Check against delivery

SPEECH BY MR LOO LEONG THYE
CEO, CHALLENGER TECHNOLOGIES LTD
AT THE 52nd GRADUATION CEREMONY
MONDAY, 21 MAY 2012 (SESSION 2)

Members of the Board of Governors,

Mr Tan Hang Cheong, Principal, Singapore Polytechnic,

Distinguished Guests,

Parents and Graduands,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Good morning.

It is an honour to be invited to address you at this graduation ceremony.  To relatives and friends of the graduands in our midst, you deserve special mention as many of you have made significant sacrifices to make this day possible for them and I am sure you are very proud of their achievement. 
I will briefly talk about my studies, career and then my business. In the next few minutes, I will walk you through what has spanned over the last 40 years for me from slide rule to tablet.

Education

I graduated with an Industrial Technician certificate in 1973. I had to take another 2 years of part-time studies to complete the diploma programme at Singapore Polytechnic. Unfortunately, I dropped out after 1 year of night study as it clashed with my work then. 

Education was still important to me, so I took another route to obtain a diploma equivalent by taking a long-distance exam. Later, I completed another 3 years of night study at SIM and obtained a Diploma in Management Studies and Graduated Diploma in Marketing. My education over the years became a good foundation for my future career and business.

Job

After completing my studies, I worked for the next 10 years in 10 jobs, with the shortest period being 3 months and the longest period being 3 years. I started as a technician on a $250 salary and ended up as a product manager earning $2800 a month back then. During these 10 years, I learnt a lot about my jobs, from going into a manhole underground to do repair and checking works, to climbing on board a ship to install equipment.

But I left my last job as I wanted to do something more challenging on my own.

Business

I started the IT retail business with 2 other partners and $40,000 capital. Back then, I had to travel to different parts of the world to get the best products to sell and to network with customers. IT retail has always been my first and only consistent business even after doing all sorts of businesses, from assembly and distribution to property development and even F&B. In the end, after analyzing the business strengths, I ended up focusing on IT retail because we have more strengths than most competitors in the market.

But the road to success is not always smooth. Chasing success may lead to failures. You may make mistakes and encounter pitfalls that you never noticed. The best way to learn is never to make the same mistake as others, so I will tell you my big mistake.

In year 2000, we expanded our business to Thailand, Indonesia and Brunei by setting up 3 IT superstores altogether. Within one year, we chalked up huge losses because we did not get our fundamentals right. Our management team was weak and our financials were not strong. I made the painful decision to close down all our overseas business units in order to save the Singapore business which was still profitable. It is common amongst many businessmen not to lose face but they end up bankrupting their businesses. For me, it is better to lose face by closing down the overseas operations in order to save the Singapore one.

I learnt many lessons during this period. I learnt that when times are bad, even long-standing business partners may turn their backs on you. People who used to support you may no longer do so. This is because they have little confidence in your business and its profitability. You have to be able to rise up from the failure and work harder to succeed. So I worked harder by building even stronger relationships with our suppliers and customers. Finally, I brought Challenger to IPO in 2004. The rest is history. 

You must never get too happy at the taste of your first success. You can celebrate cautiously but don’t get aggressive and expand too quickly. Don’t jump too fast or too high. Such over-confidence is natural when success comes too easily. So what you need to do after graduating today is to have a very positive and patient mindset. You should also be prepared to work very hard. You need to let time decide what and where you will be, because the climb to success may be slower than you expected. It is better to be slow and steady in order to lead you higher, than simply achieve an exponential growth that could lead you to a harder fall.

I wish all of you today the best in your road to success.