You are on page 1of 11

CON

O
ON
VER
E
ER
CEO
CONVERSATIONS
2015 golden jubilee edition
The Business Times | Thursday, July 16, 2015

People power
Singapore may not have any natural resources to speak of, but its
success has been built on a hardworking and resilient population

Ph

Inside
Treating back and neck pain

Pushing boundaries

Keeping a nation fit

Equipping a nations development

Doing good and doing well

Spreading the good news of natural therapy

10

Maintaining quality standards

A Singapore within Singapore

11

Supplying a nations household needs

12

The economic miracle

6-7

Supplement editor: Lilian Ang Sub-editor: Lee Kim Siang Cover design: Gareth Chung Photographer: Joseph Nair
Advertising sales: Lam Wy-ning 9368 5685; Jaclyn Sim 8333 5665

ot

i
o:

St

oc

KEY strength of Singapore is its


hardworking, adaptable,
goal-oriented, and resilient
population. Without the advantage
of natural resources, Singapore
has had to rely heavily on human
capital to achieve its goals.
Washington-based risk consultancy agency,
Business Environment Risk Intelligence, has rated
Singapores labour force as the worlds best
workers since 1980. To some extent, it can be said
that the Republic has been successful on the
domestic and international stage because of the
quality of its labour force.
The government, under the late founding
prime minister Lee Kuan Yew, made it a priority
to develop its human capital, and this approach
has continued to this very day. Education is
taken very seriously.
All Singaporean children are required to
complete 10 years of basic education from
primary to secondary levels, before opting for
either the polytechnics, junior colleges,
pre-university institutes or the Institute of
Technical Education.
The number of publicly funded universities
has grown from three to six in the last few years,
and by 2020, 40 per cent of each cohort will get
a university place. This expansion of the cohort
participation rate has been designed to place
emphasis on applied degree pathways to create
a diverse pool of graduate talent to meet the
changing demands of the economy.
Beyond tertiary institutions, the government
also places emphasis on the importance of
lifelong learning. Singaporeans, especially older
workers, are exhorted to take charge of their
career development and to continually upgrade
their skills.

On its part, the government has rolled out


SkillsFuture, a new national movement to provide
all Singaporeans with opportunities to develop
their fullest potential throughout life. The aim
is to ensure that the skills, passion and
contributions of every individual will drive
Singapores next phase of development towards
an advanced economy and inclusive society.
Singapore also has two new Continuing
Education and Training campuses in Paya Lebar
and Jurong East, called the Lifelong Learning
Institute and the Devan Nair Institute for
Employment and Employability respectively. They
were developed to champion continual learning
for working adults. This emphasis on continual
learning is not confined to selected industries.
Every working adult, regardless of profession,
is encouraged to constantly learn and improve.
In the fourth part of BTs CEO Conversations
Golden Jubilee supplement, we speak to
professionals and business leaders who have
succeeded because the Singapore system enabled
them to realise their full potential. Many also had
opportunities to pick up different skills and
change careers.
Food and beverage entrepreneur, Jun Low,
CEO of JC Concepts was a Singapore Airlines air
stewardess before joining the Singapore stock
market as an analyst. She later became an
institutional stockbroker before finally taking the
plunge to become an entrepreneur.
Peter Lim, CEO of Natures Glory, was a highly
paid business consultant but switched careers at
48 years of age to start an organic food business.
We are doing nation building through health
and productivity. So instead of getting sick often
and attending to migraine problems, people can
have fewer distractions and focus on their work,
he says. BY LEE U-WEN

CEO
CONVERSATIONS
2015 golden jubilee edition

The Business Times | Thursday, July 16, 2015

Treating back and neck pain


Neuro Spine and Pain Centre is part of a medical cluster that has helped establish Singapores reputation in the healthcare industry

S THE the number of office jobs grew in Singapore along with the
countrys development,
so has the number of
people suffering from
back and neck problems. Accompanying
that trend has been a rise in the number of patients to the Neuro Spine and Pain Center Singapore at Mount Elizabeth Hospital.
Back and neck pain used to be seen mainly in those who worked in physically demanding jobs like heavy industry workers and construction workers, observes Prem Pillay, the
clinics medical director and spine specialist.
In the past decade, however, executives
have made up an increasingly larger proportion of the centres clientele, as prolonged sitting, poor posture, frequent business travel
and the overuse of computers lead to back
and neck problems.
When one sits for extended periods, is inactive or overloads the spine, it leads to increased pressure on the spine discs, causing
it to break down and slip out. When this occurs, there is pressure on the nerves, causing
back and neck pain.
This pain, when related to office work and
sports, can often be treated without surgery if
assessed and diagnosed properly, says Dr Pillay. Proper medication plus spine therapy, including ergonomic improvements in a
patients home and workplace, can enable
him or her to recover more quickly.
Some, however, require spine injections to
reduce the level of pain and to help in the recovery process. Others with spine tumours,
particularly those that are related to cancer,
can be treated with advanced forms of precision radiosurgery and stereotactic radiation,
or with spine microsurgery.
There are advanced treatments available
to provide relief to those suffering from back
and neck pain, and to help patients quickly return to their workplaces and normal routines.
This, the centre does with treatments using
the latest proven technologies and devices.

their pain which, in the long term, reduces the


costs to companies from the days theyre
away from work and also medical bills, says
Dr Pillay.
The rise in the problem of back pain is also
not unique to Singapore, but a global phenomenon. A recent study published in the medical
journal Lancet highlighted back pain as the
top cause of disease and disability in the
world.
We are sitting for long hours at work and
for many hours at home, with poor posture
and too little activity, he says. The proliferation of work and social interaction done on
computers, smartphones and tablets has contributed to this. Companies can take the initiative in managing the spine health of their employees by arranging preventive talks, he
adds.
We are also seeing more patients who get
injured at the gym and by sports activities including golf, running and other impact and
loading activities that can stress the spine.
It is no surprise then that Singapore sees
patients from around the region. There is no
real competition in the region for the quality
of health care provided by Singapore doctors
who have graduated from medical schools in
Singapore and those in developed countries
and have pursued post graduate training in
the USA and other advanced countries, says
Dr Pillay. That gap will remain for the foreseeable future.

PHOTO: JOSEPH NAIR


In the process, the Neuro Spine and Pain
Center has contributed together with other
Singapore healthcare providers towards making Singapore a world-class medical destination for both local and international patients.
It also added a branch clinic Advanced
Spine and Back Pain Center two years ago at
Mount Elizabeth Novena.

In the last 10 years, the centre has been


able to make available less invasive spine
treatments, and educated its patients on the
prevention of backache and neck pain caused
by lifestyles and the workplace.
It works with other disciplines including
physiotherapists to help its patients manage

We wish for Singapore


to remain stable,
prosperous and open to
the best medical talent.
Prem Pillay, Neuro Spine and Pain
Center Singapore medical director

After NUS Medical School, Dr Pillay pursued post-graduate training at the Cleveland
Clinic in the US, where he was chief resident in
neurosurgery. He also trained at the University of Toronto teaching hospital and the MD Anderson University of Texas hospital.
Sharing his hopes for Singapore on its 50th
year of independence, he says: We wish for
Singapore to remain stable, prosperous and
open to the best medical talent. We can then
continue to improve and provide the best in
spine and pain care for Singaporeans and other people outside Singapore who choose to be
here for medical treatment.

