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Upon LionFlyer's mention, I realize this column is indeed more inspiring than the current "Me & My Money" column, and has been so for many weeks already! I guess I was a little late in starting this new sticky thread, but better late than never!

So this is the first posting here. It is an interview with Goodrich's wallpaper business owner - Mr. Chan Chong Beng. This will be a regular series just like the current Me & My Money column. Smile Enjoy!

The Straits Times
Published on Feb 10, 2013
Wong Kim Hoh meets...Chan Chong Beng
No paper qualifications? He's the wallpaper king

A university dropout, Goodrich founder's business looks good on paper too

By Wong Kim Hoh

Thirty years ago, two people took a leap of faith by investing in Mr Chan Chong Beng's wallpaper business.

One was his aunt who plonked in $30,000 of her savings; the other was a neighbour - a wallpaper installer - who invested $10,000.

In 2007, he bought out their shares in Goodrich Global. His aunt got $3.3 million and the neighbour, $1.1 million.

Others who had a windfall included one of his accounts clerks - she joined him a month after he opened his business and still works for him - who was given $300,000.

He says: "She was so happy. She told me, 'I thought I would only see such an amount in my CPF'."

A university dropout, Mr Chan grew Goodrich from a small company to a conglomerate with offices in Malaysia, China, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Thailand and Dubai. Besides wallpaper, the group now deals in carpets, fabrics and laminate flooring and boasts an annual turnover of over $80 million.

"I feel good that I can pay back those who stood by me and who believed in me when not many others would," says Mr Chan, who once resorted to borrowing from illegal moneylenders to pay his staff and creditors.

A slight man with a wry smile, he always wanted to be a businessman. "It was a fire in the belly. I didn't even know what sort of business I wanted to do; I just knew it would help me have a different life from many of the villagers who were pig and chicken farmers."

The third of five children, he was born in a kampung in Ulu Sembawang. His mother was a Chinese school teacher; his late father, he says, mostly played mahjong and did not really work.

Home was a wooden house with a thatched attap roof.

"Instead of wallpaper, we used newspapers to cover gaps in the wooden walls," he says with a laugh. "Believe it or not, we had our first taste of tap water in the village when I was in my early 20s. We had tap water only because infrastructure was being built for Woodlands."

He attended both an English as well as a Chinese primary school, one in the morning, the other in the afternoon.

"I guess my mother had great foresight. I became one of very few people who could understand English in the village. The villagers would ask me to translate their letters, and they would give us eggs, fruit and chickens in appreciation," says Mr Chan, who went on to Naval Base Secondary and Raffles Institution.

After national service, he enrolled in the then University of Singapore's School of Architecture. He quit after eight months.

"I just picked a course which I thought was easy. It didn't occur to me that I did not have the capacity for the creativity the course required. But when I went in, wah, jialat," he says, using the Hokkien word for disastrous. But dropping out was a decision he lost little sleep over.

"I went to university to please my father. He wanted me to be a graduate. But a degree, to me, was not important. I really wanted to do business."

There was another reason. His younger sister had also qualified for university. "I knew my parents could not afford to send us both. They were doing all they could to encourage her to find a job. But I knew she had a better shot at graduating than I did," he says.

His quitting university so incensed his father that they did not speak for more than six months.

His mother, however, gave him $1,500 to invest in a shop selling soft furnishings including wallpaper and carpets.

"When my father found out I was going to sell carpets and wallpaper for a living, he said he would chop off his head and work for me if I could make $20,000 a month," he says with a laugh.

Chan Senior did end up working for his son two years before he died in 1988.

"My mother had a little more faith in me. Even when I was young, she would always tell me to eat more and grow a tummy so that I would look like a towkay," he recalls.

The early days were tough.

He doubled up as salesman and labourer, and remembers the time he spent the night putting up the wallpaper in an Orchard Road hair salon only to have to strip it away the next day.

"I didn't know anything about joining the patterns," he says.

He stayed with the company for two years.

"The guy who was running the company was really not a businessman. He was just too kind-hearted and I decided I could not go on like that."

So he set up another shop with a partner, the son of his father's friend.

His fluency in the language gave him an edge over many non-English speaking Chinese competitors in the business then; he could seal deals and liaise directly with foreign suppliers, cutting out the middleman.

All was well for the first few years.

