Dato’ Alvin Lim Theng Hooi
Executive Chairman, Arita Plastics Industries (M) Sdn Bhd
Bold, brave and visionary best describes Dato’ Alvin Lim whose contributions to the manufacturing industry in Malaysia hasearned him pioneer status. ELEANOR LOPEZ speaks to this flamboyant yet unassuming personality about his career, company and contributions to society.
“It was fated,” explains Dato’ Alvin Lim when asked about his career in the plastic manufacturing and trading industry. “I was supposed to go overseas to further my studies but my father changed his mind. He wanted me to continue with his business.” It will never be known if it was paternal instinct or a premonition of some kind that prompted this sudden change of heart, but two years after Lim joined the company his father passed away. As the only and eldest son, the responsibility of providing for his mother and three younger sisters landed firmly on his 20-year old shoulders.
“My father was involved in many different industrial businesses including plastic trading. He had asked me to choose which I thought was most suitable for myself. So that’s how I got started in the business. This was in 1978 and all my friends had left Penang for the UK, Australia and Europe. Although I was upset I couldn’t join them, I promised myself to achieve my goal of owning my own home, my own car and my own career before they returned in four years, “ he remembers.
It was a goal he achieved through hard work and the support of friends. “I was very lucky as many of my father’s friends and business associates, even in Singapore, came forward to help me. This helped me expand my network further and from that I ventured into trading.”
Twelve years later, Lim would be setting up his own trading company with a group of friends but it was also important for him to build up his own brand. In 1993 he joined forces with ACME a public listed company in Singapore to set up Arita Plastics Industries (M) Sdn Bhd. Starting out on his own, the business was pretty much a one-man show until his wife Datin Peggy who was working for a multinational company at that time, decided to help him out. “That was how we met actually,” she smiles at the recollection. “He was doing everything on his own – the accounts, delivery, clerical, everything! He was very hardworking so I thought “why not” and joined him as his very first General Clerk.”
Growing the business from the ground up was a challenge that would soon take root and flourish. Taking heed of then Prime Minister of Malaysia, Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s ‘look east’ policy, Lim approached the most prominent pioneer in Japan’s manufacturing industry, Asahi Kosei to be his original equipment manufacturer (OEM) partner.
“This was my vision – to always keep up with the ‘big brothers’ in the market such as Japan and Taiwan. At that time, Malaysia was still behind by 10 years. In my business I was selling products by brands from Taiwan, Japan and Korea. My father had once told me that if I wanted to be a pioneer in this industry, I would have to create my own products.”
But Lim did not rely solely on emulating the eastern business modal. Demonstrating a competitive edge, he also approached a top US based chemical company. “I explained to them that the Asia Pacific region was a growing market, offered to be the OEM partner for them.” Through his exposure to both manufacturing worlds he was able to identify the different approaches, combining the two technologies to create his own.
“Now I am one of the pioneers in the Extruded Plastic Sheet technology in Malaysia,” he states with deserving pride. It is a claim validated by the many awards and recognitions his company Arita Plastics Industries (M) Sdn Bhd, has received over the years – the most recent one being the Pinnacle International Excellence (PIE) Award 2014 for Manufacturing. The national level trophy is awarded to Malaysian organisations that have established their brand within the country and are respected as leading names in their industries.
It is an admirable feat considering Lim did not have the opportunity to gain academic knowledge in the field. “I’m not a technical guy,” he admits. “I’m a marketer. I love to talk and communicate with other people. That’s why I have many friends.”
And it is this pool of friends that he calls on to support his charitable efforts, one of them being the Joyful Penang Concert which raises funds for charity and non-governmental organisations. The 3-hour concert with a twist is the brainchild of Lim, who was inspired by a friend’s suggestion that he organise one for charity. “Instead of celebrity performers, we approach all the ministers, Datuks and Datins, the rich and famous to perform in this concert; singing, part of the band and acting to raise funds for charities. In 2011, our first year we raised more than RM550,000!” he claims proudly. “It’s not easy to get everyone together especially the ministers and CEOs, but they are all equally committed and we start weekly rehearsals at least 3 months ahead.”
The concert was such a success that it made headlines in the local news. Whilst talking about his philanthropic projects, he becomes more animated and eager, pulling out photos of previous events from his mobile phone. It is clear that these activities are very close to his heart. He is also responsible for organising the biggest food fair in Penang, the Harmony Charity Food Fair, which is endorsed by the state government. “I’ve been the Organising Chairman for more than seven years and every year we raise more than RM200,000 which is divided between 20 beneficiaries including old folks homes, orphanages and the Red Crescent Penang.”
There is no doubt that these extra activities make Lim even more of a busy man but he doesn’t see it as an additional burden. ”This is something we have to do. It is not work, it is helping people and contributing to their welfare.”