BACK PAIN &


NECK PAIN

RELIEF

ADVANCED SPINE AND BACK PAIN CENTER


is a Specialist Center dedicated to advanced assessments and
treatments for an early and good quality recovery from back and
neck pain, and spine injury. The conditions we treat include
spine injury, slipped discs in the spine, and spine tumors.

DR PREM PILLAY

SEEK THE BEST IN LIFE TO


LEAVE YOUR PAIN BEHIND.
TREATMENT

Modern Spine assessments and scanning


No Surgery Advanced Treatments
Spine Microsurgery and Endoscopic Surgery
Advanced Back Pain and Neck Pain Treatments
Advanced Minimally Invasive Spine Microsurgery
Spine and Brain Tumor Micro and Radiosurgery

MBBS(NUS,Singapore)

Consultant Neurosurgeon and Medical


Director
MBBS (NUS, Singapore), FRCS (Canada),
FACS (USA), FRCS (Ed)
Chief Resident in Neurosurgery
Cleveland Clinic, USA
Accredited Singapore Specialist and
FAMS (Neurosurgery)
Member of the Amercian Association of
Neurological Surgeons
Member of the International Society for
the Advancement of Spine Surgery

Advanced Spine injections as day treatments

APPOINTMENTS: +65 6835 4325 | EMAIL: clinicsg@yahoo.com | EMERGENCY HOTLINE: +65 6535 8833 | WEBSITE: www.singaporespine.org
ADVANCED SPINE AND BACK PAIN CENTER

Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital


38 Irrawaddy Road #07-35, Mount Elizabeth Novena Specialist Centre
Singapore 329563
Emergency Tel: +65 6535 8833

NEUROSPINE & PAIN CENTER SINGAPORE

Mount Elizabeth Hospital


3 Mt Elizabeth Singapore #15-03A, Mt Elizabeth Medical Centre
Singapore 228510
Tel: +65 6835 4325 | Fax: +65 6835 4326 | Email: clinicsg@yahoo.com

CEO CONVERSATIONS
2015 golden jubilee edition

The Business Times | Thursday, July 16, 2015

|3

Keeping a
nation fit
Exercise equipment retailer AIBI has helped Singapore stay
healthy and look good for 30 years

ALK into
the brand
new corporate headquarters of
fitness
equipment
retailer
AIBI in Yishun, and a visitor can be treated to a
tour of the companys showroom, training
centre and a large gym containing state-ofthe-art machines that employees can use in
their free time.
Pauline Kwek, AIBIs marketing director, is
eager to show off one of their latest creations
a treadmill combined with a desk which the
company dubs the AIBI EZ Tone Desk. It allows people to own a treadmill that doubles
up as a bench when folded.
In just three decades, AIBI has grown from
a single Peoples Park Complex shop to a
brand with over 120 retail outlets and agents
in Singapore, Indonesia, Taiwan, China, Myanmar and India. It has over 75 per cent of the
market share in the consumer fitness industry in Singapore. Sales growth has been in the
double-digit annual percentages in the last
five years. Selling prices have only gone in
one direction: up.
Branding is very important. Its about
trust, Ms Kwek says. AIBI sources a wide
range of health, fitness and beauty products
globally, and as a trusted brand, we need to
make sure the products we import are safe,
genuine and effective. With this commitment
to our product line, AIBI has become a recognised market leader in the region. AIBI began
when Ms Kweks mother Alice Teo, who was
then in her 50s, wanted to look good and stay
fit but could not get the exercise equipment
she wanted.
My dad was in the business of distributing
and importing electronics goods, and my

mum used to travel a lot with him, Ms Kwek


recalls. Every time my dad went for a meeting overseas, my mum would be looking
through the Yellow Pages directory for business opportunities, she says.
One day in 1985, when visiting a tradeshow in Australia, Mdm Teo came across the
AIBI Healthtronic slimming device, which uses electrical pulses to stimulate muscles to
help burn excess fats and tone muscles with
little effort needed by the user. It was a technological breakthrough in the market then,
Ms Kwek says.
Mdm Teo brought the product to Singapore that year. AIBI also began selling a 5-in-1
exercise machine, which allowed the user to
jog, row, do sit-ups, push-ups and waist
twists. This machine was also a breakthrough
then. Selling innovative products to help people keep fit and look good is why AIBI is
named thus: Achieving Individuals Beliefs
through Innovation.
From its humble beginnings, AIBIs range
of products quickly expanded. However, the
company stayed true to its successful model
of sourcing the best and latest fitness products for clients. For instance, in the 1990s, the
company introduced the popular Jane Fonda
Fitness Rider, a cycling machine named after
the American actress and fitness guru. Later
in the 2000s, the company sold treadmills
with TVs, dubbed the Teletread.
Today, AIBI continues innovating and
bringing in new products. It is aggressively expanding into the commercial gym market,
supplying larger customers like gyms, condominiums, hospitals and other institutions
with top brands from the US and Australia.
All our equipment is specially designed with
the users in mind. They are made to be safe
and effective, she says.
Other than the traditional range of gym
equipment, AIBI has expanded to sell a range
of health and beauty products. AIBI also

PHOTO: JOSEPH NAIR


brings in the latest products from Japan. One
of them is the Sixpad body toner which is endorsed by Real Madrid football star Cristiano
Ronaldo. Another Japanese product endorsed
by the star and carried by AIBI is the PAO gadget that allows its users to exercise their facial
muscles to create a youthful smile.
Ms Kwek says AIBI managed to rise above
its competitors because it made the heavy investments required to bring products from
numerous brands into Singapore. It also ensured it provided reliable after-sales service.
One challenge the company faces is that
more consumers are opting to buy online,
where many counterfeit products exist for a
fraction of the price of the original. To address this, Ms Kwek says her salespeople educate customers on the existence of fakes and
what they look like. Meanwhile, the company
has set up an online store and is promoting it
vigorously. We find that customers still like
to touch and feel products, to make sure what
they see is what they get, she says.
AIBI not only sells health and fitness products, but is actively involved in keeping Singaporeans fit and healthy. It was one of the sponsors of the Health Promotion Boards Million
Kg challenge to encourage weight loss, where
it provided a few thousand pedometers to

track workouts. AIBI also sponsors fitness


events like the Straits Times Run and the
Shape Run.
Recently, AIBI also helped supply equipment for the first outdoor gym for seniors at
Jurong Point mall. This was in response to the
ageing population in Singapore and was part
of its efforts to help keep the entire nation fit,
healthy and fitness-conscious.
Ms Kwek emphasises AIBI strongly believes people should be able to look good and
feel great. In fact, the company is primed to introduce a new range of products specially catered to the needs of the ageing population,
she says.
For the future, AIBI will continue to bring in
products it believes will work, she says. The
process of finding the best product starts
from the ground up, such that AIBI will always
expand its brand in line with what customers
want and need. Our frontline salesmen are
our eyes and ears. They tell us what our customers are looking for, Ms Kwek says.
Ms Kwek herself is the consummate salesperson and model employee. Im always on
the ground, I like talking to people, understanding their needs. I believe in working
hard and not taking shortcuts, she says.
A customer-centric model and an expan-

sive product-line means AIBIs customers


keep coming back, she says. Twenty years
ago, customers bought products for strength
training. Now, as they have gotten older, they
come to our outlets seeking products for back
pain, flexibility training or cardio workouts.
We continue to have the right product for
their changing needs. Our customers grow
with us, and we grow with them too.

