Pushing New Frontiers – 135 Years On

Pushing New Frontiers – 135 Years On

For 135 years, Berli Jucker Public Co. Ltd (BJC) has been enriching the lives of the Thai people with its stellar business performance and commendable values. Ever since it’s USD6.02 billion acquisition of giant retail brand Big C in 2016, BJC has magnificently evolved from a supply chain and distribution powerhouse to a leading integrated retail platform in the ASEAN region. Top 10 of Asia speaks to Aswin Techajareonvikul, CEO of BJC and President of Big C Supercenter Public Co. Ltd on his aspirations for the company, and why empowering people is key in preserving its legacy.

Everyone falls silent as Aswin Techajareonvikul enters the interview room. His executive entourage stands by him, ever so ready to assist. As a young CEO in his early forties, Aswin may have many things on his plate, yet he exudes a focused and calm demeanour, as most outstanding leaders do.

Having been born into a family of Thai-Chinese entrepreneurs and exposed to the business realm as a child, a heavy emphasis on oriental family values during his developmental years has rubbed off on Aswin. His acquisition of knowledge grew in tandem with the growth of the business and he effortlessly translates values like hard work, perseverance and camaraderie into his organization.

Although Aswin pursued a degree course in industrial engineering from Chulalongkorn University, he rediscovered his passion for business upon undergoing an internship in Thailand’s banking sector.

“I was involved in the organization’s re-engineering team where I started to learn a lot about management. I found myself reading management books instead of engineering books, but I was eager to learn,” he shares.

His experience in the banking sector then led him to pursue an MBA from MIT Sloan School of Management and a concurrent Master’s degree in Public Administration from Harvard University. His next internship experience – a series of summer associate programmes with Goldman Sachs, adds on to his impressive managerial skills.

“I was based at the headquarters in New York and subsequently moved to Hong Kong and Singapore offices. I was exposed to a lot of different functions of investment banking such as investment management, fixed income, and equity research,” he recalls. Aswin’s career in the investment banking sector expanded from 2004 to 2006 during a brief employment with Morgan Stanley and UBS Investment Bank.

However, his tenure with BJC began in 2007 when he was appointed by the esteemed Chairman of TCC Group, Charoen Sirivadhanabhakdi to helm the BJC and Big C Supercenter under its Industrial Trading & Consumer Products division. Mandated to “reinvigorate” the business, Aswin was embarking on a journey to ensure the sustainability of the company in the next hundred years.

“I was honoured to be entrusted with responsibility in a reputable company that has gained respect and trust among its business partners,” he states. Although challenging, Aswin has no qualms shouldering new responsibilities and it was no surprise that he looked forward to the experience.

BJC itself already has four other divisions before the Big C acquisition, namely the Packaging Supply Chain, Consumer Supply Chain, Healthcare & Technical Supply Chain as well as Retail & Others, ranging from upstream to downstream businesses.

Big C Supercenter is currently under the fifth division, the Modern Retail Supply Chain, contributing to a staggering 65% of the company’s revenue in the fiscal year 2016 alone. As the 3rd largest grocery retail group in Southeast Asia, the brand represents itself through various retail models from hypermarket to mini convenience stores all over Thailand, Vietnam and Laos as well as via e-commerce (Big C Shopping Online).

A lot of new changes have to be introduced to the organization as it evolves, from the minute details of retailing to managing its unique and diverse human capital. What was once mostly a business-to-business (B2B) nature has now included business-to-customer (B2C), taking on a completely different ball game.

To date, BJC and Big C Supercenter employs almost 50,000 people from many different backgrounds and skills across operating countries. With the company’s people-centric values, Aswin believes it is essential to gear everyone onto the same transformative path.

“BJC is an established company where most things are done in traditional ways. Introducing changes is difficult but not impossible. In the beginning, we did a lot of re-engineering and restructuring, including promoting from within and aligning incentives,” he says.

“This includes introducing the Employee Stock Option programme for executives to benefit from having a shareholding in the company. We instilled confidence internally through small wins, to prove to our people that the changes are leading to fruition,” he adds, sharing that ever since the implementation, there has been a notable expansion of revenues, net profit and market capitalization.

Besides reorganization, Aswin’s team also spends a lot of effort in re-evaluating and forming new values for BJC. “Our people come from different walks of life. We need to identify a culture that is broad enough to encapsulate this diversity, yet specific enough to be set as a core culture of the organization,” he explains, adding that company culture is especially crucial for a diverse organization such as BJC.

“The real challenge lies in engaging people and aligning them towards the same direction. Communication is essential and never enough, given the complexity of the organization, but we strive to keep them on point,” Aswin adds. Embracing the old and new generations of employees alike, Aswin believes that the key to managing a diverse human capital is acknowledging and leveraging on their capabilities.

