People and prosperity

Tips from the top – dare to dream

Singapore entrepreneur Lee Kah Heng shares his tips for starting a successful business and keeping it

Big things can come from humble beginnings

I was just 19 when I began to trade in rubber in the 1950s. Four years earlier I left China by boat, borrowing money for the ticket and sleeping on the deck during the two-week journey from Xiamen to Penang. Later, I became a comprador, working in the morning for Chartered Bank and, in the afternoon, running my own company. The bank gave me a USD1.5 million overdraft against my rubber stock, which got me on my way. Today my business, LSH Group, has factories in Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia, and sells tyres and chemicals throughout South East Asia

There is no magic formula – just work hard

I am lucky that doing business is in my nature. I have the flair for it. It’s both my hobby and my living, and something I think I am good at. In the early days after fleeing China, I worked hard for a large rubber trading company and learned all about the rubber trade, which allowed me to start up on my own.

Don’t assume you know everything

Don’t jump in, thinking you are clever enough to build up your business without any foundation or help from others. Get a good education, then join a big company to learn how to do business and handle people. Learn enough and earn enough before striking out on your own, or you won’t have the tenacity to carry on through bad times as well as good.

It’s OK to take risks

Once the right opportunity comes along to start a business, you must be daring and grab it. When you have made sure you have the money, and people to help you, and the right knowledge, you stand a high chance of success. Everything in life carries an element of risk, big or small. The important thing is to come prepared.

Being someone people like is important

One thing you can be certain of is that you won’t be the only one with a brilliant idea. You must be able to stand out from your competitors, and be someone your client likes enough to want to do business with. What the Chinese call (ren yuan: affinity). In the same way, you must make sure you like and can trust your client. Always see people face-to-face. You can tell a lot about a person’s character by looking them in the eye.

Standard Chartered has been providing banking services to LSH Group since 1958.