Edmund Chew Tee Khiang (Age 60), is the founder and owner of Astra's, a logistics service provider. I've gotten invaluable advice and knowledge from the forward looking and inspirational entrepreneur's experiences and am eager to share it.
Mr Chew, is 6th in the family. And was extremely mischievous at the tender age of 7, with his dad being strict on him as he couldn't sit still.
Then, Singapore was still with Malaysia. For fun, he would hitch lorry rides to and from Kuala Lumpur.
However, no matter the circumstances, young Mr Chew already had the desire to be his own boss and was obsessing over it all day long. Being always curious, he learned through observing other. Despite being playful and not wanting to study, the observant youth loved making and doing things with his hands. He says that he learns through following others and mimicking successful people. And that was how it all started.
Mr Chew had a rough beginning. Only passing 3 O level subjects and going to the Baharudin Vocational Institute (BVI, ITE equivalent). Not having the qualifications, he did small, odd jobs-from designing signboards to selling things at people's doorsteps.
For a long period of time, the adventurous entrepreneur was never satisfied with what he was doing, he could never feed his hunger for running his own business. He tried freight forwarding which was blooming at that time, and after 5 years, switched to partnership. After another 5 years, he still couldn't quench his thirst for running his own company, so he tried partnership overseas in 1994. And that was the start of Astra's (Warehouse business, currently flourishing).
"Back then, people didn't have the same vision, nor thinking as me. I had to work extremely hard as I was on my own. This meant I could do what I wanted. I had the freedom." says the conscientious businessman.
Nurturing his entrepreneurial skills, long Mr Chew did a small printing business for an exhibition show after school. There were lessons learned: Financial planning and resources must be secure in expanding company. Networking and market research too, are vital.
Mr Chew learned to never work alone. The printing company that he set up was lost and it taught him a valuable lesson. To work alongside others.
"Never give up!" was his motto that he followed religiously. From procuring agents to buying houses, he tried venturing out into various businesses like agency representative, warehousing agent, tour agent etc. He never gave up till at last, he founded no.23 company- Astrans(S)Pte Ltd.
In 1994, the young and optimistic 37 year old businessman, set up Astra's with very little money. It was an arduous and colossal feat. Mr Chew faced immense criticism. His friends and family were against what he was doing and all tried to deter him. But despite all odds, the determined entrepreneur bit the bullet and gave it his best shot to set up the business. It took planning and gruelling hard work.
As an entrepreneur, he loves the freedom of being on his own. Being able to control destiny and time. But it does mean that he is fully responsible for his company, staff, family and himself. He also loves challenges, seeing them as opportunities to further advance himself as a person. Seeing achievements as stepping stones to success, each achievement spurs Mr Chew on to expand the company. Each encounter strengthens him. Cyclically, bring up a new set of challenges which he then solves and conquers.
Money was an issue at beginning. Even family and friends wouldn't support him in setting up the business as it was too big of a risk. Loving to take risks and challenges, he borrowed money despite the high interest from private bankers to kick-start the company. It only took months till he cleared all debt and he has had no support from banks even up till now.
"Never look down on others!" Mr Chew says. Small business owners are self-sufficient and work extremely hard and know the true value of money, Mr Chew says. "These are the people who earn my respect".
Helping to start and maintain his business were his dad and loyal overseas client. Learning from his dads mistakes and failed ventures, the forward-looking entrepreneur observed his dad, as he too, never gave up.
"In business, integrity is everything!" was what his father told him. The successful entrepreneur says that he goes above and beyond by serving customer needs with good intentions and sincerity. Being honest, never cheating and always providing what customers want. He strongly believes the saying, " Customers are always right".
Starting out, his mentors were his mom and dad. "Behind all successful businessmen is a good wife" his mother always told him. Till today, he holds true to that. Having a supportive wife that is there for him. Serving, also, as his mentor who works alongside him. Having taken up coaching and mentoring courses, Mr Chew, himself, is a mentor to others.
Life to him as an entrepreneur is extremely wonderful and blissful. "My past 30 years have been amazing!" says the enthusiastic entrepreneur. He plays and has played many roles, from being a father and business owner to being a prison counsellor and an ITE alumni advisor. A few of these roles include being a Grass roots leader and Rotary International leader. Through these positions, he has honed his entrepreneurial skills and used it to contribute in one way or another. "Good health and having a positive mindset is important. Money isn't everything. " he says.
As for challenges he faces currently, locally, are "the big boys, no level of fair play" says Mr Chew. Outside of Singapore are even bigger challenges ahead, but he strives to keep the company going, so funds are never an issue. And as for large projects, securing the financial funding is always an issue.
There are always ups and downs. Nonetheless, the dedicated entrepreneur is very satisfied with what he's single-handedly achieved so far when he first started back in 1994. "In today's world, it's not what you know, but WHO you know!" he exclaims. He explains that it's about who might give the next contract and support for the next 5 to 10 years. Every opportunity he loses is an experience gained to be a more careful and better person in his next challenging project.
Leveraging on seniors. He believes that by learning from the elders, their experiences and mistakes, young men can shorten their learning span. By making less mistakes and thus heighten their learning curve.
Respect is an important trait to Mr Chew. Putting differences aside, all businessmen should be respected equally. With today's technology, we should be looking at how we can innovate and not recreate.
Entrepreneurship isn't easy, says Mr Chew. Wanting to set up my own architectural firm, I should find a mentor or coach (real time businessman and entrepreneur) to guide me. He also says to never regret and be prepared for the worst has yet to come. Not to expect the easy way out and to always give my best. Be it ideas, thoughts, methods, always share with others as I can learn from others as well. He also says to reach out to the less fortunate and treasure family, which is far more important than anything else.
I've learnt tremendously from the assiduous entrepreneur. I used to think that entrepreneurs had to be "gifted". However, Mr Chew has showed me that anyone can start up their own business. Personally, wanting to set up an architectural firm, I must have the patience, unquenchable thirst for success and never give up. Mr Chew had a rough start Everyone, including his loved ones, didn't believe in him, that he would fail. It was his tremendous perseverance and faith that spurred him to take risks. And the fact that he continues to reach out and help the needy, is a trait I find invaluable and that everyone should learn from.
As I embark on the treacherous journey of entrepreneurship in the near future, Mr Chew's words are deeply engraved in my mind, spurring me on. Serving as stepping stones to success.