Getting Up Close and Personal

The Business Times, JUN 20, 2016

Q: What are your company’s core business activities?

Lennon Tan: We are a Fintech and Trusted Services company for banking, financial institutions and government agencies.

Edwin Ng: Founded in 1967, Markono provides print and supply chain solutions for high value content. Our customers include the world’s leading academic and educational publishers for textbooks, reference books and journals, as well as multinational IT companies and medical equipment manufacturers for instruction manuals and training materials.

Teo Hark Piang: The group is engaged in the bottling and distribution of bottled LPG in Singapore, and the construction of LPG piping systems for industrial and commercial clients. It also operates a CNG and diesel refilling station for the sale of CNG and diesel.

Gerard Er: Our core business is in international freight forwarding, warehousing, distribution and commodities shipment. We have our own offices in Thailand, Vietnam, the Philippines, Indonesia and Brunei. This is complemented by a global network of exclusive partners.

Pauline Ng: Porcelain is dedicated to skincare and helping our customers achieve the porcelain skin that everyone dreams of. Our facial treatments and products are carefully customised to help each customer in their skincare concerns.

Simon Lee: Thatz International’s core business activities are ICT outsourcing, consulting and professional services. The company services MNCs and local enterprises in the areas of IT helpdesk, corporate end users’ computing support as well as data centre and network command centre operations.

Q: What are your company’s unique selling points?

Mr Tan: With its 300-strong R&D team, JK Tech works closely with our customers to provide customised, innovative value-added and secured solutions. We don’t just sell products and services to customers; we solve their problems to allow them to focus on their core businesses so that they can be more efficient and profitable.

Mr Ng: We leverage IT resources to develop customised applications to reduce administrative touchpoints, create seamless production workflows and provide data analytics to our customers. When our new production facility is completed in October 2016, it will integrate on-demand print production, automated warehousing and fulfilment capabilities which will significantly reduce customers’ supply chain costs.

Mr Teo: We provide cost effective LPG solutions to business and residential customers with a focus on compliance and quality of service. We have a strong value chain management and responsive service availability and support.

Mr Er: Fast and prompt service, transportation of dangerous chemicals, critical logistics and commodities shipment match-making are among our unique selling points.

Ms Ng: Porcelain was set up with the belief that by combining facial extraction with medically sound aesthetic treatments and a good skincare regime, one can achieve flawless complexion in no time. All Porcelain staff walk the talk; we do not wear any makeup and we encourage our customers to do the same.

Mr Lee: Over the years, we have developed a code of best practices which defines Thatz International’s business model. When we work with a client, we are very entrenched in their domain.

With our vast experience, we create value for our clients. We also pride ourselves on the Q.S.T.P. deliverables – it represents Quality, Speed, Technology and right Pricing, something that every customer wants.

Q: How does winning the award help your business?

Mr Tan: Even though we are well positioned in China and parts of Europe and US, we are relatively new to Singapore and the rest of Asia. Winning the award will help us raise awareness among customers in this region.

Mr Ng: It serves as a recognition to Markono’s employees for all the hard work and dedication they have put into developing the business over the years. It is also an endorsement to our customers, bankers, suppliers and business partners in supporting us.

Mr Teo: The award elevates the company’s business profile and stature within and outside the industry. It gives us the opportunity to expand our network with other award participants, stakeholders, and potential customers.

Mr Er: Winning this award will strengthen our company’s profile and reputation, which in turn will help us to secure new customers.

Ms Ng: The win further reassures me that my customers believe in me and love what I have been doing. It motivates me to further enhance my treatments and products and bring nothing but the best service to my customers.

Mr Lee: The win will definitely spur us to achieve a bigger goal. In addition, the award recognises Thatz International’s capabilities and market standing. With this, new customers will know our track record and they will be more willing to engage us, translating into more business for us.

Q: What are the milestones/breakthroughs that have transformed the company?

Mr Tan: We began as Original Equipment Manufacturer for international customers. In mid-2000, we beefed up our own expertise and gained accreditation from various agencies like Visa, MasterCard, American Express and China Union Pay that puts us in the global arena to gain a foothold in China and the international markets.

In 2012, we ventured into the Trusted BPO services and Banking Automation business that transformed our technology base from manufacturing to software and automation systems. Today, the world’s largest bank, ICBC of China, and many banks use our biometric and automation systems to serve their customers beyond banking hours and raise productivity. 

