Interviews Dr. Henry Lim Bon Liong, CEO of SL AGRITECH CORPORATION Published 10 months ago on December 20, 2016 By The Asian Entrepreneur Authors & Contributors Share Tweet I was forced to fill big shoes at the age of 25: AT a time when most of my peers were starting a new life, I was still mourning the death of my father. It was 1977, and I was just a young man of 25. My father died unexpectedly in Hong Kong in 1976. He was only 49 years old. His untimely death prevented us from saying our good-byes. Words were lost along with so many plans and dreams our family still had. I suddenly found myself burdened with the responsibility of filling in the great void left by my father—at home, and in our business. I knew from the start that his were big shoes to fill. As the eldest child, I took on the presidency of Sterling Co. Filling his father’s shoes: The first few years were difficult and challenging. At that time, nobody even knew about Sterling notebooks, our company’s primary product. I also had to struggle with naysayers, who believed that my father’s death would also spell the death of Sterling Co. They said: “Oh, Sterling is going to go down. The one who is holding the big flag is not around anymore.” At the time, I must admit, my youth became my curse. But I forced myself to believe in what I can do—it was the only way I could honor the memory of my father. Looking back, some would say that it may have been pure nerve that gave me the courage and ability to run Sterling Co. at a very young age. Some would say it may have even been the impulsiveness of my youth. But earning the approval and respect of my father was one of my biggest motivations during the challenging times in my mid-20s. No easy life: MY family and I did not have an easy life. Contrary to how people now perceive me, I was not born with a silver spoon. We were not poor but we were not rich. When my father was still alive, we—my parents and I, along with my three other brothers— lived in a small apartment with no bathroom. We even had to go down several flights of stairs to my uncle’s warehouse just to use the bathroom. Growing up, I’ve seen people who were rich. My classmates in college had Mercedes-Benzes with air-conditioning inside. They even had houses in Forbes Park, the kind that could easily pass for a castle compared to where I lived. So, I said, one day I’m going to work hard and own a house and a car. I wanted to prove to my parents that I am worthy of their respect and approval. Though my parents did not give me riches or luxuries that many of those I grew up with learned to take for granted, they gave me the best gift of all—a good education. My family taught me that the only way for me to achieve my dreams is through hard work and perseverance. I had to study and learn from my father as diligently as I could, and I did. My father started my training as an entrepreneur when I was in high school. He taught me while bringing me along in his business travels all over the country and abroad. He taught me the value of money and quality products, as well as the art of negotiating. He taught me that there are risks that are worth taking, and that risk had its own rewards. Sell at a high price: One important challenge was in pricing products. Conventional knowledge taught businessmen to sell wares at a low price, and sell more. While my father believed in this, he challenged me to do the exact opposite—sell at a high price—but still sell more. I could test-run my response to this challenge, when I decided to gamble on my college education. At that time, my father encouraged me to take up Economics, Marketing or Management, so that I can efficiently run Sterling Co. But I knew I needed a greater challenge. I decided to take up Engineering, one of the most difficult courses at the University of the Philippines (UP). When I eventually earned my degree, I realized the folly of my gamble—Engineering didn’t teach you anything about reading balance sheets. To make up for lost time, I had to go back to the drawing board and enroll in business courses at the Ateneo de Manila University. Many years later, I would supplement my business education by going to Harvard University and better my entrepreneurial skills. My education is part of the hard work and perseverance that my father taught me. Unbeknown to me, his informal lessons when I was growing up was preparing me for a life of learning. It prepared me to accept that no one is too old or too successful to learn something new. Life’s lessons: Learning for me is no longer just about business. Books taught me that. By reading books about successful businessmen, like Akio Morita of Sony; Konosuke Matsushita of Panasonic; Sam Walton of Walmart; Steve Jobs of Apple; and Jack Ma of Alibaba, I learned about their trials and tribulations. I learned about their business and what kind of executives they were. But most important, I learned about who they were as people, who had both weaknesses and strengths. These lessons have become invaluable to me. Another source of strength I had at that time was my family—my siblings and my mother. One by one, my siblings finished their education and could join me in running Sterling Co. Family support: My mother’s help was also invaluable not only to me and my siblings, but also to the business. Though she was widowed early at 46 years old, and the loss of my father really took a toll on her, her support for us and the business never wavered. She was there with us every step of the way, and we are always grateful. We all worked hard. We had the same