Episode #2 – Johnson Ongking – Pacific Paints Boysen

Image Courtesy of Pacific Paints Boysen

In this second episode of the InnovaBuzz  podcast, Johnson Ongking – Pacific Paints Boysen in the Philippines talks about innovation in the paint industry, an innovative product that does more than just (re) colour a wall, and the key things needed for a company to be innovative.  Listen to the inteview to learn what Johnson shared with us on the podcast.

Listen to the Podcast

Watch the Video

I’m giving away a copy of my “Seven Website Design Secrets to get you MORE Sales”  Workshop Video, Workbook and Resources Guide valued at $97.  Just tell us, in the comments below, where you’ve combined science and art in a way that has enhanced that innovation. Explain to us what you’ve done – even include images or video if you like. In few weeks I’ll ask Johnson to swing by and award the prize.

Show Highlights

Some of the highlights of this episode include:

  • Must have a culture of innovation and remove barriers
  • Must have the right team in place
  • Know your customer – they are looking for an experience not your
  • product or service
  • Support network to sustain innovation
  • Going outside your industry for ideas

The Buzz – Our Innovation Round

Here are Johnson’s answers to the questions of our Innovation round.  Watch the interview to get the full scoop.

  • #1 thing to be innovative – support network to sustain innovation
  • Best thing for new ideas – going outside your industry
  • Favourite tool for innovation – learning from other people
  • Keep project / client on track – energy, commitment
  • Differentiate – your corporate culture and your people

Reach Out

You can reach out and thank Johnson via his email at johnson@boysen.com.ph or on his LinkedIn page

Suggested Guest

Johnson suggested I interview Glen Finkel of Pureti, also Miguel Nieva of ColorAdd as well as Joanne Ooi of Plukka. I’m going to be busy! Glen, Miguel and Joanne – keep an eye on your Inbox for an invitation from me, for the Innovabuzz Podcast!

Competition Hint

Hint: to enter the competition, leave a comment under the video and tell us how you’ve combined science and art in a way that has enhanced that innovation.


Full Transcript

Click to read….

Jürgen:  Hi I’m Jürgen Strauss from Innovabiz. Welcome to episode number 2 of the InnovaBuzz Podcast – designed to help smart businesses who are interested in all things innovation and the internet of things become even more innovative.

Today’s guest – all the way from Manila in the Philippines is Johnson Ongking of Pacific Paints Boysen. Johnson is going to share with us his experience in innovation and innovative product development today and there are a number of gems in this interview.

We’re going to learn a lot today from Johnson – I certainly did!  He talks about how having the right team in place is really important for innovation.  Having the right corporate culture, having a culture of innovation but at the same time having systems there that both foster innovation and also do not act as barriers to  innovation.   He talks about one product in particular that’s already commercial which is a very innovative development and it’s quite exciting to hear about this one and hear the passion in his voice – as to not only what that discovery or that development did for Pacific Paints but also the contribution that’s making to society as a whole.

Johnson also talks about knowing your customer. He makes a comment that “we don’t provide paint, what we provide is an experience” – and that’s another gem that comes out in the interview and you’ll hear how he describes that in more detail.  It’s important I think to keep that in mind in all industry that it’s not your product or service that you’re necessarily providing customers. You’re providing them an experience or a solution to a problem or need.

So today’s innovation tip is; know your customer.  Understand what is the need or the problem that you’re solving – what‘s the need you are addressing.  How can you be better at that – step away from the product or the service and dig deeper and find out what your customer really wants and what your customer really needs – and also what other opportunities there might be that you can help your customers.

Before we get to meet Johnson now, let me just introduce the competition. I’m giving away a copy of my workshop “Seven Website Design Secrets to Get you More Sales” – that’s a video series together with the workbook and the resources guide.   Stay tuned later in the interview where you can find out how to enter the draw to win that competition.

So without further ado, let’s go to the Innovation Hive and hear the Buzz from Johnson Ongking:

Jürgen: Hi I’m Jürgen Strauss from Innovabiz and today I’m very pleased to have with me all the way from Manila in the Philippines, Johnson Ongking – the Vice President of Pacific Paints Boysen.

Welcome to the Innovabuzz Podcast, Johnson!

Johnson: Thank you Jürgen. It’s an honour to be here on your show. Thanks for inviting me.

Jürgen: Now we are going to talk today about all things innovation in the paint industry and manufacturing and product development.  A lot consumers really don’t associate house paint or industrial paint with innovation – but let me tell you  from my own experience that paint manufacturing  and paint product development is indeed a very innovative industry and Pacific Paint Boysen is among the leaders in innovation in that field.

But before we talk about paints and innovation in the paint industry – here’s a quick competition announcement. Today I’m giving away a copy of my “Seven Website Design Secrets to Give you More Sales” workshop video together with the workbook and resources guide.  So, stick around for details on how you can enter the draw to win that later on in this interview.

Okay Johnson, but before we get on to  talking about Pacific Paint Boysen and paint manufacturing and product development,  let’s learn a little bit more about you. When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

Johnson: Well Jürgen just like a lot of little boys, I was very much into airplanes – and I thought it would be nice to have your own little airline but now that I’m older I know how difficult that  industry is – I’m certainly glad that I grew past boyhood fancy.

