In a recent interview with Top 10 of Malaysia, Bryan Tan Soon Wah, Managing Director of Superb Aluminium Industries Sdn Bhd, talks about how he got so involved in the aluminium business and how he successfully turned around an ailing company into a hugely profitable and thriving enterprise.
To Bryan Tan Soon Wah, all that glitters is not gold, but rather aluminium. When he joined LB Aluminium Berhad as an engineer 24 years ago, he immediately saw the appeal of the metal and forged a strong bond with it. “Aluminium is the most abundantly found and widely distributed metal in the world. Its presence permeates the humblest of kitchens to the tallest of skyscrapers, and being a hundred percent recyclable, it is also a sustainable resource,” he says. So when the opportunity came for Tan to acquire a distressed company by the name of Superb Aluminium Industries Sdn Bhd in 2007, he hesitated not.
Most people would have shied away from taking over a troubled company, which had been making losses since its establishment in 2004, but not Tan. “At that point in time, I had been in this industry for 15 years. I knew what the market needed, how to produce a great quality product and I saw the vast potential in this business. The previous owners went into this industry with very little knowledge and struggled as a result.
As an experienced engineer, I came from the other spectrum and I believed I could strengthen the company and grow it to its fullest potential,” he explains. His years in LB Aluminium, located just next door to Superb Aluminium Industries’s premises in Beranang, saw his meteoric rise as an engineer to factory manager in a short time, while being exposed to the manufacturing operations as well as the marketing and financial management. “I went above and beyond my job scope, liaising with both local and overseas customers and equipping myself with the experience of running an aluminium manufacturing business. It was my dream to own an aluminium manufacturing plant of my own one day,” says Tan who holds a Master Degree in Manufacturing Systems Engineering from Warwick University of UK.
Tan attributes his entrepreneurial tendency to his mother who tasked him with the job of selling nasi lemak, fried bananas and food that she prepared at home. “I was just a seven-year-old kid then, lugging a basketful of food and selling it to the people in our village in Bagan Datoh, Perak. It made me believe that I can be resourceful and run a bigger business one day,” he recalls.
This entrepreneurial spirit coupled with a determination and zeal for excellence served him well in turning around Superb Aluminium. The 15-employee setup with one extrusion line operating out of rented premises was transformed into a thriving 150-strong company that has sole ownership of two factories, three extrusion lines, two powder coating lines and a consistent double digit year-to-year profit for the past six years. The company’s business is certainly booming with exports having doubled and expanding well. This achievement is certainly no small feat. “We emphasise on quality, timeliness and value our relationships with our customers and employees. We adopt a personal approach in our work, coming alongside with our customers at the drawing board and finding solutions,” says Tan.
In this line of work, there is no margin for error as every major mistake would mean huge losses to the company as well as the client. Tan reveals that there are no major blunders so far. “Any time we face a minor issue, we will call for a meeting across all levels to determine what had happened and to find a solution together,” he explains, adding that he strongly discourages the culture of blame and punishment but would want every employee’s contribution to be appreciated instead. This resulted in a conducive family-like work environment with a low employee turnover.
“In our 8-year journey, we have achieved a lot. But the most rewarding part is in seeing my team growing in a holistic manner. We were once doers who only knew how to produce tangible products but now, we also know how to manage and lead projects and be a solution partner to our customers,” says the affable leader who was recently awarded the Asia Pacific Entrepreneurship Awards 2015 under the Most Promising Category. His personal mantra is:
“Anyone can come up with a brilliant idea, but first things first – do it, do it, just do it.”
The ISO 9001-certified company has come a long way but Tan believes there is still plenty of room to grow in this industry, which he deemed as middle stage. With the plants operating at full capacity, Tan is looking to acquire more land, put in more equipment and expand to tap into south-east Asian markets such as Indonesia and Myanmar. “Our aim since the day we started is to be a global player and to achieve an output of 1,000 metric tonnes per month, which many thought was rather ambitious. From producing 150 tonnes per month during our earlier days, we are currently producing 700 tonnes per month and exporting to Australia and indirectly to the US, Ethiopia and Singapore,” says Tan. “We are only 300 tonnes away from our monthly production goal and we are definitely on track to achieve it.”