He says wryly: "That's because we were breaking even at best. The problems came when the company started to make money.

"When there is no win, no lose, nobody has anything to say. But when you make or lose money, there will be disagreements."

The relationship soured, something which saddened him because it ruined a 30-year friendship between their fathers.

He and a new partner put in $150,000 to set up Goodrich Wallcoverings in a 600 sq ft office in Upper Thomson Road in 1983.

He decided to focus only on wallpaper; it was easier to handle and required less storage space.

"Handling was easier, I could do my own delivery in my truck. With carpets, you need at least three or four people," he says.

Six of his staff from the previous company joined him. Five are still with him; one left only a couple of years ago to do missionary work.

But barely two weeks after he opened for business, Mr Chan faced one of the bleakest periods of his life.

He was hauled up by the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) and later charged with criminal breach of trust.

"They came for me early in the morning in the kampung. The dog was barking, the whole village knew," he says.

Just before he left the old company, a German supplier had written to Mr Chan telling him it would do business with his new outfit. It also authorised him to use $12,000 which it had remitted to his old company for advertising purposes.

The young businessman banked the cheque into his own account, not knowing that he needed a company resolution to have the money taken out.

"I didn't know what hit me. I was so stupid that I even asked the German supplier to come down. The CPIB guy told me, 'He's not your witness. You're getting him to come down to reinforce the fact that you'd taken the money'."

It took 11/2 years before the court fined him $5,000 and sentenced him to a day's jail, which he fortunately did not have to serve because it was the end of the working day.

The period before the verdict was long and hellish, he says. Not only did rumours and gossip swirl around him, competitors also tried to take advantage of the situation by trying to poach his staff.

He also did not dare make any plans, either for the business or for himself.

"What would happen if I were jailed for a year, two years?" says Mr Chan, who got married the month after he was sentenced. He and his wife now have three sons, aged between 17 and 28.

"Luckily, I was just 30 years old then. If it happened to me today, I would probably keel over from a heart attack."

Many people wrote him off and said he was finished as a businessman. Suppliers and banks, they reckoned, would not want to work with someone who had a record.

But Mr Chan was resilient. When cash flow was a problem, he would borrow from unlicensed money lenders - at 3 per cent interest a month. He won over suppliers by being genuine and sincere in his dealings with them.

Something good did come out of his brush with the law.

"Since I thought there would be little chance for me to make a living in Singapore, I branched out to Kuala Lumpur. I did it not because I was smart, but because I thought there was no future for me here. But it really helped me," says Mr Chan, who next moved into Jakarta as well.

The business grew steadily and became profitable in the early 1990s.

"Between 1991 and 1996, we were ballooning steadily. Sales were increasing by about 15 to 20 per cent each year," he says, adding that the company also started diversifying into carpets.

But there were missteps as well. The company's ventures in the Philippines and China flopped because he says the wrong people were put in charge.

"In China, the person running the show chalked up a lot of bad debts," he says. He closed his Beijing operations in 1996 after losing more than $750,000 in two years.

"I guess it was an ego thing. I had a dream as a young boy that one day I would have many offices and staff. And China was a key market," he says.

Things came to a head in 1997 when the Asian financial crisis struck.

The business was dealt a hard punch by the devaluation of the rupiah and the ringgit. Fortunately Mr Chan managed to ride the storm because he had reserves.

But it set him thinking.

"I was sitting and looking at the ceiling one day, wondering if I should continue the business. Cash was depleting and the only thing that kept me going was my staff.

"And then I told myself, maybe this is what I needed. It is too dangerous. I can't do all this by myself. What if something happens to me tomorrow, the company may die also."

An overhaul was in order. He streamlined operations, hired a financial controller, human resource manager and other professionals to help him.

Rejuvenated, he went into China again in 1998 after the biggest Hong Kong player in his industry went under because of the crisis.

"He held several agencies. When he closed down, I saw an opportunity. Despite the fact that I was in trouble, I took over the agencies from him."

He adds: "I then put a good man in charge of China. The whole operation was controlled by our people in Hong Kong."

It was one of the best decisions he made. Business from the mainland today accounts for 40 per cent of his turnover.

Crises, ironically, have been good for Goodrich. When Sars debilitated many businesses in 2003, he took the opportunity to rope in a branding expert to give the company a new sheen, with a new name, logo and image.

