Saturday, September 26

Keeping it in the family

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KUCHING: Blood has always been thicker than water and in the world of business, it can be very difficult to draw a clear line between business and family.

However, there are some that still retain the belief of the dynasties of old. While most companies go for a more modern corporate strategy of succession planning, others groom their own children to handle the reign of power, to create a family empire and thereby leave a mark in the business world with their name on it.

Albeit slowly becoming a dying art due to changing times, the era of the business dynasties – of handing over the wheel from parents to children – will always be part of the Asian business community.

Some argue that dynastic businesses offer a proven route to developing emerging markets, while companies managed by unrelated professionals and funded by public investors offer mostly slim profit shares to local employees.

Even among the largest corporations, many retain significant financial and managerial involvement by the founder’s relative.

Unlike before , where it may just be handing over the company, the new age of the business dynasties have now also diversified into bringing the name of the family into a new business be it in the same sector or not.

Just ask Bobby Ting. Right from the get-go, the budding entrepreneur has had his share of expertise from his distinguished father Tan Sri Ting Pek Khiing, notably in the construction, and property sector.

“Generally, there are advantages and disadvantages of joining a family business. There was more pressure in the sense that the success of the family business rides on one’s ability to live up to it. If you made a wrong move, it not only affects yourself, it affects your whole family.

“While one has to learn very quickly and do things a certain way when working in the family business, at the end of the day, I cannot say that it’s the wrong method.

“My father has gone through the whole process from nothing to where he is now, so there must be something right,” he said.

In Bobby’s opinion, there’s always trials and tribulations to work on.

“Most of the time, at the end, once the project is completed for example, you look back and understand why you have to follow certain procedures. Until you go through it, you may not accept or believe it yourself,” he added.

Meanwhile, from the eyes of parents, encouraging children to join in on a certain business venture might play an important part in passing down life lessons.

Such was the intention of Anna Wong Nga Ying,managing director of Kuching Memorial Services Sdn Bhd.

In her course of work, Wong has passed on four words of philosophy to her children when dealing with difficult situations: Flexibility, Adaptability, Accommodating and Agility.

“These four words have always helped me whenever I encountered difficulties. For example, ‘Agility’ means if you have a problem, you need to solve it fast.

“Don’t drag the problems and unhappiness among the staff, agents, and others. These four words have been guiding me to move forward all these years,” she explained.

Entering the unique line of bereavement care industry, Wong holds firm to her heart the importance of helping those in times of need, particularly for those who recently lost loved ones.

SUCCESSFUL SUCCESSION: Pek Khiing is seen with his sons John Ting (from second left), Bobby, Datuk Michael Ting, and Peter Ting. Pek Khiing has successfully built a construction business empire with his sons taking on the business reign while they also branch out to their own respective businesses.

These were important lessons she wanted her children to learn.

“This job enables us to keep on giving to people, to give them our time. When something has happened in a person’s life, he or she needs others to listen to their problems.

“At the same time, they need guidance on how to deal with things such as arranging the funerals for their loved ones,” she added.

With the legacy in check, BizHive Weekly takes a look at how the new age succession planning takes place and how some keep the family name known through the ages.

As the son of one of the most prominent figures in the construction industry in Sarawak, it is only natural for Bobby Ting to follow in his father’s footsteps.

In fact, after coming back to Kuching upon completing his studies in Australia, Bobby covered pretty much the same roots as his father – Tan Sri Dr Ting Pek Khiing – when the latter started off selling fruits before venturing into the construction business.

“Despite coming from a very poor background, my father was a self-starter. He started off in Bintangor, where he was helping his father in the orchard business. Along the way, he started buying and selling fruits from Bintangor, Sibu, and then coming out and selling them in Kuching.

“That was basically one of his first ventures and at a very young age of about 18 or 19 years old,” he said.

As a business-savvy person, it was not long before Pek Khiing went into the construction industry, a move which would later put his name on the map.

“My father became well-known when he built the Sheraton Langkawi Beach Resort at the request of our then Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who at that time had been looking around Malaysia to see who was capable of doing these quick buildings.

“The hotel was built in a record 100 days, a feat which impressed Tun Mahathir. From there, he was able to prove that he was capable of delivering the speed necessary in the construction industry,” he recalled.

Going back to how Bobby eventually ventured into the construction business, it all began after he came back to Kuching and his father put him into selling mangoes, now popularly known as the Ming Kiong mangoes.

“I was the one that helped him start up and somewhat commercialise the mango business. It was from a very canteen approach as we did not have a brand or logo for the mangoes at that time.

“A few others and I reorganised and branded it, and so that is why you can see Ming Kiong’s red boxes as quite prominent now,” he said.

For a few years, he handled this line of business, which proved to be success as the orchard was churning out about 1,000 to 2,000 kilogrammes (kg) of mangoes a day. Back in those days (13 years ago), these mangoes would be sold off for about RM6 to RM7 per kg, which translated into an estimated RM13,000 to RM14,000 per day.

After realising the potential of this fruit business, Bobby decided to look upstream and see how the fruits were being grown.