Jürgen:   So when did you change your mind and decide you wanted to go into the paint manufacturing?

Johnson: It’s funny you know, my dad was one of the founders of our company. I remember when I was a small boy we used to go to the factory on weekends, something like that – but I never really thought about joining the business. In fact, because we used to live in a small two-bedroom apartment – I could hear my dad wake up in the morning at 4 o’clock starting his work day. So, I thought there’s no way I want to do that.

Jürgen: So much like hard work.

Johnson: Much too hard for me. So I actually did economics in school. I went  to investment banking for a while and later for family reasons, I came home  but still not really convinced the I would join the company but when I did finally join – I found out how surprisingly enjoyable it was. And ever since I really enjoyed working for the company and as you’ve said from an outsider the paint industry just doesn’t really look exciting. I mean they say “watching paint dry” as idiom for not too exciting things. But once you get into it, you yourself have been in the industry,  it’s a lot more exciting and a lot more fun than people would imagine from the outside.

Jürgen: Yeah, exactly. So how did you get involved then in the company? What was your journey to where you are today?

Johnson: So I started in the company 1996, so 18 years ago and worked through the ranks. I started in the warehouse later worked my way into the laboratory to do some basic technical training and learn the ropes there. I did some customer service – moved around the organisation, I learned different things about the business, settled into a procurement role and still continue that today as well the manufacturing and technical parts of the business.  So I pretty much look for new technologies and try to bring them into our company and see what we can do with them. I guess it’s my most important role in the company.

Jürgen:  Okay we’ll talk a little bit more about those later on because there is some exciting stuff there. So you’ve kind of touched a little bit on this but what do you spend most of your time doing from day to day?

Johnson: We’ll lot of it is making sure on the procurement part. Just making sure we get all the materials we need to make the products we need to do. When we’re doing that keep a close eye what new things are out there and there’s always a lot of new stuff- new possible things out there. So we make sure we explore those and see what has potential and what might be too difficult to do. In my manufacturing overseeing role, just make sure we’re all doing things the right way, getting product out as efficiently as possible and on the technical side which I think is a good practice both to the technical and procurement linkage there because we can work those two parts very closely and what sometimes would on paper look like, say a slightly more expensive raw material but if that’s clearly a purchasing decision they don’t see the technical merits of it. If you do the other way they might not see the financial side of it. So I think that’s a good role to have those two. So I bring those two teams together in the company and make sure they talk to each other and make sure they understand the whole picture. And I think the most important part about my job is people development- making sure we keep growing our people and giving them more and more responsibility so that they can develop into future leaders for our company in the future.

Jürgen: That’s great.  So what in one sentence, what would you describe the key thing that Pacific Paint Boysen brings into the market place? What’s your elevator pitch when somebody asks you what you do?

Johnson:  For our company it’s really bringing the highest value of paint at a price point that’s affordable for people. So it’s the main purpose of bringing the most value. It really demands of us a lot of work to look at making things as efficient as possible – so that we can lower cost to make our customers enjoy those cost savings.

Jürgen:  Now you mentioned about people development and also the interaction between technical and procurement, what do consider as the biggest challenges within the company?

Johnson: I think, a lot of paint companies grew up with a technical mindset, so a lot paint companies are founded by chemists. They really focus and understandably so on say the push model – making products and pushing enough to the customers. It’s the same here and in Australia I think, you find out the decision maker for painting decision – that is actually the housewife, the woman of the house – and so they’re making decisions maybe not so much on the technical merits of the product. More on how a certain colour makes them feel. How it changes the mood in their rooms and in their homes, this kind of thing. I think in our company probably we need a bit more varied thinking – whether that’s left or right brain.  More that side, I think we’re very used to making good paints but trying to understand why people actually buy this or that product or maybe this or that colour more than the product and understanding them a lot better. I think there’s a skill there. So we need to get more in tune with the artistic creative side of ourselves, of our human dimension. I suppose not quite the technical.

Jürgen: There is real gold in that message because it’s basically understanding who your target market is;  who the key decision makers are; what they’re looking for isn’t it? Which is a message that all marketers should be heeding but often don’t.

Johnson: Well, we need to do it better ourselves.  It’s a long way to go on that area as well.

Jürgen : So what  sort of things keep you awake  at night?

Johnson: Well I think I’m paranoid but the one thing I keep worrying about is: If there’s something that replaces paint. What will make paint irrelevant in the long run? Because you go to the malls, I think most design trends start out in hotels and restaurants and then they eventually go to the work homes and office spaces – and then when you go to conference rooms today, you see a lot of walls covered in stuff other that paints. We see fabric, textured materials even wall paper is making a bit of a comeback – so these are the kind of things we need to keep an eye on for the future.  We spend a lot of energy and resources on keeping and making the best for our industry but if our industry becomes irrelevant then it’s useless.

Jürgen: That’s right, yeah. I’m about to do a little introduction around photography and the transition from film because that’s where I started my career in film photography and exactly that happened basically. The industry didn’t realise that it was about to become redundant and when they did realise that, it was too late.