And when the Lehmans collapse triggered a global credit crisis in 2008, Goodrich bought over a company specialising in high-end fabrics.

"Today, fabrics account for 9 per cent of our total business," he says.

Asked if a public listing for his company is part of the game plan, he says: "There's nothing concrete in my head. If I run a private company properly, it can be as good as a public listed company."

Mr Chan has won a slew of entrepreneurial awards and is now the president of the Association of Small and Medium Enterprises.

But he does have an ambitious plan: "I want my people to triple our business in China and increase our turnover to $200 million by 2018."

Mr Lim Sam Yan, 62, the wallpaper installer who saw his $10,000 investment snowball into a $1.1 million payout has no doubt Mr Chan will make it.

"I grew up with him and have known and worked for him for a long time. He's trustworthy, intelligent and has a very nimble brain.

"I'm not surprised that he has come so far."
very inspiring! thanks for sharing

Warren Buffett (?) once said: "You should invest in a business that even a fool can run, because someday a fool will".

I am not really sure about this but I absolutely sure about one thing:
If we happened to have the luck to invest in a business run by someone trustworthy, intelligent, with 'fire in his belly' (like Mr Chan), the investment result will be phenomenal...;-)
The Straits Times
Published on Feb 17, 2013
Wong Kim Hoh meets...Adrian Tan

AD Whizz/ADHD/Asperger's/OCD
Founder of Singapore's largest independent ad group has succeeded 'because of my handicaps'

Adrian Tan prefers not to shake hands; he does not think it particularly hygienic. He showers at least six times a day, and will go mental if he does not get to wash his feet before going to bed.

He cuts off all the labels of his clothes because he does not like them brushing against his skin. Maps and instruction manuals make him break out in a cold sweat.

It is an understatement to say that Mr Tan, 57, has issues. He is dyslexic, has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and Asperger's syndrome. The last is a high-functioning form of autism.

Mr Tan's afflictions, however, have not stopped him from founding Ad Planet, Singapore's largest independent advertising group comprising 10 boutique agencies employing some 100 people. The group - which has won more than 400 international and local awards - has an annual turnover of more than $40 million.

Tanned from hours in the pool and on the golf course, Mr Tan wears his long hair slicked back and looks like a youthful Japanese pop star. Except for the occasional fidgeting and tick, the ad man betrays no symptoms of his conditions as he sits in the private room of a Japanese restaurant in Orchard Road.

"I have learnt many compensation skills," he says.

"We are good at masquerading and disguising. We learn a lot about ourselves not to fool you but to make sure our weak points do not surface."

It was not always like this. The youngest of five children of a rubber merchant-turned-restaurateur and an ad agency owner, he stood out for all the wrong reasons as a child.

"Reading was a challenge," he says. "Poor eye contact. Hyperactive. Fidgety. Having certain obsessions. Compulsive. They all, at some point, landed me in all sorts of trouble."

Since professional diagnoses of his disorders were not common in his time, his eccentricities puzzled and confounded many people including his parents, teachers and even himself.

"I was labelled stupid, naughty, inattentive and disruptive. I was every teacher's nightmare," says the former Tiong Bahru Primary School pupil.

Many teachers wrote him off as a no-hoper and said he would not amount to much in life.

"I struggled to study. I read but would have to do it many times before I understood what I was reading," says Mr Tan, adding that his dyslexia made learning languages difficult.

He struggled to pass his exams and had to repeat Secondary 2 at Kim Seng Technical School before his mother managed to swing him a transfer to St Joseph's Institution.

He was, however, not a total academic write-off, something he attributes to his OCD.

"I wanted to learn and my OCD helped. I became very determined," he says, adding that his fear of being average and mediocre drove him to find solutions, mostly non-linear, to cope.

For instance, he derived a lot of satisfaction applying his own strategies - even if they were long and convoluted - to solve maths problems.

"It gave me a sound understanding of the problems. It's how you discover things. I know I'm able to flank," says Mr Tan.

This trait, he adds, is perfect for advertising.

"Advertising is about being original, shocking and surprising," he says with a grin.

Many of his classmates gave the oddball a wide berth or called him names.

"I remember a critical point or crossroads - a very important one - when I made the pivotal decision to believe that I am not what they call me. That I should believe in myself. More importantly, that I am normal and they are not."

