Self-made entrepreneur Tan Sri Dr Lim Wee Chai sets his eyes on unlocking the secret to longevity as he aims to make his rubber gloves company a Fortune 500 enterprise by 2040.
While immortality may still be in the realm of science fiction and Greek mythology, significant advances in science and technology have made living beyond 100 years surprisingly possible.
Today, the average life expectancy in Malaysia is around 76 years old but Tan Sri Dr Lim Wee Chai is adamant that he wants to live and work to the ripe old age of 120. And he says this without batting an eyelid. He looks you straight in your eyes with a steely conviction that he has every intention to achieve longevity and live well beyond average life expectancies.
After acquiring a distressed factory in 1991, Tan Sri Dr Lim started Top Glove with just a single production line.
Tan Sri Dr Lim has already amassed great wealth. In 1991, he took over a distressed factory to start a rubber producing business together with his wife, Puan Sri Tong Siew Bee, and built it into the world’s largest manufacturer of rubber gloves. Top Glove Corporation Berhad is part of a rare breed of Malaysian companies valued at US$3.5 billion which makes its founder and executive chairman a billionaire. According to Forbes, Tan Sri Dr Lim is among the 50th wealthiest in Malaysia with a net worth of over US$1.4 billion.
Currently aged 60 years, Tan Sri Dr Lim was born and raised in a village called Titi in Negri Sembilan, where his family owned a small rubber plantation and was involved in the rubber trading business. He grew up helping his family tend to their rubber plantation after school and during school holidays. But while the precocious youth could have eked out a simple but comfortable existence in a quaint village, he had harboured greater ambitions of being a pilot, a medical doctor or an entrepreneur.
He met his school sweetheart Tong Siew Bee when they both studied for their A- level examinations. Thereafter, he pursued a tertiary education and graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Physics from the University of Malaya in 1982. After graduation, he worked as an air-conditioner sales manager for two years and toiled under a tough and demanding boss who taught him the virtues of resilience and hard work.
At age 26, he decided to tie the knot with Swee Bee. Both decided to further their education together overseas by enlisting for an MBA course at Sul Ross State University in Texas, USA. “It was the cheapest MBA course we could find offered by a university we could afford at that time,” he reveals candidly.
Both returned from studies just before a full blown global financial crisis hit in 1987.
In a financially reeling world, jobs were scarce and people were being retrenched. Tan Sri Dr Lim decided to heed his former boss’ open invitation to return to selling air-conditioners as he was previously a top performing salesman.
After continuing for a few more years working for the air-conditioning company and a glove making enterprise, destiny called when a distressed glove making factory underwent a fire sale. Scrapping together their entire savings, Tan Sri Dr Lim and his wife bought a majority stake in the struggling factory for RM180,000 to start Top Glove. They foresaw a greater emphasis on healthcare which would result in an increased demand for medical gloves.
Top Glove began with one factory, a single production line and 100 employees. Tan Sri Dr Lim and his wife acquired 80% of the factory while the owner chose to retain 20% in shares in Top Glove rather than be paid in cash. On hindsight, that turned out to be a shrewd decision on the part of the seller as his shares in Top Glove are now worth over RM180 million.
As with any fledgling enterprise, striking out was difficult. Much time and hard work was required to gain the confidence and trust of customers, suppliers and banks. Other teething problems included a lack of technical know-how and ongoing issues such as rising operational costs. This was in addition to volatile foreign exchange rates and the challenge of being able to hire good staff, skilled and semi-skilled workers.
Tan Sri Dr Lim recalled, “We kept learning and improving in terms of quality and efficiency, while finding creative ways to deal with arising issues.” He credited his wife for being his pillar of strength, a reliable partner and an inspiration as co-founder of Top Glove. Puan Sri Tong, who has a degree in computer science headed the IT department and remains a director at the company.
Leaps And Bounds
From its humble beginnings, Top Glove has grown by leaps and bounds to 40 factories today in Malaysia, Thailand and China. Together, they produce a staggering 6.5 billion rubber gloves a year – making Top Glove the world’s largest producer of rubber gloves. The company now has 648 production lines, 17,000 employees and a 25% global market share. Top Glove is public listed in both the stock exchanges in Malaysia and Singapore.
By 2020, Top Glove seeks to expand its global market share to 30% via organic growth, joint ventures and mergers and acquisitions. The company is also diversifying into other related healthcare products and has added exercise bands and dental dams into their product mix. It aspires to be a Fortune Global 500 company by 2040.
With the same discipline, resourcefulness and verve it takes to run a sprawling global enterprise, Tan Sri Dr Lim takes his personal health, leisure and that of his employees very seriously.
