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Dr. Milagros Ong-How, Executive Vice President of Universal Harvester, Inc.

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The champion of the modern Philippine agriculture revolution, a visionary and staunch advocate of agriculture best technology and practices. This is how Dr. Milagros Ong-How is regarded by the mass media and the agriculture sector in general, she has become synonymous with pioneering initiatives aimed at uplifting the general welfare of the Filipino farmer-family.

A BS Biology student of the University of the Philippines Diliman, she has always wanted to be a medical doctor then, but fate opened a different door for her. She was only 19 when she started doing chemical trading business with her mother. Through years of hard work and perseverance, her business became the leading chemical manufacturer and distributor in the country.

For 43 years, she surrounded herself with brilliant minds, mentors and loyal colleagues. Dr. How aggressively invested her time and energy in venturing into new projects, looking at the future and leading the flock with minute details in every step.

Now, she’s the matriarch of the Universal Harvester Group of companies, owner of various industries in chemical; fiberglass; shipping; food and restaurant; and in the last 15 years where Universal Harvester, Inc. has become the flagship enterprise, the group is massively expanding in the Agriculture industry, Organic & Inorganic Fertilizer; Dairy Production of fresh milk, cheese, yogurt, ice cream, butter, etc.; Livestock Feed Plant such as Total Mixed Ration (TMR and Concentrates); Rice Milling and Trading; Agriculture Information Technology Applications; Meat Processing; Agriculture Machineries; and recently, the group began exploring the Movie Film Production; Drinking Water Treatment Plant; Renewable Energy Plant on Solar, Wind and Hydropower; Activated Carbon Plant; And docks/ports.

Under the leadership of Dr. How, the chemical enterprise maintained its stature over the years, increasing its production annually as it meets the growing demand of the industry, building more facilities every year. The shipping business slowly increasing its fleet to now 17 chemical tankers, 3 dry bulk, 5 LPG tanker, 8 oil tankers and 16 tugboats. In the food and restaurant business, a new store opened recently in Laguna.

In a little over 10 years, Dr. How paved the way for Universal Harvester, Inc., to become the leader in the Fertilizer distribution in the Philippines. Creating more distribution points which now includes 12 unloading ports, 4 manufacturing plant and 38 warehouses across the country. Supplying a complete line of organic and inorganic fertilizer products in the Philippines, other Asian countries and in Latin America while maintaining a Quality Management System certified by, and compliant with ISO standards.

The love for the Filipino Farmers and her genuine concern for the agriculture industry moved Dr. How when she heeded the call of the Dairy industry last June 2015. In an unprecedented pace, Dr. How developed a 456ha. ordinary barren land in the heart of Mindanao to a state-of-the-art dairy production facility, the largest in the Philippines.

And in the past 6 months, Universal Harvester Group headed by Dr. How, forged numerous undertakings with Japanese and Chinese Business Giants on new distribution model/channels, Drinking Water Treatment Plant, Renewable Energy Plant, and Activated Carbon Plant.

Overall, the group employs around 2,000 personnel, sustained relationships with a nationwide network of more than 6,500 farmers’ cooperatives and associations, and translating that relationship to help 8.4 million farmers to maximize the benefits of the company’s products, services and assistance.

She is known to be a maverick, unorthodox and always thinking out of the box. She is comfortable working with professionals who understand her style, she wants her team to know how the business should work, how she expects them to pro-act and react in different business situation, anticipate and make good judgement at their level. One must achieve the necessary business acumen, endurance and attitude to pass her “average” standard.

Correspondingly, Dr. How maintains a unique incentive and penalty system. Generous enough to make one want to do it better next time, and if in an unfortunate circumstance of being penalized, such is clearly understood that everyone is a stakeholder, not to commit mistakes at the expense of the company. Pushing the envelope to strive for continuous improvement, “every year, we must raise the bar!”, as Dr. How always say, referring to the projects we undertake.

Dr. How always remembers her mother’s advice, “ensure that you build true stakeholders and loyal clientele while you share the fruits and blessings of your enterprise with others.” She added one dimension to this. She made sure that the business process results not just in success measured by the traditional parameters of business performance. For her, the true measure is happiness and satisfaction of her customers, partners and stakeholders. She does all this with her personal touch. Surprisingly in a gargantuan effort. Dr. How personally attends and visits to meet customers, partners and acquaintances to present gifts and token for every occasion, virtually to all that she comes across in her day to day routine. It’s literally Christmas everyday with Dr. How.

In a remarkable way, Dr. How initiated projects never seen in the agriculture industry. Beginning 2012, she led a nationwide private sector recognition system for “The Outstanding Farmers of the Philippines (tofarm.org)”, granting numerous awards to achievers in the agriculture sector. She also funded a research on cassava and maize site specific nutrition management with the International Plant Nutrition Institute (IPNI) where harvest can easily yield at least 300% more. She is also propagating a computer application (A Farm Story) with Japan company E-supportlink, Ltd., for farmer use to improve their productivity, knowledge sharing and directly connections to buyers. After the onslaught of typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda), she immediately responded to help by launching the “Back-To-Farm” project which eventually became the “Adopt-a-Farmer” program aimed at providing free farm inputs to calamity stricken or poor agriculture communities until they can become sustainable again. On its second year, the first ever TOFARM Film Festival, a festival of films about farmers, agriculture and the bounties of nature. Now for her most recent venture, the 1st TOFARM songwriting competition with a theme “planting the seeds of change”. There is more, alongside these national projects, Dr. How under the banner of the Universal Harvester Group, put in place programs and systems to help farmers improve farm productivity, protect and preserve the quality of their soils, and improve their standards of living. Among these are training programs, study tours to help them engage and learn new technologies; on-site assistance for better farm input applications; and exploring integrated farming like high value crops, dairy and new business opportunities to augment their income during lean months.

