Lamitak founder places staff over himself

Lamitak founder places staff over himself

When Andrew Tan received an enquiry from a rival seeking to buy over his company, he shot it down immediately.

The founder and chairman of Tak Products and Services had no intention to sell even if the sum was large enough for him to retire on for the rest of his life. "No point. The amount that I can sell at I can make in the next five to 10 years," he says. "But my main worry is that my old staff will be laid off, that's my main concern."

For Mr Tan, 64, business is more than just about growing a company - it is about keeping his staff employed and helping the less fortunate with the wealth he has accumulated.

He regularly donates money to help poorer students get a tertiary education, a desire inspired by his own lack of a formal education.

But the absence of a paper degree has not stopped him from building a laminates company that has become a market leader in Singapore.

The company grew 41 per cent last year, generating S$70 million in revenue. About 40 per cent of the group's sales are from its overseas markets.

The laminates specialist, known for its Lamitak brand, holds a 30 per cent share of the Singapore laminates market and a 20 per cent share of the Malaysian high-end laminates market.

It has also started to focus on regional expansion and has offices in countries such as Indonesia, Thailand and China.

Lamitak products are used as decorative surfaces for furniture and wall features by contractors, carpenters and property developers.

Mr Tan founded the company in 1989 after he left his family's business, starting a company that sold pneumatic tackers. After establishing his tacker business, he then moved into laminates in the early 1990s, becoming the distributor for an American brand called Nevamar for the region.

The brand had good quality but many people and developers were not willing to pay a premium for Nevamar, says Mr Tan.

"It was always substituted because it was too expensive," he says, adding that that was when he decided to source for new products in India.

After visiting factories there, he found that the cost of producing laminates was low while quality was good. In 2001, after testing out the quality of the Indian laminates, he created his own brand, Lamitak, and brought it to market.

Lamitak, which celebrates its 15 years this year, has proven to be a big success. The brand is known for its quality as well as its designs that push the boundaries in the industry.

Over the years, Mr Tan's three children have joined him to help expand the company. His older son Alex is the co-founder and director of the company, and helped launched Lamitak in 2001. He is also the founder of VeganBurg, a vegan organic fast-food chain.

Mr Tan's daughter Geraldine, the firm's business development director, is in charge of regional expansion and helped spearhead the company's forays into the region. Youngest son Jansen is the creative spark in the company, heading product design and development.

Mr Tan remains actively involved in the running of the company and makes it a point to know the processes in each part of the growing business. At the same time, he believes in empowering staff and trusting them to handle the job well.

"I trust that they can do the job. Occasionally, I would go look to see if all is in order, but we have to trust them to do it well," he says.

He pays special attention to customer relationship management, using a customised software to track and predict demand trends. This helps minimise inefficiencies and strengthens relationships with customers, a key strength of the company.

The company is now focused on growing its overseas markets, as there is a limit to growth in Singapore, given the small size of the market, says Mr Tan. He expects to see 50 per cent growth in Malaysia next year, after achieving 38 per cent growth in 2015.

But Tak Products remains cautious in China given the risk that competitors will copy its design and style. It has about one per cent share of the market and hopes to grow that to 3 per cent. "Just 3 per cent of a very big market is enough," says Mr Tan.

But he is not focused solely on growing the company. He believes in giving back to society, especially in the area of education, and the bulk of the S$2 million donated over the past three years has been to help set up bursaries for tertiary institutes.

Mr Tan believes in education even though he left school at the young age of 15 to help his father in his furniture business. "I am a very lowly educated person. So I want to help those willing to study but who don't have money," he says.

This article was first published on November 29, 2016.
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