vision and shared the same passion. Yes, like most families, we had our misunderstandings, but we never allowed our differences to get the best of us. At the end of the day, we were family, and we had each other’s best interests at heart. Sterling notebooks: Our hard work paid off, and we could become the best paper products and stationery company in the country. But I knew that we could expand more if only we advertised. Even before, when my father was around, I was already telling him, “Look, if we are going to be a consumer product, we really have to advertise. There’s no other way.” After my father passed away, I allocated a big budget for advertising, a move that I think has really paid off. I think everybody who’s 50 years or younger will really know about Sterling notebooks now. We did very well from those challenging days of the late 1970s and 1980s. But the changing times caught up with us. Technology has made our greeting cards, some stationery and photo albums, outdated. We decided to expand and innovate. Expansion: We branched out into packaging, and later became the biggest paper-cups manufacturing in the Philippines. We have also taken up publishing. We do a lot more now compared to what we did when my father was alive. But the change I have made to Sterling Co. that I am most proud of is selling hybrid rice. Way back in 1997, I didn’t even know how much 1 kilo of rice is sold in thepalengke. At that time, Vice President Joseph Estrada was my friend. He used to tell me he wanted to put agriculture as his top priority when he became the president of the country. He sgeneration to make sure that even those poor people in the urban areas can savor our Doña Maria Rice. Legacy: I want to be remembered as someone who could lift the standard of living of the farmers in the whole of Southeast Asia. I’m more determined now to make use of this hybrid-rice technology and give prosperity, not only to the farmers in the Philippines, but also to the farmers in other countries, such as Bangladesh, Indonesia, Myanmar and Vietnam, even as far as Africa, Nigeria and Somalia. Related Topics:asiabusinessCEOEducationEntrepreneurJack MalifeMarketingmeSupporttechnologyvalue Continue Reading You may like Jasmine Tan, Director of Stone Amperor Is There A Coworking Space Bubble? Dextre Teh, Founder of Rebirth Academy Arthur Lam, Co-Founder of Synergy Johnson Zhuo, Founder of Dream Sparkle Ariz Shafi, Co-Founder of Shafi Education Callum Connects Jasmine Tan, Director of Stone Amperor Published 9 hours ago on October 18, 2017 By Callum Laing Jasmine saves her clients time and effort when doing kitchen fit outs with her biz Stone Amperor. What’s your story? I started working in the industry in 2003. I was in a marble and granite supplier company for 5 years. Even though I left the company, I still had customers calling me for my services. I referred them back to my previous company but they refused to because they loved the fast response service that I offered. I realised that customers do look at prices, however most of them prefer quality over quantity. Thus I have decided to establish a sole proprietor company also known as 78 Degrees which later rebranded as Stone Amperor in 2014. What excites you most about your industry? The kitchen countertop industry is a very confusing market. There are many brands, materials and prices to choose from. What excites me the most is my ability to help clients choose the best materials and brands within their budgets, whilst saving them time and effort. What’s your connection to Asia? I have been in Asia all my life and I love Asia. No matter where you go there is no place like home. Favourite city in Asia for business and why? I love Singapore. This is because Singapore has always been a stable country and it is great for doing business. However as it is a small country, it can be really competitive. I believe that if just do your best and give your best to your customers, you can overcome this. What’s the best piece of advice you ever received? “Take actions. Learn and improve continuously. An idea without action is just a dream.” This was really good advice that I received from my partner. Who inspires you? A very down to earth billionaire from Malaysia, Robert Kuok What have you just learnt recently that blew you away? Property is the foundation of every business. If you had your time again, what would you do differently? Own instead of renting property for my business. How do you unwind? I enjoy going shopping, watching movies and hanging out with friends. I am quite a simple being. Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why? I love going to Taiwan as I love the culture there. Everyone is so polite and the weather is great. Everyone in business should read this book: Sun Tzu, Art of war Shameless plug for your business: Perfect top, Perfect price, Perfect life from Stone Amperor How can people connect with you? Email me at [email protected] Twitter handle? @StoneAmperor — This interview is part of the ‘Callum Connect’ series of more than 500 interviews Callum Laing is an entrepreneur and investor based in Singapore. He has previously started, built and sold half a dozen businesses and is now a Partner at Unity-Group Private Equity and Co-Founder of The Marketing Group PLC. He is the author two best selling books ‘Progressive Partnerships’ and ‘Agglomerate’. Connect with Callum here: twitter.com/laingcallum linkedin.com/in/callumlaing Download free copies of his books here: www.callumlaing.com Continue Reading Callum Connects Dextre Teh, Founder of