Philip Bernard has always dreamed of building rockets and walking on the moon. For as long as he can remember, he wanted to follow those dreams to become an engineer, tracing the footsteps of his father and brother.
It’s a zest for engineering that didn’t diminish as the years passed. He completed his engineering degree at the National University of Singapore and then, spoiled for career track opportunities, he decided to go into manufacturing, accepting an offer from a data storage competitor initially, before joining Western Digital (WD) in 1996.
“I wanted to be in a place that had a lot of people and a lot of innovation,” he tells The CEO Magazine. “That was how I ended up in the hard drive industry.”
“I’m one of those unusual people that just loves to work.”
Bernard quickly developed a new passion for his new industry, and the opportunity to unite his two interests saw him thrive.
“There’s always always something to focus on, whether it’s in the factory or with a customer. You’re always involved,” he says. “You also get to see the end-to-end.”
Over the course of 27 years, he has worked his way through the ranks at WD to become Senior Vice President of Global HDD Assembly and Backend Operations in 2021.
“I’ve only been with two companies in my life, which is highly unusual for this generation, or even perhaps in my generation, but I enjoy the work,” he explains. “I’m one of those unusual people that just loves to work. My work is my hobby.”
The COVID-19 pandemic was an interesting time for WD as it was for so many other companies, but Bernard sees the silver lining.
“It also brought out the best in us, because you saw a lot of people coming together to help each other,” he says. “We also started to get closer to the community with a lot of CSR programs.”
Although the company had always undertaken such work, the pandemic took it into a different realm, according to Bernard. Beyond making donations, WD also thought of ways to tap into its knowledge and supply chain to help hospitals.
Bernard brought with him a number of key learnings coming out of that unprecedented time, starting with the importance of communicating with community leaders as well as other industry players.
“When something hits the whole country or the whole region, it’s good that the collective wisdom of the captains, the industry and the associations are all tapped into,” he reflects. “It told me that these bonds need to actually be strengthened.”
The same is true of WD’s vendors and supply chain, he insists.
“Our vendors and supply chain are crucial to us. So strengthening the relationships helps in the resiliency of the supply chain as well,” he says.
In recognition of its efforts, WD Thailand was awarded the 2022 Prime Minister’s Industry Award in the category of Logistics Management and Supply Chains.
“When the crunch came and we needed the ability to work from home and operate things from afar, automation and digitalization of our whole operation allowed us to run with little impact.”
“We recognize the importance of having committed suppliers that deliver high-quality products coupled with strong partnership, as they reflect the core values of WD,” he says. “Our company’s partners produce products that span the spectrum of mechanical motors to engineering solutions and demonstrated outstanding expertise and reliability that have contributed to our success over the years.”
By building this resilience across the company and its extended network, WD can ensure minimal disruption to its operations.
“We have had to re-look, and we are still improving on those things,” Bernard says. “We’re strengthening our supply and procurement strategy so that we can fortify ourselves against any new predicaments in the future.”
The importance of digitalizing its operations was another crucial lesson. Fortunately, the company had already embarked on this path, automating many of its operations.
“When the crunch came and we needed the ability to work from home and operate things from afar, automation and digitalization of our whole operation allowed us to run with little impact,” he says.
This was evident when WD in Prachinburi and another factory in Thailand were recently recognized as Global Lighthouses by the World Economic Forum for the integration of 4IR technology.
A happy byproduct of digital transformation is the sustainability benefits. With greater efficiency comes less waste, fewer resources, less transportation and so on.
“All of that reduces our greenhouse gases,” Bernard says.
“WD has set ambitious targets, approved by the Science Based Targets initiative, to reduce our carbon footprint. Our Scope 1 and 2 target is to reduce emissions by 42 percent from 2020 to 2030.”
WD already has installed solar panels on many of its operations and has recently launched electric vehicles, EV buses for employee transportation and EV trucks for the material supply chain.
“Solar roofs are not enough,” Bernard stresses. “We are moving toward 100 percent renewable energy and looking at sourcing it on a long-term basis.”
Now, the company’s attention remains firmly on digitalization and reimagining its operations, according to Bernard.
“Wherever we are, we have to start to think about how we can get better efficiency of the whole operation, and that’s where our technology comes in. It helps us to shape our work processes so that we do things faster and better,” he explains.
Culture has also been crucial in driving the business forward. To cope with shifting demands, the company has invested in coaching.
“Wherever we are, we have to start to think about how we can get better efficiency, better costs out of the whole operation and that’s where our technology comes in.”
“Our company’s coaching providers have made a significant impact on our teams’ personal and professional growth,” he says. “We acknowledge the talented trainers who have imparted to our teams invaluable knowledge and expertise.”
The team is guided by four key pillars, according to Bernard. The first is passion, something he still has in spades, even after all these years. Then there are integrity, empathy and being courageous in innovation.
“You have got to be passionate and not hold yourself back,” he says. “You have to be courageous to try things. If you have the courage to innovate, that will drive you. It will take your passion to the moon and beyond.”