That decision was easy.

"Being attention-deficient made me ignore all the names thrown at me. I decided to live in my own world, which I love."

Fortunately, his family did not go into a tizzy over his behavioural traits.

His mother, he says, is his hero. Although she had only primary education, the dynamic woman founded 3 Aces and built it into Singapore's largest outdoor bus banner agency. The company is now part of his group.

"She was a godly woman and she always had hope for me," he says.

Mrs Laura Tan sent her youngest son to read economics at the University of Toronto.

"That was the only time when I decided to be a little average and told myself maybe I'd be a banker," he says.

Surprisingly, he enjoyed his course.

"I required 40 modules to get my bachelor's degree but I took more than 30 on economics. I did urban economics, transportational economics, international economics," he says.

A brief infatuation with hairdressing nearly derailed his studies.

Toronto's state-of-the-art hair salons impressed him so much that he wanted to open one in Singapore.

"I was convinced it would work in Singapore. Mind you, this was before Peter & Guys," he says, referring to one of Singapore's biggest chains of hair salons in the 1980s.

"But I didn't have the guts nor the heart to tell my mother. Actually, I think I would have been a damn good hairdresser."

His brother's friend hired him to become an account executive with ad agency DNC upon his return to Singapore in 1982.

He did well and stayed at the job for two years before deciding to do something related to his degree.

He beat 40 other candidates, including scholarship holders, to land a job as an economic analyst with United Overseas Bank (UOB).

"I guess it was because I had really specialised economics training," he says.

Although he was more than competent at it, the desk-bound job drove him nuts.

"My ADHD was getting crazy, and the clock in the office kept getting bigger and bigger."

It did not help that a client from the advertising agency had managed to cajole him to handle its marketing on a freelance basis.

"My consulting work was paying me more than the bank," says Mr Tan, who resisted his mother's entreaties to come on board her business.

He quit the bank after six months to become first, the marketing director, and then the operations director, for Dynami, then South-east Asia's largest chain of fitness centres.

On his advice, the late businessman Wee Cho Bian - brother of UOB chairman Wee Cho Yaw - injected funds into the ailing chain.

When Mr Tan left in 1987 after turning Dynami around, Mr Wee Cho Bian wanted to help finance his dream of starting his own agency.

"Mr Wee gave me a bag of money. I went through a lot of agencies which were on sale; they were all in the red. So I went back to him and said 'I don't want such a big sum of money. I just want to start something small'."

A young man in a hurry, he decided on a promotions or below-the-line agency rather than to be a part of the crowd in mainstream advertising.

"There were already some 120 advertising agencies then and only two promotions agencies in the market. By starting a promotions agency, I knew I would, by default, be the top three in Singapore," he says.

Ace: WS Promotions opened shop with a capital of $40,000, in a 200 sq ft office in a flatted factory along Leng Kee Road.

In a very short time, it made a name for itself with its zany, quirky marketing ideas.

Capitalising on the huge aerobics boom of the 1980s, he organised Singapore's first aerobics marathon and the region's first aerobics championship to promote health product Fibre Trim.

And when he found out that Becks Beer was the drink of choice of punters, he organised a contest in which the grand prize was a racehorse.

"It was such a hit we did it for three consecutive years," says Mr Tan, who also engaged then rising comedians Jack Neo and Moses Lim to go on supermarket road shows promoting consumer products such as biscuits and energy drinks.

Ace: WS Promotions became profitable within a year. Two years later, it became a full-fledged advertising agency and was renamed Ace: Daytons Advertising.

Convinced that the way to the top was to be on the cutting edge, he soon started two spin-offs in 1991: Ace: Daytons Recruitment Advertising and Ace: Daytons Direct, both of which became highly successful.

He sees himself as something of an advertising talent-scout maven.

"Whenever I identify someone who can run an agency, I will put in the seed money and help him do it."

Today, the three agencies have grown to 10; their clients run the gamut from Estee Lauder to Hong Leong Holdings and Wearnes.

He has deliberately kept each outfit small.

"You are more nimble and flexible. There is no red tape and you can give clients your attention. But as a group, we are big."

Ad Planet, Mr Tan says, was formed and fuelled by a burning ambition: to rid the stigma attached to local agencies which for a long time were seen as cheap and not as creative or strategically sharp as multinationals.

