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Just prior to the pandemic in 2018, the leadership team at Pensonic made an effort to go green. Paperless was the order of the day and internal approvals and anything human-resource or sales related were to become simple online processes to reduce waste and improving business efficiency.
It was perfectly timed because shortly after, the COVID-19 pandemic hit. “We were lucky we did that right before the pandemic,” says Vincent Chew, Group Managing Director and second son of the company’s Founder, Dato’ Seri Chew Weng Khak. “That’s why, when the lockdown came, these things were in place so many of us could work from home.”
Pensonic began as Keat Radio and Electrical Co in 1965, specialising in the retail and repair of electric home appliances. After much success, the small family business incorporated under the name Pensonic, which is a portmanteau of ‘Penang’, where the company began and ‘sonic’, after the company’s origins in audio products. The company began manufacturing under its own brand name and made history as the nation’s first ‘Made in Malaysia’ brand.
Under Vincent’s direction, Pensonic not only survived the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns in Asia, the company thrived. The Malaysian government’s lockdown requirements were strict but going paperless meant the company was in a great position to support creative solutions to the unprecedented challenges that arose.
Though the company traditionally sold their products to retailers rather than consumers, the business model shifted in time to capture a new target market. Sales picked up throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, and Pensonic enjoyed a fruitful 2021.
To be a good leader, I believe you need a strong, supportive team. Otherwise, it doesn’t matter what you command, nobody will listen to you.
“The Malaysian government restricted non-essential transportations and logistics services. You could deliver ecommerce but not to retail sites,” Vincent explains. “So, we encouraged our sales people to open their own e-stores, selling everything they could.”
Vincent’s encouragement of such change is emblematic of his leadership style. Upon his graduation in 1995, he started on the production floor before moving to human resources and later marketing and sales. Many of his colleagues came up through the company alongside him, so comradeship between colleagues is important to him.
“We worked together and we learned together,” he smiles. “I was so young and they were, too. They’re still here with me. Comradeship, working together … The most important relationship is between colleagues. To be a good leader, I believe you need a strong, supportive team. Otherwise, it doesn’t matter what you command, nobody will listen to you.”
It’s not just the relationship between peers that helped Pensonic through the pandemic. Business is, by its very nature, relational, and Vincent and his team have invested in their relationships with vendors as well. And it has paid off.
“When the initial pandemic began, it was very heartwarming when our Chinese counterparts called us – not concerning business but just to ask how we were. They’ve been sending us face masks and asking us if we need herbal medicines. They really care and are concerned for us.”
It was these relationships that enabled Pensonic to really thrive during the pandemic, and now that Malaysia has left lockdown, Vincent is keen to ensure the lessons he’s learned stay with him.
“I would say that over the last year, what we learned is to keep things simple. Don’t complicate things,” he says.
Pensonic has spent a lot of time simplifying, restructuring and merging businesses and reorganising their workforce. Looking to the future, Vincent believes that this makes it easier to be on guard for, and react to, unprecedented events that can affect business.
When times are good, we tend to relax, but we should remain cautious and keep our minds clear and alert.
“When times are good, we tend to relax, but we should remain cautious and keep our minds clear and alert. We make decisions in easy times, for example, that we would act on differently when things like pandemics hit, but we need to prepare for the worst-case scenario.”
Complacency is dangerous to business, Vincent explains. But being able to pivot in times of crisis makes a business more likely to survive. One small example Vincent gives is the introduction of WhatsApp video calls for service repairs. When his service teams couldn’t visit customers face-to-face, they began using the smartphone app in order to carry out minor repairs that customers could do on their own. This minor change has stayed with Pensonic since lockdowns eased. Not only has it eased workloads, it has also improved the customer experience by simplifying the service process.
Pensonic is the perfect example of the refrain ‘less is more’ come to life. As for plans for the future, Vincent is coy. “I believe, as leaders, we must have a very clear direction,” he smiles. “And I believe in the future.”