Lifting the front wave

Lifting The Front Wave

May 19, 2009
By Chen Huifen

Sam Goi is hopeful that the new ones will do better in harnessing group support, reports Chen Huifen.

With so many business groups and associations in Singapore, it's easy to dismiss the E50 Club as just another platform where businessmen meet to play golf or clink wine glasses outside the offices.

Providing backing: Mr Goi (behind) is set to retire as the E50 club's president after an election held last week. He will be succeeded by Mr Lim, chairman of private equity investment firm Tembusu Partners and remittance house Moneyworld Asia. Mr Goi says the E50 Club is a useful platform to unite SMEs in Singapore

But for Sam Goi, outgoing president of the alumni grouping for past winners of the Enterprise 50 (E50) Awards, the E50 Club is a useful platform to unite SMEs in Singapore.

As Mr Goi, better known as executive chairman of Tee Yih Jia Food Manufacturing, told BT in Mandarin: 'It's very good for exchanging views - whether they are about issues faced in business, in China, or the global financial crisis. I hope the club can be given greater support and encouragement.'

Mr Goi is set to retire as the club's president after an election held last week. He will be succeeded by Andy Lim, chairman of private equity investment firm Tembusu Partners and remittance house Moneyworld Asia.

Recounting his years at the helm of the club, Mr Goi says he has made many friends through it. Apart from that, he has few things to say when asked about his achievements at the club.

But club members have plenty of positive things to say about Mr Goi's tenure as president, a post he has held for almost eight years. They were especially impressed with the business missions he has led to various parts of China, including Fujian, Jiangsu and Zhejiang.

Says E50 Club member Erman Tan, who is chief executive of Asia Polyurethane: 'Sam has great contacts in China - and he's always willing to share his contacts. That's something which businessmen can learn from.'

Mr Goi is known to have many friends in China, both in business and political circles. On a wall outside his office lobby is a photo of a young Mr Goi with China's vice-president Xi Jinping when the latter was governor of a southern province.

And it's not just Mr Goi's networks in China that fellow E50 Club members have tapped on.

'He is amazingly good at winning hearts and minds,' says Chew Ker Yee, vice-president of Wangi Industrial Co. 'I've learned a lot from Sam in terms of networking skills and leaving a positive impression on others.'

'Going with Sam to China has been an eye-opening experience, He can connect you with important government officials and local business leaders, and that can give you an advantage in expanding your business in China.'

While others guard their contacts jealously, Mr Goi is known to help connect his friends with one another. He knows that it is not easy for Singapore firms to do business in China, even for someone like him who has been in the market there for more than 20 years.

'I want to unite SMEs here to become stronger,' he says. 'Because if you are an SME in Singapore, you are really small in China. We need to pool our intellectual capital, human capital and financial capital to become a bigger force.'

His philosophy is that hogging business contacts is not the way to grow and compete. If one is always fearful of others catching up, the best way to stay at the front of the race is to continuously improve.

Unfortunately, Singapore SMEs are less cohesive than their peers from Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan and South Korea, says Mr Goi. Companies from these places tend to join together to penetrate the Chinese market, he says. They focus on a particular area, and with bigger clout as a group, they can exert greater influence and are in a better position to vie for projects.

Even rich Hong Kong tycoons like Li Ka Shing and Frank Tsao have collectively invested when venturing overseas. The development of Suntec City in Singapore, for instance, was accomplished through a collaborative investment by more than 20 businessmen from Hong Kong.

Mr Goi does not know why Singapore enterprises cannot build the enviable model of unity he has seen among firms from North-east Asia countries. But he is hopeful that the new E50 Club president and his executive committee will be able to do a better job than he did, to harness group support.

'Hou lang tui qian lang,' he says, applying a Chinese saying which literally means that the wave from behind will give a lift to the one in front. It means that the next generation will better the previous.

Mr Goi believes that the E50 Club consists of some of the biggest and most influential SMEs in Singapore. And if all their resources and networks can be shared, the club can be a formidable force - in China and elsewhere.

To continue tapping on his rich experience and vast networks, Mr Goi will remain the club's honorary life president, according to incoming president Mr Lim.

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