He made it a personal crusade to hire only locals, and candidly admits to chasing awards to show that home-grown talents are as good as any on the world stage.

And he has succeeded. Collectively, the Ad Planet group has collected 400 creative awards, including honours from the New York Art Festival; Art Director's Club, New York; Clio Awards; Cannes Lions; Young Guns Australia and, of course, the Singapore Creative Circle Awards.

"In the last three years, three of the top 15 creative directors in Singapore are from our agencies. That's a 30 per cent share," he says proudly.

Kinetic's Mr Pann Lim, for instance, has been nominated as Singapore's Most Influential Creative Director by the Institute of Advertising Singapore for five years.

"For me, the most important thing about Adrian is how caring he is. He takes really good care of his people, he is very charismatic and he gives very sagely advice," says Mr Lim, 40.

Mr Tan says his odyssey to championing local advertising talents has not been an easy one.

"I didn't mind that MNCs were looking down on us; after all, they're competitors. The most painful thing was, we were ostracised by local clients," says the ad man whose corporate tagline "Believe in Impossibilities" is a riff on the Biblical verse "With God all things are possible".

A second cluster of agencies - Ad Planet 2 - is in the works. Idealogy, the first outfit in this new group, was set up last year.

Having redefined local standards, he has now set himself a new target: to globalise his group.

"It's time to have our Made-in-Singapore shop settling in different cities of the world," he says.

Only one thing stands in the way of world domination.

"My hormones and my alpha-ness," he says with a big laugh. "I'm trying to get my testosterone all charged up again. In the past, I had two young kids and was fighting for survival. Now the kids are grown up, and there is a sense of contentment. But I do want to leave behind a more powerful legacy."

Married to a director at the Ministry of Defence for 28 years, Mr Tan has two sons, aged 25 and 23.

"My elder son is a doctor, and a Type A high achiever like his mother," he says.

His younger son - now studying photography at Lasalle College of the Arts - has the same conditions as him.

Whenever he can, Mr Tan helps to counsel the parents of children with disorders.

"If parents have no clue about such conditions and get negative reports from schools and believe in them, it could do a lot of damage to their children's self-esteem. And if their self-esteem breaks, things can get very tough."

He adds: "Having used my han-dicaps to my advantage, I want to tell a lot of people who have these handicaps that they should not despair.

"I have succeeded not despite but because of my handicaps. My handicaps have become my blessings and my strength."
So you see, anything is possible when you think is possible. But if you have the "capital", it is easier to be possible.
Adrian happens to be high functional.

One of my child is on the spectrum and I think he is low functional. Coupled with minor intellectual disability, I just felt that he has no place under the sun in Singapore. Its a fact but I have accepted it and moved on in life.

(17-02-2013, 07:22 PM)Temperament Wrote: [ -> ]So you see, anything is possible when you think is possible. But if you have the "capital", it is easier to be possible.
(17-02-2013, 10:23 PM)greengiraffe Wrote: [ -> ]Adrian happens to be high functional.

One of my child is on the spectrum and I think he is low functional. Coupled with minor intellectual disability, I just felt that he has no place under the sun in Singapore. Its a fact but I have accepted it and moved on in life.

Have you thought of emigrating? My son exhibited ASD symptoms when he was young but he turned out to be ok.
During the period, it did cross my mind whether I should emigrate.

Singapore has no place for these kids.
The Straits Times
Published on Feb 24, 2013
Wong Kim Hoh meets... Jenny Koh
Survivor with a spring in her step

Can-do attitude, long-term vision helped this tough cookie turn company's fortunes around

Twenty years ago, Ms Jenny Koh flew to Jakarta alone for a week to find suppliers of wooden bed frames.

She knew no one in the Indonesian capital, did not speak the language and had no idea where the suppliers were to be found. As it turned out, many of the factories were located in remote areas outside Jakarta.

An Indonesian friend was aghast that she went about the task alone, telling her it was both foolhardy and dangerous for a woman.

But those were considerations she could not afford to ponder. Getting the suppliers was crucial because she needed to help turn around the ailing fortunes of her employer - mattress manufacturer and distributor Matsushita Greatwall Corporation.

Her temerity and gung-ho attitude served her well; she got the suppliers she wanted.

