Sunday, November 21, 2010

Book Review: Turning Points, the UMW Story

It’s not everyday we have a local enterprise success story to read about. From a small business which started from 1960 to an enterprise with 11,000 strong workforce with more than 90 companies in 12 countries. There are bound to be something interesting and something to learn from.

It all started from a small bicycle shop in Singapore by Chia Yee Soh at the age of 14, then upgrading to an automotive (motorbike) repair shop named United Motor Works. On the Malaysia side, the hero is Eric Chia who works to expand UMW business in Kuala Lumpur, by focusing on industrial equipment by distributing Mitsubishi, Kamatsu (Tractor) and eventually the most successful Toyota Forklift.

Eric Chia is a true entrepreneur who would stop at nothing to expand the business, venture into the unknown and could excel within chaos. He setup multiple branches, multiple related businesses (such as construction, recon, credit, etc), and multiple joint ventures with foreign company and multiple distributorship. He is dynamic, extremely hardworking (means working until late night and weekend for his employees) and very generous (take care of his employee like family), and forward looking by employing graduates and training up local talents.

During the 1980s, Eric Chia lost control of the company due to aggressive expansion and little risk management (the thread of early entrepreneur: this thread brings the company its early success, also causing the problem it faced at later stage), and faced with heavy financial crunch when the economy is bad. His business comrade Shiew Wan Shing was nominated by shareholders (and PNB) to take over the management and turn the company into a more professionally run (and less chaotic). 4 years later Shiew died in robbery.

I felt sad for Eric Chia when he lost his company which his is so passionate about. I admire his spirit and entrepreneurship, but his ad-hoc and common practice of working long hours isn’t exactly everyone’s favorite. No matter what, he is still a man to be admired, and I truly believe the man of his caliber and success, he wouldn’t go so low in the incident of Perwaja Steel (unless the author had misled me).

UMW continue to prosper over time, starting with industrial equipment, then to Toyota franchise and Peroduo second national car, and finally into oil and gas and beyond. There is an evolution and major shift of business focus every 10 years, while the core business still maintains a healthy operation.

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