Johnson: So hopefully it won’t happen in 20 or 30 years from now and hopefully I’ll be retired by then. I don’t have to worry about that.

Jürgen: Yeah, well it’s all about adapting to the change isn’t it?

Johnson.  Right

Jürgen: So tell us a little bit about the history of Pacific Paints and how it developed into the company it is today.

Johnson:  Well the company was founded in 1953 – so 61 years ago, there were 3 people who founded the company. I mentioned that my father was one of them. My uncle was one of them and they have a 3rd business partner. They came from very , very humble beginnings,  they  started from a hardware business and they  thought,  well, we are selling a lot of paint, why  don’t we just make our own paint as  well- they  started from that.  So it was really a small backyard factory. In fact, our main office today is where the company started way back then to remind ourselves. I think the really phenomenal part of building the company from nothing to, by the late 70’s we were the market leader in the Philippines and they’ve continue to grow that further and by the turn of the century, we’ve been identified as one of the top 50 paint companies in the world, and I think, that’s a remarkable achievement from zero to something like that and I’m just a very, very fortunate to be part of a company that has such heritage. We are purely in the architectural or decorative paint.  We just make house paint; we don’t make specialised paint for cars or for cell phones or things like that and again I’m just very fortunate to be part of this company.

Jürgen:  Yeah, it’s been an amazing journey and I’m very privileged to have watched it as you’ve been a customer of mine in the past – it’s been really  impressive. And there’s another little message in there that focusing on a niche and being the best at that can make you very successful. So tell us about some of the innovative products that you’ve got and you’ve done recently.

Johnson: Yeah I think, the one that got people most excited of is the product called “KNOxOUT”. It’s a product we’ve developed together with the crystal titanium dioxide manufacturer who has operations down there in Australia actually. Where there is a business division there that makes smaller than normal they called ultra fine titanium dioxide. What they achieve by doing this is to amplify the properties and the product and we’ve always thought of the paint having two functions – protection to make sure your walls won’t get damaged or your roofs.  Your doors don’t get scratched – these kinds of things. The other is aesthetic function where you add colour, you make things prettier but the nice thing about adding this ingredient which they call CristalActiv into the KNOxOUT – it allows the paint to become an air purifier. Its goes through a process called photo catalysis – it uses the part of sunlight to activate the titanium dioxide to convert organic pollutants into non toxic materials. So in essence what this allows is that – you can suddenly transform your wall into an air purifier. So when they first broached this idea with us, when we first talked about it I think it must have been 7 to 8 years ago we thought that and I’m just like thinking; it’s good to be true!  Like a sci-fi kind of thing. We did all the tests. I think the technology has actually been used for 30 years or so in power plants and catalytic converters for diesel vehicles especially for big trucks and things like that. So in those cases they’re chemically activated so they’ll add urea or ammonia and other substances to get the product to work. So this was an extension of we’ve got technology that can reduce pollution coming out of power plants and cars that are known to pollute. Can we get something else that can destroy the pollutants that still come out of it – that still get out in the air? So that’s the genesis of this product. So we did years of testing with the scientific institute here for air pollution. The technology has been tested in Europe before that as well – in bits and pieces but in many, many different trials all over. So the lab data is very convincing – getting it to work in a real life atmosphere is a bit more challenging because you have so many variables outside in your control like wind and of course nature. You can be cleaning a lot of air but it could be just blown away so it’s difficult to measure this kind of thing. We think it really is something we need in a heavily polluted city like Manila so there was a bit more of a maybe social dimension to it than a business. It was more like the thinking; we need to get this up because we need to help clean the air here. We can help people to all play a role in this. The business part of whether or not this would become a big product for us was more secondary.

Jürgen: Yeah, but it’s interesting, I saw you’ve got quite a few  videos on your website that show some trials that were done there in one of the main roads in Manila and where you’ve got artists painting murals with KNOxOUT – what you said earlier about the aesthetics.

Johnson: Right, the first trial with it, the main trial that was one year trial that I mentioned – that was just on purely that we painted a Metro Rail station – in the middle of the busiest road in Manila, by extension the Philippines. It is called EDSA or E.D.S.A – it’s an acronym. We did the trial just on plan and then got the signs for all the measurements but once we finished that, we thought; let’s do this and the idea of doing this was helping being participative. A company or individual could do something to help address the problem. That being – the message was we’re all part of the problem in a way because we all drive vehicles which are pollutants. So it’s very much the concept of how we can lower our carbon footprint by being more energy efficient and everything, we thought. How about making people aware that the main pollutant we address here is NOx or Nitrogen Oxide which usually comes out from vehicles. So why don’t we do a program where we can encourage people to clean their own NOx footprints. Because you can pretty much figure out in a day if you drive x number of kilometres and what kind of car you are driving, make a rough calculations of how much NOx you are putting in the atmosphere everyday and we can again make a rough calculations of if you paint x square meters of this you can maybe negate some if not all of what you’re emitting. So we thought we should do that ourselves first and then with the marketing people the idea was; if we paint a bunch of white walls no one is ever going to know KNOxOUT versus just any ordinary paint. Although the paint does have a really nice side benefit aside from the air cleaning effect – it  keeps the paint itself clean as it destroys the dirt in oils that stick to normal paint though – but people aren’t still going to figure out what it is. So the idea came about why don’t we bring the aesthetic part of paint this nice art work out of it – and we pushed the idea a bit further because I thought that was really nice message of blending art and science together and let’s make this world’s biggest air purifier and then let’s make this very heavily trafficed road from an eye sore into something that people would actually enjoy driving through every day and there’s no question from a media point of view,  that generated a lot of interest. I mean I think it generated a lot more interests than if we had done the same thing by just painting it with white walls.

