The time has come once again to celebrate the cream of the crop of Sarawak’s entrepreneurs in the form of the Sarawak State Entrepreneur of the Year Awards 2017 presented at the Sarawak Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s (SCCI) 66th Annual Dinner on Friday, November 10.
Organised by the Ministry of Industrial and Entrepreneur Development, Sarawak in association with SCCI and Ernst & Young, it was first launched in 2004 as a prestigious Awards Programme held annually to honour and acknowledge exceptional entrepreneurial talent and leadership.
Up to 2016, almost 50 entrepreneurs from all across Sarawak have been given this recognition.
The EOYS aims to recognise the outstanding entrepreneurs in business in Sarawak, specifically the prime movers that drive the State’s path towards economic growth and Vision 2020.
It also recognises the success of up and coming entrepreneurs, who through their ingenuity, ideas, resourcefulness, commitment and hard work, have built their businesses which contributed to the growth of our state’s economy.
“For the recipients of this award, EOYS is an opportunity to network with business peers as well as have access to valuable media coverage, raising personal and company profile.
“More importantly, be recognised for the success,” said Datuk Mohd Naroden Majais, Assistant Minister of Entrepreneur and Small, Medium Enterprise (SME) Development.
“In the past, the EOYS Adjudicating Committee have nominated recipients of the EOYS Awards to represent Sarawak state at the Malaysia Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Awards.
“Nominated, the entrant has access to a range of events to help the entrant’s company achieve its potential as well as the opportunity to join a group of illustrious alumni.
“Some of the alumni and country winners such as Tan Sri Dr Francis Yeoh, Prof Emeritus Tan Sri Dr Lim Kok Wing and Datuk Tan Say Jim have also gone on to represent Malaysia in the global Ernst & Young OY Awards in Monte Carlo.
“This year we shall be honouring several EOYS Awards recipients, under the Master Entrepreneur category. And for the first time a logo for this Awards Programme will be unveiled with its tagline, ‘Inspiring Entrepreneurship’.
This year, four Sarawakians have been chosen for the award, as we will delve into their stories over the next four pages:
Datuk Chew Chiaw Han
Chew started his career in a non-property related industry in 1999, after graduating from the University of Waikato, New Zealand with a Bachelor of Laws degree. In a short period of time, he scaled up the ladder to become the chief executive officer and led the group to diversify from their core food business into other business fields such as manufacturing, supply, construction, logistic and food processing.
In 2009, Chew expanded ventured into the property industry, and took over the helm of Ibraco Bhd, first as executive director, then as chief executive officer shortly after.
As the managing director since 2011, Chew brought the Ibraco brand to Bintulu in 2012 and to Kuala Lumpur in 2017. As the managing director, Chew created two distinctive townships in Kuching and Bintulu, thereby getting recognised thereafter through The Brand Laureate Special Edition World Awards in 2015 for Brand Excellence in Property Township Development.
In addition, Ibraco Construction was also awarded the PAM Awards for Excellence in Architecture and business excellence attested by the 21st International Construction Award (New Millennium Award) in Madrid, Spain.
A leading property developer in Kuching, Ibraco was established in 1971 as an investment holding company that provides property development and construction services. Ibraco then listed itself on the Main Board of Bursa Malaysia Securities Berhad in 2004.
Since its establishment, Ibraco has built and maintained a good reputation for design, quality construction, and timely delivery, gaining the confidence of house buyers who regard Ibraco’s projects as choice properties.
Upon taking over the helm of Ibraco, Datuk Chew emboldens himself to not only continue Ibraco’s legacies but to extend it to greater heights, through sustainable collaboration with various project partners.
This year, in yet another groundbreaking achievement, its subsidiary company, Ibraco Construction successfully won the tender from the State Government of Sarawak to construct the much anticipated Mukah Airport project.
Ibraco is not only well recognised for its definitive aesthetic superiority, but is also known for its transformation excellence. Its flagship development of Tabuan Tranquility — once an undervalued land overlooked by most — has seen substantial appreciation in value over the years, and thus creating a strong base for Ibraco brand loyalists.
In fulfilling the vision of becoming the leading conglomerate in the building industry, both Chew and the management of Ibraco thrive on progressing ahead of their competitors and peers in setting new benchmarks for their development and manifesting their presence fully.