Branding is very
important. Its about
trust. AIBI sources a
wide range of health,
fitness and beauty
products globally, and
as a trusted brand, we
need to make sure the
products we import are
safe, genuine and
effective.
Pauline Kwek (above left),
AIBIs marketing director

CEO
CONVERSATIONS
2015 golden jubilee edition

The Business Times | Thursday, July 16, 2015

Doing good
and doing
well

By providing free treatment for the elderly and


the needy, B9 Dental Centre has lifted overall
dentistry standards and changed more than a
few lives in the process

9 DENTAL Centre may only be two


years old, but its contributions to Singapore are already unmistakeable. By
providing high-quality dental care at
fair and transparent prices, the clinic
has helped to lift overall dentistry
standards and has changed more
than a few lives in the process. If that
sounds like a sweeping statement, consider this: at B9, the
elderly and those from low-income families get free treatment for basic services, such as cleanings and extractions.
Said B9 chief executive officer Raymond Lim: Many of
these patients cant afford dental treatment, and they
have a lot of broken teeth. Thats dangerous especially for
the elderly, because broken teeth and gum disease can
lead to heart problems. Here, we dont reject you just because you cannot pay.
While the government gives dental care subsidies to
the elderly and those from low-income families, these subsidies are sometimes insufficient to cover a basic cleaning. But we still treat these patients for free they dont
pay a single cent. And all the aunties and uncles are always so happy because they have never had the chance to
get their dental problems fixed before, says Dr Lim.

A patients-first approach
Its apt, then, that B9 is so named because it sounds like
be nice. While Dr Lim had previously worked in
brand-name chains with clinics around the island, he
knew that someday, he would aim to run his own clinic.
That dream turned into reality in March 2013, when he
opened his Clementi branch.
When I started B9, my motivation was to build a practice that is nice to everyone, and where everything is done
in a good way, says Dr Lim. Part of the good comes from
being a business with great heart, by treating patients who
would otherwise find dental care prohibitively expensive.
B9 also absorbs all GST (goods & services tax) charges a
hefty six-figure sum yearly.

But another part comes from upholding high service


standards, with an unwavering commitment to putting
patients interests first. To achieve this, Dr Lim creates an
ecosystem where technology, bedside manners, and even
clinic design melds together for an optimal patient experience.
Take for instance B9s approach to providing an infection-free environment. While a sterilisation machine is a
standard feature in any dental clinic, B9 invests in pricey
autoclave cleaners. Because these use a pressure chamber
that subjects supplies to high-pressure saturated steam,
such machines not only clean the surface of tools, but also
sterilise at the micro level as well.
B9 clinics are also custom-fitted with handle-free drawers, to minimise the need for dentists to touch unclean surfaces with their fingers. Instead of using his hands to pull
open a cabinet, Dr Lim uses only his elbow, knee, or foot
to press on drawers; these then spring outwards for easy
access to their contents.
Says Dr Lim: Its worth it to invest, whether in equipment or in smart clinic designs, so that infection control is
a priority. Just imagine that its someone you love sitting
in your chair youd want to make sure that theres no
chance of them contracting an infection.
B9 also uses technology to improve the quality of communication between dentists and patients. For example,
clinics are outfitted with intraoral cameras portable
hand-held cameras that take extremely detailed images of
the mouth, teeth, and gums for diagnosis. Pictures taken
are used to explain a patients condition.
We register a photo before and after treatment for all
patients, at no charge. We do this because we want to let
the patient understand what condition they have and
what well do to address it. Actually what Im trying to do
is to improve communication, because without this camera, the dentist will just tell the patient: You have this and
that, and whether or not the patient understands him will
depend on his imagination. With pictures, the patients can
clearly see what Im saying, says Dr Lim.

PHOTO: JOSEPH NAIR


This effort to ensure fairness and transparency also extends to its pricing. For one, B9s rates are reasonable. But
beyond affordability, B9 is also unique in its refusal to
charge add-on fees it does not bill customers for sterilisation, consumables or consultation fees.
One of his more controversial approaches to high-quality patient care is his insistence that every single treatment
room be outfitted with a CCTV camera. This is good for
the patient, and its also good for the doctor. We are also
telling patients that we have nothing to hide, notes
Dr Lim.

Thriving business
These upstanding business practices have served B9 well;
the group has undergone a rapid expansion in the past
couple of years, and is showing no signs of stopping.
In fact, what started as a single clinic in Clementi in
2013 has now grown to a group of three clinics, with the
other two located at Toa Payoh and Star Vista. The original
Clementi clinic will also double its footprint come August
this year. Plans to expand domestically and to Malaysia
and Indonesia in the next five years are also on the cards,
reveals Dr Lim.
But how does a big-hearted company survive and make
profits, especially when it absorbs GST, offers far cheaper

When a patient understands


what youre doing and sees
that you are doing good, they
will eventually feel the
difference and slowly
introduce more and more
people to you.
B9 chief executive officer Raymond Lim
prices, and even gives free treatment to some? When a patient understands what youre doing and sees that you are
doing good, they will eventually feel the difference and
slowly introduce more and more people to you, says
Dr Lim.
In fact, as a mark of the groups performance revenue
growth increased 30 per cent year-on-year from 2013 to
2014 Dr Lim has been approached by several investors
who are keen to get in on B9s winning formula. Even with
his humble demeanour, his pride for the business is understandably palpable. After all, B9 has proven that businesses can do good, and still do well.

The Business Times | Thursday, July 16, 2015

CEO CONVERSATIONS
2015 golden jubilee edition

|5

Maintaining quality standards


The Hatten Group of Companies is looking beyond Malaysia to extend its brand name to new territories but not at the expense of service standards

LTHOUGH significant
numbers of Singaporeans have not been to Malaysia despite its close
proximity to the city
state, a great many frequently head up for
short weekend getaways. Especially popular with Singaporeans
are Johor Bahru, Melaka and Penang.
Spotting the business and tourism potential more than a decade ago, the Hatten Group
of Companies embarked on a foray into the
hotel industry, with Melaka as the focal point.
Today, its maiden hotel Hatten Hotel
Melaka is the largest premier hotel in Melaka
with 704 deluxe suites and multiple awards to
its name. The hotel is currently running at 85
per cent weekly occupancy, Hatten Group of
Companies group chief executive officer Edwin Tan Ping Huang says, beaming broadly.
Encouraged by the success of its flagship
hotel, Hatten recently completed Estadia by
Hatten a 196-room Peranakan-themed boutique three-star hotel that will afford its
guests a cultural glimpse and taste of a
unique attribute of Melakas rich history.
Not one to do things in small measures,
Hatten has other upcoming additions in the
historical state. One that is sure to be of interest to travellers is the premium brand
580-room Teddie Bear Hotel, or the even larger 780-room Harbour Suites on Pulau Melaka.
Having established a number of hotels in
Melaka, Hattens move south is not entirely
surprising and Edwin says Johor will soon see
a maiden Hatten hotel Capital
Suites@Capital City in the economic zone of
Iskandar Malaysia.
We notice that Singaporeans are one of
the main influencers in Malaysias tourism industry and this data is crucial in our efforts to
expand the Hatten Group Hospitality and Lifestyle division. We are currently concentrating
on growing our chain of hotels within Malaysia, which is one of the top holiday spots for
Singaporeans who frequent this neighbouring
country for short weekend getaways.