Jürgen: Yeah, that’s right.

Johnson: So we had coverage from – aside from the local news, a lot of international news organisations that I think made the art work a lot more interesting for it.

Jürgen: Yeah, that’s right.

Johnson: Won a lot of awards as well and I think we had features and environmental shows and things like that, that probably again the cameras would not have been or would not have much to film if it was just of bunch of white walls.

By having the “artism” there – it really created great maps so people can appreciate the artworks on different dimensions. Maybe it can just be that they stop due to traffic, they look at it and just maybe add some colour to their day.  If they are stuck there for a longer time they can really look at it and then usually the artists have put some significance or some meaning to their artwork that you see right away and then on their level, it’s helping clean the air for everyone who is going on this road or waiting for a bus.

Jürgen: Yeah, it’s really a great story and if people aren’t very familiar with this, they can go to the Boysen Website at boysen.com.ph and have a look at some of the videos there because there’s quite a bit of information in there. So really it’s a great story and again – a combination of art and science to help people and help the community.

Johnson: Great. And going back again that’s why we need a more artistic side of our company. This is proof that when you get that side involved, it really helps.

Jürgen: You mention that this generated a lot of publicity and there were news media and television cameras and so on and I noticed you’ve used a lot of that on your website. When did you discover the web and start making use of that?

Johnson: Probably I wouldn’t say we’re ahead of anybody as far as using the web, I think I should probably learn a few tips from you, and I should probably get a copy of your book as well, Jürgen. We first approached the web really I think like a lot of people just to put information out there but not really taking advantage of the way that you can have one to one sort of engagement . We sort of use it when we first put up our website and everything, we were thinking again. We’re just so used to the mode of TV advertising,  radio advertising and news print advertising. We thought of it more as just one-way messaging and we kind a missed the fact that what the web really enables you – is to have two- way communications. And the possibility is for direct one on one sort of marketing communication so we are trying to put in a lot more ways to interact with our consumers. So we’ve got a social media team now – just like anybody else I guess, that are more active, that are out there really making sure they’re getting feedback and responding to feedback. I think in the future we will probably put a bit more for our digital marketing side because we really should think about how we can be more creative in taking advantage of this opportunity for direct marketing. Maybe direct communication even more than direct marketing because we sell our products through a network of dealers so we don’t have our own stores. We don’t get a chance to communicate directly with customers. We speak to a lot with architects, designers, building contractors. We don’t really have that direct access with home owners and the web allows us to have that and there’s obviously a segment of that population that’s very actively involve I think, from what I know the Philippines is one of the heaviest users of Facebook on a per capita basis. So we should be thinking of how we can use it as a channel to communicate more, to get feedback specially. We are not getting feedback just from a secondary source, but direct from the consumers. I think, there’s a lot of work but there’s a lot of exciting possibilities.

Jürgen: Yeah that’s right and it does open up a lot of opportunities just like you say. And also you could have a photographic competition or something with the best KNOxOUT mural or something like that. So what are some of the innovative things you have done on the web then?

Johnson: Well one thing we thought about with the KNOxOUT project was adding a social component to it. That was exactly how you could as an individual person just help make the air better in Metro Manila. We’ve tried to do sites where if you just paint a wall or we call this program the “One Wall One World” program. So just paint a wall and let us know and we’ll put it up on the site and publicize it.  We’ll make sure people know that you’re doing your social contribution. So I won’t say we’ve completely been as successful as we want it to on that but we’ve got to do more work on that and from a social media standard we’re doing what we need to do but we haven’t done anything above the cloud in those terms.

Jürgen: Okay a lot of opportunities are there still.

Johnson: Yeah, it will need a bigger book!

Jürgen: But I like the way you’ve done it.  Place those videos prominently on your website, particularly about the KNOxOUT – that there’s a lot of information there that is I guess it’s known from all the studies done that people can learn a lot more and taking a lot more from the visual components particularly videos and if you’re displaying some of the more complicated things around what makes this paint work and what does it do and then of course the artistic element that you talk about bringing in. So that’s it. I really like the way you’ve done that.

