Lee TongYi has a personal mission: maximizing efficiency. "I’m somebody who just wants things to run smoothly and as directly and as efficiently as possible," he tells The CEO Magazine. "Inefficiencies mean there’s opportunity for innovation."
This bugbear was what prompted him to push for the creation of a renewables arm to the business his great-grandfather founded in 1946; Singapore-based marine and offshore supply company Lam Hong Group.
"I saw gaps where I felt like we, as a team, could propel forward, upgrade our systems and serve our customers better," he says.
Lee landed on renewables after the Group installed solar panels across its own warehouse and premises; so impressed was he with the improvements in efficiency that he "wanted to share it with the world".
"A lot of our customers have their own warehouses," he says. "I realized there was an opportunity for others to benefit from solar as well."
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Lam Hong Renewables was officially incorporated and the business became fully operational late last year, with Lee at its helm.
We spent the first year working to bring specific solar know-how and capabilities in-house via a partnership with an engineering company, because initially we didn’t have the knowledge.
Despite the young age of the company, Lee can already reflect on the significant milestones Lam Hong Renewables has reached.
"We spent the first year working to bring specific solar know-how and capabilities in-house via a partnership with an engineering company, because initially we didn’t have the knowledge," he explains.
Once achieved, the focus turned to pitching new customers. And Lee and his team didn’t have to wait long for results. "Within the first year of operations, we had an average of one deal closed per month, and we would like to keep it that way," he says.
Now, with the wheels of new business fully in motion, he explains that the third milestone is one he is currently working towards. "We are hoping to expand, hire and automate some processes," he says, with the quest for efficiency never far from the front of his mind.
Lam Hong Renewables was one of two businesses born out of the COVID-19 crisis for the Group; the other, Lam Hong Machinery, provides equipment and supplies for the construction and built environment industries.
I’ve always believed in trusting our employees, which means increasing the responsibilities they hold and fostering a culture of pride in their roles and responsibilities.
Having entered the pandemic in a strong financial position, the Group was able to navigate the months and years that followed with very little disturbance. In fact, so robust was its cash flow management that the Group was able to pursue the business opportunities it spotted. "Why solar?" Lee asks. "Because during the pandemic, electricity prices increased and solar was half the price."
He acknowledges that the nascent renewables division is taking up much of his time. "I’m very on the ground and in touch with the business," he says. But that doesn’t mean he’s neglecting his overall responsibilities as the fourth generation of the family business.
A culture of trust
As Group Managing Director, he says that one of his primary goals is to continuously improve corporate culture, adding it’s a fundamental need as he looks to take the company to even greater heights.
At the core of this culture is trust. Micromanaging can be commonplace in small and medium-size enterprises, but Lee wants to take a different approach. "I’ve always believed in trusting our employees, which means increasing the responsibilities they hold and fostering a culture of pride in their roles and responsibilities," he says.
And this culture is part of what gives Lam Hong Group a cohesive, competitive edge, even as a company with different divisions across different markets. "We are a dynamic, boutique group that has the flexibility to provide clients with what they want at the fastest speed possible," he says.
"We don’t necessarily need to follow a bureaucratic process that goes through various supervisors and managers to get things signed off. Our employees are trusted to stand on both feet to make decisions. The client experience is very fast and smooth."
We are a dynamic, boutique group that has the flexibility to provide clients with what they want at the fastest speed possible.
At the Group level, Lee has a goal to increase the products and brand offerings for its clients. Currently, Lam Hong Group is the largest distributor in the region of Crosby, one of the world’s most established manufacturers of rigging, lifting and material handling applications.
"As we continue to aspire to be the best in class in terms of our distribution network and the stock we keep in our warehouse, there are several other brands that we are considering in hopes of also becoming the largest stockist," he says.
Go For It
Lee believes a move to renewables is one that will benefit all businesses in Singapore.
"I would encourage people to step forward and implement solar systems on their roofs," he says. After all, "sustainability is a win–win situation for any business".
There are also the benefits that the transition will bring in financial terms, two of which are a reduction in common taxes and monthly electricity bills.
"Sustainability is not just a buzzword. And with the announcement of the Singapore Green Plan 2030 here in Singapore, it’s clear that it’s a whole-of-society effort – one that local businesses should actively support, advance and even spearhead," he says.
The goal is to be able to offer its clients a diverse catalogue of products, at different price points and different value propositions.
He knows he’s got the hard work of the generations before him to thank for much of what he can achieve today. "The strong relationships we have with our worldwide suppliers were forged long before I was born," he says. "And forging those links at the start is the hardest part. Maintaining them is easier.
"I am really appreciative of what my ancestors have done for the company."