IN 1988, Lucas Takip was an intern at Asean Bintulu Fertiliser (ABF) Sdn Bhd, one of the largest fertiliser plants, operated by Petronas, in the Asean region.
More than two decades down the road, this local boy from the coastal town of Dalat in Central Sarawak, has diligently worked his way up the corporate ladder to become the managing director and chief executive officer of the company.
Getting where he is today took a lot of hard work and sacrifices. He was just an above average student — not that smart — as he readily admits. So he had to work harder than the rest of his smarter classmates. Similarly, in his job, he had to keep his shoulder to the wheel and learn as much as possible.
Lucas graduated in 1987 from the Colorado School of Mines, USA, with a degree in chemical engineering.
While working for Petronas, he pursued his post graduate studies in logistics and engineering. He obtained an advance diploma in logistics and a master’s degree in engineering from UPM in 2006 and passed his Board of Engineers Malaysia professional engineering certification in 2016.
His first stint with ABF lasted about two decades — from 1988 to 2009.
In October 2009, he was transferred to Labuan and promoted as head of production for Petronas Chemicals Methanol (PCM). Three years later, he became the CEO of the company.
In March 2014, he was transferred to Petronas Group Technical Solutions (GTS) in Kuala Lumpur to lead the Operations Readiness team for the Garraf project in Iraq where stayed until January 2016.
After the Garraf project, he was assigned to the Operations Readiness team for Petronas Pengerang Integrated Complex (PIC) from April to September 2016 before assuming his present post at ABF in November 2016.
As MD-CEO of Asean Bintulu Fertiliser, he oversees the operation of the plant which posted a revenue of RM638.26 million in FY2015. He also ensures the company continues to be a major — and most reliable — exporter of granular urea and ammonia in the region by sustaining the plant’s combined urea and ammonia production of about one million metric tonnes per annum.
Some 70 per cent of the company’s products are exported to Australia, New Zealand and Japan.
“Managing a plant of more than 30 years old is very challenging physically and mentally but we believe we can meet our target,” said Lucas who works out in the gym to keep fit.
For someone who prefers to stay out of the media spotlight, the 52-year old head honcho looked relaxed talking to thesundaypost at his ABF Plant office, Tanjong Kidurong, Bintulu.
During the Q and A interview, he touched on a wide range of subjects — from his schooling days, studies abroad, his job and family to his favourite food and drinks.
Q: What is your general impression of Bintulu today compared to the last time you worked there?
A: When I came to work as an intern at the ABF plant in April 1988, Bintulu was still a very small town with a population of less than 50,000 people. The airport was smack in the middle of the town. The current commercial areas such as Park City, Medan Jaya, Bintulu Central and Times Square were still covered with secondary jungle. There were only two hotels — Li Hua and Riverfront.
“Today, Bintulu is very developed and modern. There are so many new shops, hotels and shopping malls. The basic infrastructures are on par with the other towns and cities in Malaysia. There are so many cars on the road and traffic jams are already a norm during peak hours in Bintulu.
You are now back at ABF wearing a different hat. How has it been so far since you became the MD-CEO?
Comparatively, it’s quite a different scenario. I came back to ABF in November 2016 as its MD-CEO. Since then, I have had the opportunity to catch up with many old friends and colleagues. I’m very happy to know many of them have also moved up the corporate ladder. Of course, some have retired.
It’s truly nice to be back and given the opportunity to lead the company that gave me the chance to grow in terms of my capability and career. I will quickly adapt to my new role and am confident with full support from my team, I will be able to lead this great organisation to greater heights.
I’m well versed with the operations of the plant and the business of ABF — so this will make it much easier for me to adapt. Anyway, so far so good. I’m very thankful for the strong reception and support from the staff. This will motivate me to strive harder to deliver the desired results for the company.
You have been entrusted to manage one of Petronas’ strategic business units. What are your expectations and aspirations for the company going forward?
First of all, I’m very thankful for this opportunity. I’m grateful to the Petronas management, especially that of Petronas Chemical Group (PCG), for allowing me to lead ABF. To me, this is the opportunity to perform and contribute to PCG-ABF specifically, and Petronas as a whole, besides giving back and sharing my experience with the staff so that they can perform and grow in their careers as well.