The direction for the future includes the development of more relevant products for the farmers. The company initiated market studies and preparatory development of network and business alliance to support value chain enterprises and franchise “one- stop-shops” with a Japanese International Brand/Firm. This will support the farmers’ aspiration for an integrated and complete line of reasonably-priced farm inputs, the product line is being expanded to include seeds, farm implements, crop and life insurance, and other post-harvest facilities.

To support the need for an efficient value chains, Dr. How sets her vision at implementing a Commodities Exchange Program to serve as nucleus for agricultural commodity trading and will connect producers and users of agricultural commodities through origination, processing, marketing, and distribution capabilities and services. It will give opportunities to small and medium sized farms to become commercial enterprises and subsistence farmers to enter commercial production.

In Dr. How’s appointment as the ambassador to the Philippines by the International Fertilizer Association, a global network of fertilizer manufacturers/distributors. Dr. How is already working on new opportunities for the Universal Harvester Group to expand its market and build new value chain business locally and abroad.

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Dextre Teh, Founder of Rebirth Academy

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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’.

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

Arthur Lam, Co-Founder of Synergy

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Arthur Lam’s business, Synergy offers B2B energy saving solutions.

What’s your story?
I am Arthur Lam, Co-Founder and Vice Chairman at Synergy (1539.HK). I was born and raised in Hong Kong until I was 13. Then, I lived in boarding schools in Melbourne and California during my high school years. After that, I attended the University of Notre Dame in Indiana and graduated with a Mechanical Engineering degree in 2008.

Upon graduation, I came back to Hong Kong and worked for a hedge fund. The financial crisis in 2008 wiped out a big part of the industry and gave me a chance to rethink and reposition myself. After the financial crisis, companies stopped spending and everyone was on cost-cutting mode. As an entrepreneur with an engineering background, I co-founded an energy management company called Synergy, offering B2B energy saving solutions. The idea is simple – clients don’t have to pay anything upfront, we do all the engineering and upfront capital investment. In return, we share part of the savings we create for the client over a period of time. We first started with energy saving lighting technologies based in Hong Kong. We are now also in the field of cooling & refrigeration, solar PV and battery storage with operation in over 10 countries. Synergy is one of the first and few energy management companies listed on the Main Board of The Hong Kong Stock Exchange.
On the side, I started a student co-living space with about 80 rooms.

What excites you most about your industry?
Sustainability, renewable energy and energy efficiency are some of the few industries that can ensure the continuity of our existence! We do not need to quantify the potential market size to justify our effort to provide a more sustainable future for the next generations. Practically every nation and business leader have pledged to work collaboratively, trying to undo the harm we have done to the planet for the past century. As a result, more energy efficient technologies and solutions are always in demand.

What’s your connection to Asia?
My great grandparents were from Chiu Chow and Shunde. I was born and raised in Hong Kong until I was 13. I spent 3 years in Melbourne during middle school before heading to US for high school and college. With Synergy, I was able to travel and work in China and most of the major cities in Asia such as Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Jakarta and Bangkok. Besides Cantonese and English, I speak Mandarin and took 4 years of Japanese during high school. I’m also trying to pick up Bahasa slowly.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Every city has its own merits and it is extremely interesting to learn about the intricacy of cultural diversification and different ecosystems. As a business owner, I believe in top quality service. No other city would exemplify world class service better than Hong Kong with respect to speed, quality, effectiveness and robustness of the financial and legal system.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
Life is a journey – you come to this world to enjoy life, to be happier and healthier – Jack Ma

Who inspires you?
Elon Musk

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
I am always amazed by the rapid advancement of technologies and innovations around the world. Everyday there may be a breakthrough coming up in different areas. One thing I learnt recently is the possibility of extracting clean water from air anywhere! Previous technologies require very high energy input, high cost and certain environmental conditions such has high humidity levels to extract water from air. However, MIT and The University of California provide a new method which has the potential for use in any locations. They developed a foam-like material that draws moisture into its pores and is powered entirely by solar heat. Today there is another commercially available product which is also a self-sustaining system, using sunlight to generate electricity to drive a cycle of condensation and evaporation that can produce 2 to 5 litres of clean water per day. People now may obtain drinking water anywhere with no external energy usage and this may solve severe water shortages in some areas in the future!

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I would love to learn more languages and learn how to code better. These are two important skill sets which I find very useful wherever I go.

How do you unwind?
On weekdays, I try to visit the gym at least 2-3 times a week after work. A good workout definitely helps to de-stress. Occasionally, I have the luxury to play a round of golf with my father or friends after completing a major project.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Sipadan, Malaysia is an amazing place for scuba diving.

Everyone in business should read this book:
Book of Changes “I Ching”. I make most of my business decisions based on the philosophy from the book.

Shameless plug for your business:
Victoria Park is one of the most famous parks in Hong Kong and it has about 3,500 trees. The amount of energy we have saved in the past 8 years is equivalent to planting 1,000 Victoria Parks worth of trees from the carbon emissions we saved.
Synergy is ranked 2017 top 100 most potential public listed companies in China by Forbes.

How can people connect with you?
Linkedin: Arthur Lam
Email: [email protected]

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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