As I am primarily in charge of developing


the Hatten Group Hospitality and Lifestyle division, my vision is to drive Hatten Group Hospitality to be among the top hotel chains in Malaysia within the next 10 years.
Hattens property interests in Malaysia are
certainly wide-ranging. It describes itself as a
market leader specialising in the transformation of premier landscapes but also has core
businesses in construction, asset management & investment, and an impressive portfolio of high-rise luxury mixed developments,
residential towers, strata malls, and a hospitality & lifestyle division which Edwin heads.
Edwin pointed out approximately 45 per
cent of stakeholders in Hattens hotel develop-

By the year 2020,


Hatten Group
Hospitality and Lifestyle
division is expected to
own and manage over
5,000 hotel rooms in
Malaysia alone.
Hatten Group of Companies group chief
executive officer Edwin Tan Ping Huang
ments are Singaporeans and that the groups
developments in Malaysia provide investors
an opportunity to secure their capital in a
trusted brand with sureties for the future.
To serve its clients better, the group has established its Singapore headquarters at Mohamed Sultan Road. By the year 2020, Edwin
says Hatten Group Hospitality and Lifestyle division is expected to own and manage over
5,000 hotel rooms in Malaysia alone.
To ensure quality standards, the group has
inked memorandums of understanding with
international giants Hilton Worldwide, Marriott International and Hyatt Hotels Corporation. Good communications and work ethic
are very important to Hatten. As such staff
and personnel receive high levels of training.
A graduate of the University of Dublin, Ire-

land with a BSc in Finance, Edwin also holds a


Diploma in International Business & Human
Resources Management from Nanyang Polytechnic, Singapore.
He acknowledges his service standards are
demanding. As the representatives of the
group, our teams are dedicated to achieving
100 per cent customer satisfaction.
The hospitality awards that Hatten has
been accorded are a testament to various
achievements. Awards include Asia Pacific
Property Awards 2015 for Highly Commended Hotel Interior Malaysia; Global Brands Magazine Awards 2014 for Best Roof Top View,
Malaysia; World Luxury Hotel Awards 2014
for Luxury Suite Hotel; and International Hotel Awards 2011 for Highly Commended New
Hotel Construction & Design Malaysia.
A veteran of more than 12 years in the
property and hospitality trade, Edwin is highly involved in planning and facilitating new development strategies for the group.
He was responsible for conceptualising
and managing the popular Hatten Hotel Melaka and, given his experience, has now been
roped in to work on new projects to boost the
tourism industry in Melaka city.
Harbour City on Pulau Melaka is one such
project. Designed as a major tourist attraction
anchored by a world-class mall, theme park,
and hotels, the theme-park development is expected to attract an additional two million visitors to Melaka and add more value and income to the state economy.
Edwin assisted in getting the award-winning Sanderson Group onboard, and the internationally renowned thematic developer of
Warner Bros Movie World in Australia will
work on Harbour Citys Ocean Kingdom indoor and outdoor theme parks.
However, his vision and ambitions extend
beyond Melaka and Malaysia and he is looking
at new markets to introduce to the Hatten
brand name.
We are actively searching for land and
new territories to develop. In the next few
years we are planning to venture into countries such as China, Cambodia and Vietnam,
he reveals.

CEO
CONVERSATIONS
2015 golden jubilee edition

The Business Times | Thursday, July 16, 2015

CEO CONVERSATIONS
2015 golden jubilee edition

The Business Times | Thursday, July 16, 2015

Just being in Singapore is an


advantage because Singapore is in
the middle of the Asia-Pacific region,
and this is the region that has got
the highest growth rate in terms of
energy and petrochemical demand.

Over the past 70 years, the group has


developed a deep understanding of
both local and regional businesses
which has enabled its companies to be
leaders in their respective fields.

ExxonMobil Asia-Pacifics chairman and


managing director Gan Seow Kee

CDL group CEO Grant Kelley

Our transformation is an ongoing process


that allows us to constantly adapt and
excel in the dynamic business environment.
With the ability to embrace change,
Sembcorp Marine will continue to stay ahead
of the curve and partner with our customers
and vendors for long-term success.

The Asian values of prudence and


hard work have been instrumental to
establishing a network in South-east
Asia that is unrivalled in respect
of its reach and depth.

Wong Weng Sun,


president & CEO of Sembcorp Marine

We are in the healthy lifestyle and


well-being business. Everything we do
is focused on enhancing our
customers well-being, and we seek
to promote a healthy lifestyle for all.
Ron Sim, founder, chairman,
and CEO of OSIM International Ltd

These steadfast qualities of Singapore


Inc are also well aligned with that of
Smile Incs, and Smile Incs success
today is a validation of the
achievements of the former.
Smile Inc CEO and co-founder
Grace Chong-Tan

Wee Ee Cheong, deputy chairman


and CEO of UOB Group

The economic miracle


To governments who want to develop
advanced ports and related logistics,
we are happy to collaborate as joint
developers and sometimes advisers.
And to our customers and partners, our
vision is one of growing alongside them
in the locations that matter to them.
Tan Chong Meng,
PSA group chief executive officer

Our strength in freight forwarding and


logistics is also in our international
network. We work with 120 agents
and connect our customers to over
600 destinations worldwide.
Vibrant Group CEO Eric Khua

Our business is to provide the solution to


peoples real estate needs; be it selling,
buying or renting. We are involved in
all segments of the market; from
public housing to private; from
mass market to high end.
Jack Chua, ERAs chief executive officer

We integrate
engineering expertise in
our development focusing
on four key elements,
namely master-planning,
hydrology, terrain
and greenscapes.
Gamuda Lands managing
director Chow Chee Wah

By the year 2020, Hatten Group


Hospitality and Lifestyle division is
expected to own and manage over
5,000 hotel rooms in Malaysia alone.
Hatten Group of Companies group chief
executive officer Edwin Tan Ping Huang

We need to differentiate ourselves,


such that the regional countries
actually notice us . . . any corporation
today must think beyond Singapore.
T32 Dental Centre founder and managing
director Wong Keng Mun

We want a leadership team that


reflects the employee base were trying
to lead. It is also important for our
employee base to reflect the customers
that we serve. We need
Singaporeans and some global
talent at the table.
Michael Zink, Citis head of Asean
and country officer, Singapore

'Our engineers, architects and


other professionals are driven by
challenging projects. We are trained to
look at issues and problems as a
challenge, so we find that the
more difficult jobs will attract
more capable people to join us.

We are doing nation-building through


health and productivity. So instead of
getting sick often and attending to migraine
problems, people can have fewer
distractions and focus on their work.