Johnson: Thank you. We will put in some videos and just how to apply for certain product because it’s just so hard to understand it from reading so you’re completely right.  Just seeing a video how to do it is so much easier. Another thing we are trying to promote this concept of painting white roofs to help mitigate sunlight- because a white roof as you know reflects sunlight back into solar energy – back into space before it gets a chance to be trapped by green house gases and it’s not a common practice here to have a white a roof so it’s kind of a changing social preferences which is not easy. So we thought again; actually this is something we are about to do cause we teamed up  with the  Climate Change Commission here to really push this program starting last year. So we like to be able to put up a site that can acknowledge people who have done this and sort of give them social recognition for people who are doing the right things. I think the nice the nice thing about this new innovation is the idea of environmental friendly paints for so long has been about just doing as little damage as you can to the environment – lower the risk of what that you might have, and I think we’re seeing with this new product the opportunity to go into products that help improve the environment and not to harm which is sort of a change in paradigm and then the exciting thing from a social part – as it allows everyone to be part of the solution, part of solving a problem and that makes a perfect venue for social media. We just need to think how to bring this together in the right place. Still thinking – we don’t have all the answers. Hopefully we can do some good stuff and show it to you later on.

Jürgen: Okay, we’ll all watch out for that.  Maybe our audience will make some comments at the bottom of this video and maybe you’ll get some good suggestions.

Johnson: Thank you, Jürgen.

Jürgen: So how do you keep balanced? You know you’ve got all things happening and all this exciting stuff and big company to run, how do you keep balanced? What do you do when you’re not working?

Johnson: Well I’ve got 3 little kids to keep me occupied the whole time when I’m at home – so that’s obviously very nice because it gives you a complete mental break from everything that you’re doing. And also you do glean a lot of insights from kids that you can’t get in the adult world. Like you Jürgen, I’m an avid cyclist although I do maybe quite just a fraction of what you do. I still try to do basketball as a national sport here in our country and I still play that every once in a while. So I try to just get out there and do some physical activity and wash my brain clean.

Jürgen: Do you find when you’re out cycling if you’re on your own you sort of tend to get a lot of ideas and thoughts in your mind?

Johnson:  I do, you’re not consciously trying to do that. You’re just out there and think; new ideas come up all the time. I think it is because your mind is uncluttered at that time, things do come up – but I’m not very disciplined in quickly writing that down and keeping track.

Jürgen:  Yeah, I certainly get that from time to time if Im on my own and all of a sudden I think of some ideas that I think it’s interesting for the sort of stuff that you don’t normally think of.

Johnson: Yeah, right

Jürgen:   If you had a magic wand to fix one thing in Pacific Paints Boysen, what would that be?

Johnson: I think I’d go back to what I said earlier if we can just get more engaged on the creative side – the feminine side of our company, of our people. Give that maybe a bit more voice or weight.  A bit more voice into what we are doing and to balance out, I think we’re doing the other side reasonably well and we just need to get more creative – really understand why people buy our products and not just  buy our products what  motivates them to do painting and  what they would like more. It’s very hard when you do surveys and I understand if I was given a survey it will be very hard for me to answer those questions as well. So you can’t get that just purely from a survey. You need to really spend time with them and understand their lifestyle a little bit more than what could a new colour of wall  do for them – because  what they’re buying really is not  –  they’re not really buying a paint but they’re buying what the paint can do for them. And so maybe understanding better about what they could appreciate more – so I guess that’s the Promised Land if we can get there. We are trying to understand, find a way to understand our customer a lot better.

Jürgen: Well there’s another gem in there – it’s the fact that a consumer is not buying paint, they’re buying what the paint can do for them.   That’s a marketing message that a lot of marketers don’t understand.  I tell people that you’re not buying a website; you are buying a solution for a problem, just happens that’s what the website can do for you. So that’s very much the same thing that’s applies across all industries – a really a great message.

Johnson: Knowing that and then trying to do something are two different things. The challenge has just started.

Jürgen: So let’s go on to our Innovation Round – the Buzz as I’m calling it. Our innovation round is designed to help our audience – that are innovative and smart businesses across all kinds of industries who really want to up to their level of innovation and just learn more from the experiences of others. So hopefully you will give us quick answer to each question and there will be something brilliant there. Because I’m sure there will be.

So what’s your advice, the number one thing for everybody to be more innovative?

Johnson:  I think  the really difficult part of innovation is you can put your  heart and soul, you can put every hour and energy you  have into this and there is still a really good chance it won’t go the way you’re hoping  it to go., You’re going to face a lot of battles.  You’re going to face a lot of moments where you might think; what am I doing and why did I chose to do this when life could be so much easier. So I’d say the number one thing you need to have (unless you have an incredibly strong sense of self belief) a good support network. I’m  very,  very fortunate to have a supportive wife and she really helps me through these moments because they’re just so many of them. They are just moments you think if this is really all worth it. I could just spend my time doing what everyone else is doing and get by. But there’s obviously that element of excitement. There’s that element  of wanting  to do something significant when you try to do an innovation  but I guess, I’m sure all your listeners who have done this I would assume – unless they’re really skilled or lucky, have gone through these moments of self  doubt. And so the number one thing is to make sure that you have a very good support network both in your work place and at home.

Jürgen: Yeah, that’s great. So what’s the best thing you’ve done to develop new ideas or new products?