He attributes BJC’s strength to its strong values and its invaluable pool of professional experts. “Our professional capabilities enable our business to grow, but at the same time we are driven by family-oriented values such as entrepreneurship, unity and taking care of each other,” he elaborates.

BJC has now expanded well beyond Thailand. Today, it has made its presence in Malaysia, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, mainly in the agricultural, manufacturing, packaging and consumer products sectors. “Our philosophy is that in order for us to prosper, we have to contribute and give benefit to the community,” Aswin explains.

BJC’s various CSR programmes include those in its motherland Thailand, where the company currently supports the Royal Thai Government in various programmes involving public and private sectors, such as re-building remote schools, developing teachers, supporting the abused and human-trafficked women as well as the handicapped. BJC also works closely with the Vietnamese government to promote food safety in their country.

“We often employ local people and most importantly we encourage them to grow professionally,” Aswin shares. He is now in his tenth year helming BJC, but there is much more to do in moving the company further ahead. His aspirations for BJC is to see it grow into a learning organization, thus attracting the best people to contribute, learn and grow.

“We believe in people, especially the dedicated and passionate ones. It takes a strong heart to persevere and move forward. This would also be the core DNA for the generations of BJC to come, a legacy that I would like to leave behind,” says Aswin.

Looking into Asia, Aswin hopes that in the near future, the nations will come together and leverage on each other’s strength to create something meaningful for the Asian business community. “The more united we are the greater the opportunity for us to succeed on the global front,” says Aswin with an unmistakable expression of conviction on his face.

Revolutionising the Agribusiness Landscape

Revolutionising the Agribusiness Landscape

Realising how the humble microbes can naturally heal diseased plants and also increase production yield while being good for the earth, Eric Chung, Managing Director and CEO of Virgin Greens X Sdn Bhd, was prompted to make a leap towards biotechnology entrepreneurship. He shares with Top 10 of Asia how he plans to transform the agribusiness industry from chemical-based to biotechnology-based and make it green and sustainable.

Hong Kong-born Eric Chung was steadily climbing the corporate ladder in the finance industry when he discovered his niche as a biotechnology entrepreneur in 1996. “After many years of working for others, I reached a crossroad in my career: should I continue fulfilling other people’s dreams or make a difference my own way?” he reminisces. He wisely chose the latter route, investing and participating in several biotechnology projects in Malaysia including waste water treatment, solid waste management and plant healthcare and disease control management. During this time, he filed three biotechnology-based patents. In 2013, Chung decided to consolidate and hold all his interests in these biotechnology projects under Virgin Greens X Sdn Bhd (VGX (M)), where he serves as Managing Director and CEO, and assigned all three patents to VGX (M).

Microbes, according to Chung, are tiny living things that surround us and even live within us. They are nature’s gift to us and their benefits are immense. “VGX (M) was born out of a vision to supply environmentally friendly microbial based solutions in agriculture as a viable alternative to the excessive use of harmful chemicals,” he says. The Group’s core business revolves around the research, development and commercialisation of food and agricultural related technologies, focusing on microbial product and biological process development. “We are not a business that sells products, rather, we are a complete solutions provider,” he emphasises. This means that for new customers and new sites, apart from on-site observations, VGX (M) will conduct a soil and leaf analysis where the products are to be used to determine if the products are indeed suitable for its intended use. “Only then will our products be used, and if necessary and where possible, we will customise our products with other microbial cocktails to address the customer’s specific issue.”

Growing up as the youngest of three children to parents who were both teachers, Chung experienced a relatively happy childhood. “We weren’t rich but we were content. When I was 18, my dream to go overseas came true when my parents bought me a one-way ticket to Australia to further my studies there,” he says. To subsidise his studies, Chung had to juggle three part-time jobs while studying which made him a familiar face in Chinatown.

He graduated with both Science and Economics degrees from the Australian National University (ANU) and is a CPA in Australia and Hong Kong, signifying his talents as both a scientist and businessman. VGX (M) is the natural culmination of his passion in science and financial acumen. “There is no point creating a great product which is not commercially viable. At VGX (M), we will only deem a product or solution as being ‘successfully commercialised’ after it has gone through the entire supply chain flow of research, mass production and marketing. This is the only way to maximise the premium and returns attached to our marketable products or solutions,” he says, adding that the company has all three key elements under one roof.

The Group made waves in the agribusiness community when its flagship and best-selling patented invention, MG BioGuard®, has proven to be effective in addressing the Basal Stem Rot (BSR) disease in oil palms. Other patented products – MG Plus™, MG BioGuard® 2.0 and MG BioGuard® 3.0 are focused on promoting plant growth, controlling diseases in paddy, fruits and vegetables respectively.

