Focus on people key to his success

Focus on people key to his success

While aspiring start-up founders might agonise over ideas, venture capitalist Finian Tan is more interested in people.

"Our main focus is on the people behind the business...even if they're in the wrong space or industry, they can adapt and change to move into the right area," said the chairman of Vickers Capital Group.

"With good people, whatever you give them, they'll make a success out of it," he added.

One of the investments that has paid off for Vickers is the Asian Food Channel, launched in 2005.

Conceptualised as Asia's first pay-TV food channel, it was acquired last month by the New York Stock Exchange-listed Scripps Networks Interactive - an American TV network - for an undisclosed sum.

"It crossed borders and managed to create programmes that appeal to the whole of South-east Asia," said Dr Tan in an interview with The Straits Times at his home office in the exclusive Sentosa Cove enclave.

Trendily-dressed in a polo shirt and slacks, the 51-year old spoke passionately about the various companies his fund has invested in.

His two-storey Sentosa Cove pad, which has a swimming pool, is decorated with pieces from his art collection.

He also owns a number of electric bicycles and a Segway, which he uses to commute between his office and the nearby W Residences, where he lives.

After a brief stint at the Ministry of Trade and Industry, Dr Tan got into top venture capital firm Draper Fisher Jurvetson in the US, before founding Vickers Capital Group in 2004.

The firm, which focuses on Asian companies, has offices in Shanghai and Singapore - and he shuttles between the two cities on a regular basis.

Investments in a company's early stages seldom have a chance of succeeding, said Dr Tan - the "hit rate" for investors is about 5 to 10 per cent.

"With every success, there are thousands of failures. The business I'm in is not for the fainthearted."

Companies he invests in fall into three categories, said Dr Tan - failures, solid performers, and home-runs - depending on the return on the initial investment.

He attributes Vickers' track record in spotting potentially successful companies to an emphasis on the entrepreneurs behind the "newfangled ideas".

Dr Tan cites Mr Manoj Murjani, founder of local luxury brand TWG Tea - which Vickers invested in - as an example.

"He understands how to globally market something and knows how to build a brand," said Dr Tan of Mr Murjani, whose company was a "home run" for the venture capital firm.

Before setting up TWG in 2001, Mr Murjani ran the family business, the Murjani Group, whose portfolio includes international brands such as Tommy Hilfiger, Gucci and Calvin Klein.

TWG's brand of luxury tea is sold in South-east Asia and beyond, such as Japan and the US.

Vickers also invested in the early stages of China's search giant Baidu, which is now listed on the Nasdaq exchange.

Dr Tan, who also used to work for top investment bank Goldman Sachs, said his investment strategy remains firmly rooted in his background as a trader.

"I think about the odds of success all the time, and I'm constantly trying to diversify and reduce risk," he said.

He spoke enthusiastically about his venture capital firm's next big investment, though he declined to reveal details.

"All I can say is: We are very excited about one of the companies in our portfolio, which could potentially change the world as we know it today. You will probably hear about it in a couple of years."

Meanwhile, the father of four sons aged 11 to 25 is investing time in his children, whom he sees on the weekends.

"I'm trying to get my sons on track, to get them to focus on the direction they're headed in.

"I spend much of my free time thinking about helping them get the right skills and exposure," he said.

chiaym@sph.com.sg


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