To survive in the competitive property development industry is no mean feat. OKH Holdings managing director Thomas Bon Ween Foong has managed to transform his company from a struggling contractor to a premier property developer with integrated construction capabilities.
OKH's success is reflected in the slew of property projects it has successfully launched and completed. The firm has fully sold its industrial property projects, such as Seatown Industrial Centre, A'Posh BizHub and Primz BizHub. At the end of December last year, OKH had pre-sold projects worth about $317.4 million. Building on this strong momentum, OKH is now developing two industrial property projects in Woodlands and Tai Seng.
Mr Bon's success is underpinned by some personal business philosophies. "Your sustaining point is not as important as your turning point," he says. By this, Mr Bon means that one cannot afford to rest on one's laurels. Relying on existing capabilities will enable the company to grow to a certain limit but only when a concerted effort is made to seize the right opportunities at the right time will there be room for further growth and success.
True to its mission, OKH is constantly looking for ways to achieve its two business goals. The first is to explore opportunities in the wider property development market instead of limiting itself to its niche in industrial properties and integrated services. The other objective is to expand regionally by seeking joint ventures and strategic alliances.
Mr Bon has focused on these two corporate goals since he took over in 2001. While OKH did not have the expertise or resources at the time to undertake overseas ventures, Mr Bon had steadily expanded OKH.
OKH was founded in 1998. Three years later, it was still a struggling SME without a strong track record, let alone an established brand name. To reach its current position, Mr Bon says OKH has put hard work, efficiency and innovation at the heart of its corporate culture.
Recognising that trust and reputation are key in his niche market, Mr Bon worked hard in the early days to build the trust and loyalty of his clients, bankers, partners and suppliers. Such confidence-building has gone some way to help OKH get through the tough times, he reckons.
Mr Bon attributes much of the firm's success to his staff's commitment and dedication, especially in skills training and the acquisition of new product knowledge.
The quality of human capital can often take a toll on a fledgling firm. Hence, Mr Bon takes pains to recruit and retain workers who have a passion for the business.
Reflecting his concern for his staff, Mr Bon has spared no effort to foster a family culture at OKH. As a result of Mr Bon's emphasis on staff safety and well-being, OKH received the bizSAFE STAR award from the Workplace Safety and Health Council in 2009 and BCA's OHSAS 18001:2007 Certificate (Occupation Health and Safety Assessment Series).
A culture of open communication is also encouraged. Mr Bon believes that knowledge is meant to be shared and exchanged, to enable staff members to have a stake and grow with the company. Mr Bon also applies open communication in his client relationships and sees this as part and parcel of providing a high standard of customer service.
Unlike many SMEs, OKH believes in collaborating with its business partners and often shares best practices with them. This has helped boost productivity as well as enhance the performance of its joint ventures and strategic alliances, Mr Bon said.
And to constantly push the envelope, OKH has taken on pioneer projects, such as building retail spaces in MRT stations and expanding Singapore's Budget Terminal. Such projects are a win-win proposition: staff gain new on-the-ground experience, while the firm gets to expand its capabilities and improve its track record.
Today, OKH has established itself as a provider of in-house integrated construction solutions, ranging from design, engineering to construction. The integration of OKH's business value chain did not come about overnight, but was the product of hard work, strong business acumen and a focus on innovation at all levels of the company, according to Mr Bon.
With plenty of fire still in his belly, Mr Bon wants to take his company to the next level - transforming OKH into a diversified regional property developer.
The writers are students of NUS Business School