Chung chose to set up his headquarters and research hub in Malaysia, as the country is a significant agriculture sector contributor in Asia Pacific where relevant biotech talent, resources and incentives abound. In 2015, VGX (M) was granted BioNexus Status by the Malaysian government, which is a special status accorded to qualified international and local biotechnology companies involved in value-added biotechnology activities and comes with fiscal incentives, grants and other guarantees to fuel its growth. VGX (M) has also qualified for the CIP 500 Funding programme, which entitles it for a RM500,000 grant that will be disbursed progressively upon achievement of specific milestones.

Recently, the Group added a big feather to its cap when it was listed on The National Stock Exchange of Australia Limited (NSX) as VGX Limited at the end of 2016. “This listing will not only enhance the Company’s profile to prominent research partners but also boosts our marketing efforts beyond Malaysian borders,” Chung divulges, adding that Australia has some of the best agriculture R&D technology and talents in the world that the Group would like to collaborate with. In fact, VGX (M) is already working with several Australian universities in a few R&D projects.

Chung attributed his company’s success to his 13 core team members whom he personally handpicked. “I made many mistakes on my journey to where I am today, that was how I learned and grew. Likewise, I give my team room to grow, to make mistakes and to learn from them. I value them for their creativity and would not dream to hamper them in any way,” says the steadfast leader who is always open for discourse and discussions. A minimalist when it comes to fashion, he cuts a familiar figure in his daily ‘uniform’ of crisp white long-sleeved work shirts and black pants. “I prefer using my time for other more important things than to worry about my wardrobe,” he says with a smile.

The fit and tireless entrepreneur makes it a point to work out regularly but admits that at times it is hard to maintain a health work-life balance. “Still, my wife and I try our best to make family life a priority,” says the doting father of two university-age daughters who are both undergoing studies at their parents’ alma mater, ANU. He happily reports that the girls relate to him as their friend and that he enjoys listening to their favourite singers. “In fact, the ‘Fight Song’ by Rachel Platten is my anthem song.” To young aspiring biotechnology entrepreneurs, Chung has this to say – “Everyone has one life so decide if you want to have a comfortable one or (to quote Steve Jobs) put a dent in the universe. If you want the latter, remember that success comes not to those with the biggest and brightest brains but to those who work hard and don’t give up.”

True to his core beliefs, Chung is not one to rest on his laurels even on the back of his consistently profitable company. The Group has developed a loyal client base in Malaysia, Vietnam and Hong Kong and plans to aggressively expand its reach to other countries in Asia Pacific. “This is just the beginning of our foray into the multi-billion dollar biotechnological agriculture industry,” he says in a matter-of-fact tone. “There is so much more to be done and the sky is the limit.”

 

Rising from The Ashes

Rising from The Ashes

Successful entrepreneurs are often seen as individuals with the ability to do extraordinary things, and most of the time we are reminded of their achievements and success. However, not many are aware of the struggles they face in going through that journey to the top. Edy Ongkowijaya, founder of Dapur Penyet, knows all about struggles and how tough the going can get. It was certainly not an easy path to success for him, as he had to wrestle unimaginable hardships along the way. Top 10 of Asia’s quest to feature a rising young food entrepreneur in this issue, sees Edy sharing his inspiring story on overcoming those obstacles – the sacrifices he made, the lessons he learned, how life took an unexpected turn for him and how Dapur Penyet, a food enterprise that serves true and original Indonesian cuisine, became the phenomenon it is today.

Many businessmen were born into entrepreneurial families. Edy Ongkowijaya, however, is different. He was born in Indonesia to a family that lived comfortably and had everything they needed. A major unexpected turn came about during the economic crisis in 1995. His father went bankrupt and that was when Edy’s life turned topsy-turvy. “I experienced the transition from having a luxurious life to having nothing at all but I knew I had to take over my dad’s role as the breadwinner in the family,” he says. He was schooling in Singapore at that point in time but refused to go back to Jakarta because he knew it would not be practical as there was nothing left for him there. He worked tirelessly day after day juggling 4 jobs, which were coaching badminton, providing tuition, washing dishes and waiting on tables. Meanwhile his family had to slog it out to the extent of having to borrow sugar, salt and other ingredients just to put some food on the table and Edy tried his best to send over money regularly. Throughout those difficult times, he still had the good values in him and always told himself to always do good to others no matter what he was going through. That was when the idea of venturing into food business came to him.

