018. Prior to joining YCH Group, Ryan spent a few years in the legal profession, and he says that that experience has allowed him to “add a different dimension to the supply chain industry.” Now, as Head of Growth, he is charged to take the business to new heights by driving innovation and establishing strategic partnerships.
Going global with the Singapore brand
YCH Group is a proudly Singaporean company. “Whenever we go to markets like China, Australia, India, we don’t just carry the YCH brand. We also carry the Singapore brand,” Dr. Robert says.
He credits much of their success to being based here, “riding on the coattails of Singapore’s success as a big financial hub and IT hub.”
Singapore’s evolution “from being an entrepôt into a sophisticated supply chain nerve centre” has also been critical to YCH Group’s growth. Today, one-seventh of the world's container transhipment throughput is handled by Singapore – the most for any hub on the planet. The World Bank’s most recent Logistics Performance Index also ranked Singapore among its global top 10, scoring especially high in logistics competence, infrastructure and timeliness.
Apart from its hyper connectivity, Singapore has a strong advantage as a “trusted brand” in the region. Dr. Robert says that countries acknowledge Singaporeans as having “the skills, technology, processes and commitment to make promises happen.”
Ryan adds that Singapore’s value lies in its unique position as an “ideal microcosm” where entrepreneurs can learn, make mistakes, and apply this knowledge as they expand to other markets. The country is, in many respects, an exemplar for others in the region to follow.
“Singapore will continue to have a lot to offer as we position ourselves as a place to try new things, prove that they work and send them out to the world. We can export those lessons very quickly to the other regions and continue to shorten that runway for other countries to adopt best practices,” Ryan says.
Building a supply chain icon
For YCH Group, Singapore has proven to be an ideal location for supply chain innovation.
In 2017, the company opened Supply Chain City, a state-of-the-art facility for supply chain innovation. Combining technology with human ingenuity, Supply Chain City has turned industry issues such as land and manpower scarcity into opportunities.
For example, the two million square foot complex houses a 50-metre Automated Storage and Retrieval System (ASRS) that can move 66,624 pallets. Amazingly, the ASRS occupies just 110,000 square feet, instead of the 700,000 square feet of built-up space that moving that many pallets would typically require.
Supply Chain City is located at the heart of the Jurong Innovation District (JID) – a 600-hectare development set to become Singapore’s hub for advanced manufacturing. JID is projected to provide 95,000 new jobs powered by cutting-edge technologies, and will also be home to Singapore’s first car-free sky corridor, spanning 11km.
Dr. Robert claims that building this icon for Singapore has been a labour of love. “I put all my life savings in it,” he muses. “It’s not just about building another warehouse or office space. We are building an ecosystem, where we harness and put together all the things that we have learned for the past forty years.”
From his roles in the tripartite Council for Skills, Innovation and Productivity and the Singapore National Employers Federation, Dr. Robert has also witnessed how “Singapore is leading the pack in terms of innovating and training talent to spur and continue that journey of growth.”
For example, SkillsFuture Singapore, Workforce Singapore, Singapore Economic Development Board and SPRING Singapore developed a Skills Framework for Logistics, providing possible career pathways and articulates critical skills to succeed in logistics. The Framework is part of a larger Logistics Industry Transformation Map which aims to grow the sector’s value-add to S$8.3 billion by 2020.
As part of his legacy, Dr. Robert hopes to convey his decades of knowledge and experience to a new generation of supply chain leaders. In 2016, he founded the Supply Chain and Logistics Academy to help organisations and individuals in the sector embrace innovation, particularly with the emergence of deep technologies such as artificial intelligence and robotics.
Imagining the future of logistics at industry events
The push to cultivate talent and elevate the sector is evident in the many logistics and supply chain industry events that happen in Singapore every year.
Ryan fondly remembers an innovation challenge that took place at TECHINNOVATION 2019, which was part of SFF x SWITCH 2019. “We put up a sustainability challenge looking at innovative ways to meet the complex demands of our customers for temperature regulation and unparalleled traceability,” he recalls. “It was particularly memorable for us because it was really about putting your money where your mouth is – in terms of co-creation and most of all, heeding that call for sustainability.”
The importance of industry events is also not lost on Dr. Robert, who was instrumental in kickstarting the Supply Chain Asia Forum and Awards. Since its launch in 2006, the Forum has attracted hundreds of the best minds in supply chain and logistics to discuss opportunities and challenges impacting the sector.
While the event moved around the region in its early years, Dr. Robert and his colleagues soon realised that Singapore was the perfect place for the event to make its permanent home. “We have a lot of interest in supply chain and logistics centred around Singapore. We have people from the entire value chain keen to congregate, look at problems and come up with solutions,” he explains.
Overcoming challenges through passion
The logistics and supply chain sector can be challenging, Ryan admits, but he stresses how passion keeps him going.
“This is the key to success: the ability to do the same thing just a bit better every day,” he says. “And without passion, that is very hard to do.”
His father, with nearly half a century of industry experience under his belt, echoes the same sentiments.
“Passion drives excellence. The logistics supply chain is a very tough industry. Without passion, it’s difficult to do anything well or even excel in it. But you never hear me talking about an end – because there is no end. You just continue.”