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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.

Callum Connects

Benedict Heng, Founder of Mr. Farmer

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Benedict Heng is bringing back the ‘kampong’ days of having the Ho Liao (good ingredients) for Ho Jiak (good tasting) food.

What’s your story?
I’m Ben from Mr. Farmer. Mr. Farmer is an online grocer dedicated to supplying the freshest produce to our customers. We believe in sustainable and ethical farming. Since a young age, I have always been an avid food lover (especially meats), developing a strong interest in all things delicious. That is why I ventured into the F&B industry, working as a junior cook for 3 years.

Midway through my career, I made a move to the finance industry to pursue monetary rewards. I dove into high-risk investments and I made lots of money from these investments. However, the good fortune did not last long and all these came crashing down when I suffered a tremendous loss. This coincided with the time that I had just started my own family and it was a huge blow to me both materially and mentally. It was this crash that made me realize that this life wasn’t for me. I went on a hiatus and eventually, it was only through the strong support from my family that I managed to tide over this tough episode.

I went back to help the family business and this was how Mr Farmer came about. My family has been in the food industry for many decades and one thing they noticed from years of experience is that sustainable farming practices are not as developed as in Europe. This is why through Mr Farmer, we hope that we can provide the best quality products to families out there who want the best ingredients for their loved ones.

What excites you most about your industry?
Delicious and wholesome food excites me. I believe food is a critical component of life and it brings people together. The opportunity to serve the community with fresh produce for a healthy life, that brings me joy.

I feel that there is still so much more we can do to improve the quality of food and bring it to the masses. One of the key components of ensuring greater quality of food is to support ethical and sustainable farming. Due to commercialization and urbanization, most farming practices these days are no longer the way they were in the old “kampong” times. Shortcuts are taken, standards are compromised, all in the name of profit. At Mr. Farmer, profit is important too but we want to focus on the concept of One Welfare – sustainable farming directly impacts our health. Our vision is to bring back the ‘kampong’ days of having the Ho Liao (good ingredients) for Ho Jiak (good tasting) food.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I was born and raised in Singapore. I call Singapore my home as it’s where my family and close friends are. I also travel frequently to Malaysia and APAC for work.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
It’s definitely Singapore. There is just so much this tiny city can offer! Singapore has been globally recognized for its top-notch business environment providing its residents with developed infrastructure, political stability and excellent connectivity. These factors have given us an outstanding support system for businesses to strive.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
Surround yourself with people that inspire you, challenge you to rise higher, make you better and, keep them in your life.

Who inspires you?
I draw inspiration from my uncle, who is the head of both the family and business. He takes care of our family matters at home and manages hundreds of employees at work. Handling both the family and business side of things can be tricky, but he has shown me that success can be sustainable and done with a conscience. His guiding philosophy of handling business and family is simply, to have a big heart.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
Even just one day of separation from the day the meat is slaughtered, makes a world of difference to its flavour.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I have come to learn that awareness is the beginning of everything. If I had my time again, I would have probably spent more time figuring out who I truly am and with that self-awareness, begun to lead my life with more purpose and meaning.

How do you unwind?
I like to spend my free time sipping white coffee at my favourite coffee place. I enjoy taking in the surrounding sights and letting my mind wander freely. It allows me to unwind and gain clarity at the same time. It also helps me organize my thoughts to prepare for the week ahead.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
It would be Bangkok as the people there are genuinely friendly and hospitable. They say people are what defines the city and I couldn’t agree more with this. I also enjoy the ‘laid back’ vibe of Bangkok. Not to mention Bangkok has all the good food and awesome shopping choices too!

Everyone in business should read this book:
“Spin selling” by Neil Reckham. It’s an amazing book that teaches you a process designed to help you successfully sell your products and services to business buyers.

Shameless plug for your business:
We at Mr. Farmer have the best tasting meats in Singapore, do a blind test and you will know why it’s Michelin chefs’ preferred choice. Not only are we very confident about the taste, we are also proud to say that all our products are chemical, hormone and antibiotic free. We also focus a lot on supporting ethical and sustainable farming practices believing in the ‘One Welfare’ concept. Do check us out if you enjoy good quality food like us!

How can people connect with you?
[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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Callum Connects

Zac Chua, Founder & CEO of The Kettle Gourmet

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Zac Chua’s popcorn business validated itself straight away and fast tracked him to the startup world. Zac now employs 11 people and shifts 500 bags of popcorn daily.

What’s your story?
It’s a crazy one. It was an accidental startup. If you think about it, no university graduate would ever dream of becoming a popcorn seller. We crashed our first tech event to validate our idea and it took off from there. I bought a logo for $7 from a designers marketplace, printed some cheap name cards, and built a 1 page landing page. Sales started pouring in and eventually, we were serving B2B clients (corporate pantries) and we have never looked back. Today we move about 500 bags daily, we have 11 employees and we are growing. Talk about a validation that worked in our favour.

What excites you most about your industry?
It’s food! Everybody loves food! In Singapore the F&B scene is brutally competitive and it spurs me on to fight and compete for market share and to prove to myself that I can do it. It keeps me going and I won’t stop until we become the market leader.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I was born in Singapore, and have traveled to most of Southeast Asia.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Singapore! Even though Singapore has a high cost of living, the Government is actually very supportive of startups. They provide grants for us to tap into, and the technological infrastructure makes it possible for us to compete on a global scale. I believe if you can succeed in your business in Singapore, you can succeed in most of Southeast Asia.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
You only need to be right once, and the rest is history.

Who inspires you?
My father, who was a VC. In fact he was the one who gave me the best piece of advice which I shared above. Having one successful exit, he showed me that it’s okay to fail a million times – all it takes is just one time for you to win in business and in life.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
The power of compounding.

  • Mary and John are the same age.
  • Mary saves $2k annually from the age of 19-25 – so she puts $14k into her portfolio
  • John saves $2k annually from the age of 26-65 – so he puts $80k into his portfolio, but 7 years after Mary.
  • If both are able to generate 10% per annum, who would have more at age 65?
  • John of course! But how much more?
  • Mary will have $944,641 whilst John will have $973,704
  • Think about it! Mary puts in only $14k but John delays for 7 years and puts in $80k.

CRAZY RIGHT!?!?

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
Nothing, my mistakes taught me how to become a better me. But if I really must choose, I’d say take more time to find the right business partner.

How do you unwind?
Poker, Mahjong and Dota 2.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Vietnam! Things are cheap, people are warm and friendly, and their coffee fills up my life. I would love to retire there if possible.

Everyone in business should read this book:
The richest man in Babylon

Shameless plug for your business:
We don’t need a plug. Just try our competitors and you’ll understand why!

How can people connect with you?
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/chuazongyou
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/zacchua

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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