Edy Ongkowijaya

Edy Ongkowijaya

Asian people are spoilt for choice when it comes to food. It is certain that many of them would have tried the popular Indonesian dish called ‘ayam penyet’ before. That is the signature dish of Edy’s brainchild, Dapur Penyet. He pioneered the ‘ayam penyet’ dish in 2005, and it became a huge success. Since then, the dish has appeared in many neighbouring countries, including the roadside food stalls. The concept for the business was simple. He was an ordinary Indonesian living in Singapore for almost a quarter of a century – an Indonesian with a craving for the authentic food of his home country, of course.

Indonesian food was not all that popular in Singapore despite the love the locals have for spicy food. ‘Ayam penyet’, which translates ‘smashed chicken’, was a unique dish that is accompanied by special sambal, tauhu and tempe. Edy knew that it would somehow be a hit with locals considering the fact that Indonesian cuisine was not widely available. That was how it all started for him. However, the story wasn’t that simple. It surely was no walk in the park for Edy to make it to the top.

He initially started off with a different brand, Ayam Penyet Ria, which was a huge success in Singapore. However, he split with his investors only after a year due to management differences. “Franchising is great but in my case, the brand did not enable me to expand my creativity. Due to poor support, I decided to pursue other ventures on my own so that others will not be involved in the same fate as I once was.”

He then started a new brand called Waroeng Penyet based on the previous concept with some of his schoolmates. However, after almost 2 years, no financial report from the accounting side was forthcoming. All Edy received were countless excuses from his partner and this led to a split. “I only received the final report after the split and was shocked to see that I suffered a massive loss. I was only given a cheque for $600 for all my hard work. The numbers just did not add up.” It was heartbreaking for Edy at that moment and he was at the lowest point of his life. “I was at ground zero and had absolutely nothing. I fell into depression. I was in utter despair and didn’t even want to live anymore,” reveals Edy. Thankfully, he found solace when he met Morin Ng, a Chinese Indonesian from Medan. “She saw the hidden fighting fire and potential in me. There was a power in me that just needed to be unleashed.” Due to massive stress after partnership failures, he was in a very bad state. It was up to a point where he locked himself in his room for weeks. Morin ended up being his savior by bringing him meals and convincing him to restart his life. She helped him get up on his feet and from then on, he gathered up the courage to start seeing things in a positive manner.

Edy then went on to set up a stall at a humble food court in a suburban shopping mall at Jurong Point, Singapore in west-central part of Singapore and it flourished. However, one fine day, his lady chef (whom Edy regarded as his ‘second’ mother) had to leave the country within 3 days due to unforeseen circumstances. “In those 3 days, I maximized the time I had with ‘Ibu’ and worked day and night to learn all the secrets of the recipes.”

Shortly after that, a friend convinced Edy to start franchising his brand as it is a good way to grow the business. He was enthusiastic about it but it was a daunting task for him. His reputation had somewhat been tarnished due to his previous endeavours regarding Ayam Penyet Ria and Waroeng Penyet. There was no taker for his franchise offer. Edy’s breakthrough finally came when a friend of his from Malacca who loved the ayam penyet dish trusted him and bought the franchise. It was then in 2011 when the first Dapur Penyet outlet was opened in Malaysia.

Edy has certainly learned a lot of hard lessons along the way. “Learn as much as you can. Everyone is your teacher. There’s only so much you can learn at school but it’s in the real world where you will learn the true trials and tribulations. School doesn’t teach you about betrayals and living through poverty,” he emphasizes.

When asked about what he would have done differently if he had the chance to restart his career, Edy says that he would have instilled more self-confidence in himself. “I always had the fear of failure in me. However, I realized that it is better if we execute a plan into action and make mistakes rather than not attempt anything at all due to the constant fear of making mistakes. Life is about challenges and facing them. We will grow from them,” he says.

Today, Dapur Penyet has opened in 5 countries with a total of almost 98 outlets but Edy is not stopping there. He plans to expand his business to an even wider region. He is currently sealing the deal for a franchise to be opened in the the Philippines, which will be the 6th country for his franchise business and is in talks for expanding to Australia. He is hopeful to target the Middle East and China by year 2021. Another brand of his, D’Cendol, has already been up and running in Indonesia but he wants to bring that to Malaysia and Singapore as well. He sees himself settling down in Canada someday because of his love for greenery and nature.

I want to preserve the authenticity of Indonesian cuisine.  The youth nowadays are immersed in other different cultures that they tend to overlook the beauty of their own. That is the reason why its influence has been diminishing throughout the years. I want to change that.” Edy is planning to share more of his inspiring stories in his biography that will be out sometime next year.

