MALAYSIA: His multi-million-dollar business is built around sex and pleasure, and Mr Goh Miah Kiat must constantly think of way to get people to buy and use his company’s prophylactics. 

He’ll rattle on about the appeal of various types of condoms – ranging from the durian-spiked to the tattoo-inspired.

Yet when it comes to explaining to his daughter what he does for a living, the 39-year-old can be as flustered as any dad faced with that birds-and-bees talk.

“You know, people tell me I can put on a straight face talking about condoms. But when it comes to a morning when the daughter comes and asks you, ‘Pa what are you doing?’, I hide under my blanket and say, ‘that’s your mum’s job’,” he said, laughing.

Asked jokingly if his four children are a result of “product deficiency”, he quips back: “No, I call that succession planning.”

Mr Goh is the chief executive of Malaysian company Karex – which, it might surprise many to learn, is the world’s largest condom manufacturer.

One in every five condoms in the world’s supply comes out of its factories, and it includes those made for well-known brands such as Durex.

One in every five condoms in the world’s supply comes from Karex’s plants.

Headquartered in Port Klang, some 25 minutes’ drive southwest of Kuala Lumpur, the company churned out about 5 billion condoms last year, and made US$77 million (S$106m) in revenue in 2016.

But Karex started out modestly as a family business dealing in rubber processing.  And in an interview with Power List Asia, Mr Goh talked about how the condom-making business “almost did not happen”. (Watch the full episode here.)

The company’s near-bust-to-boom story has been one of constant reinvention.

FROM NEAR-BUST TO BOOM

Mr Goh’s grandfather started a rubber-processing factory which became successful. But amid the mid-1980s global commodities crash, the business ran into trouble.

So in 1988, they changed tack. “We had two ideas – we had our first condom machine and we wanted to go into gloves as well,” said Mr Goh. But the second machine eventually ended up being converted for condom-making as well.

The first few years were particularly rocky, as they were new to the industry with zero track record. He said:

In fact, we nearly went bust. We owed rental for over a year and we couldn’t pay for it. We were almost on the brink of selling the only machine we had.

Mr Goh himself joined the business in 1999 after graduation. It had not been his father’s intention for him to do so.

But after his dad died unexpectedly during his second year at university in Sydney, he said: “My aunt and uncles told me, ‘you should come back because we need help’. So I came back (after graduation) and I was tasked to sort of manage the whole sales and marketing division.”

Karex was then chalking up about RM$7m (S$2.2m) in sales. Sixteen years later, that’s grown exponentially to RM$350m.

Mr Goh was 36 when he took over the reins as CEO in 2013. That same year, the company was listed.

MORE THAN A CONTRACEPTIVE

Karex now has factories in Malaysia and Thailand. In its nondescript factory in Port Klang, machines run 24 hours a day to meet the burgeoning demand for condoms.

While the bulk of the condoms are sold to brands, governments and non-government organisations, in the last two years Karex has made five acquisitions – including of the United States condom brand ONE, known for its hip packaging that appeals to a younger market profile.

Mr Goh thinks the demand for condoms will continue to boom, as half of the world’s population of 7.5 billion is under the age of 25. “There will be a lot more people who will be sexually active,” he said.

And while he might joke about talking to his children on the subject, he does think youth sex education is a serious matter – albeit a “sensitive” one, he acknowledges. Indeed, with ONE, Karex is specifically targeting the youth market.

WATCH: 3 things to know (2:34)