The bread and butter that feeds a nation

For some, referring to the family’s bread and butter is merely a turn of phrase, but for Faculty of Business and Economics (FBE) alumna Wendy Yap, the meaning is literal. Taking the helm of her family’s US based real estate business at the tender age of 20, she met the challenge head on, fully aware that her lineage did not equate to guaranteed success. This persistence for continued innovation and drive, combined with practical experience and formal education, has underpinned the powerful businesswoman’s enduring success. Rising to the economic challenges of the nineties and the needs of the nation, Yap went on to create a household name in Sari Roti—PT Nippon Indosari Corpindo Tbk (sariroti.com)—now the largest massmarket producer of Japanese-style breads in Asia, excluding Japan.

Joo Chiat Road (Singapore), Stanley Street (Hong Kong), Jalan Alor (Kuala Lumpur); a short stroll down any of these streets means you would have walked past a dozen family-owned-and-run businesses. Professor Dean Xu from the Department of Management and Marketing, FBE, tells me that casual empiricism suggests that the majority of
firms in the world are family businesses, and the percentage should be higher in Asia than the world average. Many don't generate millions in profits—not even hundreds of thousands—but there are some that do.

So, what have the giants of the industry done to stand head and shoulders above the
rest? How have modern management practices brought these companies into the business spotlight?

Professor Xu underscores the need for education in the current climate, and is excited about what education means for the future of business in Asia, where many of the firstgeneration entrepreneurs acquired business acumen from practical applications rather than through education and theory-based learning. By contrast, many of their children now have degrees in Business and Management.

They will be a new generation of business leaders that are very different from their parents, says Xu.

Named one of the most powerful businesswomen in Asia by Forbes, Wendy Yap (BCom 1976), President and Chief Executive Officer of PT Nippon Indosari Corpindo Tbk (Sari Roti) is one such business leader changing the face of Asian family business.

"Although my father was my role model in business, I was able to use the knowledge acquired from my undergraduate studies in the Faculty of Business and Economics," Yap recalls fondly. This knowledge later became a strong foundation for problem-solving, and decision-making in developing and growing the family business.

In Indonesia, Sari Roti produces over 4.2 million pieces of bread daily in their 10 factories, with 56,000 points of sale. This equates to a 90% market share of the mass-produced bread industry in Indonesia. Since production began in 1997, the company has enjoyed healthy growth, not only surviving, but expanding during the Asian financial crisis of the late 1990s. The company has been publicly listed since 2010, and continues to grow at an annual rate of about 30% in sales.

Sari Roti evolved from Bogasari—the world's largest single-location flourmill, co-founded by Yap's father, Piet Yap—in the early 1990s, to become a household name in Indonesia. With the Asian financial crisis of 1998, demonstrations were rife, and supermarkets were unable to stock their shelves with consistent food supplies. People needed something they could eat on the run, as well as a product that was hygienic and had a healthy shelf life. Sari Roti's soft, Japanesestyle bread products became a winner.

Resolute commitment to the food manufacturing process to meet consumer needs has been vital to the company's early and continued success. Sari Roti ensures that all their products are vacuum-sealed and handled with minimal human contact, allowing them to last for up to five days in their plastic sleeves. Yap's eagerness to adopt new technology has been crucial in helping the company expand rapidly. Meeting demands for bread for 250 million people is no mean feat and using automated systems very quickly became de rigeuer.

"Growth strategy is something I'm constantly thinking about," says Yap. She also highlights the importance of aligning growth with quality control, particularly in manufacturing processes. [It is] important to find skilled labour to ensure the automation process works.

Yap believes in sound corporate governance and cultivating a culture of teamwork and workplace loyalty.

"I have always had a very good team and they have been very loyal, so we have had little labour turnovers in management. I practice good corporate governance and everything has to be very transparent," explains Yap. 

"As the organisation gets bigger, it's important to maintain open communication channels and to keep everyone in the loop. However, with email, the internet, mobile phones, and new communication technologies, it is easier to communicate with managers in remote regions.

"I tell my staff that we need to have teamwork because it allows us to have better control and implement our strategies and policies across the entire organisation more effectively."

To help cultivate this important team work environment, Yap ensures the entire team celebrates record sales achievements, to reward their role in the process, and to inspire everyone to look forward to the next challenge as a single team with a common purpose.