Managing a plant of more than 30 years old is very challenging compared to managing a new plant. However, with all the efforts put in place and a dynamic team with a strong sense of ownership, work commitment and discipline, we believe we can deliver the product volume targeted for this year.
Therefore, my expectations would be for ABF to operate safely to achieve the production target and for the staff to continue working hard and growing in their careers while developing their capabilities so that the legacy of ABF will remain strong in the years to come. For me, the most important role would be to create the environment and platform for the people to perform positively and do their best in delivering results for the organisation.
What is your production target this year?
This year, ABF has set a production of about one million metric tonnes. This is a realistic target, considering we don’t have any scheduled regulatory plant turnaround this year. I’m confident with the current team, this targeted volume can be achieved so long as we work as a team to deliver for the company with commitment and discipline.
What is the market outlook for ABF products, particularly urea?
For PCG, we anticipate the urea price will improve on the back of increased seasonal demand with the return of the rainy season in Southeast Asia and application season in China. Ammonia price, while still weak, is still expected to improve with limited supply and stable demand.
What are some of ABF’s key CSR (corporate social responsibility) programmes and why are you doing it?
We believe that the integration and balance of economic, environmental and social issues in the way we plan, execute and monitor our various business strategies, are critical to our continued growth and success.
We will continue to play our role as a responsible corporate citizen through our corporate social responsibility initiatives by contributing to the well-being of the community where we operate.
PCG is one of the top 10 public listed companies in Malaysia by market capitalisation. As part of PCG, we in ABF will remain committed to ensuring that our business practices are in line with globally recognised standards for Environment, Social and Governance practices. Every year, at ABF, we conduct CSR programmes that focus on education, community outreach and environment.
In Environment conservation, we conduct the 3R Camp and Contests annually in collaboration with the Natural Resources and Environment Board, Bintulu Development Authority and Bintulu District Education Office. The camp encourages the public to Reduce, Reuse and Recycle through various fun programmes such as 3R Explorace, a treasure hunt based on environmental conservation, Eco Band, a musical competition with instruments made from recycled materials and home composting demonstration.
In Education, ABF plays an active role in Program Sentuhan Ilmu Petronas’ (PSIP), an adopt-a-school programme that is part of Petronas continuous efforts to promote human capital development in the communities where Petronas operates. We also actively participate in the The Back-to-School programme aimed at promoting human capital development in the communities where we operate.
Under the programme, ABF provides school supplies to underprivileged schoolchildren in the areas where we operate. To date, we have provided school supplies to 160 underprivileged schoolchildren from two primary schools in Bintulu.
For the Community Outreach programme, we are also actively involved in the Program Sentuhan Kasih Petronas. This is a signature Petronas community outreach initiative aimed at easing the burdens of the needy during festive seasons. In line with this, for instance, PCG through ABF presented donations during Gawai in Bintulu to help orphans, single mothers and underprivileged children of Kampung Assyakirin, RPR Kidurong, Rumah Jaraw, Rumah Belayong and Rumah Sait, located within the vicinity of ABF.
Can you share your journey in Petronas? Why did you choose to work for the company?
Petronas awarded me a scholarship when I was in Form 4 at Kolej DP Abdillah, Petra Jaya, and the company continued to fund my studies right up to tertiary level. I came back in 1987 with a degree in chemical engineering from Colorado School of Mines, USA. The world was experiencing an economic downturn at that time. So it was really difficult to find jobs after I graduated.
Fortunately, Petronas offered an internship programme to support and train the graduates in various fields, including entrepreneurship. As one of the interns, I was fortunate to have been sent to ABF for on-the-job training in April 1988 as I had expressed interest to work in the plant environment where I believed I could put my chemical engineering skills to good use.
During training, I worked hard because this was an opportunity for me to gain work experience. I remember having to work 24 hours non-stop just to get one whole cycle of experience in one plant task. I worked hard, I learned hard, I delivered. I was absorbed by ABF as a process engineer in June 1988. To me, that was when my career in Petronas really began.
I was in ABF for about 20 years and was assigned to various positions such as process engineer, operations engineer, project engineer, commissioning engineer, operations manager both for ammonia and urea, commissioning and interface manager for plant revamped project and logistics manager.
The assignment as logistics manager was the most challenging for me because I knew nothing about ships and marketing. It was a completely new field. I took it as a new learning curve and an opportunity — so much so that I later went for my diploma in logistics management.
