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The True Worth of a Person with Chu Sau Ben

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At the age of 16, Mr Chu Sau Ben set an ambitious goal for himself which is to lead a publicly listed company. Today, he has achieved this and more.

As Chairman and CEO of Libra Group Limited, Mr Chu is leading a growing company listed on the Catalist Board of the Singapore Exchange, with strategic business units that operate in Mechanical and Electrical Engineering (M&E) Services; Manufacturing and sale of air- conditioning and mechanical ventilation ducts (ACMV) and trading of ACMV related products; and Building & Construction Solutions.

The eldest of eight children, Malaysian-born Mr Chu came to Singapore at the young age of 18 to support his family. It was tough finding a job, so Mr Chu took on odd jobs, eventually picking up valuable hands-on experience in various areas of ACMV components.

In 1997, Mr Chu founded Kin Xin Engineering Pte Ltd (Kin Xin Engineering) together with a few partners. Kin Xin began as a specialist in installing ACMV systems in buildings. At the time, the company had five staff, including Mr Chu, who was the operations manager.

The company progressively took on projects of increasing scale and value as a sub- contractor for both public and private sector customers. Projects awarded included the supply and installation of ACMV ductwork and refrigerant copper pipes for a condominium project at Rivervale Crescent and the supply and installation of ACMV ductwork and chilled water pipes at a water reclamation plant at Changi.

In 2005, Mr Chu was appointed as managing director. At the same time, the management team was strengthened and the company took on more significant projects such as ACMV projects at a government hospital at Outram Road. Mr Chu also identified the opportunity to expand into manufacturing of ACMV systems to provide a one-stop service to customers, giving rise to the incorporation of Libra Engineering Pte Ltd (Libra Engineering) in 2005. In 2007, Kin Xin Engineering began to expand into the supply and installation of fire alarms and fire protection systems, electrical systems as well as sanitary and plumbing systems.

In 2010, in preparation for the listing on the Singapore Exchange, Libra Group was incorporated as a holding company for Kin Xin Engineering and Libra Engineering. In 2011, Mr Chu’s childhood dream was fulfilled when Libra Group was listed on the Catalist Board of the Singapore Exchange.

Libra Group’s notable projects include M&E works at MND [email protected] East Gateway, One Canberra Executive Condominium, Sports Hub and Temasek Polytechnic East Wing.

After the listing, Mr Chu was appointed as Executive Chairman of the Group, leaving behind the Group’s strategic direction of the business operation to his CEO. However, the weak performance of the Group over two years had prompted him to return and he took over the helming of the Company

Mr Chu led a major restructuring of the company to raise productivity, reduce debt and brought in key management such as Chief Financial Officer Mr Alex Chua, Deputy Managing Director of Kin Xin Engineering Mr Deng Rong, General Manager of Kin Xin Engineering Mr Xu Rui Bing and Assistant General Manager of Libra Building Construction Pte Ltd Mr Du Yijun to support his efforts to turnaround the company.

Mr Chu also identified the opportunity to expand into Building & Construction services, which complements the existing core M&E and manufacturing businesses. Libra Group acquired main contractor Libra Building Construction Pte Ltd (formerly known as Ai-Build Pte Ltd) in 2013 and Cyber Builders Pte Ltd in 2015. According to Mr Chu, “We believe that by expanding to be an integrated building solutions provider, the Group is better positioned to deal with the challenges in the construction industry such as rising costs and labour shortage.”

Under his leadership, Libra Group posted record financial results in 2014, with revenue surging 102% to S$63.7 million and net profits up 922% to S$5.3 million. Over the year, Libra’s share price almost doubled to close at 20 cents as at 31 December 2014.

Despite his achievements, Mr Chu is striving to inject more growth into the company. Apart from eyeing regional expansion opportunities, Libra Group is also looking to diversify into new businesses. This will help to broaden the company’s revenue sources and improve its growth prospects while complementing its existing businesses. Mr Chu believes that this will be key to delivering sustainable growth given the challenges in the construction industry and limited market in Singapore.

On a personal level, Mr Chu aims to fund the building of schools and education-related initiatives for the less fortunate, as he believes in the importance of education. Mr Chu, himself, has taken time off his busy schedule to take up courses to ensure he is well- equipped to deal with the challenges in today’s business environment. In 2014, Mr Chu was accepted for a CEO training course at the prestigious Tsinghua University in Beijing, China.

Looking back, Mr Chu believes that his drive to succeed has allowed him to overcome the challenges at work and in life. His advice to aspiring entrepreneurs would be to have the perseverance and determination to succeed and to excel in everything they do.