Benedict Soh, executive chairman of Kingsmen Creatives

Peter Lim, president and CEO of Natures Glory

Prem Pillay, Neuro Spine


and Pain Center Singapore
medical director

Branding is very important. Its about trust. AIBI sources a


wide range of health, fitness and beauty products globally,
and as a trusted brand, we need to make sure the
products we import are safe, genuine and effective.
Pauline Kwek, AIBIs marketing director

JP Nelson chairman Nelson Lim

In the next five to 10 years,


Huawei will continue to focus on our pipe
strategy and to be a key player in the
establishment of 5G technology. We hope
to see 5G networks that will bring together
100 billion connections and revolutionise
the way we work, play and live.
Zhou Bin, chief executive officer
of Huawei International

Surbana Jurong Group CEO


Wong Heang Fine

We consciously said we will approach the way


we serve our clients like advertising agencies.
We serve their accounts, and provide long-term
quality services, ensuring that whatever we do for
them will last a long time and are well maintained.

We wish for
Singapore to remain
stable, prosperous and
open to the best
medical talent.

Currently, JP Nelson is expanding its


influence in the Asean region and
moving towards Asia. Our vision is to
be a globally trusted partner that
provides customer assurance and
partnership for business growth.

In our line of business,


service is very important,
so we need to take good
care of our staff first. Only
with a good team can we
service our clients better.

Ideas keep me going.


When theres revenue and profits,
Im motivated to do more,
be it new concepts or outlets.
Jun Low, CEO of JC Global Concepts

We deliver the project


completely, from installation to
maintenance. Service excellence
is important because we know
that our products and prices
can be easily duplicated.
But a strong service culture
can never be copied.
Minoru Hagiwara, Mitsubishi
Electric Asia managing director

Poh Choon Ann,


Poh Tiong Choon CEO

We are always researching and innovating,


improving upon our products. We also want
to design products that are eco-friendly
and help contribute to less wastage.
Chua Kee Tee, the founder of TOYOGO

In art, in painting, you have to do


it properly to get a good result
rather than rush everything.
Similarly a design firm should go
for quality, rather than volume.
Every client is unique, and we
want to serve each one well.
Eddy Lim, CEO of Chez Design

|7

CEO
CONVERSATIONS
2015 golden jubilee edition

The Business Times | Thursday, July 16, 2015

N 2006, when Jun Low wanted to


open a Chinese dim sum restaurant in Vivocity called hei she hui
(secret society in Chinese), the
Criminal Investigation Department of the Singapore Police Force
came knocking. They were worried that the name would cause
problems, recalls the food and beverage entrepreneur, whose holding company is called
JC Global Concepts, with a laugh. I brought
my concept presentation to them. The first
thing I told them was indeed Singapore used
to have triads, but the police force was so efficient that it swept them clean. . .
Second, I said where Singapore was opening up its tourism industry, and marketing itself overseas as an entertainment hub with
the integrated resorts and casinos, so why do
we want to enclose ourselves in a box? We
should be more innovative and adventurous.
Hei she hui is not a nightclub or disco but just
a restaurant with a black colour theme. It
would not pose the social problems affiliated
with nightspots, she says. Eventually they
told me: We like your concept, but we have instructions to try to convince you to change
the name, Ms Low says.
She stuck to her guns. Till this day, the
restaurants Chinese name still stands together with its chic, triad-themed black decor and
its more innocuous English name, Black Society.
Daring to carve a niche in a competitive
world is not new to Ms Low, whose own life
mirrored some parts of Singapores history. In
the 1980s, she began her career with our national carrier Singapore Airlines (SIA) as a
flight stewardess. In those days, the graceful
sarong kebaya-clad Singapore Girl gained
worldwide fame and was a dream job among
young ladies.
Having seen the world, Ms Low ventured
into the stock market. In the 1990s, the Singapore stock market was in a bull run. She was
an analyst and soon after an institutional
stockbroker.
Then, the CLOB shares saga in 1999
prompted a consolidation of the brokerage industry. In 2000, she left stockbroking and after two years, took the plunge to become an
entrepreneur. She embarked on a boutique
bakery venture on a friends suggestion and
connection to a shopping mall landlord in Kuala Lumpur.
In September 2002, Ms Low set up
Malaysias first boutique bakery selling designer breads. named BreadStory. It was located in the Mid Valley Megamall, then the biggest shopping mall in Kuala Lumpur.
Much buzz surrounded the opening and

Ideas keep me going.


When theres revenue
and profits, Im
motivated to do more,
be it new concepts or
outlets.
Jun Low, CEO of JC Global Concepts

PHOTO: JOSEPH NAIR

Pushing boundaries
From SIA stewardess to stockbroker to entrepreneur struggling with foreign worker
quotas, Jun Lows career has mirrored key events in Singapores history
BreadStory was given full media coverage on
most media platforms, including news coverage on national TV channel NTV7. She made
back her money within six months. The positive press coverage prompted many landlords to ask her to open her bakery at their
malls.
I did not expect the overwhelming outcome, and I was glad it was an immediate success. They didnt have it in the market. Everything was fresh and interesting, customers
dont just buy breads, they shopped for
breads, Ms Low recalls.
The successful beginning motivated her to

open 10 more BreadStory outlets within the


first two years. BreadStory soon became a
household brand and one of the largest boutique bakery chains in Kuala Lumpur. Today,
there are 14 company-run and owned BreadStory outlets and seven franchises in Malaysia, mostly in Kuala Lumpur. The chain also
has franchises overseas in Indonesia, Sydney,
Kuwait, the Philippines and Dubai.
During her first year in Kuala Lumpur,
Ms Low noticed a number of Hong Kong-style
cha chan tang (Cantonese for tea
restaurant/Hong Kong cafe) springing up
there.

She realised that no such concept existed


in Singapore yet. Ever enterprising, she set up
the first Hong Kong cafe in Singapore, located
in Holland Village in 2004. Named Central
Hong Kong Cafe, its affordable pricing and authentic Hong Kong fare kept customers coming. The following year, Central Hong Kong cafe set up another outlet, its flagship location,
in Takashimaya. Seven more branches followed in the years to come. Today, Central
Hong Kong cafe is in four locations in Singapore: Jurong Point, Orchard Central, The Star
Vista and Vivocity.
Meanwhile, Black Society was a hit with a

strong lunch crowd following, especially


among those looking for creative dim sum
and its famous custard lava bun. Young people loved the concept, Ms Low recalls. A
group of 18 people in their early 20s turned
up on Christmas Eve in 2006, the month Vivocity opened all dressed in black to celebrate a birthday, she says. When it came to
cake cutting and photo-taking, all of them
took out their black sunglasses!
Ms Low also owns another restaurant
called Yu Cuisine in Marina Bay Sands. Yu Cuisine is the only live Chinese seafood restaurant in Marina Bay Sands, she says. It serves
modern Chinese seafood like Hong Kong Aberdeen chilli crab, Singapores famous chilli
crab and black pepper crab. JC Global Concepts now hires more than 120 employees
each in Singapore and Malaysia, and brings in
S$20 million of revenue a year.
As Singapore celebrates its 50th anniversary, Ms Lows wish is for the government to do
more to help the food and beverage industry
find enough workers. I am not against foreign worker controls but there must be a solution to the woes the industry is facing due to
controls being too stringent, she says. Realistically, forcing the industry to consolidate will
only contradict the governments wish to encourage Singaporeans to be more enterprising.
The food and beverage industry is important if a country wants to strengthen its entertainment and tourism industry, she says.
Food brings people together and it contributes to the vibrancy of the economy. I hope
our country does not go backwards.
Service, says the former SIA stewardess, is
not just about putting dishes on the table. Service requires the human touch, and is not
something that can be automated away, she
says. Looking ahead, Ms Low says a period of
consolidation for her business is in order. But
she does not plan on retiring anytime soon.
Ideas keep me going. When theres revenue
and profits, Im motivated to do more, be it
new concepts or outlets.