I was transferred to Labuan in October 2009 as the head of production for Petronas Chemicals Methanol. I was appointed CEO of the plant sometime in 2011. I headed the company until March 2014 before being transferred to Group Technical Solutions (GTS) in Kuala Lumpur. While at GTS, I was assigned to head the Operations Readiness team for the Garraf project in Iraq until January 2016. After that, I was assigned to the Operations Readiness team for Petronas Pengerang Integrated Complex (PIC) from April to September 2016 before assuming my current post in ABF in November the same year.
What do you think are the qualities required to be successful in Petronas?
To me, the most important ingredient to success is hard work, ability to learn and commitment to deliver. A strong technical knowledge is essential, especially if you are in technical fields. Besides that, we must be able to adapt to new situations, cultures, people and, most importantly, getting to know them well.
In addition, one should be open to learning and be willing to continue learning. I always tell my friends and colleagues the day we say we know everything in our field is that day we mark the beginning of our end.
What is the biggest challenge you have faced? Would you have done any differently?
The biggest challenge would be to master the field I am assigned to when I move to a different position. For instance, when I was assigned to lead the Logistics Department, it was nothing but Greek to me. Moving from ABF to Methanol Labuan was also a challenge and I had to adapt to the new work culture and plant operations. Another example would be when I was assigned to Upstream Process in the Garraf project because I had been working at downstream plants for the past 25 years.
To me, it was an opportunity to acquire new knowledge and master new skills. It’s the will to learn and deliver that drove me to perform in all these new assignments. Besides being open to new cultures and environments, there is a need to be authentic. In terms of handling a crisis, the most challenging for me was when I was made the incident commander for the Bunga Alpinia incident in Labuan. Handling a Tier 3 crisis, collaborating with all the authorities such as Bomba and the police was the most challenging moment of my career. I must say the crisis was well managed by the team.
We understand you are from Mukah. Can you tell us a bit more about yourself?
My hometown is Dalat. My father was a lumberjack and my mother a housewife. Life was tough but we had enough food because my parents had their own rice field, sago trees and orchard. We lived by the river and there were plenty of prawns and fish back then. There were still animals to hunt as well. When I was in primary school and high school, I helped my parents in their rice field and sago farm, and even became a lumberjack, joining my father, after Form 5. Interestingly, when I got paid, I bought a typewriter because I like to write.
There are seven of us in the family — two girls and four boys — and I am the middle child. My parents worked hard to support us and put us through school. They wanted us to get a good education so that we did not end up having a tough life in the kampung.
I studied at SMK Dalat until Form 3 and was selected to study at Kolej Datuk Abang Haji Abdillah from Forms 4 to 5 in Kuching. Later, I was selected to further my studies in the US where I obtained my degree in Chemical Engineering from Colorado School of Mines, Colorado — and later, my master’s degree in Engineering Management from UPM in September 2006, followed by my Advanced Diploma in Logistics Management. Last year, I passed my Board of Engineers Malaysia professional engineering certification.
I have four boys, the eldest is 22 and the youngest 18. My wife is also from Dalat and she works as a nurse at Bintulu Hospital.
How did you succeed in school despite the odds? What drove you to do well in school and in life?
Studying hard was my way to success in school. I was just an above average student — not that smart. Most of the time, I had to work harder than the rest of my smarter classmates. For instance, if my classmates only needed to study for one hour, I needed two hours. To me, it’s important we know our own strengths and weaknesses. There are people who are fortunate not to have to work or study as hard as some of us. Not for me. You also need to have discipline and try to be the very best you can. People say if there is a will there is a way. I think the tough life I have been through with my family drove me to do well in school. I am also ambitious and determined to succeed in life.
How do you spend your free time? What is your hobby?
I like reading. I used to read two books a month. One fiction and one non-fiction. Now, I try to finish one book. I read both English and Malay. I used to be active in Malay creative writing but now I hardly can find the time for it. I wrote poems and short stories in Malay language which got published in the local newspapers and Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka. Over the weekends, I make time for golf. Weekdays, I go to the gym to lift weights for one and a half to two hours.
What is your favourite food and drink?
I like umai, sashimi and fresh fish. For vegetables, I like midin. I drink honey lemon daily. I must have coffee in the morning. Black coffee and honey lemon are my favourite drinks.