“Our fruit orchard is in Bintulu. When I started to go visit there, I looked around and noticed we have got plantation here.

“At that time I thought this should be worth a bit more than mangoes. I ventured into plantation for a couple of years, and spent that time understanding the business while trying to refine it a little,” he recalled.

Aside from learning about the plantation business by himself and from the workers, his father did give him the guidelines on how to go about it. It was at that time when Global Upline Sdn Bhd was started up and construction projects began pouring in.

“We were going from one project, to two and even three projects at the same time, right after the other.

“Naturally, my attention was pulled away from plantation and I was placed into the construction business and at that time, I was just helping out my other brothers, administratively,” he said.

After the construction of Kuching International Airport, the first major project Bobby completed was the BDC-Jalan Tun Jugah-Stutong flyover.

At that time, his older brothers were all dispersed and out of Kuching – in Kota Kinabalu, Langkawi, and Bintulu – as they had their respective tasks and duties to look after.

Despite not having an engineering background, he was still able to help coordinate and assist in the construction of the flyover.

“It had been a real challenging task for me, as I had to deal with a fresh group of workers.

“This was because at that time when we had several projects, all the people I knew were dispersed to other areas. As such, we had to build up a new team to tackle this project,” he explained.

Initially, he found the task daunting, having no knowledge on building bridges or major construction work. Generally, when building a bridge, it is done span by span, with each span being a replication.

Once his team got one span right, they basically just had to replicate it and try to reduce the amount of time in building the entire bridge. The bridge was eventually completed over a period of about 11 months.

The key lessons and experience gained from his first major project allowed him to later build the Pujut and Puchong flyovers in Miri, both of which were completed in eight months.

As the managing director now of both Hydroicon Sdn Bhd (Hydroicon) and development group Elica Sdn Bhd (Elica), it can be said that Bobby has come a long way from being a beginner in the construction business.

Hydoricon, a company specialising in design, engineering and construction of water, and wastewater treatment equipment and systems, is known for having built the two largest water treatment plants in Sarawak – at Batu Kitang and Serian.

“I have my father to thank for, for teaching me the ins and outs of the business from a very young age and passing on the philosophy that hard work is the way to go as nothing comes easy.

“I also learned not to delegate too much work to others. Basically, if you want to get something done, you’ve got to do it yourself,” he stressed.

He also admitted that having a headstart was also what allowed him to be a success today. When he first started working, he was not going into just any other company, he was working in his family’s business.

Some may stereotype him as a younger version of his father or brothers, having built up this perception of him as an intimidating individual. However, at the end of the day, after having met him in person, people find that he is actually easy to deal or negotiate with.

Having ventured into the property development business with a premium high rise condominium, Bobby finds it as a way to differentiate himself from the rest of the market, just as how his father had differentiated himself from others in terms of ‘speed’ when completing projects.

“I believe that differentiating yourself is important. If I’m only able to do what other people do around us, I will have the same results as them,” he said.

He went on to explain that this concept of the high-end condominium – The Republic – is in line with the Chief Minister of Sarawak’s vision to build up the living standard of Kuching. Taking that into consideration, he found that there is a market for it here, partly due to the high number of people living overseas.

With various condominiums like The Republic in Kota Kinabalu, Kuala Lumpur, and Singapore, it is not impossible to have the same concept in Kuching.

“When you say our condominiums are on the premium side and expensive, actually they are not. The price per square foot (sq ft) is very competitive compared to other properties around here.

“We are starting at RM550 per sq ft, while there are properties here selling for RM700 or 750 per sq ft,” he reiterated.

Overall, he is confident that development in Kuching is the way forward. The housing market here has been responsive and with the population growth and influx of people coming in from Bintulu, Miri, and Sibu, these condominiums or high-rise living lifestyle is going to flourish.

With Kuching as a transit point for business people in Miri, Sibu or Bintulu, before they head over to Kuala Lumpur, The Republic is generally an investment opportunity for them. Instead of buying a high-maintenance semi-detached or terrace house or staying at a hotel every trip, buying a condominium property will give them more flexibility.

Although Elica is currently doing a premium development, it is not always going to sell ‘premium’ products. Instead, Bobby believes that they can be versatile like other competitors and taking the affordability factor into consideration, they may even build medium-cost condominiums in the future.

From left: Chow Jin, Anna Wong Nga Ying, Sze Lin

When making such plans, he is usually more calculative in his risk these days, mainly because it takes a lot of effort to build up to where he is now.

“I am probably a little risk adverse at the moment, because having just started a family myself, I’ve got to ensure that everything is a gain for their future.

“As such, I only like to dabble in things I have control or have a stake in and as I have been taught in the construction business, I’m the person on site with my team. If I fail, it is my own failing,” he stressed.

When it comes to whether he will train his son, Benjamin, to follow his footsteps in the future, Bobby was on the fence.

“I’m not sure about that. By the time it gets to him, the construction industry will be very much different. I think that it will be a little bit too competitive.

“However, if he wants to come under my wing and carry it forward, I will definitely let him. I won’t force him and I will let him know that whatever his interests next time, the only important thing is to make sure you are the best at doing it,” he concluded.