The same qualities have seen her rise at Matsushita Greatwall.

Starting out as the owner's personal assistant, she is now the group chief operating officer, having played a key role in transforming the once debt-laden company into a leading mattress and sofa manufacturer and distributor.

Besides Singapore, the group has offices in several countries including Vietnam, Mauritius, Kenya and Madagascar. Its total turnover last year exceeded $100 million.

Sitting in her spacious office - the size of a small studio apartment - in Sungei Kadut Way, Ms Koh, 49, says she never nursed big corporate dreams.

"I was not very ambitious. All I hoped for was a good job, one with opportunities for me to get promoted to, say, a manager," she says.

The second of four children of a vegetable seller and his wife, she grew up in a rented wooden house in the Toh Tuck area.

"Life was hard but my parents made sure there was food on the table and the children went to school," she says.

Academically mediocre, the former Swiss Cottage Secondary School student had to repeat her O levels.

She began work as a clerk in a paper company after completing her A levels at a private school.

"I was then the youngest in the office and was roped in to help with everything - from purchasing to computer programming."

Two years later, she left to be a personal assistant at a multinational corporation providing engineering and turnkey services to the oil and marine construction industries.

Her boss was head of operations for quantitative analysis and quantity surveying, and she picked up a lot of useful skills - from preparing budgets to writing complicated safety reports.

"It was a big place with staff of all nationalities so you learnt to work with all types of people. There was also a lot of politics at play so you learnt to be street-smart. If not, you wouldn't survive," she says with a laugh.

The financial crash of 1987 dealt a big blow to the company. Many employees lost their jobs, including Ms Koh.

Around the same time, a friend, Mr Peter Liong, offered her a job as his personal assistant. With funds from his family, the former banker had bought over Matsushita Greatwall which was in financial trouble.

It had seemed like a good buy. Started in 1968, the company was a pioneer in manufacturing spring mattresses, and had its own brand, Wonderland.

But it was only after he came into the company that Mr Liong found out he got more than he bargained for.

Ms Koh says: "Peter thought he could just sit there and collect dividends. But he soon discovered whatever money he put in would be gone in a matter of weeks."

They discovered the company was saddled with a lot of old stock.

"There were a lot of damaged and rejected goods in the warehouse. The fabric covers were old and could not be used; the springs were rotting and rusty."

They kept the ex-owner on the staff but soon suspected that he was squandering money and cutting deals to line his own pocket.

"We realised soon there he was doing something behind our backs, but without evidence, we couldn't boot him out."

They finally caught him out during a turnkey project in China.

"When he was caught, he actually asked if we wanted a share," she says, shaking her head.

Getting rid of the rot and cleaning up operations proved a gargantuan task.

Suppliers would call, shouting expletives down the phone and haranguing them to settle their debts.

"One day, our power supply was cut off. Apparently, the landlord was very fed up because the ex-owner owed more than two years' rental. We have no idea how he managed to avoid paying for so long," says Ms Koh.

To add to their woes, the sales director left with all but one member of the sales team to start a rival company.

By then, Mr Liong had poured more than $2 million into the company.

Determined to stem the bleeding, he and Ms Koh set about turning the company around.

But first, they had to get the workers - all of whom had been with the company for years - to come round to their side.

"In the beginning, they would reject whatever we told them to do. They would say, 'This cannot do, that cannot do.'

"We realised that we knew nothing about the trade or the products and we needed to get that fixed."

So both Ms Koh and her boss became workers at the factory.

"We changed into our shorts and T-shirts and spent a few hours every day at the factory. We learnt how to assemble bed frames, how to clip wooden materials together, how to sew covers on to the spring units. We did this every day for nearly three years," says the feisty woman who proved to be quite adroit with the factory's machinery.

"It took a bit of time before the workers realised we were serious about the business. We spent a lot of time with them, especially the supervisors. Their attitude started to change," she says, adding that many of the employees are still with the company.

Time away from the factory was spent in the office, fighting fires or making sales calls.

"We sat down with customers just to understand the business and to know who we were dealing with. Peter and I worked so closely together then that people sometimes mistook us for husband and wife. That's bad. Maybe that's the reason why I'm still single," she says with a tinkling laugh.

Money continued to be an issue.

