SINGAPORE (July 9): Chew Gek Khim enjoys visiting factories, perhaps because holidays with her grandfather used to involve touring a factory of some sort. “My grandfather tried to take his grandchildren on holiday with him, but it was usually a working holiday. I think I’ve seen quite a few bottling factories... and bank branches,” says the executive chairman of The Straits Trading Co. Her grandfather, the late Tan Chin Tuan, was instrumental in building Oversea-Chinese Banking Corp (OCBC) and also served on the boards of many businesses — among them Malayan Breweries, Fraser and Neave, Robinson & Co and Straits Trading.

But when Chew visited the smelting facility of Malaysia Smelting Corp some years ago, she was shocked. “I saw it when I was a girl. And I went to the smelter again and thought: ‘This is not right. Factories have changed. The world has changed. How can you be running things the way you did in the 19th century?’” she says. Straits Trading owns 54.8% of Bursa Malaysia-listed MSC, among the largest independent tin smelters in the world.  

It did not take much for Chew to begin prodding the management of MSC to think about upgrading the smelter. “The guy on the ground may not be able to see it because he’s too busy firefighting. He’s trying to make the plant work, he’s trying to pay bills, he’s trying to deal with workers,” she says. Now, MSC is preparing to move its production from an old-fashioned furnace to a modern one. The new furnace is expected to operate with less manpower and will also reduce the amount of tin that is lost in the smelting process. MSC CEO Patrick Yong is expecting it to make a significant difference to the company’s bottom line (see “Malaysia Smelting sees savings with new smelter; tin use may grow with EV industry”).

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