A Food Brand’s Quantum Leap to Success – The Man Behind It

A Food Brand’s Quantum Leap to Success – The Man Behind It

When Dato’ Francis Lee took over the helm of Kenny Rogers ROASTERS International as the President in 1998, the company stood as little more than ambitious regional player. Thoughts of the brand filling the corporate heavyweight shoes it does today seemed remote and distant. It was on the verge of collapse due to the financial crisis that hit Asia and the rest of the world. But even in difficulties, Lee only saw opportunities. In this issue, Top 10 of Asia speaks with the affable Lee and finds out how he managed to turn around the company into one of Asia’s most successful food franchises.

For the last fifteen years, Dato’ Francis Lee has been an active player in spearheading Kenny Rogers ROASTERS’ fast-paced rise. Starting as an Internal Auditor at Berjaya Leisure which saw him taking charge of many hotels and leisure projects, he heads development for one of the most well-liked food brands in Asia, one that now has an ever-expanding array of one hundred and seventy two restaurants across seven countries in the Asia Pacific region. His achievement is unusual, his enthusiasm high, and the story he shares shows the widespread possibilities restaurant brands can deliver, even in weak markets.

The company struggled at first, and was not very well-known in Asia when he took over but he quickly revamped the whole company by bringing in new management team and staff, studying the costs, rolling out new strategies and stopping loss-making promotions.

“My first task at hand was to stem the flow of losses in the company. At that time, Malaysia was struggling with the fluctuating US dollar and it was difficult to price our products primarily due to our proprietary products being imported directly from the US. However, after the pegging of the ringgit by the then Prime Minister of Malaysia, Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, it became easier for us to price the products. There were around twenty four stores at that time and out of the twenty four stores, I had to shut around eight to nine stores that were bleeding and making losses. We only had around fifteen core stores left but I was very determined to bring them out of the red into the black,” he says.

The first idea he came up with was to shift the emphasis from counter service to table service. Under the counter service model, customers have to go to the counter to order and carry their food to their tables. Instead of burdening customers with heavy trays, he shifted the model to table service where restaurant servers come to their tables and take their orders instead. The concept he came up not only led to a better eating out experience, it also led to more sales.

“To test the new concept, we began searching for suitable locations. At that time, many shopping malls in Malaysia were reeling from slow tenancy growth due to the financial crisis. During our visit to Mid Valley Megamall with the Leasing Team, I chanced upon a huge empty space at the lower ground of the mall. It was very dark, similar to an underground kind of thing, but I saw a huge opening at one side of the space. I was curious, asked the management about the space and discovered the opening led to Carrefour, a well-known hypermarket. I knew the location was perfect for Kenny Rogers ROASTERS when I discovered an escalator leading up to the empty space from the parking lot below. My next task was to convince the directors to fork out RM300,000 to open an outlet there. It was no easy task considering plans were already in hand to close down the entire Kenny Rogers ROASTERS division and the holding company had bigger fires to fight. However, one of the directors relented after much persuasion and considering we still had plenty of unused restaurant equipments in the warehouse,” Lee shares.

The new concept proved to be a highly successful formula. In only two months, it took off and the newly opened restaurant managed to earn back the initial capital. The success gave Lee great confidence and he began to replicate the model in other stores around Malaysia. By 2003, the table service concept was fully adopted in all the restaurants in Malaysia. Complemented by plush seats and cozy ambience for a total transformation to more stylish comforts in designs, since then, the public’s love for Kenny Rogers ROASTERS has grown so much that there are around eighty two outlets across Malaysia, eight in China, twenty four in Indonesia, fifty in the Philippines, one each in Brunei and Bangladesh, and six in Singapore. The outlets occupy a particular space within the food service industry known as ‘casual dining’.

“Two of our most successful markets in the Asia Pacific region are Malaysia and the Philippines. In the Philippines, Kenny Rogers ROASTERS has become a household name and we have got quite a large number of patrons there. They normally frequent our restaurants to have a great meal with their families after attending church services on Sundays. They are also big on outside restaurant activities, such as closing deals with various corporate events to catering as high as 30,000 meals on a given day. In Malaysia, we have recently won a Bronze medal, under the Retail – Fast Food category at the prestigious Putra Brand Awards. For me, the award is a testament of Kenny Rogers ROASTERS’ popularity amongst Malaysians as out of six thousand cold calls made to determine Malaysia’s favourite brands, we came in third. In the future, we plan to tap into territories like Southern China, India, Thailand, Vietnam, Myanmar, Cambodia and the Middle East,” he adds.