To keep the business going, Mr Liong sold his house and golf country club membership.

Ms Koh also dug into her savings on more than a few occasions.

"There were times when I would collect my salary in the morning and bank it back into the company in the afternoon. Mind you, I was only earning a couple of thousand then so you can imagine how financially strapped we were."

The way out, the pair decided, was to export and hopefully get the sales volume they needed.

They zeroed in on Australia and Japan, two of the bigger markets then, and started participating in trade fairs such as the Tokyo Furniture Fair and Australia's International Furniture Fair.

Ms Koh took charge of Japan; Mr Liong, Australia.

Often the only woman among Singapore furniture exhibitors in Japan, she brought in a lot of business, thanks to her street smarts and pleasant disposition.

She remembers meeting an elderly Japanese man in Tokyo, one who was well respected in the industry. She would make it a point to greet him politely each time she saw him at a fair, even though he was not a client.

A few years later, he came to see her with his senior manager and placed orders.

"In those days, the Japanese liked wooden frames with their mattresses. Our philosophy then was to get our customers first, and then accommodate whatever they asked for. And that was why I went to Jakarta on my own to look for suppliers," she says.

The export strategy worked, and turned the ailing company around. At one point, it became one of the biggest furniture exporters to Australia.

With that reprieve, Mr Liong and Ms Koh turned their focus on recapturing a share of the local market.

They decided to court American mattress brand King Koil, the rights of which Matsushita once had but then lost because the company's ex-owner breached territory rights.

Once they had secured the manufacturing rights, they set about building the brand.

"The father of one of our Australian business contacts taught us two very important things: get the right product and make sure your customers make money," recalls Ms Koh, who took on different roles - from sales manager to export manager - as she grew with the company.

They focused on service, taking on board feedback from dealers and accommodating their specifications even when it was more labour-intensive.

The company also started a factory in Malaysia in 1994.

Business grew, and the company soon acquired other brands including Dorma, Silentnight and Star Master; it also went into bedding and other furnishings.

From 1994, the company experienced compounded growth of more than 30 per cent each year.

Besides mattresses, Matsushita has become a leading sofa manufacturer as well. Its made-to-order fabric sofas, which are sold at Courts stores here, account for 30 per cent of its business.

It now has 2,000 employees worldwide, 300 of whom are based in Singapore.

"We have gone into product development, and have our research and creative team to do packaging, ads and interior design," says Ms Koh, who now handles operations, product development and marketing.

Mr Liong - who is Matsushita's group managing director - says he made the right move in hiring her 25 years ago.

"She is smart, dedicated and loyal, with good long-term vision," says the father of two grown children.

Describing his right-hand woman as a capable general with a posse of good soldiers, he adds: "She has strong IQ and EQ and is open to changes, especially in incorporating automation and high-tech, and values the importance of strong brand equity."

Ms Koh is surprised at her own tenacity.

"I discovered I am quite a tough cookie and that I have great survival instincts," says the energetic woman, who also found time to study part-time at the Management Development Institute of Singapore for a business degree from the University of Bradford.

Having helped to steer the company away from choppy waters, she now spends quite a bit of time doing grassroots work.

She is vice-chairman of Jurong Spring Citizens' Consultative Committee.

Mr Frankie Goh, the committee's chairman, says: "She connects with people really well and has a knack for solving tricky situations."

Although she laments that work has put paid to romance in her life, she has no regrets.

"I've learnt so much. Whatever I have is because of the hard work I put in," says Ms Koh, who lives in a terraced house in the western part of Singapore and plays golf every week.

"But I tell the younger ones that work is not everything. They have to plan for themselves."
GUTs and hardwork.

hardwork, no problem...

GUTs... not everyone has ...

a runner without shoes runs freely for the 1st prize of a pair of shoe...
a runner already with a pair of shoe, don't run at all...

(24-02-2013, 10:26 AM)Musicwhiz Wrote: [ -> ]The Straits Times
Published on Feb 24, 2013
Wong Kim Hoh meets... Jenny Koh
Survivor with a spring in her step

Can-do attitude, long-term vision helped this tough cookie turn company's fortunes around

Twenty years ago, Ms Jenny Koh flew to Jakarta alone for a week to find suppliers of wooden bed frames.

Why this article couldn't be found in Hard-copy of ST ?
My full respect.
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