Johnson: For me it’s going out. Its going outside – a lot of times going outside the industry you know like something not being used in the industry. I think for example KNOxOUT. We brought in something that wasn’t being used in the industry. It was being used in power plants and catalytic converters to bring in. And I think it’s just that when you try to go out of your comfort zone, you do realise that there’s a lot of innovation I guess. We all have different ideas about it. I’m not a scientist as you know very well, Jürgen so I don’t sit in the lab or work in the lab and try this exotic combination of different things and come out with something. I’m not capable of doing that but I do think there’s always innovation where it’s marrying two ideas from different fields. And I think going out allows you to see those better than if you were just focused completely on your industry. In a way what you should be doing because you are trying to be the best at what you’re doing, you need to do that but at the same time if you want to open your mind to possibilities, you kind of need to go out and just talk to different people and see different things. I mean it’s a cliché I guess but I would say that’s where I get mine.

Jürgen: Yeah, that’s great advice. So what’s your favourite tool or system for innovation?

Johnson: I think it’s really having an open mind and learning from other people. Within the paint side for example we’re very fortunate to be part of this called Nova Paint Club. There are 10 to 12 paint companies around the world. We don’t compete with each other so we can talk and exchange notes. We get to understand what’s going on in different markets and we get to understand the consumers in other markets, how they think and consume as well.  I would say that it’s just having your, I guess  you need a lot of these uncluttered moments  where your brain can be open to other ideas and some might just not make sense but  at least you have to consider them and use that as a starting point. I mean there’s a product innovation that obviously sort of business model innovation. And that’s I think in the business model innovation that’s where you can really learn a lot from other industries. The world is going more and more to a service where services are in a way more important to growth than manufacturing and there’s a lot of things from the service industry we certainly can learn from – how people are treating their customers .

Jürgen: Yeah like what you said earlier – people aren’t buying paint they’re buying what the paint does for them, they’re buying an experience.

Johnson: So how do you make that experience better? And then once you think on that framework, then you can think of – how are other service industries making their experience better.

Jürgen: Exactly

Johnson: You can even learn things from your hair dresser.

Jürgen: Yeah that’s right. So what’s your recommendation for keeping a project or a client on tract?

Johnson: I think, for us when we are doing this project, its energy. You really need to make sure you’ve got people who are gang whole and really committed to making this thing happens. You just want to make sure you don’t have things that get in their way that sucks that energy out – whether it’s some long standing corporate policy or rule. I  just want to make sure that I don’t  get in the way  of people  who are trying to do something innovative  because the most important part I think for innovators is that energy, that attitude, that can-do spirit that everyone has  at the start of these things. And you just want to make sure that it keeps going. And you don’t do something that kills it. Because once that dies, the whole project dies.

Jürgen:  So keep the barriers out of their way. Yeah it’s great and what’s the number one thing anyone can do to differentiate themselves in their field?

Johnson: I think we mention this earlier and again it’s another cliché but at the end of the day I think today, everyone can copy technology.  Everyone can copy business models. There’s nothing you can keep a secret or as a competitive advantage things for a long time so eventually it was on the people. Are your people better than other companies’ people and so I think that’s where you need to spend the most of your time and as far as investing in the growth and development of your people. In terms of the company that means having your corporate culture as the main differentiating advantage because that’s one thing that’s just going to be so difficult for any who wants to try to copy.

Jürgen: Exactly, yeah.

Johnson: I mean bits and pieces of it unless they believe the same thing you believe and essentially make themselves or I mean, they can copy a product or they can copy a business practice you’re doing but I don’t think that as you’ve said today, it’s all about being adaptive, being quick, flexible and how do you build that into your corporate culture. I think that’s the very big challenge for companies as they grow. You’re trying to be as efficient as you can with what you are trying to do at the same time you need to have this mindset where your company is heading.

But for an established company, you’re trying to then say; this is a new thing or this is a new culture. So it takes time but I think that investment is really going to pay off in the long run. And I think that’s what  is the only differentiating thing between companies in the long run.

Jürgen:  Yeah, that’s a great advice. So get the corporate culture right and get the people on board – have the right team in place. Yeah, terrific – so what’s the future for Pacific Paint Boysen then?

Johnson:  I think we are fortunate to be in a developing market that’s growing. In terms of per capita data, a Filipino uses I think on an annual basis 7 or 8 times less paint than an Australian. So we’ve got a long way to go so the future is promising in that sense. We should be able to keep growing just from the local economy growing. From the innovation side I think, the way we see the paint business as you know it’s very hard to export just normal house paint because everyone has the same thing. So if you want to build an international business it has to be a special product with special features that might be either too difficult for others to develop or just a niche market and competitors don’t feel it’s worth the investment in that. So that’s what I think we can look into more in the future. And KNOxOUT provided the first test on that and maybe we can find other things like that – maybe initially especially it’s a niche market and a lot of different markets and you add all that up and you’re still in an interesting and relatively large market. But in terms of what you mentioned about bringing the web into this – and I forgot the author who said this that building a web is like building a tribe, I think. So  we can build a tribe now  internationally and not just domestically but to get that tribe we are thinking along, believing the same thing , thinking along the same lines so I think if we can use our additional tools to grow that, it will be great, of course, in the future.

Jürgen: And you mentioned earlier that one of the things that keep you awake at night was worrying about Paint becoming redundant. So what do you see as a future of the paint industry?

Johnson: Well fortunately for now and I hope I’m not being blindsided by anything, I still think it’s a message that both you and I had when we were working together, that paint is still the most inexpensive way to transform your living space, change the look and change the feel of your room. So hopefully it’s still going to be a tool that is most accessible to most people.