Chew realised that innovation alone is insufficient without the sustainable working collaboration with the right project partners and the right team of the workforce. Hence Ibraco joint-ventured with Bintulu Development Authority’s subsidiary organisation, BDAP (BDA Properties), to develop Town Square Bintulu.
In addition, Ibraco also works with LCDA (Land Custody and Development Authority) for Ibraco’s most anticipated new project, the Kuching Waterfront Extension development, an iconic landmark that will certainly transform the City of Kuching into a world-class tourist attraction boosting with vibrant business and leisure activities.
In 2017, Chew and Ibraco created another milestone by expanding their business to Kuala Lumpur, a market dominated by highly established developers. Driven by his foresightedness and expansion strategy, Continew was introduced to the West Malaysian market as a mixed-commercial-cum-residential project.
Located at the progressively developing JalanT un Razak, Kuala Lumpur, Continew comprises 2 towers buildings encompassing offices and SOHO service apartment with a commercial podium.
It is conceived as an urban sanctuary to celebrate the concept of garden city living by creating a series of Sky Terraces and Gardens.
Infrastructure development is yet another initiative by Ibraco which has contributed positively to the environmental, social and economic growth of the state. The construction of Ibraco’s flagship development, Tabuan Tranquility, has not only entailed the opening of new access routes and new recreational and/or leisure parks but has helped to create ample job and business opportunities for the state.
In Bintulu, the Town Square Bintulu development has generated economic benefits to the surrounding areas due to the good infrastructure and accessibility of the development lands.
Datuk Nelson Balang Rining
Nelson is the president, executive chairman, and co-founder of Oceancare Corporation Sdn Bhd, a Miri-based oil and gas services company.
Together with a few business partners, Nelson established Oceancare in 2001, and under his guidance and drive, the company has become one of largest in East Malaysia, serving prominent corporate clients and government agencies.
Nelson’s achievements have all the ingredients of a classic Malaysian rags-to-riches story; one in which determination, hard work and belief in the Almighty combined to guide a person from humble beginnings to outstanding business success.
Nelson grew up in Ba’Kelalan, a friendly village in the northern highlands of Sarawak. He attended SRK Ba’Kelalan primary school and then Sekolah Menengah Kerajaanin Lawas town.
He went on to complete a Diploma in Business Studies at MARA Institute of Technology. Attending school in Lawas required him to walk about 150km from Ba’Kelalan to SMK Lawas boarding school. This tough journey took five to six days, along jungle mountain trails and crossing rivers.
After graduation, he joined a financial institution and also took up part-time study to complete a Master in Business Administration from Preston University.
After working in the financial institution for more than 20 years, he resigned, giving management 24 hours’ notice, to join a multi-level-marketing business where he met his business partners in 2001. Together they developed a business plan and established Oceancare Corporation Sdn Bhd.
From its modest beginnings, the company has grown to provide a wide range of services to the oil and gas industry, such as inspection and corrosion monitoring, mechanical services, maintenance and emergency repairs, logistics services, manpower supply, training and under water inspection, and marine vessels chartering.
Oceancare operates mostly in Sarawak and Sabah, but has started to expand its business to Southeast Asia. The company focuses on providing quality services to customers and ensuring workers’ safety.
Oceancare’s commitment to service and safety means it has managed to achieve eight million man-hours with zero incidents.
Oceancare employs the management by objectives management model to achieve service quality and maintain safety. The whole organisation has specific but achievable objectives, which help drive a culture of collaboration that unites individuals within the company.
The system is result-oriented, but emphasises personal growth and development rather than negative consequences if objectives are not met.
The company’s business strategy is based on opportunity and risk-based thinking, which means its plan is regularly revised. Overall, Oceancare has a long-term 30-year strategy and a short-term plan for five years.
These plans focus on the brand (Oceancare Corporation), new market opportunities, expanding expertise, keeping diversity in its services, and building alliances with similar types of businesses.
Nelson’s entrepreneurship has been widely recognised by industry leaders and the Government. And the company’s ability to deliver quality services is recognised by the range of contracts awarded by global oil and gas companies, such as Petronas, Petronas Carigali, and Shell, and a raft of industry awards.
