Seven new entrepreneurs were titled during the Sarawak Entrepreneur of the Year Awards (EOYS) 2023 during its “Gong Xi Fa Cai” Chinese New Year Banquet Dinner, blending the celebration of entrepreneurial excellence with the festive spirit of Chinese New Year.
Hosted by Sarawak Chamber of Commerce & Industry (SCCI) at Borneo Convention Centre Kuching, the ceremony was graced by Premier Datuk Patinggi Tan Sri Abang Johari Tun Openg on Wednesday. He was also joined by Deputy Premier Datuk Amar Awang Tengah Ali Hasan, who is also Minister of International Trade, Industry and Investment.
The Sarawak EOYS 2023 is organised by Ministry of International Trade, Industry and Investment Sarawak in association with SCCI and EY.
Now in its 18th year, the EOYS was first launched in 2004 to honour and acknowledge exceptional entrepreneurial talent and leadership.
Up to 2022, over 70 entrepreneurs from all over Sarawak have been given this recognition.
The EOYS aims to recognise the best in business in Sarawak – the prime movers that drive Sarawak towards achieving its aspiration of a developed State by 2030.
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; as well as encourage the growth of small and medium scale industries in Sarawak.
Emphasis will primarily be on the individual’s attributes over the company’s and in general, cover amongst others, demonstration of outstanding leadership – vision, dedication as well as intelligent risk taking; company milestones with consideration of industry obstacles and each entrepreneur’s ability to overcome adversity; corporate culture, values and incentives; financial performance and growth record; social and environmental responsibilities, reputation and contribution to the community that demonstrate the characteristics of a good model corporate citizen; resilience; and embracing technology to enhance efficiency and transformation in the business.
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.
The EOYS Awards recipient under the Emerging Entrepreneur Category this year is Lin Kok Kiat, representing Dayak Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
The EOYS Awards recipients under the Master Entrepreneur Category this year are Datuk Lau Nai Hoh (representing SCCI); Fam Khing Foh (representing Kuching Chinese General Chamber of Commerce and Industry); Dayang Azizah Abang Zaidan (representing Dewan Usahawan Bumiputera Sarawak), William Liang Tak Chiang and Ch’ng Bee Lian.
This year, SCCI also celebrates one deserving Sarawak Outstanding Entrepreneurship Award recipient – an alumnus of the annual EOYS awards, Dato Yong Piaw Soon – whose entrepreneurial spirits and achievements have continued to grow, inspire and make a difference to the community.
Datuk Yong Piaw Soon
Outstanding Entrepreneurship Award
Yong started his business as timber broker and exporter in early 70’s and ventured into shipping and forwarding agencies business in 1975.
Throughout the years, he adheres to his principles of commitment, integrity and trust of doing business and dealing with people. His dedicated principles and aspirations propelled him to sustain the development and growth of his companies through various crisis over the years.
Yong generously supports a wide range of initiatives, including funding for schools, scholarships, and educational programs, development projects in rural villages, and assistance for people in need, with a commitment to helping people regardless of race and ethnicity.
His altruism has not gone unnoticed and it led Yong to the confer of the title of “Panglima Setia Bintang Sarawak (PSBS)” in 2018 by the Yang Di-Pertua Negeri Sarawak which carries the title of “Datuk”.
Harbour-Link Group goes way back to 1975, when Yong and the co-founders started their careers in the early days of the freight-forwarding and shipping industry in Sarawak.
Realising the industry’s potential, the founders embarked on establishing a business providing transportation and forwarding services to Sarawak Shell Bhd. and related oil & gas companies, with a handful of dedicated employees and modest facilities.
Incorporated in 2002, Harbour-Link Group Berhad consolidated all related business activities and was officially listed on the Main Market of Bursa Malaysia Securities Berhad on the 6th of January, 2004.
As the firm is deeply rooted in the shipping and logistics services, engineering, and construction industries for the past forty years, Harbour-Link Group has grown steadily and built multi-disciplinary industry expertise covering a comprehensive range of services to fulfill its clients’ needs.
Today, Harbour-Link Group’s business footprint extends across the intra-Asian region. The conglomerate has successfully positioned itself as a distinguished and trusted brand within the industries it operates in.
Building from its core business as a local shipping and forwarding agent, Harbour-Link Group expanded its services to provide a comprehensive range of services that is, from customs tax consultation services, customs brokerage and, documentation to warehousing, transportation, air, sea, land freight to heavy haulage, mechanical erection/installation, ship chartering, supply chain management and, other specialised industrial logistical support services, which are available nationwide and across the intra-Asian region.