Most re-painting of a room are still going to be cheaper than changing a piece of furniture. So from that aspect I think, we’re hopefully still okay and as far as protecting a lot of surfaces I think, it’s still the most economical way to do it as well. The walls  of your house outside and even metal structure, your cars  –  even if we are not involved with those things, still it seems that paint today is still the best way to get that done . And for me if we want to make it even a stronger business in the future it is adding functionalities out of these. So you know with KNOxOUT again, we add the air purification performance into your wall. The idea of white roofs is just protecting your roof but it’s now helping you become a warrior for climate change.

Jürgen:  Yeah, that’s right. There’s a lot of whole range of studies been done in white roofs about the energy savings inside the building as well in terms of reducing  the air-conditioning cost  for example in big office buildings and so on.

Johnson: Yeah, I forgot that part. Thanks for reminding me, Jürgen. Actually most people would use a white roof for that purpose  for their own on internal savings but the big bonus that might become relevant in the future is the fact that it’s also helping in getting just more heat out into space and helping fight climate change in that way.

Jürgen:  Yeah it’s fascinating.

Johnson:  If we can think about other functionalities that we can add into paint, it will make paint more indispensable part of life, I guess. That’s challenge, I think.

Jürgen:  So what do you expect from the internet of things where the machines will be talking to machines a lot more and there will be an increase in automation?

Johnson:  I haven’t thought so much about that for paint. I’m not quite sure how it will play a role.  I don’t know, you know the closest thing I’m seeing today that for example for the KNOxOUT part – I think, there’s  a lot of work trying to  make a Smartphone into air pollution monitoring devices or you can measure pollution and things like that from your phone. I think there’s a project up in Copenhagen for making bikes into pollution finders as well because so many people bike there and the information is relayed to these servers that collate all these data and so that at a given time that they can get an indication on what the pollution levels are in different parts of the city – that kind of thing. I see development happening outside more but from the paint side, aside from these apps where you can choose or where you can instantly take a picture of your house or your room and just change the colour and see which one you like before you place the order. I mean, beyond that I’m not sure what the other possibilities are. Those kinds of things I guess have become common these days.

Jürgen: Okay before we wrap up with Johnson just getting back to the competition so as I said I’m giving away a copy of my “Seven Website Design Secrets to Get you More Sales” that’s a workshop video series together with workbook and resources guide and what we would like you to do to enter this competition is to leave a comment under the video and tell us what you’ve done that’s innovative in the sense of combining a scientific development and art.  Just like the KNOxOUT initiative.  I think that’s a relevant one. Leave a comment, be as informative as you can so you’ve got to think about this one a little bit and share with us but that’s why you will get a prize for putting in the work. Leave comment under this video and I’ll get Johnson to swing by a couple of weeks and award that prize, is that okay?

Johnson: I’ll be honoured to Jürgen.

Jürgen: In wrapping up, what’s the number one piece of advice you could give in any business who wants to be a leader in innovation and productivity?

Johnson: I think it’s very difficult to do both? One is you’re trying to really continually improve your business and the other is really in a way I mean  as you said there’s different ways  of thinking about innovation  -but in this context, I’m thinking of creating a new business model or at least making sure you don’t get  eaten up by a completely new business model out there.  And they’re difficult but I think for a company to do both, they need to make sure you’re as efficient, you’re as sharp as you are on what you’re doing today. Otherwise, someone will put you out of business. And on the other horizon you have to think about someone out there who is thinking about something that might make your business or industry irrelevant. So you’re all industry relevant in the first place. So you’ve got to do both and each one calls for different kind of innovation I think being the most productive, being the most efficient calls for more incremental type of innovation where you’re improving  your processes once step at a time . Most companies are pretty good in doing that. You know what the targets are; you’re just making sure that everyone is working towards that target – you’ve got to achieve it. But we’ve seen especially in the internet age how so many new businesses have come from nowhere and just displaced existing businesses. So  the challenge of how to make  sure you also have a team of  people thinking  about that and doing the work on that so  I think  since it’s mostly been  start-ups  that have been doing this type of work well, we might need to understand more what the differences in the start-up  culture versus established company culture. And then think of how we can start up culture type within our company to think about this new innovation – this new disruptive innovation type of ideas. It might makes sense that you need to have a sort of start-up within your company and the experience I’ve have in KNOxOUT shows me that in a way an established company has the best of both worlds as well because you have the resources of the start up person but you need to have a culture that again going back to how a lot of these new innovative ideas, a lot of them will fail – it’s just part of the deal. You don’t know which ones will work and which ones won’t work. I think in a lot of established companies, there’s too high up penalty for failing. If you’re going to work for a project or say a new product, it doesn’t take off then sort of you’ll be stigmatised for being not a good business leader or something. Whereas, I think the odds are just more heavily against you than if you were trying to grow an existing product line so, I think culturally you need to have almost two different companies. Maybe 95% or 99% of your company working on that incremental innovation making sure you keep improving there, maybe a small percentage of your company really as design start up where they don’t have to play by the rules of your existing company and maybe you think of them as venture capital in a way – separate from that. You just do some funding for them and again that’s the advantage of the established company. Because when I think of KNOxOUT and I think of – if we had to completely depend on funds from outside it would have just been so much more difficult. The fact that we could get a budget from our existing company just made it so much easier but at the same time if the guys we had who were working on this from the outside, if they had to worry about their day to day things they’ll never get anything done.

