How Can UPS Support Malaysian SMEs To Expand Their Operations?

Chika Imakita

In an exclusive interview with BusinessToday, Chika Imakita, Managing Director for UPS Singapore and Malaysia, shares her thoughts on how UPS supports Malaysia’s SME growth and what it is like being a female in a male-dominated industry.

1. What is Chika’s vision of driving Malaysian SMEs to growth?

  • The pandemic has been a huge challenge for businesses of all sizes all over the world, but especially for small businesses who generally work with smaller teams and fewer resources
  • However, the challenges of the pandemic have also presented SMEs with opportunities, particularly because of the pandemic-induced growth in cross-border e-commerce
  • We also appreciate that shipping internationally can seem complicated, daunting and expensive for small business owners, but we’re here to show that isn’t the case
  • When a small business chooses to partner with UPS, they instantly access a smart logistics network that extends to 220 countries and territories worldwide. We have a fully integrated air, ground, and ocean transportation network and over 80 years of customs brokerage experience. We have a full suite of products, services and solutions and hundreds of thousands of people around the world dedicated to solving our customers’ problems and breaking down any perceived barriers to entry
  • The Asia Pacific region is really the beating heart of global trade and at UPS, we’re particularly excited about the potential for increased intra-Asia trade powered by progressive trade agreements such as the recently implemented RCEP
  • SMEs represent 97.2% of all businesses in Malaysia. They are the backbone of the local economy, accounting for 38.2% of national GDP, or RM512.8 billion
  • I believe in, and feel optimistic about, the opportunity for Malaysian business owners and SMEs to further explore sectors such as cross-border e-commerce and intra-Asian trade to expand their business operations and diversify their offerings
  • In keeping with our ‘Customer-First’ strategy, we look forward to assisting SMEs, in recognizing and capitalising on these opportunities

2. How does it feel to be a woman in a male-dominated industry?

  • In 1999, I began my career with UPS as an intern at the company’s headquarters in Atlanta and both I and the company have experienced a lot in the years since
  • After more than two decades with UPS, I can attest that the company’s principles are built on equality and inclusion, with an emphasis on programs to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion in a variety of roles within the organisation
  • This emphasis is clear within our Board of Directors – of the 13 members, six are women, including our CEO Carol Tomé. The APAC region is also helmed by a female president, Michelle Ho. Moving forward, our targets include having women hold 28% of full-time management jobs globally by this year—in fact, I’m glad to announce we’ve already surpassed that goal in APAC, where women hold 45% of management positions
  • UPS has been concentrating on creating an inclusive culture that boosts morale and possibilities, encouraging and supporting one another to achieve higher heights without fear of prejudice
  • Our efforts to empower women extend beyond the communities and customers we serve. UPS, for example, gives resources and expertise to empowering women through the UPS Women Exporters Program.
    • The Women Exporters Program (WEP) aims to help address the disparity in education and workforce participation between men and women by providing targeted assistance to women-owned small and medium-sized businesses (SMB) worldwide
    • To date, WEP has trained nearly 17,000 women and small business owners around the world

3. What challenges did Chika overcome to be where she is today?

  • Development at UPS is as much about seeking out and capturing opportunities as overcoming challenges
  • As I mentioned I started as an intern in the company headquarters in Atlanta, USA. When there was an opportunity for me to take up a special assignment in Singapore, I didn’t think twice about accepting the opportunity to learn another aspect of the business. When the Japan marketing manager position became open, I did the same.
  • After my time as region marketing director, I was ready to try something new, and that’s why I’m so excited to have taken on the role of managing director of UPS Singapore and Malaysia. It’s not always easy to leave a role and a function that you’ve been in for over 20 years, but I’m enjoying it already and looking forward to many years of growth and success for both UPS and our customers.
  • None of my career defining moves have happened without the support from internal stakeholders who mentored and coached me along the way. It’s important to nurture those relationships not only to get things done, but for the long-term career development and most importantly, friendship. No one can overcome the challenges alone.
  • I’m also proud to say that UPS walks the talk when it comes to offering equal opportunities to all its people
  • Throughout my career I focused not only on getting the results but to develop people who I have an opportunity to work with. This remains to be my primary focus as I lead UPS Singapore and Malaysia to the next level 

4. What are UPS’s proprietary solutions to reduce costs, improve efficiency, and expedite cross-border operations for Malaysian SMEs?

