Susan Wang of Formosa Plastics Group
Doing Useful Deeds, Saying Useful Things
Susan Wang attributes her company's success to a good system and clear organization. How does she view the group's distinctive corporate culture?
Doing Useful Deeds, Saying Useful ThingsBy Sheree Chuang, Ching-Hsuan Huang
From CommonWealth Magazine (vol. 392 )
It's early March and the skies have cleared after a giant dust cloud from China has drifted away. Susan Wang and her husband Dr. John Ding-E Young, chairman of Chang Gung Biotechnology Corporation, are chatting animatedly as they eat lunch on the 13th floor of the Formosa Plastics Group (FPG) headquarters in Taipei.
Wang is known for keeping an extremely low profile. But when talking about the corporate spirit behind FPG, she easily loses her shyness, presenting things in an articulate and logical way.
Wang, who went to school in the United States from 13 years on, used to write a letter one or two pages in length to her father every week. Each time, she received a lengthy response of six or seven pages. Wang thinks she owes her meticulous attention to detail to her father's tireless admonitions.
Susan Wang jogs every day, unless she is on a trip overseas. She runs with discipline for some 20 minutes every morning, then does half an hour of calisthenics. In the evenings she meditates. During her working day, these habits help her to handle stress, be more focused and have greater perseverance. "Running is the best way to relieve stress. I am so used to running that I feel uncomfortable if I don't run," the slender Wang notes.
Wang recalls that her father often said, "Throughout life, a person should do useful deeds and say useful things."
As the FPG building is bathed in sunlight, Wang points to 'organizational clarity' as the defining feature of her company.
Some office lights at the headquarters still shine brightly into the darkness at 8 p.m. or 9 p.m.
"We all have both feet on the ground, we are very diligent. This has to do with our corporate organization and corporate culture. We always keep searching for a solution," Wang explains.
Why does FPG have such a corporate culture?
"The chairman is like this and the people under him are all that way. There's a good system, and the organization is clear. The system is the law, and everyone respects the law in doing their jobs," Wang says.
At FPG organizational clarity means that the capabilities, responsibilities and targets of each department are very clear. The group is a quantifiable, transparent enterprise. As a result accounts are settled within a day. If a month ends on the 31st, it will be known in the early morning of the 1st of the next month how much the company made the month before.
Once a system has been well established with strict, impartial internal controls, then work can be done clearly and transparently. Wang cites as an example the company's procurement cycle: If FPG receives an order for the production of 100 units of a product, the raw materials for 100 units will be subtracted from inventory. If the company had raw materials on inventory for 1,000 units in the first place, raw materials for 900 units will remain. At this point a purchase order is called for. When the purchase order has been issued, it will be directly sent to the company's procurement department, which will ask for price quotations or directly send a confirmed purchase order to the supplier. After the supplier has delivered the goods to FPG, the delivery needs to be matched with the original order.
Since the entire procurement cycle has been computerized, the staff has more time to think about other matters. "There is too much to do ?V how to constantly move forward with R&D, how to lower costs," says Wang.
For example, over the past few years FPG has been able to reduce water consumption per ton of productive capacity by 30 percent. Energy consumption has also dropped by 20 percent. For FPG there is no end to striving for improvement unless you reach perfection. If new, better technologies are introduced, Formosa Plastics adapts itself to them.
Considering Others, Society
After finishing her economics studies at Columbia University, Wang remained in the United States and worked for Formosa Plastic's US subsidiary for many years before returning to Taiwan seven years ago. Almost two years ago, when the founding generation began to relinquish their positions at FPG, Wang, now 48, joined a seven-member executive board as its vice chairperson. The executive board, which also includes Susan's cousin William Wong, now collectively leads the Formosa Plastics Group. Wang is calm and reserved, but nonetheless asks a lot from her subordinates, holding them to strict standards.
In recent years Wang and her husband have been practicing Buddhism, exercising, and meditating together daily. When talking about having reached her stage in life, Wang says, "Let go and take things easy, and then you're almost there."
'Life in this world is not easy, so you should contribute a bit to society,' Wang believes. "We wouldn't exist without society. There couldn't be a Formosa Plastics. We can only produce these things thanks to the mutual assistance of everybody. So we need to ask ourselves how we can help society a little."
"So you need to let go and keep preoccupation with yourself to a minimum. As much as possible, you should consider others, and society. We teach our children the same, telling them that it doesn't matter what you do as long as do something that helps the common good. You need to put yourself last," says Wang, a mother of a daughter and two sons.
Wang's father preferred to keep a low profile about his charitable activities. He felt that engaging in charity is more important than talking about it. But Susan Wang believes that in today's society there is a need to communicate such endeavors to the outside world. "In particular, a large corporation like ours must make the outside world feel that it fulfills its social responsibility. Everyone is looking at you, so you need to be a model enterprise. I feel we need to let the public understand what we do."
Sustainability Top Concern
FPG employs about 100,000 around the globe. If each employee has a family of four, FPG directly impacts the lives of 400,000 people, and many more if extended families are included. Therefore, Wang believes, "The most important thing is how to make the enterprise sustainable and how do to a good job."
The No. 1 task in making an enterprise sustainable is establishing fairness within its organization. Wang asserts that sustainability requires competitiveness and room for staff to realize their potential. 'An enterprise is a small society. With a fair and excellent system, everyone will follow suit.'
Secondly, a company does not fulfill its social responsibility simply by providing jobs. When a young person joins the company, he or she is like a blank sheet of paper. That means FPG also bears responsibility for turning these newcomers into respectable people by providing a good system and a good example.
Thirdly, there can be no doubt that a company needs to look after the environment and safety. Wang points out that FPG recycles kitchen waste, because dumping it in landfills would pollute the groundwater, whereas its incineration would waste energy. After all, kitchen waste is a recyclable resource.
"Throughout life, a person should do useful deeds and say useful things." To this day, Wang still clearly remembers her father's life tenet, which has also become part of herself.
Translated from the Chinese by Susanne Ganz