Kenny Rogers ROASTERS professed unique selling point is that it is all about wholesome healthy meals and fun. It prides itself on its freshly-roasted chicken that’s marinated with natural citrus, herbs and spices. Its roast chicken contains 51% less sodium than usual fried chicken served in other fast food chains. On top of that, quality side dishes made up of a rich variety of vegetable salads, pasta, jacket potatoes, soups and home-made muffins are also served together with the chicken. Superior product seems to be its basic selling point, but it’s the friendly atmosphere, both for team members and customers, that keep its fans loyal. Customers know what they’re getting, which is friendly service, clean setting, and a fun atmosphere in each restaurant. To further enhance its dining experience, Kenny Rogers ROASTERS has also launched its first drive-thru service in Malaysia to cater for customers who prefer to enjoy meals on-the-go. As for the management style of the company, it adopts an open culture where employees are encouraged to share their ideas and provide their feedback to the management.

“Normally, I will set an expectation and give achievable targets for staff to achieve. I value their input as their feedback and ideas guide me in making important decisions. My advice to all young people who are just starting out in the food and beverage industry is to be resilient and never give-up,” Lee says.

On striking a work-life balance, Lee normally exercises at the gym and spends time with his family during weekends.

“One of the little pleasures I enjoy in life is visiting the outlets whenever I am free and enjoying a good cup of coffee with my friends there. It can be very hectic working in this fast-moving industry, but I make it a point to have lunch with my dad every week,” he adds.

As a socially responsible company, Kenny Rogers ROASTERS strives to be an establishment that serves delicious and healthy meals without compromising its principles or values. True to its tagline “Deliciously Healthy”, it has come up with many corporate social responsibility (CSR) campaigns such as Roasters Eating Day and Roasters Health Watch to promote healthy living in the communities it serves that is in line with its theme “Less Fat…Less Salt…Less Calories”. Up till today it has contributed to many charitable foundations across Asia and donates around RM70,000 annually to these organizations.

A Visionary Builder of Dreams

A Visionary Builder of Dreams

The vision of one unique man to create quality beautiful townships and commercial centres in Malaysia some time ago has given rise to a comfortable and better quality of life to Malaysians. In a short span of time, Tan Sri Dato’ Sri Dr. MP Ramasamy, Chairman and Group Managing Director of IRDK Land Group of Companies (IRDK Land) has gone on to become one of the leading and successful property developers in Malaysia. In this issue, Top 10 of Asia gets to speaks with the affable and dynamic leader, who is the driving force behind the success of IRDK Land, about his inspirational journey and the trials and challenges he faced.

 

Tan Sri Dato’ Sri Dr. MP Ramasamy is a direct, honest and decisive man. And his straight-talking brand of leadership has certainly been the driving force behind IRDK Land’s success and formidable presence in the property construction industry.

Dr. Ramasamy’s journey began when he founded the company in 1988. To him, IRDK Land’s rise as a prominent developer in Malaysia is similar to building a structure — from the foundation up. “Whatever we build in our lives, getting the foundation right is important. To become a developer, the foundation is essential knowledge in the construction field,” says the visionary.

After nearly ten years as a contractor, Dr. Ramasamy became a developer in his own right and the shift was an easy decision as he has always been driven to succeed in whatever he does.

Dr. Ramasamy did not plan to enter the construction industry initially. “When the opportunity in construction sector came, I saw that it could be a profitable business and that it is also important for the development of the country. Therefore I decided to start from the construction side of things and proceed to this level today.”

Much water has passed under the bridge since then and to date, IRDK Land is behind a number of developments in Selangor, Malaysia’s most populous state and one having the highest standard of living in the nation. Among IRDK Land’s more notable projects in Selangor are the Puncak Bukit Utama residential township in Bukit Antarabangsa, Ampang, one of the elite and classy residential suburbs in the country, and the Alam Avenue I and Alam Avenue 2 commercial shop offices development in Section 16, Shah Alam, the state capital of Selangor. Impressively, both developments were delivered ahead of schedule and it is no mean feat in an industry where late delivery of completed properties is common.

According to Tan Sri Dato’ Sri Dr. MP Ramasamy, IRDK Land’s developments are never delivered late and all them come completed with high quality standards shining through.

Today, IRDK Land still has an excellent land bank with a gross development value in the billions. Additionally, IRDK Land has also diversified from property development into other business areas, from negotiating land deals to telecommunication operations.

Dr. Ramasamy reveals that one of the critical challenges faced by contractors was during the Asian Financial Crisis in the late 1990s. There were developers who did not release payments to the contractors and they eventually had to go to court for arbitration.

Another challenge for IRDK Land is meeting the ever increasing expectations of the buyers. To meet that challenge, IRDK goes a step further to provide more than just the product.