  • We have solutions to meet the varying needs of customers at every point in the supply chain and throughout the customer journey
  • For example, at the very beginning when businesses are starting the shipping process on ups.com, the platform uses artificial intelligence to learn the shipping patterns of individual customers. One of the main reasons shipments get stuck at customs is because there are issues with how paperwork has been filled in. UPS’s AI-powered shipping platform, for example, recommends and remember the appropriate product classification (HS code) which minimises the risk of delays
  • Then there’s tracking – we’ve all bought something online and then spent the next day or two refreshing the tracking info to see exactly when it will arrive. UPS’s My Choice for Business and My Choice for Home services not only offer this detailed tracking, they also offer the option of changing how the package is delivered even after it’s been shipped.
    • From the business perspective this allows SMEs to accurately monitor inventory levels and improve the experience for their customers, which in turn leads to fewer complaints, more repeat custom and more time to focus on other aspects of growing the business
    • From the recipient perspective it offers the flexibility to receive a delivery where and when is most convenient to them, even when plans change
    • It is easy to sign up for both My Choice services via the UPS website
  • Another extremely important part of the customer experience is the returns process, which has become even more important due to the recent rise in online shopping
    • Imagine you’re shopping for clothes online, but you don’t know your exact size, so you buy a few fully intending to return the ones that don’t fit
    • Returns are no longer an indicator that you are doing something wrong, they are a positive response to a new consumer trend, and UPS data shows that making it easier to return items will – though it may seem counterintuitive – actually improve customer experience and repeat business

5. What are UPS’s expertise in guiding business owners on how to take advantage of RCEP preferential tariffs?

  • Trade agreements are great facilitators of global trade. They remove barriers to entry, particularly for small businesses, and provide new opportunities for expansion to other countries 
  • The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) provides a number of significant benefits for Malaysian businesses in terms of customs and trade, opening up opportunities for expansion into global markets
  • The main benefits include:
    • Greater market access and tariff reductions
      • Gradual elimination of tariffs on at least 92% of goods over 20 years traded among the participating countries
    • Simplified trade via cumulative rules of origin
      • Allows exporters who source materials/parts from various countries to save cost via preferential tariffs, potentially reducing supply chain costs
      • Particularly useful for SMBs in Singapore that do exports, this gives greater flexibility to tap on preferential market access benefits, and take advantage of regional supply chains
    • Quicker customs clearance for small package shipments
      • Within 6 hours for most member economies under normal circumstances: avoids customs delays, saving time, money and improves customer experience
  • We understand that trade agreements on the scale of the RCEP can seem complicated and unapproachable, so at UPS we aim to:  
    • Simplify. Trade agreements on this global scale of RCEP are complicated and may be confusing to some, but UPS is here to help small businesses in APAC understand how to make it work for them
    • Demystify. UPS can advocate for SMEs based on the specific services or goods they provide. For example, agricultural products are one area where certain markets have attempted to either slow or minimise tariff reductions, and tariff reductions will be phased over time
    • Diversify. UPS can help SMEs diversify as trade agreements such as RCEP offers potential for businesses across the bloc to explore opportunities in different markets and economies. For example, we have used our 80+ years of customs brokerage expertise to educate our customers in seminars and webinars on evolving supply chain patterns and readiness to tap into free trade agreements such as the RCEP over the years
  • It’s still early days, and given the scope and complexity of the agreement, the possible permutations are vast and depend to a large extent on things like the nature of the business, what they’re shipping, where from, where to and who their target customers are
  • However, we do know from conversations we’ve had with businesses so far that there is optimism around RCEP and its potential to open up new customer bases across the region, and hopefully simplify regulations imposed at customs in various countries across the region

6. How does Chika hope to promote sustainable changes in the industry?

  • I am an environmentalist who believes that sustainable practices should be implemented into all industries’ practices. Having said that, and in my new role, I will look to step up UPS’s environmental, social, and governance (ESG) initiatives as the company moves towards an ambitious set of targets outlined in its 2020 sustainability report
  • UPS has already incorporated electric vehicles into its delivery fleet in Singapore, with the goal of electrifying more than 40% of the fleet by 2026. In addition, the company is investigating a variety of different urban logistics solutions to supplement cleaner modes of last-mile transportation and aid in the transition to zero-emission logistics
  • This is one of the measures UPS is taking to achieve its objective of becoming carbon neutral by 2050, which also aligns with Malaysia’s aim to become a carbon neutral nation by 2050
  • In terms of social sustainability, UPS aspires to positively influence 1 billion lives by 2040 through social impact, employee engagement through volunteerism, and charity giving through The UPS Foundation – which includes more women in full-time management, more volunteer hours, and more trees planted
  • Full details of UPS’s ambitious global ESG targets are available in the sustainability report we release every year.

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