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Dr. Henry Lim Bon Liong, CEO of SL AGRITECH CORPORATION

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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.

Callum Connects

Malcolm Tan, Founder of Gravitas Holdings

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Malcolm Tan is an ICO/ITO and Cryptocurrency advisor. He sees this new era as similar to when the internet launched.

What’s your story?
I’m a lawyer entrepreneur who owns multiple businesses, and who is now stepping into the Initial Coin Offering/Initial Token Offering/Cryptocurrency space to be a thought leader, writer (How to ICO/ITO in Singapore – A Regulatory and Compliance Viewpoint on Initial Coin Offering and Initial Token Offering in Singapore), and advisor through Gravitas Holdings – an ICO Advisory company. We are also running our own ICO campaign called AEXON, and advising 2 other ICO’s on their projects.

What excites you most about your industry?
It is the start of a whole new paradigm, and it is like being at the start of the internet era all over again. We have a chance to influence and shape the industry over the next decade and beyond and lead the paradigm shift.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I’m Singaporean and most of my business revolves around the ASEAN region. Our new ICO advisory company specialises in Singaporean ICO’s and we are now building partnerships around the region as well. One of the core business offerings of our AEXON ICO/ITO is to open up co-working spaces around the region, with a target to open 25 outlets, and perhaps more thereafter.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Singapore, since it is my hometown and most of my business contacts originate from or are located in Singapore. It is also a very open and easy place to do business.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
Be careful of your clients – sometimes they can be your worst enemies. This is very true and you have to always be careful about whom you deal with. The closest people are the ones that you trust and sometimes they have other agendas or simply don’t tell you the truth or whole story and that can easily put one in a very disadvantageous position.

Who inspires you?
Leonardo Da Vinci as a polymath and genius and leader in many fields, and in today’s world, Elon Musk for being a polymath and risk taker and energetic business leader.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
Early stage bitcoin investors would have made 1,000,000 times profit if they had held onto their bitcoins from the start to today – in the short space of 7 years.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
Seek out good partnerships and networks from day one, and use the power of the group to grow and do things together, instead of being bogged down by operations and going it alone from start.

How do you unwind?
I hardly have any time for relaxation right now. I used to have very intense hobbies, chess when I was younger, bridge, bowling, some online real time strategy games and poker. All mentally stimulating games and requiring focus – I did all these at competitive levels and participated in national and international tournaments, winning multiple trophies, medals and awards in most of these fields.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Phuket – nature, resort life, beaches, good food and a vibrant crowd.

Everyone in business should read this book:
Rich Dad Poor Dad by Richard Kiyosaki

Shameless plug for your business:
Gravitas Holdings (Pte) Limited is the premier ICO Advisory company and we can do a full service for entrepreneurs, including legal and compliance, smart contracts and token creation, marketing and PR, and business advisory and white paper writing/planning.

How can people connect with you?
Write emails to [email protected], or [email protected]

Twitter handle?
@malcolmABM

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

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Callum Connects

William Chin, Founder of Mummy’s Market

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William Chin set up Mummy’s Market. Mummy’s Market is the uncontested platform connecting parents and retailers in Singapore.

What’s your story?
After National Service, I enjoyed a rousing start to my corporate career with successful stints at events and conventions companies such as IQPC, Hannover Fairs Australia and Lighthouse Independent Media in management roles, building my experience in conventions, trade fairs and events.

However, I hit a particularly bad streak of unemployment after that, facing difficulty finding jobs because according to recruiters, I was overqualified, yet too young. In fact, at one point I was struggling so badly with my family loans that I was sharing bowls of ramen with my girlfriend for our meals, to save costs.

My financial pressures eventually culminated in my forced venture into entrepreneurship where I had to strike out my own path with a brief stint in Expomal. However, this turned out to be my next break that fuelled my current success. It was there I built up Smartkids (another wildly successful baby and child fair) before it was bought out by a bigger company. Inspired by SmartKids, I started Mummy’s Market and eventually Baby’s Market, outperforming established names in the business to take its current place as market leader.

What excites you most about your industry?
Mummy’s Market is the industry leader in baby, kids, maternity and household with 80% market share and our clients – coupled with branding, advertising and exhibiting on Mummy’s Market platforms, we are seeing a 30-60% company growth year on year despite the downturn in the economy. With attendance of over 100k consumers per fair and serving 70-80% of pregnant mums, our actual business is in data, data collection and processing from consumer fairs.

I am excited about how big data analytics from Mummy’s Market can be applied at every stage of the retail process such as data segmentation – for retailers now when mums are giving birth to sending relevant content over. This will transform and innovate the industry of baby fairs and Mummy’s Market, with the huge amount of data we process from our fairs yearly, is the forerunner in this disruption. With this, we have transformed the DNA of how digital business has always been done. Global online marketplaces are burning cash quickly to achieve big data analytics, but not us.

Another testament to Mummy’s Market’s popularity is that huge marketplaces have been trying to pass off as Mummy’s Market. It shows that we are heading in the right direction and the most exciting part is, we are only at 10% of where we want to be – a platform where $1 billion gross market value products are transacted annually around Asia in a niche market.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I was born and bred in Singapore, and intend to stay in Singapore to build the Mummy’s Market brand.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Singapore – if one can strategically become a leader in a small market like Singapore, its grounds to show that one’s business has an opportunity to grow further in larger countries.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
“It is easy to become number 1 because the others can just copy and tweak to overtake you.
It is more difficult to STAY number 1, because you have no one to copy. You have to innovate.”

Who inspires you?
Steve Jobs – he transformed the digital age. Without the invention of smartphones, mobile computing and mobile advertising would never have grown. He changed the way businesses and consumers communicate. Without the introduction of iPhones, mobile applications would have never existed the way we are using them today.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
You no longer have to lick stamps to make it sticky.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
Nothing. I love my life and my family. And I love the platform Mummy’s Market has created to help businesses grow.

How do you unwind?
I play with my little 1 year old baby girl.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Taiwan – cool weather with beautiful mountains and lake scenery.

Everyone in business should read this book:
7 Habits of Highly Effective People – Stephen Covey

Shameless plug for your business:
Mummy’s Market has established its reputation as not just Singapore’s but Southeast Asia’s largest baby fair:

  • Nearly S$100 million gross merchandise volume transacted on Mummy’s Market platforms annually
  • 800,000 visitors at its fairs yearly
  • 80% of all of Singapore’s baby product distributors in one convention
  • 15-20% year on year increase in sales volume at every baby fair since its inception

Apart from market dominance, Mummy’s Market also has the largest database of parents and the number 1 platform for MNCs and SMEs to reach out to this audience. From exhibitions, magazines, seminars to digital campaigns and roadshows. Mummy’s Market is the uncontested platform connecting parents and retailers in Singapore.

How can people connect with you?
[email protected]
https://www.linkedin.com/in/william-chin-23910a9/

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

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