“I treat each and every project as if they are my own children. Therefore, our business does not stop at the point of sales but we also address the buyers’ needs during the construction stage of the properties and delivery process. This is to add value to their lifelong investments,” says Dr. Ramasamy. “As a result, IRDK Land has its own following of repeat clients.”

Dr. Ramasamy agrees that one of the most memorable high points in his life is when IRDK Land’s success paved the way for him to be honoured with the Panglima Setia Mahkota Award that carries the title ‘Tan Sri’ from the government of Malaysia. It is a rewarding validation of his hard work and contribution towards nation building over the years.

“I was pleasantly surprised when I received the letter for the award— I was the youngest, I think, at 49 years of age,” says Dr. Ramasamy. “It has given me the motivation and inspiration to continue to give my very best in whatever I undertake to develop the country further and make it better.”

Reflecting on his journey so far, Dr. Ramasamy acknowledges that the learning process as a contractor during the earlier years was tough but he is glad that it has benefited him immensely.

“We should have some pressure upon us in order for us to learn well,” says Dr. Ramasamy. “In the real business world, one has to be tough in order to take on the pressure and the challenges successfully.”

Dr. Ramasamy’s business philosophy hints at the self-discipline that this veteran industry player possesses. “Discipline applies to everything. You can be smart and intelligent but it’s worthless without discipline,” he says.

Apart from IRDK Land’s business adventures, Dr. Ramasamy is also actively involved in giving back to the community. Besides contributing to charities and welfare homes, he also consciously integrates affordable homes into IRDK Land’s developments. IRDK Land’s future expansion plans cover the education sector and also that of building hospitals, two sectors that offers it much room to help the needy.

Furthermore, IRDK Land is also looking forward to soar higher in their future projects in Malaysia especially with its highly-anticipated upmarket IRDK Leisure Mall in Section 16 Shah Alam. This trendy mall will consist of 8 digital cineplexes with a VIP lounge and a 2-tier convention centre with a seating capacity which can cater to over 1,500 people in a banquet and 4,000 people in a convention.

IRDK Land also forges ahead with its huge effort in other upcoming projects which will include building the condominium towers at the heart of Puchong Town Centre, a major township that connects Malaysia’s political capital, Kuala Lumpur with the nation’s administrative capital in Putrajaya. In the meantime, it is also aiming to produce a masterpiece of high-rise mixed development in Wangsa Maju, a thriving township in Selangor, as well.

Moreover, IRDK Land does not show any sign of slowing down its pace in the industry as it bought over a development company in Ampang which developed the trail blazing project – D’ Waterfront Ampang South that is worth billions in Gross Development Value (GDV). Covering an area of 2.931 acres in Ampang, a flourishing township in the state of Selangor, the D’ Waterfront Ampang South is a superb commercial project which consists of 3 different types of design layout that includes Sovo Suites, Boutique Shop-Offices and Designer SOVO’s, surrounded by various amenities like restaurants, banks, clinics, schools and shopping centres.

IRDK Land’s planned listing on the Kuala Lumpur Stock Exchange in the near future will certainly position Dr. Ramasamy as a master game changer of sorts in the local as well as in the Asian property industry.

It has been a wonderful and inspirational journey for Dr. Ramasamy in his contribution to nation building in the country. And as he is still young and motivated to work towards even greater heights, the sky is the limit for IRDK Land.

 “You can be what you want to be if you start with a dream, believe in the dream and live your dream,” says Dr. Ramasamy with a broad smile.

Riding Into the Next Mega Success

Riding Into the Next Mega Success

In 2003, Dato Sri Dr Yeoh Seong Mok started a small project management firm, William Consulting Sdn Bhd. Fast forward 12 years later, not only is the firm handling multi-billion ringgits worth of projects, Yeoh is also appointed to helm Vivocom Intl Holding Bhd, a massive integrated business enterprise specialising in projects related to telecommunication towers and construction. In a recent interview with Top 10 of Asia, the dynamic and far-sighted CEO talks about what it takes to succeed in the highly challenging construction industry and his game plan to bring Vivocom to the next level.

The Malaysian construction industry is predicted to remain robust in spite of the current economic climate, thanks to a slew of high-value projects currently in the pipeline as well as a number of big infrastructure projects slated over the next five years. However, the sector is rife with its own set of challenges, such as the recent announcement of the increase on the levy for foreign workers, project delays and cash flow problems to name a few. But one man remains calm and unfazed in spite of it all. That man is none other than Dato Sri Dr Yeoh Seong Mok, the CEO of Vivocom Intl Holdings Bhd (formerly known as Instacom Group Bhd) and WY Consultancy & Development Services SdnBhd (WY). Vivocom, an integrated business enterprise involved in the telecommunication tower business, infrastructure and building construction projects, aluminium works, turnkey design and build projects and related information technology projects, has strategic alliances with WY (the project management consultancy company founded by Yeoh) and major Chinese corporations such as China Railway Construction Corporation (CRCC), China MCC among others.

