09 Feb, 2023 / BY Jessica Plank

Interview with one of ESCATEC’s longest-serving employees: SY Wong

“If I did it, why not you?” SY Wong’s motto perfectly sums up her character—humble yet strong-willed.  

In her almost forty years of experience in a male-dominated industry, she has literally seen it all. Starting on the factory floor, SY Wong diligently learned the nuts and bolts of her trade. Management recognised her skill and promoted her. This pattern constantly repeated itself—she has held eight different positions since 1984, rising from operator to manager.

In a short interview with SY Wong, she proved to be an inspiration not only for women but anyone wanting to succeed in manufacturing.  

How did you start your journey into electronics manufacturing? 

I had just finished my exams at school and was waiting for the results when a friend told me about a job in a company he was working at. Manufacturing in Malaysia really started to grow in the 1980s as the country transitioned from an agricultural to an industrial economy, and I saw it as an exciting opportunity—for both me and my country. Growing up, I had always been interested in engineering and making things.

So I applied and got the job, starting on the factory floor as an operator. I loved working on the foundations of the company as it gave me an intricate understanding of how the company worked. If you want to really understand a book, you have to start at the beginning.

I worked as an operator for six years but always tried to find continuous learning and improvement opportunities. 

How long have you been working at ESCATEC?

I have been working at ESCATEC for 38 years and 19 days. The fact I know the exact length of time shows you how much I enjoy working in the company.

What positions have you held during your career?

After working as an operator, I was promoted to line leader, managing a team for the first time. The change was challenging, but I understood the team and their problems, so I earned their respect. That's one thing I have learnt throughout my career—respect is the only way to truly be a good manager. And you only earn respect through understanding and interacting with your team. I'm a very hands-on leader; although I was managing the team, I loved going to the line to see what was happening.

Before I became a supervisor, I studied supervisor skills training. For me, the most rewarding part of the training was when I was sent to Denmark to learn at a customer’s facility. I learnt how to become a better leader through implementing strategic development thinking, planning, and management. 

I was promoted once again to operations support and then I completed an MBA in 2012, which was awarded by the University of Sunderland from the UK. It was really intense but very rewarding. Understanding the academic theory behind some of the processes was fascinating, and I was subsequently appointed production manager in 2013. 

These jobs were fascinating for me, and they gave me the chance to develop and learn constantly. Of course, there were times when I was seriously challenged, but the fact that I had worked my way up from the factory floor always helped me.

In 2019, I was redesignated as a special project manager, in charge of managing the whole factory’s ‘continuous improvement’. At this time, I started implementing the Kaizen, ESCATIP, and 5S + 1 projects. This is a continuous challenge, and I continue to nurture the culture today by organising events focused on improving specific areas of the company.

I have been promoted eight times during my career. I started on the factory floor and now manage ‘continuous improvement’ for the factory. I am incredibly proud of what I have accomplished — and thankful that ESCATEC has always supported me.

What challenge are you currently working on?

I have recently been tasked by the general manager to focus on a project to reduce non-conformance costs at ESCATEC Penang. I need to improve my supply chain management knowledge and will have to undertake a 6 Sigma training programme, so I can fully understand the entire supply chain operations and achieve the project targets. 

What has been the high point in your career so far? 

Becoming a production manager was a huge moment in my career. I was responsible for the factory's technical management, supervision, and control of industrial production processes—and the first woman to hold this position.

I managed to make customers very happy and this was recognised by the senior management. Our chairman’s approach is to always recognise dedication and effort.

Another high point came, ironically, during the Covid-19 pandemic. ESCATEC went through the same as every other EMS provider—our demand increased by over 300%. We were swamped, but our loyalty to our customers drove us to find solutions. I led an automation project that helped to ease the pressure. It ensured our customers received their orders as scheduled at a time when many operators were not able to report for work due to the pandemic.  

The automation project saved the company money and made our process more efficient. I thrive on experiences like that, and it's thanks to the incredible team we have at ESCATEC at all levels—from the newest worker on the factory floor to the CEO.  

What do you wake up looking forward to?

It sounds unusual, but what really motivates me is putting out fires—not literally, of course. I thrive on helping colleagues and various departments identify and resolve their problems. 

In my 38 years at ESCATEC, I have studied and learnt manufacturing—you could say it’s in my blood. So when something is not going well, I try to draw on my experience to find solutions that help to improve the business in the long run. 

But there doesn't have to be an ongoing problem for me to be motivated every day; I strive to make improvements, even marginal ones, to my team and my company.

What is the most challenging part of working in manufacturing as a woman?

I think that, sometimes, men can get frustrated when things are going wrong. Women, on the other hand, tend to be calmer in a crisis and think things through.

Also, throughout my career, I have had to learn how to manage all sorts of challenging personalities—both subordinates and superiors. The key to getting on with people is to understand them. If you get where they are coming from, you can empathise with them and see the world from their point of view. 

Working with different people is a challenge, but I believe that, at this stage of my career, I can work with anyone. While some people in the past have perceived my being a woman as a weakness, I believe it is a strength. 

What advice do you have for women interested in manufacturing or engineering? 

I think the advice for women is the same advice I would give anyone: listen, learn, and leverage.

Listen to everyone, regardless of their background or position. That doesn’t mean you have to take everyone’s advice, but everyone has something valuable to contribute.

Learn from the processes within the business as well as the people around you. 

Leverage your relationships with people: at work, outside work, and even online networks. 

What would you say to an operator who is unsure about whether to join ESCATEC? 

If I did it, why not you? I started in this position and slowly but steadily worked my way up. So there is absolutely no reason that anyone else cannot do the same.

I would like people to see me as a positive role model—to show there is a real opportunity to grow and develop - if of course, people want that, not everyone does and that's fine too. I like to think of all our operators as our foundations. Without operators, the business would have no support structure.

Starting as an operator is a privilege as it gives you insight into how the production line works and the problems people face. As I always say, if you want to understand a book, start at the beginning, not the end.

Finally, what would you be doing if you weren’t working at ESCATEC?

ESCATEC has been such a significant part of my life for so long that I have never even thought of working elsewhere. However, I do like the idea of setting up a consultancy or training academy when I am older so I can share my four decades of experience and knowledge with the younger generation.An executive guide to outsourcing your electronics manufacturing

Written by Jessica Plank

Based in Switzerland, Jessica holds a Bachelor's degree in Business Administration and has day-to-day responsibility for strategic marketing tactics including blog management, social media marketing, e-mail marketing, and European event management. Jessica’s dedication to maintaining a strong online presence has significantly contributed to the success of ESCATEC's marketing initiatives since she joined the team in 2021.