People and prosperity

My big break: becoming my own boss at 18

Singapore entrepreneur Chong Kim Whey on how small steps can help you win big business

Company snapshot

  • Name: Peak Top Engineering
  • Location: Singapore
  • Turnover: SGD10 million
  • Employees: More than 100

How it all began

I was born into a poor family in Malaysia, but aged just 18 I migrated to Singapore, where I started working for a construction firm. It was going well, I was even on course for a promotion, but within six months I knew I wanted to be my own boss. So I left the firm and hired my first worker. Four years later, eager to run something bigger, I took everything I had learnt from the building sites and set up an electrical engineering company. Today, my business supplies some of the biggest electrical and engineering companies in Singapore.

My toughest lesson

The 1997 Asian financial crisis was when I learnt the importance of building trust with staff. It was a tough time for businesses. Our main contractors couldn’t afford to pay us, creating a major cash flow problem, which meant I struggled to pay my employees and suppliers. Many companies around us failed. But I told myself not to give up. My staff trusted and depended on me, and I was determined not to let them down. Despite the financial difficulties, they stood by me. Many of these workers are still at Peak Top Engineering today, and I can honestly say my company wouldn’t be as successful as it is now without their trust and loyalty.

My light bulb moment

The first few years at Peak Top Engineering were challenging. As a young company it was hard to bid for work, particularly for larger projects, as we didn’t have a track record. I changed tactics and avoided bidding for bigger jobs, focusing instead on smaller projects to build our reputation. The smaller jobs meant lower potential profits, but it was necessary to get our foot on the ladder. I knew that gaining trust – whether from large or small customers – would help us win bigger projects in future, and fortunately I was right.

Finding funding

After a few successful years of profit, we decided to invest in commercial property to supplement our core business in electrical engineering. We secured a mortgage loan from Standard Chartered and, as a result, were able to diversify and grow our business, giving us different streams of income. They understood our aspirations and were there to support us along the way.

I owe my success to

My family has supported me through the ups and downs. To me, it’s extremely important to balance work and family life. I try to be a role model for my children, teaching them to be self-reliant, resilient and driven, as I think these are the key attributes to being successful in whatever path you choose.

Standard Chartered has been providing business banking services to Peak Top Engineering since 2008.