While he has set his personal target to live to 120 years, Tan Sri Dr Lim wants to help his employees become centenarians as well. He sets about doing this with dogged determination, structure and self-discipline. His roadmap for longevity is encapsulated in his doctrine called the ‘Five Wells’ of Cleaning Well (personal hygiene), Eating Well (nutrition and moderate meals), Working Well (being proactive, and working smart to avoid being under or over-stressed), Exercising Well (minimum of 20-30 minutes daily, four to five
times a week) and Sleeping Well (at least seven to eight hours nightly).
All new hires are given a dental kit with toothpaste, toothbrush, dental floss and even a tongue cleaner so that they can maintain good oral hygiene. He hires five nutritionists, two doctors and a dentist to care for his employees and to recommend balanced, quality meals so that they ’Eat Well’.
The personal schedule for Tan Sri Dr Lim is structured with military precision and he keeps to the timing and routine religiously. Two timekeepers are his personal assistants who ensure he adheres to specific times for meals, twice daily exercises, golf and badminton sessions twice a week and yoga practice every Sunday. He wakes up at 7.30am sharp and is punctual to bed at midnight.
Tan Sri Dr Lim makes it a point to fit exercise into his busy schedule and encourages his staff to lead a healthy lifestyle as well.
Vegetarian And Organic Food
He is particularly strict on his diet, and recently switched to a full vegetarian diet with a preference for organic produce. Prior to this, his diet was already predominantly vegetarian. He avoids fish as he believes that most fish being served at restaurants and sold at supermarkets are commercially farmed and likely fed with chemically engineered growth hormone pellets.
He likens one’s body to a ’smart factory’ that produces millions of cells for the brain, blood, heart and stomach. “We must make time for the body to produce cells and that means a minimum of seven to eight hours of continuous sleep nightly. And the food we ingest are the raw materials. If you feed your body with bad nutrients, there is a danger of producing bad cells and you can become ill or suffer some dreaded disease. Therefore, eating healthy meals and ingredients are important. Ignoring one’s health can mean a shortening of one’s life expectancy by as many as 10 to 20 years.”
To Tan Sri Dr Lim, keeping fit and healthy are powerful drivers for his overall well-being. “You cannot buy more time but you can certainly add more years to your life.”
Tan Sri Dr Lim and his wife, Puan Sri Tong (fourth from right) at the gong-hitting ceremony to celebrate the listing of Top Glove on SGX.
Work As Hobby
Apart from keeping one’s body and mind healthy and taking the right nutrition, Tan Sri Dr Lim says it is just as important to engage in one’s interests and passion by adopting a ‘good hobby’. He shares, “Most hobbies cost money or worse, can be a drain on your reserves, like gambling or other undesirable addictions. Some like to drink and entertain. Others may like to smoke or race in fancy cars or indulge in collecting expensive watches clothes or designer handbags.”
To Tan Sri Dr Lim, he enjoys his work so much that he regards work as a hobby. “My best hobby is my work and I can enjoy it every day yet at the same time my hobby also generates strong income.” Not surprisingly his mantra goes like this, “Work is my Hobby, Exercise is my Duty, Health is my Wealth.”
He explains, “These are words I live by and I encourage my colleagues and business associates to adopt this as their personal motto as well. I am able to work seven days a week because I like my work to the extent that it no longer feels like work. It feels like a hobby. Exercise is my duty and it underscores my commitment to staying healthy. I intend to live till I am at least 120 years old and work till I am 120 or for as long as I am still able to contribute positively. Therefore, I need to ensure my body is fit enough to do so. Even with my busy schedule, I must slot in exercise and sports as part of my daily routine.”
“Health is my wealth illustrates the importance of health to me. If I am sick, I will not be able to work or contribute positively to my company or my family. Instead, I will become a liability.”
Tan Sri Dr Lim shares that he lives by the mantra: “Work is my Hobby, Exercise is my Duty, Health is my Wealth”.
They Are All My Children
With no plans to retire anytime soon, Tan Sri Dr Lim perceives himself as a paternal figure describing his employees as “children of the company”. His son, 32-year-old Jin Feng, works in human resource and previously had stints in marketing and manufacturing; while his 24-year-old daughter Ping Jun is cutting her teeth at the country’s national sovereign fund, Khazanah Nasional.
“We practice an open and transparent system based on principles of meritocracy and equal opportunity. Even my children have to earn their place. All staff are groomed to bring out their best for the company, and only the best of the best should manage the company,” he says.
Tan Sri Dr Lim views success as a journey that involves having the ability to attain a healthy life and yet be able to work; and to manage a business well, without having to sacrifice quality time with family, colleagues and friends.
His advice to entrepreneurs and business owners is to ensure they focus on their health and conduct business with honesty, integrity, and transparency, in order to continue contributing positively to their company, family and country. “I encourage them to stay positive, motivated and determined towards achieving their goals.”
Located at the heart of Shah Alam, the Top Glove Tower is an impressive 23-storey building.
This article was first printed in MillionaireAsia Issue 50 - Dec 2018