Mr Chu considers his biggest achievement to date to be able to provide good jobs to his staff of close to 500 people. “The worth of a person is measured by the kind of footprints that he leaves in the hearts of the people around him.” A Buddhist, Mr Chu believes in giving back to society and cares about the well-being of his employees.

As Libra Group moves into its next stage of growth, Mr Chu is mindful of the need for succession planning and building a team of capable management who are able to deliver sustainable growth for the company and shareholders so that Libra Group can continue flourishing even when he takes a back seat. It would be his legacy as a leader.

Chu Sau Ben is a winner of the Asia Pacific Entrepreneurship Awards 2015 Singapore, under the Outstanding Category. The Awards were held on 14th August 2015 at Singapore Marriott Tang Plaza Hotel.

Entrepreneurship

What Kills A Startup

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1 – Being inflexible and not actively seeking or using customer feedback

Ignoring your users is a tried and true way to fail. Yes that sounds obvious but this was the #1 reason given for failure amongst the 32 startup failure post-mortems we analyzed. Tunnel vision and not gathering user feedback are fatal flaws for most startups. For instance, ecrowds, a web content management system company, said that “ We spent way too much time building it for ourselves and not getting feedback from prospects — it’s easy to get tunnel vision. I’d recommend not going more than two or three months from the initial start to getting in the hands of prospects that are truly objective.”

2 – Building a solution looking for a problem, i.e., not targeting a “market need”

Choosing to tackle problems that are interesting to solve rather than those that serve a market need was often cited as a reason for failure. Sure, you can build an app and see if it will stick, but knowing there is a market need upfront is a good thing. “Companies should tackle market problems not technical problems” according to the BricaBox founder. One of the main reasons BricaBox failed was because it was solving a technical problem. The founder states that, “While it’s good to scratch itches, it’s best to scratch those you share with the greater market. If you want to solve a technical problem, get a group together and do it as open source.”

3 – Not the right team

A diverse team with different skill sets was often cited as being critical to the success of a starti[ company. Failure post-mortems often lamented that “I wish we had a CTO from the start, or wished that the startup had “a founder that loved the business aspect of things”. In some cases, the founding team wished they had more checks and balances. As Nouncers founder stated, “This brings me back to the underlying problem I didn’t have a partner to balance me out and provide sanity checks for business and technology decisions made.” Wesabe founder also stated that he was the sole and quite stubborn decision maker for much of the enterprises life, and therefore he can blame no one but himself for the failures of Wesabe. Team deficiencies were given as a reason for startup failure almost 1/3 of the time.

4 – Poor Marketing

Knowing your target audience and knowing how to get their attention and convert them to leads and ultimately customers is one of the most important skills of a successful business. Yet, in almost 30% of failures, ineffective marketing was a primary cause of failure. Oftentimes, the inability to market was a function of founders who liked to code or build product but who didn’t relish the idea of promoting the product. The folks at Devver highlighted the need to find someone who enjoys creating and finding distribution channels and developing business relationship for the company as a key need that startups should ensure they fill.

5 – Ran out of cash

Money and time are finite and need to be allocated judiciously. The question of how should you spend your money was a frequent conundrum and reason for failure cited by failed startups. The decision on whether to spend significantly upfront to get the product off the group or develop gradually over time is a tough act to balance. The team at YouCastr cited money problems as the reason for failure but went on to highlight other reasons for shutting down vs. trying to raise more money writing:

The single biggest reason we are closing down (a common one) is running out of cash. Despite putting the company in an EXTREMELY lean position, generating revenue, and holding out as long as we could, we didn’t have the cash to keep going. The next few reasons shed more light as to why we chose to shut down instead of finding more cash.

The old saw was that more companies were killed by poor cashflow than anything else, but factors 1, 2 and 4 probably are the main contributing factors to that problem. No cash, no flow. The issue No 3 – the team – is interesting, as if I take that comment ” I didn’t have a partner to balance me out and provide sanity checks for business and technology decisions made” and think about some of the founders and startup CEOs I know, I can safely say that the main way that any decision was made was by agreeing with them – it was “my way or the highway”. I don’t therefore “buy” the team argument, I more buy the willingness of the key decision makers to change when things are not working (aka “pivoting” – point 9).

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About the Author

This article was produced by Broadsight. Broadsight is an attempt to build a business not just to consult to the emerging Broadband Media / Quadruple Play / Web 2.0 world, but to be structured according to its open principles. see more.

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Callum Connects

Jasmine Tan, Director of Stone Amperor

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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

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