Rebirth Academy Published 1 day ago on October 17, 2017 By Callum Laing Dextre Teh is a consultant and marketing guru, helping F&B businesses to tighten their operations and grow their businesses. What’s your story? I help frustrated F&B business owners stuck in day to day operation transform from a glorified operator into a real business owner. I’m a 27 year old Singaporean second generation restaurant owner and a F&B business consultant. Entering the industry at 13 years old, I have always been obsessed with operations and systemisation. At the age of 25, I joined the insurance industry and earned a six figure yearly income. However, I left the high pay behind because it was not my passion and returned to the F&B industry. Now I help other F&B companies to tighten operations and grow their businesses with my consulting and marketing services. What excites you most about your industry? The food. I’m a big lover of food and even have a YouTube show on food in development. But that aside, it is really about impacting people through food. Creating moments and memories for people, be it a dating couple or families or friends. Providing that refuge from the daily grind of life. So in educating my consulting clients and training their staff to provide a better experience for their customers, I aim to shift the industry in the direction of creating memories instead of just selling food. What’s your connection to Asia? I was born and bred in Singapore. I love the culture, the food and travelling in Asia. Favourite city in Asia for business and why? Singapore hands down. The environment here is built for businesses to thrive. The government is pro business and the infrastructure is built around supporting business growth. Not to mention the numerous amount of grants available in helping people start and even grow business. If I’m not mistaken, the Singaporean government is the only government in the world that offers grants to home grown businesses for overseas expansion. What’s the best piece of advice you ever received? Learning to do things you do not intend to master is a BIG mistake in business. Focus on what you are good at and pay others to do the rest. Many business owners including myself are so overwhelmed by the 10,000 things that they feel they need to do everyday. We try to do everything ourselves because we think it saves us money. The only thing that, that does for us is overload our schedules and give us mediocre results. Instead we should focus on what we do best and bring in support for the rest. Who inspires you? Christopher M Duncan. At 29, Chris has built multiple 7 figure businesses. He opened me to the possibility of building a business on the thing that I loved and gave me a blueprint of how to do it. He also showed me that being young doesn’t mean you cannot do great things. Imran Mohammad and Fazil Musa They are my mentors and inspire me every single day to pursue my dreams, to focus on celebrating life and enjoying the process of getting to where I want to be. What have you just learnt recently that blew you away? Time is always more expensive than money. Money, you can earn over and over again but time, once you spend it, will never come back. If you had your time again, what would you do differently? I am a firm believer that your experiences shape who you are. I am grateful for every single moment of my life be it the highs or the lows, the successes and the failures because all these experiences have led me to become the person I am and brought me to the place that I’m at so I will probably do things the same way as everything was perfect in its time. How do you unwind? Chilling out in a live music bar with a drink in hand, listening to my favourite live band, 53A. Other than that I’m big on retail therapy, buying cool and geeky stuff. Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why? Bangkok. It feels like a home away from home where the cost of living is relatively low, the food is good and the people are friendly. Everyone in business should read this book: Everything you know about business is wrong by Alastair Dryburgh. It is a book that challenges commonly accepted business “truths” and inspires you to go against the grain, think different, take risks and stand your ground in the face of the challenges that will come your way as a business owner. Shameless plug for your business: I’m the creator of the world’s first Chilli Crab Challenge. It gained viral celebrity earlier this year with 3 major newspaper features and more than a dozen blog and online publications featuring it in the span of two weeks. In the span of the two weeks, the campaign reached well over a million people in exposure without a single cent spent in ads. Now I help F&B companies to tighten operations, increase profits and grow their businesses with my consulting and marketing services. Chilli Crab Challenge (https://www.chillicrab.com/nationalday) How can people connect with you? You can connect with me on Facebook (www.facebook.com/djtehkh) or visit www.rebirthacademy.sg for more information or book a 10 minute call with me @ www.tinyurl.com/dexclar — This interview is part of the ‘Callum Connect’ series of more than 500 interviews Callum Laing is an entrepreneur and investor based in Singapore. He has previously started, built and sold half a dozen businesses and is now a Partner at Unity-Group Private Equity and Co-Founder of The Marketing Group PLC. He is the author two best selling books ‘Progressive Partnerships’ and ‘Agglomerate’. 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