He did not have it easy. However, the hardships he went through during his early days shaped the person he is today; one who is hardworking, gutsy and humane. His career started in the field of accountancy. His early involvement in the chemical industry was as a financial manager. Today, he can hold his head high for how far he has made it in his entrepreneurial journey. In a recent interview with Top 10 of Malaysia, Jerry Looi, the Founder and CEO of Asta Chemicals Sdn Bhd talks about his journey up the ladder of success.
Growing up as the eldest child in a family whose main source of income came from tapping rubber, life was indeed tough for Jerry Looi. “I learnt very quickly that if you want something, you need to go get it. No one is going to hand it to you on a platter,” says Looi. He knew education was the key to turn the situation around and he studied hard and worked his way through. Eventually, he became a Certified Public Accountant. Looi has had a diverse career path. However, his true calling lies within the chemical industry.
The Perak-born joined Borden Chemicals (as it was known before its current name, Hexion Specialty Chemicals) in 1993 as its financial controller for the Malaysian operations. Several years later, he was promoted to be the Asia Pacific Controller of Finance and subsequently went on to become the Managing Director. Looi was also sitting on Hexion’s Global Council for its worldwide Forest Products operations where he was responsible for the operations in South East Asia and China.
After gaining over 20 years’ of experience in the industry, Looi knew he was ready to strive for greater heights. He successfully performed a management buyout of the Malaysian company and also bought over the existing two factories which are located in Penang and Pahang. “It was a gutsy move,” he admits. However, it was a risk worth taking. The company is now known as Asta Chemicals Sdn Bhd or ASTAChem for short.
When asked about how the name, ASTAChem was formed, Looi explains that ASTA is an abbreviation they coined for “Adhesive Superior Technology Authority”. Although, he did mention that he first encountered the term in the electrical world whereby ASTA is a type of certification for electrical goods that indicates high-quality products – a characteristic he wants his company to be associated with.
Besides the company’s core business of manufacturing synthetic resin and adhesives for wood-based industries, it also produces other types of chemicals and binders. “Our factories also carry out toll manufacturing of specialty chemicals for MNCs and provide storage tanks for handling and storing of bulk chemicals,” says Looi. Not only is ASTAChem concerned about the quality of its goods and the excellent services it renders, it is also a company that cares for the environment. “As part of our green efforts, we revamped and commissioned a new formaldehyde plant that is energy efficient in 2014,” reveals Looi. The company was awarded the ‘My Carbon Newcomer Award’ by the Ministry of Environment & Resources.
Being the visionary leader that he is, Looi always has a 5-year plan. His current plan targets business diversification in order to move the company forward using a sustainable strategy. “Although we are one of the market leaders in our business, we must continue to remain focus on keeping and upholding this position.”
The compassionate 59-year-old visionary has this to say when asked on what drives him to continue doing what he does: “The thought that I am responsible for the well-being of all our employees’ welfare and those of their dependents.”
Despite the trials and tribulations that he faced earlier, Looi rose above the challenges. “Never give up. We learn from our failures and mistakes. Focus on the task at hand,” he advises. He also believes in the importance of passion and learning from the best. “Success is a lot of hard work and planning. It doesn’t happen accidentally,” he adds.