CEO CONVERSATIONS
2015 golden jubilee edition

The Business Times | Thursday, July 16, 2015

|9

Equipping a
nations
development
JP Nelson has supplied construction equipment to some
of the biggest infrastructure projects in Singapore

QUIPMENT and machinery supplier JP Nelson


will be helping to build
one of the largest
man-made structures in
Singapore Changi Airport's Terminal 5. The future terminal is expected
to be about 10 times as big as the countrys
largest shopping mall; an impressive multi-billion dollar development that is likely to be
five-storeys high with 10 million square feet
of space.
It is the latest in a line of mega projects
that JP Nelson has undertaken over the years.
It was also involved in the construction of the
sprawling Resorts World Sentosa, the challenging Marina Coastal Expressway that includes an undersea tunnel, and the MRT
networks Circle Line.
Set up in 1992, the company leases, sells
and services equipment for engineering, construction, oil and gas, and offshore industries.
Its portfolio of machines includes diesel generators, cranes, boom lifts, vibratory rollers,
rigs and lighting towers.
The company prides itself for being a
one-stop solution to all contractors for their
construction needs. From foundation works
to cleaning of facades, we are able to supply
all of them, says the companys chairman Nelson Lim.
It has the capability to customise its machines according to the needs of customers,
he adds, enabling them to use more efficient
construction methods. This is possible because the company has a strong team of mechanics, engineers and electricians.
As Mr Lim puts it: Manual driven cars

have been replaced by automatic gear-boxes


and have moved towards being auto-piloted.
Technology has evolved towards being more
efficient and environmentally friendly. Similarly, construction equipment is becoming
more efficient, accurate, and precise.
We have to anticipate the change in requirements and adapt constantly. We need to
know where to channel our existing fleets and
when to import new types of machineries and
introduce them to our clients.
The company has begun to work with
equipment manufacturers as well as its clients to customise machines that suit the
needs of current building and construction
methods. Increasing our clients productivity
improves our business and strengthens the
ties, he points out.
JP Nelson also seeks out innovative and
swift solutions so as to keep pace with new
construction demands. We are constantly
sourcing for new and improved machinery
for the construction industry, he notes. We
are also enhancing, modifying and refurbishing existing machinery to support the changes in environmental needs and demands of
the economy.
Looking ahead, Mr Lim hopes the company will become internationally renowned in
equipment rental services. Currently, JP Nelson is expanding its influence in the Asean region and moving towards Asia. Our vision is
to be a globally trusted partner that provides
customer assurance and partnership for business growth, he says.
It has already grown beyond Singapore to
have a presence in Thailand, Malaysia and
Hong Kong, and was listed on the Taiwan
Stock Exchange in 2012. There are now plans

PHOTO: JOSEPH NAIR

Currently, JP Nelson is expanding its influence in the Asean region and moving
towards Asia. Our vision is to be a globally trusted partner that provides customer
assurance and partnership for business growth.
JP Nelson chairman Nelson Lim
to venture into Myanmar, the Philippines and
Cambodia. Currently, the company has total
assets of S$245 million and a turnover of
S$106 million. It has a staff strength of 400
employees, including 100 who are based overseas.

Growing with Singapore


Despite its overseas ventures, some 80 per
cent of its revenue still comes from Singapore. Mr Lim believes that there will still be demand for infrastructure in his home market
as the countrys economy continues to expand.
Indeed, the company is all set to grow with
Singapore, with its upcoming projects reflecting the rapid development of the city-state.
It is involved in the construction of Changi

Airports new runway and Terminal 4. Costing


S$1.28 billion, the terminal is expected to increase the airports total annual passenger capacity when it is completed in 2017.
It is also providing construction equipment to build the 22-station Thomson Line
that is completely underground. The line,
costing around S$18 billion, will greatly enhance the accessibility and connectivity of the
current rail network.
Apart from adding to major infrastructure
here, the company is also involved in projects
that will improve services and upgrade neighbourhoods. One major project is Novena
Health City, a 17-hectare integrated healthcare hub built around Tan Tock Seng Hospital.
It will link healthcare facilities as well as

the Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine, to


form the hub. When Novena Health City is fully developed in 2030, healthcare related facilities in Novena would increase by 150 per
cent.
More people will also visit the facilities.
Tan Tock Seng Hospital, for example, has
about 15,000 people visiting its premises every day. With the new developments, this
number is expected to double to 30,000.
The other major project is the rejuvenation of Paya Lebar after the old Paya Lebar Airport moves out of the area. The move will not
only free up a large 800-hectare area in Paya
Lebar an area bigger than Bishan or Ang Mo
Kio for new homes, offices, factories and
parks, but also remove height restrictions in
that area. Says Mr Lim: Our wish for the nation is to grow strong and steadily.

10

CEO
CONVERSATIONS
2015 golden jubilee edition

The Business Times | Thursday, July 16, 2015

Spreading the
good news of
natural therapy
Peter Lim sees his business as part of a health mission in nation-building

HEN Peter Lim walks on


the streets, he is sometimes approached by
strangers who recognise him as a pioneer in
the organic food movement in Singapore. Seeing others believing
and benefiting from what he does has been a great encouragement for the 72-year-old president and CEO of Natures
Glory, who quit his job 24 years ago as a highly paid business consultant to set up an organic food company.
The decision to start Natures Glory at 48 merely seven years before retirement confounded many around
him. But Mr Lim was determined to have a more meaningful career in the second half of his life. The step into the
organic food movement was also an unconventional one
at that point, and one that was derided by naysayers. I
was like John the Baptist, talking to nobody in the wilderness, Mr Lim, a Christian, recalls.
It was one that Mr Lim, however, held a strong conviction in, stemming from his personal experiences in battling health challenges. From young, he had been a sickly
boy, falling ill every month and also having had to remove
his tonsils at eight.
Tired of a perpetual dependence on antibiotics and
drugs, Mr Lim started wondering why wild animals could
recover naturally on their own. Then I began to read
health books and discovered organic food, which is food
grown in the wild without the wisdom of man, he says.
Three months after starting on an organic food diet
and taking health supplements, his health improved sig-

