Never say die
AMONGST THE NOTICES and posters at the entrance to Edmund Chew's warehouse office you can just make out a James Bond 007 Never Say Die bumper sticker. Mr Chew, the managing director of ASTRANS, deliberately put it on display as he feels it sums up his attitude to business and life in general. Throughout his career he has needed plenty of this resilience and will probably need more of the same to guide ASTRANS to a possible Initial Public Offering (IPO) eight years from now.
Before setting up ASTRANS Mr Chew worked as a logistics manager for several multinational companies including the Harpers Group and Kuehne & Nagel, and was the founder and shareholder of Mostrans between 1989 to 1994. He helped build up Mostrans to a $15 million company before deciding to strike out on his own in 1994.
"My vision is to make ASTRANS a fully fledged supply chain management company over the next five years," states Mr Chew. He started the company with almost zero capital, relying almost totally on the trust and goodwill of customers he had built up strong relationships with over the years. Currently ASTRANS specializes in third party procurement and distribution, using its impressive network across Asia to serve customers like BMW, Motorola Electronics, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Stanley Works Asia Pacific.
"Most of our customers are in the telecommunica- tions, hardware and automobile industries," says Mr Chew. "Some companies in developing countries like Vietnam and Thailand cannot obtain letters of credit from the bank, so we act on their behalf and consoli- date all the orders at our warehouse, before shipping them out to places like America." Many of Mr Chew's customers have been with him for as long as 12 years and he provides them with a personalized service that ,goes beyond just simple forwarding and shipping activities. "We add value to the process, providing things like repackaging and consolidation services," he adds.
 At the heart of his business is the important distinction between managing the logistics operAtions as a cost or profit center. "For most companies distribution involves considerable expenses with money tied up in inventory and staff," says Mr Chew, "but at ASTRANS we take all these logistics costs away, add value and manage them as a profit centre." Heavily reliant on information technology to maintain his distribution efficiency, Mr Chew also received ISO 9002 certification at the beginning of the year - something he is extremely proud of.
India is a market he is currently excited about because of its large population and unlimited poten- tial. "My philosophy is to look at countries other people are ignoring because there is more opportunity to make a profit," he says. Mr Chew is also considering buying some Malaysian companies to strengthen his distribution network and take advantage of the strong Singaporean dollar.
He already rents five warehouses and hopes to fin- ish construction on a large warehouse in two to three years. After he has firmly established his supply management chain business his next step will he to set up a chain of DIY stores.. about 15 in Singapore and others in Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines. Unlike other DIY stores, most of the products in his chain will he listed in catalogues, and delivery will be made immediately once customers have placed their orders.
To overcome the current economic problems Mr Chew suggests following James Bond's example ~ and also supporting business contacts in other countries which are suffering more than Singapore.