Saturday, April 12, 2008

A Chance Encounter With Olivia Lum of Hyflux

Yes, I have had the most fortunate chance encounter with Olivia Lum, the lady who built, grew and brought Hyflux to the world map. I remembered vividly it was around the year of 2004 or o5 when I met her while I was working as a Production Engineer (Supervisor) with Schering-Plough Ltd.

Olivia, was invited to by Nanyang Technological University (NTU) , my alumni for a talk on entrepreneurship to a bunch of engineering alumnus on the topic of technopreneurship. "Technopreneurship" is a word coined by the Singapore government to entice more engineers, technical graduates to venture into entrepreneurship.

The event was held in the NTU Alumni Town Club at OCBC building, Raffles Place. Olivia came into the room with no fanfare, typical business like with a mission and just in time for some quick hand shake before taking her seat right in front. In a room full of almost men, (majority of us were engineers so you don't get that many women) , she did stick out with prominent. Best part was that was no Power Points, so you know she would be speaking off the cuff in another words right from the heart.

She began by telling us about her life story and you can't help to be fascinated by what she has gone through. I will attempt to summarize it here in bullet points and as far as my memory can recall. Olivia, if you happened to read this blog, do correct me if I am wrong.

  • Olivia was an orphaned and raised by a stranger whom she known as Grandma in a town call Kampar , Perak. (Kampar is a very small town, approximately 1 hour drive from my home town Taiping. Majority of the folks there are not that well off in Malaysian standards)
  • Being poor and to help make ends meet, she started hawking at her school canteen.
  • Olivia did extremely well in her Malaysia public exams which prompted one of her school teacher to advice her to pursue her education in Singapore. ( for any less mortal, even those with proper family support, we would have thought it would be out of reach because of the high school fee , to be paid in Singapore dollars while our parents were earning ringgit , value at half the Singapore dollars.
  • Olivia, with almost no money in her pocket, boarded the train and headed straight to Singapore. She lived with good Samaritans who were willing to give her boarding while she knock on schools who were willing to admit her into their A- Level courses. ( i remember she telling us that she approach every single one but the entrance dateline was over and she was soon running out of money, but she persisted until she found 1 who was willing to make exception) Singapore, you need to make exceptions to find gems like these!
  • Olivia self supported herself through out her 2 years Junior College , finally got admission to National University of Singapore as a Chemical Engineer.
  • Again, she self supported her education working as Insurance agent and several other jobs. (What struck me most was when she graduated, she had bought a flat, HDB and a car ! Who would have thought that was possible ? A lot of graduates today, still buy their first flat with their parents money as down payment ! Imagine she doing that back in the 80s ! )
  • Olivia then started working for GlaxoSmithKline (GSK ) a pharmaceutical company at their Water plant. (For those who were not in the industry before, in the drug making industry, clean water is paramount to the production of all drugs. It is the key ingredient in ensuring drugs produced are safe for consumption and the US Food Drug Agency, FDA is has a very stringent guideline. IT was also at this stage, the idea of HYFLUX was born !)
  • After spending 2-3 years at GSK, Olivia decided is time to venture out. She went ahead and sold not just her car but her flat as well to capitalize HydroChem - the birth of HYFLUX. ( I remembered she saying that, she gave it a long hard thought about selling both that asset to risk it in being an entrepreneur. Money , she knows will come back but would the journey be worth it? And her answer was that "If I ever want to help anyone else who is poor or unfortunate, the only was is for be me to in the capacity to help , meaning to do well in business and make the money to help") The rest was history.
  • HydroChem ( HYFLUX) was started a the Industrial Park at Tampines, by 3 partners, Olivia being 1 of them and they started off selling filters as an agent. In order to get the agency, Olivia approached the principals and told them, she will only take commission for the revenue she made. So there is no risk on their end.
  • Of the 3 partners, 2 of them eventually dropped out. And Olivia continued to press on to make Hyflux what it is today.
  • Hyflux was in China right after the Tiananmen Square incident in 1991. She went straight to Shanghai, having no network or any of the business association or government body to help her. She carved the market up from scratch.
After sharing her life story and that of Hyflux , she opened the floor for questions. I will not forget that forum as I asked a question and her reply did not answer my question specifically but it continues to provide answers to all my questions in my career as a sales, business development executive and finally an entrepreneur until today .

Will share that in my next post with you guys !

1 comment:

Wei Hong said...

Ya.. you told me before....