nificantly. Now, he has not taken antibiotics nor painkillers for 27 years. Having seen the benefits of organic food
for himself, he has become a keen evangelist of leaning on into nano-energy boosters (NeB), a therapy that makes use
nature for health remedies. In his view, Natures Glory is of a range of technologies including nano-quantum and
not just a business selling organic food, but also part of a stem cells to boost energy at the cellular level. This, according to Natures Glory, can reduce energy blocks, boosthealth mission in nation-building.
Many of my clients are top brains holding key posi- ing immune systems, and harmonise the organs towards
tions in companies. Thats why they can better afford or- optimal performance. Mr Lim says: I needed to have a differentiating edge in my busiganic food which is more exness strategy, because if evepensive. Your health is very
rybody is doing organic food,
important because without it,
where do I go?
your productivity will be af- We are doing
With this technology,
fected, and your next genera- nation-building through
Natures Glory sells NeB skin
tion will be affected, says health and productivity. So
patches that change the freMr Lim.
quencies within the human
We are doing nation-build- instead of getting sick often
body to target viruses, bacteing through health and pro- and attending to migraine
ria and parasites in a non-inductivity. So instead of getproblems, people can have
vasive manner, building up
ting sick often and attending
the immune system, and reto migraine problems, people fewer distractions and
storing damaged organs to
can have fewer distractions focus on their work.
their optimal health.
and focus on their work.
While a lot of customers
On a bigger picture, this is
Peter Lim, president and CEO of Natures Glory
now believe in organic food,
important since companies
the process of healing
need their employees across
all units to be pulling their weight. You need all the spe- through food takes a long time. The window of recovery
cialties to function. If youre one person short here and is short, especially for cancer patients. I wasnt satisfied
there, there will be a chain of reaction and productivity be- there must be something more.
When in the US in 2007, he came across a professor
ing affected, he says. Besides improving productivity, it
also means that individuals can spend more time with who had special patches for healing energy. Though initially sceptical, Mr Lim resolved to dig deeper into it and
their family, he adds.
On top of selling organic food, Mr Lim has diversified to give it a chance until he could prove it wrong.

PHOTO: EZYHEALTH
He was eventually convinced five years later, when he
used both remote healing and these patches to treat his
mother, who was then terribly ill with various viruses and
parasites. Doctors gave her only days to live, but with the
treatment, her life was prolonged by 11 months, seven of
them free of infections, says Mr Lim.
Even so, given the obscurity of this technology, Mr Lim
finds himself once again having to win over many doubting Thomases. Convincing his son, too, took some time.
Christopher Lim, a microbiologist by training, had joined
his father in the business in 1998 a decision the elder
Lim is extremely thankful for, solving the problem of succession. Otherwise, Natures Glory will become a historical monument, he quips.
Looking ahead, Mr Lim, like many other small- and medium-sized enterprises, is concerned about rental costs
and manpower shortage. He recently moved Natures Glory organic food mart from the 11th storey in Tan Boon Liat
building in Outram Road to the first floor after 24 years, as
the landlord wanted to hike rental rates by 30 per cent.
His wish for Singapore on its 50th year of independence is that Singaporeans would be open in changing their
mindsets, especially in embracing natural therapies with
technologies that hold great promises in his view.
Medisave, no matter how much you have, will not be
enough if you dont change the way you see things. Go
back to nature learn how the wild animals survive, says
Mr Lim. Our mindset must change. The success of Singapore is because of our mindset change. Otherwise this red
dot would have sunk in the ocean by now.

CEO CONVERSATIONS
2015 golden jubilee edition

The Business Times | Thursday, July 16, 2015

A Singapore
within Singapore

T32 Dental Centre aims to have a brand that


denotes quality and assurance

INGAPORE may be a small market, but


that has not gotten in the way of T32 Dental Centres growth. Like the city-state,
the dental group aims to punch above its
weight in the region by tapping its
strengths. Coming back from the US after
31/2 years of dental education, its founder and managing director Wong Keng
Mun realised that the standards of the dentistry field in
Singapore had potential to grow and to reach those seen in
the US. He therefore started a dental clinic with the aim of
providing top-notch dental care and services to local and
regional patients.
This, in his view, is not about bringing in new technologies or following new fads in the market, but a deep-rooted passion accompanied by the gumption to challenge industry norms, with the purpose of revolutionising the
way people view dental treatments.

Today, T32 is a successful business by most measures.


Last year, it made about S$27 million in revenue as a
group, and has a presence in Singapore, Hong Kong and
the Philippines.
The group has distinguished itself from other major
dental chains in Singapore with its T32 Junior programme, through which it hopes to familiarise children
with dental clinics from young.
Often, the first time young children meet a dentist is
when they have to extract a tooth, which leaves them fearful of seeing a dentist, Dr Wong notes. We have to look into how to invite the younger children to come to dental
clinics without that fear so that they wont treat the dentist like a monster or the devil.
This, T32 does by organising pre-school activities and
inviting young children to its premises to familiarise them
with the clinic and dental treatment. If you look around,
there are no pictures of bleeding gums, and no medical

| 11

smell, he says during an interview at the Camden Dental group of medical tourists who are not as cost-conscious.
Centre, which has rooms dedicated to the treatment of
Still, the shortage of manpower and the tight rental
these juniors, sporting bright colours and cartoon wall de- market are starting to worry him. Its a vicious cycle. If
cals.
things start to get expensive, only the big ones will surThis distinction from the rest of the competition is im- vive, and the small ones will close. That, however, does
portant given the small size of the Singapore market. We not mean bigger players like T32 will benefit, as Singaponeed to differentiate ourselves, such that the regional rean patients who now make up over 90 per cent of T32s
countries actually notice us . . . any corporation today clientele can also easily travel to neighbouring countries
must think beyond Singapore. Otherwise, the field can de- for dental treatments.
scend into a vicious cycle of undercutting one another in
Tourism requires a few things: cheap hotels, recreaprices, he says.
tion, easy commute, and enjoyable food, says Dr Wong.
T32 has tried to do this by providing training for den- Singaporeans can choose to go countries such as Bangtists in the region, organising different courses on its Sin- kok for treatment that is half the price, and have a holiday
gapore premises and occasionally travelling to territories at the same time. Regional countries are copying our consuch as China and Taiwan. In order to be able to provide cept. We are still maintaining the edge, but for how long
proper medical training, the level of dentistry here should more nobody knows. The additional help the governalso be perceivably different from those around the re- ment gives will be important.
gion, he adds. Eventually, T32 hopes to open clinics in the
For him, the governments drive for productivity has
region. In these neighbouring
been a step in the right direccountries, it plans to move intion, but not one that is nuto areas such as implant ser- We need to differentiate
anced enough for different invices that are more specialdustries. The service indusourselves, such that the
ised.
try theres no way you can
The dental group hopes to regional countries actually
do automation. Productivity
become a solutions provider notice us . . . any
can only happen if you have
rather than a service centre, to
certain manpower ratio . . .
share processes and its exper- corporation today must
Different industries may retise with regional players. T32 think beyond Singapore.
quire different attention, he
will not reach the same scale
says. If you dont have
that these players might have,
T32 Dental Centre founder and managing enough manpower, it means
but it has expertise that could
director Wong Keng Mun you cant even serve custombenefit others, says Dr Wong.
ers.
Regional expansion alone,
While current policies are
however, is not enough, as the group strives to continue still reasonable, the government should eventually start
to be at the forefront of the dentistry sector in the region. dialogues with individual industries to understand their
To this end, T32 is now stepping firmly into the frontier of respective needs and problems, he adds.
digital dentistry, being one of the first in South-east Asia
To mitigate the shortage of manpower, T32 provides
to have bought a 3D printer together with CAD-CAM tech- training for staff who may not have had any prior experinology, which allows the process of designing a crown to ence in the field. But this has generated its fair share of
having it manufactured to be reduced from the usual five problems as well. Because were doing that, people come
days to just one.
and poach our staff. But we have no choice . . . its also a
The group will also open a new flagship centre of excel- reputation, because our staff are very well-trained. The onlence for digital dentistry in September. Located at Capita- ly thing we can do is to keep finding new people and proGreen in Raffles Place, it will reduce waiting and treatment vide training.
time for time-starved professionals, says Dr Wong. It will
Moving forward from 50 years of independence,
also serve as a training centre, drawing regional players
Dr Wong hopes for the Singapore economy to continue to
big and small to come to Singapore.
do well, and for the government to retain competitive poliThis investment into cutting-edge technology has been
cies over neighbouring countries, nudging industries in
enabled by the governments support. Were fortunate
certain directions when necessary.
that the government provided PIC subsidy, so that we can
For example, the government needs to help people rebe ahead of others, he says.
alise how theyre trying to decentralise the private healthT32 has also benefited from the political stability in Singapore, which allows for peace of mind when planning ex- care industry many still think that you have to be in town
pansions and investments. And while the city-state may to command a certain price, he says.
Nevertheless, he is optimistic on the city-states future.
be small, its success as a regional medical hub has been
critical for the success of many businesses in disparate If we continue to be safe and bring in visitors, and make
sectors. Foreign patients who come to Singapore for medi- ourselves a medical hub in terms of expertise, then the opcal treatment, for example, will also spend on hotels, lei- portunities will be huge because we can use our brands
overseas.
sure and shopping.
In fact, T32 aims to be a small Singapore within SingaBut costs are increasingly becoming a challenge. Medical tourism is based on costs, so there will be people who pore, says Dr Wong, to carry a brand that denotes quality
will go to neighbouring countries for treatment, he says. and assurance to its customers. We want to continue to
He acknowledged, nonetheless, that Singapore, with its differentiate ourselves with specialties. If we continue to
competitive edge in its expertise, aims to draw another do that with the government, then the future is bright.