The company was ranked 71 out 100 by Malaysia Petroleum Resources Corporation (2015),and awarded the Gold Award by Shell Malaysia Safety Award (2013),best safety performance by Petronas Carigali (2017), and 1st prize for HSE Performance by Petronas Carigali (2015 and 2014).
Nelson also has received several awards for his professional achievements, such as the Asia Pacific Entrepreneurship Award (2015); Pingat Jasa Negara (PJN) (2012) by DYMM Seri Paduka Baginda Yang Di Pertuan Agong Malaysia, which carriers the title ‘Datuk’; Johan Mangku Negara (JMN) (2010) by DYMM Seri Paduka Baginda Yang Di Pertuan Agong Malaysia; and Pingat Bintang Sarawak (PBS) (2010) by Tuan Yang Terutama Di Pertua Negeri Sarawak.
Dr Gregory Hii
Hii is the executive chairman of Delta Leasing Sdn Bhd (DLSB) while currently serving as the President of the Sibu Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SCCCI) and Vice President of Associated Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry Sarawak (ACCCIS).
DLSB is a Sarawak based lending institution acquired through management buyout. A niche player, DLSB has steadily expanded its business coverage in Sarawak with four branches notably in Sibu, Bintulu, Miri and Kuching.
Born and raised in Sibu, Hii began his journey by completing his studies with a Bachelor of Science (Hons) in 1972 before graduating with a PhD (New Zealand) in 1976. A successful entrepreneur and business owner, Hii started his career in the Asean timber industry.
This led him to undertake various Senior Management positions in different industries. It was these experiences that led him to build the confidence that was essential in starting his own business.
DLSB is a niche player in financial industries offering auto loans, mortgage loans and insurance to SMEs and individuals. It aims to cater to the financial needs of those who have problems securing borrowings and services from banks. Under Hii’s leadership, DLSB has built up networks of car dealers in Sarawak to offer secondhand car loans and mortgage loans.
This has helped many families and farmers with low income to own their first vehicles to meet their respective personal and business needs. Implementing a ‘zero-mistake’ culture and requiring all staff to sign an ‘Integrity Pledge’, the company ensures efficient, friendly and trustworthy services to operate successfully.
Hii, as the chief executive officer (CEO), works closely with his management team of two executive directors and four branch managers who are former bankers. They have the tough task to meet the demands of a Board of Directors that implement Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for each branch determining Return on Equity (ROE) targets to exceed 14 per cent. This is even before taking into account Hii’s personal vision of achieving a 10 per cent profit growth.
Honest, practical, customer centric and result oriented, DLSB’s staff are involved in company-wide annual meetings and determination of new KPIs’ targets as they continuously explore other opportunities through expansion.
As a mid-sized SME with shareholders’ funds of RM16.7 million, it has a limited impact on the state economy but nevertheless provides good paying jobs to 17 Sarawakians with an average annual income of RM57,000. DLSB currently services 2,200 clients and in the last 3 years.
Hii identifies that the company’s most notable long-term success factor would rely on being aware of the operating environment and having the ability to adjust to it. He has found it toughest to develop practical lending policies and effective cost controls whilst employing honest and dedicated staff.
Hii believes that ‘People’ is the most important factor in a successful company. With DLSB, he encourages a culture of friendly, efficient and trustworthy services in order to instill integrity and teamwork amongst his employees. He has never failed to reward his staff who themselves have become shareholders, with annual salary increment, bonuses and dividends.
In 2015, he gave a total of 53,000 free shares to all employees. It is of little surprise then that in 2016, DLSB was awarded the SME Association of Malaysia’s ‘Employer Excellence Award’.
Looking beyond the company, Hii also believes that DLSB should share some of the success with the society that has allowed and supported his business. This has led to the firm belief that Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is a crucial opportunity to give back to the society. DLSB is currently organising a two years state-wide campaign ‘Fight Obesity for a Better Quality of Life.’
Hii however does not feel much has changed since his sporting days to now owning and running a successful business. He does point out that it has taught him to be more responsible and better at making good decisions. Over 40 years into his career, Hii remains just as charged up for success with the adamant belief that one should enjoy every moment of our involvement whilst neutralising stress with sufficient exercise and relaxing activities.
