Recently, I had the privilege to meet one of Malaysia’s most successful and outstanding entrepreneur, Dato’ Tony Looi, Chairman and CEO of Ban Lee Hin Group in a very candid sit down interview organised by CEM (Casual Event Management).
Here’s a little introduction of who Dato’ Tony Looi really is and his life from rags to riches.
It was an amazing time we had to learn about his secrets of balancing his daily life with his work and family and how to achieve success at such a young age. Dato’ Tony was very friendly and willing to share every aspect of his life with us.
Dato’ Tony Looi’s company, Ban Lee Hin group actually started in 1974 and was run by his father. Back in those days, his family was very poor.
He reminisced that he and his 6 brothers and sisters needed to buy things without money, and just recorded what they owe the shops using 555 books. They were always being looked down by others due to their poverty and they get scolded everywhere they went. By the time he was 14 years old, Dato’ Tony decided to drop out of school to start working to earn an income for survival. At that time, his father’s company was being sued to near bankruptcy.
He started working at the local market, being the fruit transporter boy. He had to work from 6am to 12 midnight many days, going up and down the truck and carrying the heavy loads of fruits from one market to another. Finally, he decided this was not his path so he went back to the construction business like his father was in. His father was his motivation to work harder in his young life at the time. While working in the construction factories, he still continued working as a fruit transporter after 5pm until nights for the extra money.
While he was not academically inclined, little Tony soon found that he was a fast learner and was able to learn many different skills in a short time. Thus, he started moving from one factory to another every 2-3 months when he had mastered one skill after another. Before long, he had accumulated all the necessary skills to start his own factory. By 17 years old, he became a subcontractor and was able to pay a five figure income tax by then. He was involved in building the signboards in Loke Yew and many of parts of petrol stations today.
By 21 years old, Tony had come back to his father’s company as a subcontractor and eventually took over the business in 1996. He decided to register the company under a new name, Ban Lee Hin Sdn Bhd which stood to this day. He began to receive a lot of projects, attracting customers near and far due to his never say never attitude. He was involved in the metal works of many mega projects in Malaysia, most prominently the elevators in KLIA, the Malacca Square Roller Coaster, the beams in KLCC and some of the beautiful bridges in Putrajaya to name a few. From 1995-97 was his busiest years in his life, travelling up to 1200 km in 2 days. He even had to take his lunch in the car while driving. Through his business expansion, Dato’ Tony began to open up his mind to new cultures, new languages, other countries and so on. He started travelling the world over, sightseeing and mainly to take in the architecture, buildings and heritage of another land. Having never graduated high school, Dato’ Tony had a low confidence when it came to speaking other languages, so he decided to take up English courses while building his empire. In just 2 years, he was able to converse fluently in English after putting in the hardwork. At the same time, Ban Lee Hin expanded into many area of business including civil engineering, renovation, partition, tiling, conveyor and more. Highly ambitious, Dato’ Tony wanted to move into any field that he found interest in.
By 2007, he began to realise that he need proper certification to move further in his business. He studied for his MBA on weekends, learning accounts, software, design and more and even studied 16 books of law and finally graduated. By 2008, he ventured into getting ISO Certification for his company as he wanted to be the leading construction firm in Malaysia. Leading the way, he became an ISO Internal Auditor by 2006 and a HRDF Certificate Trainer in 2008. Today Ban Lee Hin group continued to expand and evolve in all kinds of fields that are interrelated.
The question remains, what is Dato’ Tony’s secret to success?
We asked him to share his top 3 skills to be a successful entrepreneur and these were what he had to share.
1) Have a good atttitude
Dato’ Tony believes in a good attitude, that to be successful one needs to learn hard, work hard and study hard. He looks at his challenges not as a mountain but as a small stone. His motto in life is Nothing is Impossible.
2) Read a lot of books
Dato’ Tony believes in reading to increase his knowledge. He encourages his staff to read at least 30 min or more a day and to set a target to finish a book in 7 days. He is a strong believer in life long learning and imparts this value to all his staff by giving them his special made organiser in which they can input how much they read daily and what they had learned from the books. His staff could even plan their life for 1, 3, 5 up to 10 years timeline using his organiser.
3) Walk the Talk
Dato’ Tony believes in walking your talk, action speaks louder than words. When he tells his staff not to be late, he will never be late himself. In fact, today, non of his staff comes late to work after he implememt a fine of RM10 for late comers. All the money collected did not go to the company however, as they were all donated to charity.
Dato’ Tony advised the young people against going for fast income and get rich quick schemes, gambling and investing in mcoins. For him, success is all about hard work and little baby steps, there is no short cut to success and wealth. He believes in hard work so much that he would never retire from his work. Having many positions not just in Ban Lee Hin but in various other organisations, Dato’ Tony only strives to cut down on his positions and slowly train up his employees to take up his responsibilities as for the moment, his schedule is so packed that he does not have a free weekend till Jan 2016. He too wants to have a balanced family life and more time spent with his wife and children.
Dato’ Tony shared that the ultimate success would be to be able to mentor his staff to be like him, to duplicate himself in them. He still holds the dream to be the biggest construction and development firm in Malaysia. As successful as he is now, he still has one regret in his life, that is that he did not receive proper education when he was young. He believes to be the leader in your company, you must be well equipped yourself before you can impart anything to your subordinates.
At only 42 years old but 28 years young in his heart, Dato’ Tony balances his work and life by bringing his family travelling every year. His oldest child is already 19 and independent, but once a year he gathers his whole family to travel to an unforgettable destination. Some of his memorable travels include biking around Taiwan, scuba diving and playing golf. Being a loyal and faithful husband, he owes his success to his patient and loving wife, who was by his side in hard times and in good times. Dato’ Tony says that life is meaningless if the family is not there. He emphasized that happiness does not come from wealth but by having a close relationship with our families. At the moment, Dato’ Tony is working on his biography which will soon be published by this year in Chinese and English by next year.
It was indeed and honour to be able to meet with Dato’ Tony Looi and learn about past, present and future in Ban Lee Hin Group.