Mr Ng: In the 1990s, our investment in digital-printing technology was ahead of its time as the technology was at its infancy and therefore costly and unreliable.

However, it gave us a headstart with digital-printing capabilities which is today a core pillar of our business. As we turn 50 in 2017, the completion of our new production facility, incorporating automated warehousing capabilities, will enhance our value proposition to customers.

Mr Teo: In 2000, the group acquired a LPG bottling plant and became the only independent LPG bottler in Singapore then (other than oil majors). The acquisition enabled us to become a leading supplier of bottled LPG in Singapore.

In 2005, we broke the monopoly on the supply of gas services by supplying LPG to markets and hawkers centres, which used to take only piped gas.

Mr Er: In 2007, we established our own dedicated fleet of containers, courier services and lorry transportation with the GE Lines logo. With our own fleet, we can better serve our customers as trucking and transportation is the most difficult part of the supply chain. We have also transformed into a one-stop logistics solution company for all customers.

Ms Ng: We have three philosophies that guide Porcelain, and they are evident in every aspect of our business, such as treatment development, product research and staff selection. I am proud of the fact that in just a few years, we have expanded from a mother-daughter team to a team of more than 40. Not just growth in terms of business, but the development of staff in all aspects.

Mr Lee: We started with IT professional services and some systems integration work. After the Y2K period, the company ventured into IT outsourcing business where the margins were higher.

We competed against international vendors for IT helpdesk, corporate end-user computing support, data centre and network command centre operations’ projects. We won numerous projects from MNCs and large local enterprises.

Q: What motivates you in running the business? 

Mr Tan: Our market space has higher entry barriers and trust is not something we gain quickly from our customers. Whenever a bank or financial institution gives us business, it is usually motivated by trust and the partnership we offer. When we are entrusted with such responsibility, it will give us much motivation to serve them well.

Mr Ng: Seeing the results of our hard work through positive feedback and support from customers, happy employees who develop and advance their careers with Markono, and being able to give back to the community.

Markono primarily serves the education and academic segments and we indirectly contribute to the progress of the knowledge economy through our business.

Mr Teo: We want to grow the company as we feel responsible towards our long time employees.  We value the teamwork that we have with each other. I also feel responsible to my father, who is the founder of Union Energy.

Mr Er: Being able to help our customers compete in this ever-changing economy motivates me, as every industry requires logistics, one way or another.

Ms Ng: In Porcelain, we have forged a familial and fun work culture. I really love how our team works together towards the same goal and they’re the reason why I enjoy coming to work everyday.

Mr Lee: I derive great satisfaction whenever we clinch new deals or get referrals from existing customers. I am always motivated to provide solutions faced by our customers such as IT security issues. It is always fulfilling to receive compliments from our customers on my team’s service performance.

Q: What are the challenges ahead for your company?

Mr Tan: With the emergence of many Fintech startups and other offerings, it is sometimes difficult for our customers to differentiate the robustness of technologies required for payments and financial transactions.

After serving the banking and transactional technology sectors for many years, we understand our customers well. We have to work with them to differentiate ourselves from the masses which sometimes dangle low pricing and flashy offerings that do not work in the long run.

Mr Ng: Because print consumption is under threat from electronic media, it is crucial for Markono to reinvent its business model to stay relevant in this new economy. We need to recruit and retain the best talent to continually innovate and develop the business.

Being an SME, this is especially challenging as most young adults are more attracted to careers in MNCs or startup technology companies.

Mr Teo: Sustaining growth is the biggest challenge: we need to find ways to strengthen our market position and opportunities to expand our core business. Staying focused on our customers and their needs is also crucial. We must find and retain talent and relevant employees for the business.

Mr Er: Given the global economic slowdown, every industry faces similar challenges during this period – supply and demand will fall. We have to adjust ourselves and brave the storm ahead, which was what GE Lines had done in the last 10 years, riding through the 9/11 attack and the 2008 global financial crisis.

Ms Ng: Not only do we want to help more people, we also hope to expand internationally so that more people can benefit from our treatments and products.

Mr Lee: Our next lap is to expand into the region. We will be hiring and grooming more key personnel who fit our business culture to help the company establish its presence in countries such as Australia and China.

The transformation from a local to a regional enterprise is a big step. It will require huge financial outlay as well as reliable and capable managers to support Thatz International to become the “preferred” regional ICT services player in Asia-Pacific.


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