This managing director of an elevator business shares his story of how coming back to God changed his life and his company.
|PHOTO COURTESY OF RONNIE ONG|
A 21-year veteran in the lift-building industry, Ronnie Ong, 45, was presented the opportunity to start his own lift-building company, Champion Elevators Southeast Asia in 2001, serving as the representative for the American lift manufacturer, Champion. With two partners and S$10,000, Ong embarked on his daring new venture.
His company, now called Aron Lifts International, specializes in installing elevators for commercial, industrial as well as private buildings. When asked why he chose this industry, he says, “Honestly, I did not plan it. I was directed into this by opportunity. I needed the work to pay bills. But I’m glad I did take this route.”
Things went awry soon after the company was set up. One short year later in 2002, Ong found himself left holding the baby when his two partners jumped ship. The company was experiencing slow business and low sales turnover. The company plunged close to bankruptcy level in its second year.
“The first three years were very tough for me,” says Ong. “It was very difficult to get a loan for business from any bank. To be honest, I was about to give up this lift business altogether. At that time, I remember praying to God for direction on whether to give up this business to start looking for a job again.”
Ong received a clear impression from God not to look for a job “but to break away from my partners and take total control of the company. It was challenging to do this, since my personal savings had already been spent on the company’s earlier expenses. I could barely pay my household bills and I had a wife and three children to feed. But because God spoke, I knew I had to put my trust in Him. I went ahead and took over the company. At that time, I had a few small jobs that kept me afloat but nothing major.”
Ong’s real turning point came when his father died in a tragic road accident the following year, in 2003. Finding himself at the end of his tether, Ong followed God’s lead to attend City Harvest Church. “I came to CHC in July 2003 right after my father’s funeral, and the first thing I did was to ‘make peace’ with God by giving my tithe again after a long time.”
The entrepreneur began to sense that his life was changing for the first time after many years. He and his wife Karis, and their three children, began attending CHC and found a cell group to attend regularly. At the end of that year, Ong experienced a powerful word during one service. “Pastor Kong spoke about how God wanted to bless us to become successful millionaires. I felt in my heart that this was for me and I believed it. Since coming back to church, my life has changed and I’ve experienced so many business breakthroughs.”
In 2004 and 2005, things took a turn for the better rather quickly. “We slowly started to win project after project. By 2005, we had secured enough projects to start employing working engineers.”
In 2007, the owner of Champion Lifts, Ong’s principal client, sold out to another company. Being unable to keep the name, Ong renamed his company Aron Lifts International. “We started getting really big breaks after our name change,” he says. “We signed contracts with shipyards for big projects that ran into few millions of dollars. To date we have secured work till 2012.”
Today, sales turnover is about S$3.3 million and the lift specialist firm counts major marine industry players like Keppel FELS Shipyard, Jurong Shipyard, Petro-Brazil, Maersk Line and WyWy among its clientele. From a one-man show, Aron Lifts is now 21-man strong.
Aron Lifts has an advantage over its bigger competitors in that “We serve as a one-stop shop for lift buyers of diverse industries. Our competitors, on the other hand, tend to focus on one-industry core products.”
Ong concedes that the lift industry is a specialist one, and Aron Lifts is uniquely positioned. “You need special skills and understanding of the business requirement. For lift applications for offshore and marine structures, there are only one or two players who are able to really compete with us here in Singapore, and even in many parts of the world.
“My engineer has since worked in numerous countries like Brazil, Scotland, Hawaii, China, Azerbaijan, to name a few. Also, finding suitable workers to fulfill company needs is a challenge. Most of the workers who join us do not possess the necessary skills and have to be trained.”
But small challenges notwithstanding, Ong says business was so good for him, that Aron Lifts was not at all affected by last year’s financial quagmire. “At that time of the crisis, I was very involved in the offshore and marine market which supports the oil and petroleum industry. The price and stock for oil was at its peak for the last five years and the demand for oil was strong. Many companies who invested in new equipment for oil exploration needed new vessels and rigs for oil. I was in the right place at the right time actually. Thank God!”
According to him, the lifts industry is hot, and still heating up, especially for skyscraper-loving Singapore. “You need lifts for many high places or buildings today. Our country is land-scarce so many buildings are going taller and higher. Imagine climbing 50 storeys every day!”
In fact, he’s been getting more requests for private homes even as Singaporeans get richer. “We’ve been seeing people actually ordering lifts to be installed in their private houses like bungalows and penthouses,” says Ong of the trend.
His company has also gained the support of various lift manufacturers, making it easier for him to purchase and supply elevators to clients on many levels. Aron is the representative of German brand Geda.
If there is a human element to Ong’s success, it would be his unchanging focus to “provide high quality service to customer standards at affordable prices” from the beginning of each project to the end.
“We are still exploring new markets in hope of expanding our services to become the industry’s leading service and maintenance provider. We are always looking forward to business opportunities from all over the world to establish relationships with,” he says.
He hopes Aron Lifts will grow to be a key player in Asia. “We hope to expand our influence into countries like China, Vietnam, Japan, and Taiwan by working closely with local appointed agents. We also plan to increase our sales turnover to S$10 million annually.”