The group’s goal to maximise customers’ satisfaction drives the Group’s diversification into areas such as civil and mechanical engineering, building and construction, offshore marine support services, road safety training and consultancy services.
Following the group’s joining with Eastern Solder Engineering and Construction Sdn Bhd, a company with more than 35 years of experience in the field of oil and gas engineering, construction and infrastructure development, the group has intensified its endeavor to become a premier Malaysian engineering services provider.
Backed by the expertise, extensive resources and operations support network, Harbour-Link Group is fully geared to provide complete turn-key project solutions to their customers both locally and on the international front.
Constantly on the lookout for value creating opportunities, Harbour-Link Group has now forged into the shipping line industry with the acquisition of container and general cargo vessels.
This move is an extension of the group’s value chain that promotes end-to-end shipment visibility and, enable them to continue fulfilling their commitment to provide comprehensive and flexible services to their customers.
Datuk Lau Nai Hoh
Representing Sarawak Chamber of Commerce and Industry
Lau embarked on his shipbuilding journey with only determination, vision and courage to navigate uncharted waters. The Sibu-born Sarawakian is renowned for his audacious aptitude and remarkable foresight.
He has built a steely reputation and ranks in the top realm of visionary shipbuilding entrepreneurs. Moral and social values are his compass. He believes the economy and cultural impact of his work is important and draws on family support for decision-making processes.
TAS Offshore Bhd, established in Malaysia on March 18, 2008, as a public limited company, commenced operations by acquiring Tuong Aik Shipyard Sdn Bhd (TAS) in 2009, marking its entry into the shipbuilding and repair industry.
Its origins date back to 1977 with Tuong Aik (Sarawak) Sdn Bhd (TASSB), initially a marine coatings supplier and shipping services provider, which later expanded into shipbuilding and repairing in 1991.
In 2002, TAS was formed specifically for shipbuilding and repairing activities, a focus that was solidified when TAS took over these operations from TASSB in 2004. Today, TAS Offshore is recognised for its extensive experience and expertise, establishing itself as a leader in shipbuilding and repair, known for quality and reliability in the marine sector.
Under Lau’s leadership, TAS Group has expanded to the regional markets. Presently, the company’s market includes the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Iraq (Middle East), Papua New Guinea, Indonesia and Singapore.
Lau has contributed to the economic growth in terms of foreign exchange and the social well-being of the local community through employment in both Sarawak and Malaysia.
The success of TAS Offshore Berhad is attributed to the innate quality of the person at its helm. As the company expands and to ensure growth, Lau introduces and embraces an organisational culture that is characterized by collaborative efforts and mutual respect among staff members.
Besides, the organisational culture also encourages continual improvements as this is integral to the success of the company.
The business activities of TAS Group have provided employment to over 500 staff members in the country.
In addition, the operations of the company have also benefited and supported many people through job opportunities including the employees of partners and suppliers in the country and the region.
Through sales, the company has positively contributed to the country’s foreign exchange earnings.
Lin Kok Kiat
Representing Dayak Chamber of Commerce and Industry
Born in Bintulu in 1993, Lin is a dedicated individual, melding expertise in engineering and business. He holds a Master’s in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Birmingham and driven by his passion for leadership and management, is currently pursuing a Master in Business Administration (MBA) from the prestigious University of Manchester.
His career with the company started in the tendering department as an engineer, and within a mere three years, he demonstrated his exceptional skills by securing a 10-year contract from Petronas, leading a small team of three.
This achievement marked a significant milestone for the company. He was later promoted to the role of Project Director in 2020 amidst the challenging Covid-19 time.
Today, as Managing Director and CEO, he shoulders the responsibility of steering the company’s future direction.
Founded in 1994, and with nearly three decades in the oil & gas industry, Amalgamated Plant Engineering Sdn Bhd (AMAL) has established itself as one of the leading bumiputra operated Sarawakian owned companies in East Malaysia.
AMAL has a wealth of experience and proven track record in mechanical maintenance services ranging from plant shutdowns, maintenance, boilers installation, repairs and rejuvenation, among others.
AMAL has the capability and a proven track record in completing projects timely and within the expected standards and specifications and safety protocols.
AMAL is also a certified DOSH contractor committed to quality and health, safety & environment (HSE) in all our services. The company is ISO 9001, ISO 14001 and ISO 45001 certified.
The economic impact of the company’s operations under Lin’s guidance is significant. The company contributes substantially to the local economy through job creation, skill development and engaging local suppliers, for about 90 per cent of AMAL’s workforce are Sarawakians.
