Youth is not a stumbling block but a stepping stone for Ee Boon Kiat, who runs not just one but a multitude of businesses.
The Young & Restless At age 29, not only is Ee Boon Kiat the director of a multi-million dollar company, he also juggles two other businesses and is in the process of starting a new one. Together with his business partner Francis Kho, with whom he has been close friends since secondary two, Ee heads Kianson Pte. Ltd., a company specializing in the local distribution of the USA-manufactured Culture Timber, a kind of composite timber. Having worked with some of Singapore’s biggest real estate developers such as CDL, Far East Organization and Capitaland, Kianson supplied the timber which lines the structures of high profile local projects such as the revamped One Fullerton, Crowne Plaza Hotel at Changi Airport Terminal 3, Crowne Plaza Hotel Singapore and Sentosa’s ONE°15 Marina Club.
In retrospect, the environmentally-friendly product, made from recycled timber and plastic, should have been a no-brainer for a successful business. After all, it is priced similarly to natural timber yet resistant to the defects that plague timber, such as vulnerability to termite attacks, fading, decay and splintering. But when Ee and Kho set up the business in 2006, it was anything but easy.
“Our hearts were full but our pockets were empty,” says Ee. “We faced a lot of rejection. We were young, and nobody wanted to do business with us.” During the first year, they closed a measly S$10,000 worth of deals, and scraped by on S$300 in personal expenses each month.
But they were determined to pull through the difficult period—they felt it was all part of God’s plan. The pair prayed together constantly, over the phone and in the car, despite facing disappointment after disappointment. In the second year, they received the breakthrough they had believed for, and closed the year with about a million dollars worth of deals. “It was really a miracle. Once we broke through the mentality that only natural timber would do, and got our first customer, other industry players followed suit,” says Ee.
The business has never looked back since, and they have subsequently set up an off-shoot of the company under the name Wood Plastics Composite Pte. Ltd. in order to cater to different segments of the market more efficiently. What helped them stay the course during the trying period?
“There were three things. Firstly, the Bible says that nothing is impossible to those who believe. Also, I am pretty competitive by nature and was unwilling to fail at what I had started. Lastly, there was my business partner Francis who shared the faith that we would receive our breakthrough soon.”
Ee was studying for his Bachelor’s Degree in economics at the National University of Singapore four years ago, when he and Kho were approached with the offer to distribute Culture Timber in Singapore. While he neither excelled nor did badly at school, it was his life at City Harvest Church that taught him how to navigate the marketplace.
“It’s one of the best training grounds for business-minded people because as a young believer in a cell group, I learned to be bold, to hold conversations with strangers and to win them over as personal friends,” explains Ee. He also credits church as the place where he learned the importance of determination, good attitude, leadership, vision sharing, people management, delegation of responsibility and team building.
Making God his priority also brought Ee his biggest breakthrough in business to date. “There was a particular project worth approximately one million dollars that we had been chasing after and praying for about nine months. I got really sick and tired of battling it non-stop and wanted a breakthrough. The Bible says that some breakthroughs come only through praying and fasting. To me, God was speaking to me about consecration. So when the thought of attending School of Theology came to me that year, I answered that call immediately. Four months into SOT, praise God, we secured the deal, and my partner and I were able to buy our dream cars.”
The recently-married Ee embarked on another business when he discovered a demand in the wedding industry for the talents of several Taiwanese photographers and gown designers, as well as the country’s vivid landscapes (the Yang Ming San National Park in Taipei is a popular choice). Capitalizing on the growing trend of couples traveling overseas to have their wedding pictures taken, BlueBay Wedding was set up at Capitol Building along Stamford Road in June 2009 to offer travel-cum-photography packages to couples.
Despite having so many commitments, Ee is careful not to compromise on quality. To achieve that, discipline and proper time management is key. “I fix different times of the day to focus on different business, for example 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. is spent on my timber business while the rest of the evening on I concentrate on BlueBay. I stick to this schedule pretty strictly to ensure that each business gets sufficient attention.”
Ever on the lookout for more opportunities, Ee will be traveling to New Orleans in the coming weeks to market and exhibit a Singapore-invented waterproof building material. And in April this year, the staff of 25 from Kianson Pte. Ltd. will be moving into a new office space.
While he thinks he is not yet qualified to dispense advice to would-be entrepreneurs, Ee has this to say: “To operate in the marketplace, it’s important for us to speak the language of the marketplace. But at the same time, it’s through working with clients and partners that we make a difference in the marketplace with our values of excellence and trustworthiness.”
|Kianson Pte. Ltd. supplied timber for the following projects:|
|Banyan Tree Bintan
@ Sentosa Cove
|Crowne Plaza Hotel,
Changi Airport Terminal 3
|PHOTO COURTESY OF EE BOON KIAT