Success depends on more than mere good qualification. Sports is for everybody as it helps to shape characters and nurture discipline, qualities Hii believes are essential for entrepreneurs to be efficient, friendly and trustworthy to achieve success and contribute back to the society.
Francis Yong Piaw Soon
Born into the family of 11 siblings in 1952, in the town of Bintangor, Yong endured hardship in his growing years where helping out in rubber and pepper plantation was a norm for children in those days. He had his childhood dream of becoming a civil engineer or a builder.
However, the plan to further study in Australia after his Form 5 at Kai Chung Secondary School had to be aborted due to financial hardship.
He was later employed by a timber logging company, which came as the first turning point of his life. This particular job had greatly influenced Yong which lay down a firm foundation for the bearing of his future career, first in timber export business, then the greatly successful freight forwarding, shipping and logistics business.
This very first job led Yong into timber brokering business in 1971 which enabled him to start up a timber export company in Miri, exporting timber to Taiwan, Japan, Korea and Singapore.
Then came the first challenge in 1973 when timber market was greatly affected by the crude oil crisis. All his investment went down the drain and the entire market only recovered two years later where he reduced his business to a smaller scale.
While carrying out his timber export business, by chance, he ventured into moving business, as mover for the expatriates working in the oil and gas industry, providing services to move household and personal items. He later went on to start up a freight forwarding company, providing door-to-door forwarding services. The business had grown and further expanded beyond Miri, over to Labuan and Bintulu.
Then came the break for his freight forwarding business in 1979 where Petronas started a mega oil and gas project in Bintulu, the MLNG. Yong’s freight forwarding company had secured contracts with the main contractor of MLNG to provide logistic services such as freight forwarding, acting as shipping agency and customs broker and any kind of transportation related arrangement/work.
The business was bustling with activities and flourished until it was hit with the second challenge, the economic crisis in 1985. His investment in timber sector again was badly hit. The market recovered by the end of 1986.
The logistics sector was also affected as businesses was generally slowing down. In this downturn, he somehow diverted the focus as a strategy and involved actively in the offshore logistics support and shipping agencies services. In the early 1990s’, under the implementation of government industrialisation policy, the timber processing industry mushroomed at every corner of East Malaysia, as well as the oil and gas industry.
His company has benefited due to their vast experiences in handling the integrated logistics, shipping and freighting support services and the networks which they have created throughout the years. Besides the logistics and shipping agencies business, Francis diversified to other industries such as stone quarry operation, sago manufacturing, engineering and construction works.
Later, Yong decided to restructure and consolidate some of his businesses under one company, Harbour-Link (M) Sdn Bhd, and it was from then onward that he created and built on the brand name Harbour-Link. The company had since expanded their coverage throughout the main ports in Malaysia.
The third challenge came in 1997, the world financial crisis, where many Asian countries were badly hit. Harbour-Link however, was well prepared for the situation where not much of its operations were affected. In fact the company grew further and expanded its activities.
Another major turning point came few years later for Francis in 2002, where he took a significant leap and decided to reverse take-over Tongkah Holdings Bhd, a KLSE listed company which has suffered badly from the financial crisis and was in heavy debts.
Through some rigorous re-structuring exercises, he successfully took over the listing status of Tongkah Holdings Bhd and listed Harbour-Link Group Bhd on the KLSE main board on January 6, 2004.
That was one great achievement for both Yong and the company where his dreams and visions were realised and that had brought the group of companies to a greater heights after going through hardships and challenges for the past 30 over years.
Since then, Harbour-Link has grown steadily and positioned itself as one of the key players in the country, sailing through yet another financial crisis in 2007 and emerged stronger and navigated well in its course to continuing growth.
From its humble beginning as a mover to a well diversified corporation today with segment of businesses such as integrated logistics services, shipping and marine services, engineering and construction as well as property developments, Harbour-Link has stamped its presence firmly on the map of the nation’s freight forwarding and logistic industry.
Looking into the future, Yong envisioned Harbour-Link to be a well-groomed group of companies (together with his other business activities), which are able to sustain over generations to emerge as one of the market players in its field, in Malaysia and beyond.