In Yangon, one Kachin entrepreneur pursues global dreams

It has been ten years since Ko Zin Myo Htik, owner of Myanmar Gasket (MG), left his hometown in Moe Kaung city, Kachin State, for Yangon, where he is now pursuing his dream of building a Myanmar gasket factory supplying international-quality gaskets to the global market.

A gasket is a mechanical seal which fills the space between two or more mating surfaces. It serves to prevent leakage from or into the joined objects while under compression and commonly used in various industries from automotive to oil and gas. MG currently produces Yangon’s best-quality gaskets for the car industry, according to Ko Zin Myo Htik.

“Currently, my products are 30 percent cheaper than foreign-made products and better quality than some China-made products of the same quality. Compared to the local products, mine is the best,” he told The Myanmar Times. With the exception of steel gaskets, Ko Zin Myo Htik said he can now make gaskets of every size.

But to achieve his longer term goal of going global though, Ko Zin Myo Htik will need K1billion to build a factory. That’s attainable if he generates regular annual earnings of K150 million-K200 million, according to his estimates. However, Ko Zin Myo Htik has some immediate roadblocks to clear before he is able to hit those targets.

“I have job orders but I need to afford the basics first to supply the order. For instance, I need money for molds, raw materials. That takes up a lot of my cash now. Suffice to say, I sometimes need to buy curry on credit,” he said with a smile.

Starting small

Ko Zin Myo Htik first stumbled upon the idea of starting a gasket business more than ten years ago, when his brother bought a gasket manufacturing business in Moe Kaung city. Choosing to avoid the jade and gold mining path taken by many Kachin youth and careful to stay away from rampant drug usage in the area, he went to work as his brother’s assistant

“I realised that we were running the business the traditional way. With technical skills and some good-will, this business had huge potential to take off,” said Ko Zin Myo Htik, who is of Chinese and Myanmar heritage.

In 2007, armed with a small toolbox, he moved 50 miles away to the Kachin capital city of Myit Kyi Nar city to open a second branch to his brother’s business. His big break came soon after, when tensions between the Kachin ethnic armed forces and the military escalated into civil war, resulting in roadblocks that hampered the flow of China-made gaskets into the region.

As it turned out, although his products were pricier than those made in China, Ko Zin Myo Htik quickly became the city’s main gasket supplier. Because his products were also of better quality, he soon built up a network of regular customers.

Google aid

With demand rising fast, Ko Zin Myo Htik was forced to work much faster and more systematically than ever. At the same time, his search for a more productive solution led him to purchase a SIM card, then priced at a minimum of K200,000 each, from the government. With the help of a friend, Ko Zin Myo Htik began learning how to use the Internet.

“My friend first directed me to the Google page but I didn’t know what to do next,” he recalled. “He then showed me how to type in the Google search box. So I typed ‘gasket’ in the search box and it was the start of everything”. On the Internet, Ko Zin Myo Htik learned that for every gasket made by hand, around 100 could be made by a machine.

In Yangon, he bought one used by the garment industry that was also able to cut and shape gaskets. That turned out to be a mistake, as the machine was not able to churn out sufficient quantities of gaskets to keep up with demand. The manufacturing process was further slowed as additional work using a ten-pound hammer was needed to refine the gaskets

When he fell sick after attempting to finish making 500 gaskets a day using his new garment machine, Ko Zin Myo Htik threw in the towel. Scraping up all of his savings, he bought a hydraulic press machine for K3.6 million and rebuilt the business, eventually expanding into several towns in Kachin State.

When the machine broke down, he created innovative solutions, such as finding alternative replacement parts to keep things going. “It was a relief that I have some talent with the machines,” he said.

Down but not out

But Ko Zin Myo Htik never forgot his dreams to go global. That finally drew him to Yangon eight months ago. “No one in Yangon can make good gaskets like me,” he said. “I am pretty sure”.

Holding up a locally-made and MG-manufactured gasket at his Yangon workshop recently, he said: “Look, mine are neat and tidy. I calculate the dimensions with systematic engineering and produce according to a standard quality. The others are not exactly in shape.”

“The mechanic is very glad if the gasket fits where it is needed. If it does not fit, the mechanic is disappointed. I can make my customers happy.”

In fact, some of Ko Zin Myo Htik’s customers are already reinforcing and reselling his gaskets overseas at an international premium. “Although I know this, I cannot do the same because I need new and better machines but I can’t afford it now,” he said.

It could take a while before he can. Soon after arriving in Yangon, Ko Zin Myo Htik spent all his money on a Japan-made hydraulic machine for K23 million, leaving him struggling to pay rent. After his former landlord in South Dagon Industrial Zone passed away, he was asked to fork out the required six months to one year’s worth of rent upfront. That forced him to take up the small room he now shares with his assistant instead.

Greener pastures

Ko Zin Myo Htik hasn’t lost hope though. Since moving to Yangon, he has connected with gasket producers in ASEAN and plans to sell his products in the region within the next five years. He is already receiving some purchase orders from them. He also sends some gaskets back to his regular customers in Myit Kyi Nar and has established new connections at the Thilawa Special Economic Zone.

“Gaskets are needed everywhere the machine exists, so the market is huge,” he said.

Source: Myanmar Times