12

CEO
CONVERSATIONS
2015 golden jubilee edition

The Business Times | Thursday, July 16, 2015

Supplying a nations household needs


After more than 30 years, TOYOGO has grown into a market leader in household and industrial plastic products

ORE than 30 years ago, Singapore and Malaysia were rapidly growing. There was plenty
of demand for plastic products for use at home, but
what was available to consumers then was unsatisfactory.
The quality of those products was often not good, and inconsistent, while shipping
costs were high and customer demands were rising, recalls Chua Kee Tee, the founder of TOYOGO.
Mr Chua, who was an import-export distributor then,
saw an opportunity to enter the market. As I travelled
abroad and networked with our suppliers and business
partners, I thought of making merchandise under a local
brand to rival the quality of Japanese products, he says.
Hence TOYOGO a name which sounds like have
everything in Chinese was born, set up by Mr Chua and
his wife. We want to produce good quality products and
wish that every household will like and use our products,
he says.
Today, TOYOGO has gone a long way towards fulfilling
the dream of its founders. It is one of the market leaders in
plastic goods for household and industrial use. The company now has a staff strength of 300. Its production and
logistics plants in the Senai Industrial Estate in Malaysias
Johor Bahru occupy a combined land area of over a million square feet, or about 20 football fields.
Products, for household and industrial use, are widely
distributed in Singapore and in more than 30 countries
worldwide, Mr Chua says. There is a mind-boggling array.
We have more than 3,000 products in total, he says. We
are one of the leading plastic manufacturers in the world
which produces the most plastic products varieties under
one roof.
TOYOGO has become a household name to many Singaporeans who flock to its warehouse outlet to search for
bargains. Its products showroom was formerly in Toa Payoh and was relocated to its current Kallang site in June
2015.
There, TOYOGO sells its well-known plastic containers
used to store anything from food to utensils to clothes.
Other products available include hand carts, ladders, cabinets, shelves, stools, flower pots, and laundry baskets.
TOYOGO also stocks baby bath tubs, washing basins,
food covers, ice buckets, dust pans, pails and garbage
bins. It also sells industrial products like pallets, crates
and baskets, and tool crates. Our products are
easy-to-use, durable, high in quality and economical in

price, Mr Chua says. They are all specially designed and


made to cater to customers needs.
In the early days of its business, the company lacked
specialised equipment and technology, while its manpower and operational costs were high, Mr Chua says. Many
of our processes had to be done manually, resulting in significant labour requirements. Productivity was low, he
says.
Today, smaller products like teaspoons to bigger items
like pallets and 660-litre containers are all made in an automated production line. Its Malaysian factory owns one of
the bigger 4,000-ton injection machines in Asia. Productivity is much higher now, Mr Chua says.
Over time we have overcome our initial challenges
and minimised their impact on cost and quality, he says.
We can continue to produce good quality products, and
price our products competitively for consumers and companies such that they suit all income groups.
Another challenge the company faced was in its initial
attempts to market its plastic containers as eco-friendly,

We are always researching


and innovating, improving
upon our products. We also
want to design products that
are eco-friendly and help
contribute to less wastage.
Chua Kee Tee, the founder of TOYOGO
reusable products. Everybody laughed at us, thinking we
were idealists who had our heads in the clouds. Plastic containers cost a few times more compared to paper boxes,
so it seemed like a fools errand to sell them, Mr Chua recalls. Few people understood the idea of conservation
then, when everybody was throwing away used paper
cardboard containers.
TOYOGO did not give up pushing its ideas. Today, plastic containers are one of TOYOGOs top selling products.

From design, casting, production, marketing, to direct


sales, each process is full of challenges. It is tremendously
satisfying to see our products gain popularity among the
masses, Mr Chua says.
TOYOGOs development team checks rigorously for
quality in its products, and also observes market trends
so it can manufacture items that are economical, practical,
trendy, and modern, he adds.
Looking ahead, TOYOGO will continue creating products that are useful, modern, durable and affordable to its
customers, Mr Chua says. We are always researching and
innovating, improving upon our products. We also want
to design products that are eco-friendly and help contribute to less wastage, he says.
The company is also planning to improve its productivity and innovation capabilities. We hope to build a TOYOGO Hub to cater to research and development, production, selling and distribution, he says. No one in this industry has done this before.
For its success, TOYOGO won the Promising SME 500
award in 2012, and the Singapores Outstanding Enterprise SME 150 award in 2013. The company also believes
in giving back to the society, and has supported numerous fund raising and charity initiatives over the years.
These include initiatives to help needy families and children.
Reflecting on Singapores 50th anniversary, Mr Chua
says the countrys achievements in the international arena
did not come easy. We still have some way to go to fulfil
our potential, he says. Singapore will continue to prosper and our people will continue to support our nation
moving forward, as this is our home.
We wish that Singapore will continue to prosper, our
people will continue to live well and eat well, and people
in this cosmopolitan place will continue to live in peace
and harmony, he says. Then, we as a nation can assume
a bigger role internationally, he says.
He sees his own company as one big family. Every employee is like a dragon boat racer, all putting in their utmost efforts, keeping to the tempo, and doing their roles
well, he says. I would like to sincerely thank every colleague, employee, and business partner who has come on
this long journey with us.
Of course, I would also like to extend my deepest gratitude to all our clients from various industries for their constant support and advice. I hope that, with all our efforts,
TOYOGO, the brand which is locally born and nurtured,
will continue on for generations and generations.