Jürgen: They were kind of the start up group if you like?

Johnson: Yeah, I think it’s a tricky balance but I think you almost need to have two different companies and I know I might be contradicting myself earlier saying that you need your company culture which is the most important one. Now I’m saying you might need two different cultures, I’m not sure how these two but I think you really need two different things or you need both of these things otherwise – obviously, the first one make sure your business keeps going stronger but you need a little thing on the side just exploring that there are still opportunities that might actually become bigger. Not just as the defensive matter but also that there could be one great opportunity there.

Jürgen: There some great insights there. That’s really good. So thanks Johnson. It’s been really a great interview today. Where can people reach out to you and say thank you for all the things that you’ve shared today and all the great insights?

Johnson:  Thank you. If people don’t mind, they can email me directly at johnson@boysen.com.ph and if that’s mouthful to remember, people can look me up where we hooked up on the LinkedIn page – that might be easy.

Jürgen:  So in LinkedIn as well as email, we will put the link underneath the video. So thanks very much Johnson, it’s been an absolute privilege today.  It’s been really enlightening. I’ve learned a lot and it’s been exciting to learn a lot more about the KNOxOUT development in particular. So thanks very much for being on the InnovaBuzz Podcast.

Johnson: Oh thank you, Jürgen. It’s my honour. Thank you.


Jürgen: Hi! I hope you enjoyed meeting Johnson as much I enjoyed interviewing him. We both had a ball in that interview and we both learned a lot. There are a lot of gems in the interview particularly around a culture of innovation and having a right team in place and removing the barriers that might be in the way for them to get on with innovation. The show notes and resources for this interview will be at innovabiz.com.au /johnsonongking.

You can also subscribe to the InnovaBuzz podcast over on iTunes or Stitcher so that you will never miss a future episode.

Now I was so engrossed with talking to Johnson about all the innovation that is going on at Pacific Paint Boysen particularly the KNOxOUT , that I completely forgot to ask who he recommends that I interview next on the InnovaBuzz Podcast. He suggested to me after we stopped recording two names of people who I should interview. The first one is Glen Finkel from a company in the US called Pureti and they have developed a clear version of the KNOxOUT product that Johnson talked about.

They’ve been working on that for over 10 years. They’ve developed a range of very innovative products. In fact they’ve won a lot of awards including the 2012 Edison Award which is a very prestigious award in the innovation area. So Glen, look out in your inbox you will be receiving an invitation from me for the InnovaBuzz Podcast.

The other gentleman that Johnson recommends that I interview is Miguel Nieva. Miguel is the creator of ColorAdd which is a system for colour blind people to recognise colour. That’s right, colour blind people recognising colours through the use of this system called ColorAdd. Now this is currently used in the subway in stations in cities in Portugal on the maps,  so that colour blind people can understand those maps much more easily and also it’s starting to be used on paint cans which Johnson obviously became more interested in.  Now this is an idea that Galileo magazine has featured amongst the 40 top ideas that are going to change the world so that really is something that has got recognition and it’s already in practical use.  So Miguel look out in your inbox you too will be receiving an invitation to the InnovaBuzz Podcast.

Now a reminder about the competition today – the prize is a copy of my workshop “Seven Website Design Secrets to Get you More Sales “. That’s a  video series together with the workbook and resources guide and to be in the running to win that competition, leave a comment below the video and tell us about something innovative you’ve done where you combined science and art in a way that has enhanced that innovation. So, be very descriptive, explain to us what you’ve done – even include images or video if you like. So we do want you to do a little bit of work and make some effort but that’s why we give out the prize. So leave a comment under the video and in few weeks I’ll ask Johnson to swing by and award the prize.

Finally I’ll sign off with my usual reminder and that is:  if you don’t innovate, you will stagnate. So think big, be adventurous and innovate on!

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Jürgen Strauss

Dr. Jürgen Strauss is The World's Best Human-Centred Podcasting Coach and the only Podcast Innovator with the signature bright yellow headphones, who masterfully crafts human connection for high-impact achievers in a vibrant community. You can find Jürgen on LinkedIn, The InnovaBuzz Podcast, The Flywheel Nation Community as well as on Innovabiz' InstagramTwitter, Facebook pages and his personal Photography website.  

1 Comment

  1. Joanne Clark on August 30, 2014 at 10:18

    Great to hear the focus of Johnson Ongking on people development and leadership in Pacific Paints Boysen – a focus that is often lost at the long term peril of a company success -they could learn alot from Pacific Paints Boysen. And this focus extends to understanding and responding to the needs of their customers – which means the delivery of quality product, service and innovation is guaranteed. WOW paint on our walls filtering and purifying our air – now that is AWESOME! Thank you for sharing your insights and experiences Johnson and adding value to my and other businesses who hear your message. Great model of business development for us all

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