The company’s projects also bolster the national energy sector, playing a key role in sustaining Malaysia’s energy infrastructure, such as maintaining Malaysia LNG, Shell MDS, Asean Bintulu Fertiliser plants and the Sabah Sarawak Gas Pipeline.
Dayang Azizah Abang Zaidan
Representing Dewan Usahawan Bumiputera Sarawak
Following her secondary school education at the age of 18 years old, Azizah began working for her family-owned business, Inter-Continental Travel Centre Sdn Bhd.
Despite this, she continued in pursuing further education and triumphantly attained a Master’s degree in Business Administration.
In 2004, she became the Managing Director of her company after the passing of her father and under her leadership, the company has grown and expanded from six to 40 employees.
Dayang Azizah is was a board member of the Sarawak Tourism Board (STB) and she also hold the post of the Honorary Secretary of Travel Agents (MATTA) Sarawak.
In addition, she has been an active member of the Malaysian Association of Tour alongside MATTA since early 2000s and was the chairperson from 2011 to 2015.
Inter-Continental Travel Centre, headquartered in Kuching, operates two branches in Bintulu and Miri. Led by Dayang Azizah and her dedicated team, the company has garnered numerous accolades from national and international airlines.
Prioritizing customer satisfaction, Inter-Continental Travel Centre places a strong emphasis in offering flexible and personalized travel services that integrate real-time information.
The company’s signature lies in delivering dependable and consistently excellent services that not only meet but exceed clients’ expectations, fostering trust and cultivating customer loyalty.
Inter-Continental Travel Centre’s growth strategy revolves around two fundamental pillars: strategic and sustainable expansion. Employing market analysis, strategic partnerships, and a customer-centric approach, Dayang Azizah has orchestrated the transformation of a small family enterprise into the successful company it is today.
By pursuing acquisitions, mergers, and diversifying service offerings to cater to client needs, she has broadened the company’s market presence within the travel industry, laying a strong groundwork for enduring and sustainable growth.
The triumph of any business hinges on proficient management, an area where Dayang Azizah truly shines. She prioritises collaboration and transparency among her team members, fostering an organizational culture rooted in accountability and trust.
Moreover, she grants flexibility and autonomy to team leaders, enabling them to make decisions that drive the company’s objectives.
Through these actions, she has instilled confidence in her employees’ abilities, cultivating a sense of trust and empowering them to confront any challenges that come their way.
Fam Khing Foh
Representing Kuching Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry
Fam Khing Foh is the founder and the managing director of Howasar Group, a reputable and established contractor and developer in Sarawak, Malaysia.
As a veteran with more than 25 years in the construction industry, Fam has earned the trust and recognition from his clients and home buyers for his prompt delivery of projects as well as the uncompromising attitude towards upholding quality and workmanship to the highest standards.
Fam’s journey of success has not been plain sailing but it’s certainly an exemplary model for the younger generations. It encapsulates the fascinating ingredients of a rags-to-riches experience.
He was born into a family which owns and operates a small pepper farm. The income derived from the harvest could hardly make ends meet.
But the financial hardship did not deter Fam from seeking better prospects in life. After completing his self-funded Senior Cambridge studies at SMK Dragon, he was recruited by Kuching Rural District Council (now known as Padawan Municipal Council), as a probationary health inspector in 1976.
He was later sent to further his studies in Kuala Lumpur to obtain a Diploma in Public Health. He remained in the municipal service until 1995 when he opted for early retirement as he decided to go after his dream in the corporate world.
Fam established Howasar Contracts Sdn Bhd (Howasar) in 1998. Under his stewardship, the company started by undertaking subcontract works in the installation of plaster ceilings.
As he gained more experiences through the various projects undertaken, Fam decided to take on the construction of buildings. As they say, the rest is history. The business has expanded ever since and flourished.
Some of the iconic buildings completed by Howasar included the McDonald’s restaurants throughout Sarawak, the multi-purpose hall of DBNA, Pusat Tafiz Al Quran at Demak State Mosque and the Archaeological Museum at Santubong, near Kuching.
As delivering quality projects are always his personal philosophy, Fam gives careful thought to creative designs and planning as well as the aesthetic values that go into projects undertaken.
Despite his humble beginnings as a plaster ceilings contractor, Fam decided to venture and expand into property development by setting up Alam Julang Sdn Bhd and Howasar in 2001 and 2009 respectively.
To date, the companies have completed nearly a thousand units of mixed development. This includes shophouses, warehouses and residential properties.
Currently, Howasar is undertaking over RM130 million worth of projects of various types of properties in Batu Kawa, Batu Kitang, and Siburan, near Kuching and Sri Aman, Sarawak.