“The construction business is very challenging and enthusiasm alone can drive a corporation to failure if it is not supported by a team of competent and loyal staff and partners. Cash flow is the life blood in this business and the risks of not getting paid on time by clients is very real. Project delays are a reality for reasons known and unknown, and can be either self-inflicted or attributed to other stakeholders who have nothing to lose except for their emotions,” says Yeoh in a matter-of-fact manner. “The only way to succeed is to have a profound understanding and mastery over project management and laws of contract (for contractors and sub-contractors), and people management skills (for managers and supervisors),” he adds.

The Ipoh-born Yeoh is not only highly-qualified for the role – he has a Bachelor of Construction Management and a Doctorate in Business Management from the University of Greenwich, a Master of Science in Engineering Business Management from the University of Warwick, a Bachelor of Law degree from the University of London and a Doctorate in Business Management from SABI University, France – he also has 38 years of working experience in the education, defence and construction industries. “I started my career with the Ministry of Defence and was posted to the Lumut Naval Base project under secondment to FH Kocks Gm BH. I later joined Mudajaya Construction Sdn Bhd to work on the Baha-Keratong Highway project and went on to work with other construction companies including Juma Construction, Pilecon and Pelangi Bhd.” In 2003, Yeoh started his entrepreneurial journey providing project management services with the establishment of William Consulting Sdn Bhd (now known as WY). Twelve years later, WY has clinched about RM10 billion worth of projects to manage and have collaborations and tenders for projects with international partners in Oman, Pakistan, Bangkok, Jakarta, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and China. Vivocom Enterprise has been working closely with WY for many years over scores of projects and when the company was acquired by Instacom, alongside with Neata Aluminium in August 2015, Yeoh was offered the CEO post for Instacom. “In line with the acquisition, Instacom (now renamed as Vivocom) needed someone experienced to handle the construction business and I was the natural choice as CEO,” Yeoh explains.

Vivocom currently has construction contracts worth around RM500 million in hand and Yeoh is confident that they will secure about RM1 billion to RM1.5 billion worth of projects towards the end of 2016. According to Yeoh, most of Vivocom’s projects are procured via negotiations from reputable international contractors such as CRCC, China MCC via MCC overseas and they are in talks with Hydro China, China Power, Beijing Yang Zhong and numerous other Chinese corporations. “The future and potential of Vivocom is enticing indeed. It is a strategic business decision for me to take on the challenge to lead and grow the business to a world-class status,” says Yeoh.

Yeoh also spent eight years as a visiting tutor in various universities locally and internationally, in line with his passion to impart his vast business and management knowledge to countless of CEOs, many of whom became steadfast friends and valued business partners. “Building a network of trustworthy partners is invaluable. When people know who you are, they will trust you and open up channels that were previously inaccessible to you,” says Yeoh. “Ask yourself, why should people help you? If you have a heart that wants to help and serve others, it will benefit you as well. Only greed will stop your success.” A believer in making the most of his time, Yeoh is known for closing business deals within minutes while having his morning walk at Bukit Tunku. “My motto in life is ‘don’t waste time’. I’ve signed billions of ringgit of deals during my walks. This kind of trust is only made possible due to my strong network of trusted partners who vouched for me.”

An avid reader, Yeoh has read over 15,000 books thus far, including autobiographies of business leaders and various ancient religious texts as he believes knowledge can be found anywhere. “There is no sense in reinventing the wheel when you can learn from the mistakes and lessons of others,” he says. He finds Donald Trump’s Think Big to be inspirational and helps drive him forward in his entrepreneurial journey. But his main role model is entrepreneur extraordinaire Jack Ma of the Alibaba Group. “I admire his razor-sharp vision and entrepreneurial instincts. He’s also a brilliant strategist that many can learn from.”

The newly-minted CEO of Vivocom foresees that his most pressing challenge would be to ensure a smooth transition from Vivocom’s core telecommunications business to an integrated business enterprise with the ability and capacity to take on mega-scale projects that has the capability to reward its shareholders regularly. Nevertheless, he is positive that the future looks bright for the company. “We hope to achieve construction book orders exceeding RM2 billion soon and to garner RM5 billion worth of projects within the next 15 to 18 months. With the strong relationships with our Chinese corporate giant partners, we aim to grow the company to be a successful multi-national corporation and put Malaysia firmly on the global map.”

Issue 11/2016