William Liang Tak Chiang
Hakka-born Liang was raised in Sarikei, a riverside town near the mouth of the Rejang estuary. He attained lower secondary education in Sarikei, continued his higher secondary education, and eventually attained his BSc in Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences in Canada.
He has been a registered Malaysian pharmacist since 1992. He still operates two pharma-related wholesale companies after retiring from the retail pharmacy business.
Liang incorporated Hexagon Highs in 2005 and started a five-year plan to turn it into a one-stop logistics service provider with its own fleet of trucks and myriad of other logistics assets in 2015.
Hexagon Highs began as a tiny trucking firm 16 years ago, first serving its sister trading businesses. Liang only became fully involved in 2015.
Since assuming control, he has successfully transformed Hexagon from a tiny trucking company into a logistics powerhouse, especially in cross-border trucking, in EMB by 2016.
The company was granted the status of International Integrated Logistics Services (IILS-2) by MIDA in 2018.
As the global supply chain shifted to Asia, Hexagon initiated vertical integration by establishing its own customs brokerage, air, sea, and land forwarding, warehousing and delivery services, break-bulk and consolidated cargo services, and last-mile delivery divisions one after another.
Despite the challenges posed by Covid-19, Hexagon’s business revenue consistently increases year by year. Simultaneously, the workforce, the most valuable asset, as often stressed by him, has expanded extensively. Hexagon is expected to double its revenue in the next two years, a bold projection for most of his peers.
Hexagon has implemented several innovative approaches aimed at enhancing customer benefits and promoting safety and sustainability.
One notable initiative involves the introduction of 45-foot containers and B-Double tandem trailers, resulting in significant cost savings for customers with 12 per cent and 50 per cent reductions in carbon footprint.
The company has introduced the country’s first prototype Safety Trailer Truck in order to demonstrate its dedication to providing a safer driving experience for road users.
Pioneering IR4.0, the company invested in building the first ISO tank washing facility with a proper industrial effluent treatment system in EMB.
The company continues to focus on environmental, social, and governance (ESG) principles so as to contribute to its responsibility for a greener world.
With this green tank washing facility, the company has successfully formulated and developed a new organic truck coolant, exemplifying a dedication to sustainability and eco-friendly practices through innovation and automation.
Ch’ng Bee Lian
Ch’ng Bee Lian is a successful entrepreneur who has a positive and innovative mindset when it comes to managing her business.
She currently holds three prominent positions as the director for Leaves Bhd and Leaves Trading Sdn Bhd. She is also the managing director for Leaves Food Industries Sdn Bhd.
Being a strategic thinker, instead of trying to compete head-on with larger beverage companies, Josephine has identified and capitalised on Leaves’ unique Sarawakian heritage.
This niche focus allows her to differentiate her product in a way that resonates with consumers who appreciate and value cultural authenticity.
Her adaptive mindset and responsiveness to customer feedback demonstrate a keen understanding of the evolving market dynamics.
This is illustrated by her expansion of the beverage market by shifting from solely business-to-business (B2B) sales to direct consumer sales This is a significant move that indicate a willingness to adapt to changing consumer preferences.
Her adeptness in marketing across various platforms, from traditional media to modern platforms like YouTube and TikTok, illustrate her understanding of diverse audience segments and her willingness to engage with them where they are most active.
The journey of Leaves from its humble beginnings to overcoming significant challenges showcases remarkable resilience and adaptability.
The initial struggle during the first six years highlights the company’s ability to recognise areas that needed improvement and the willingness to make the necessary changes.
The decision to revamp packaging with newly designed PET bottles and witnessing a 55 per cent sales increase demonstrates the impact of such strategic adjustments.
The Covid-19 pandemic posed a formidable challenge to many businesses globally, yet Leaves responded with resilience. “Instead of worrying about what you cannot control, you should shift your energy to what you can create,” she said.
Ch’ng’s positive mindset and the company’s proactive approach to focusing on innovation despite uncertain times led to the successful launch of the “Sarawak 3-Layer Milk Tea” in January 2021.
This demonstrates a remarkable ability to pivot and create new opportunities even during challenging circumstances. Leaves’ story is a testament to the company’s resilience, adaptability, and commitment to continuous improvement.
Leaves’ innovative strategies and commitment to excellence are truly commendable. Their evolution from B2B sales to including direct selling to customers reflects their responsiveness to market dynamics and consumer preferences, leading to wider product accessibility.
Expanding their presence to over 4,000 stores in both the local and international markets such as Australia, Brunei, China, Hong Kong, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, and Thailand signifies their ambition and success in reaching diverse customers globally.