Winners all, in entrepreneur awards

Ms Zou, 54, originally set up Tong Chiang Group in 2007 to provide packed food for staff at construction sites and factories. She has since branched out and is in the running for the Established Entrepreneur prize.
Ms Zou, 54, originally set up Tong Chiang Group in 2007 to provide packed food for staff at construction sites and factories. She has since branched out and is in the running for the Established Entrepreneur prize.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

Caterer among businesses recognised in Entrepreneur of the Year Awards 2016

The founder of a food catering company that delivers meals to construction sites and homes is among 16 winners recognised for business prowess and potential in the Entrepreneur of the Year Awards 2016.

Ms Lisa Zou, chief executive of Tong Chiang Group, set up the company in 2007 to provide packed meals for construction firm staff at building sites and factories. She later moved into tiffin meals and buffet catering for company and private functions.

In 2012, Ms Zou, 54, invested in advanced equipment to automate processes. She has also invested in her staff by enrolling some among the 230-strong team for courses to raise productivity. Turnover last year was $21 million with estimates that it will hit $22 million this year.

Her efforts have earned Shanghai-born Ms Zou, who is now a Singaporean citizen, a place among nine candidates for the Established Entrepreneur prize in the Entrepreneur of the Year Awards 2016.

This category requires the entrepreneur to own at least a third of a business that has been operating for at least six years.

Ms Zou is the only woman among the nine winners in the category.

She told The Straits Times: "I used to do wholesale marketing of gifts and attire from China in the 1990s, supplying gift shops in Chinatown and at Changi International Airport, but the business wasn't faring very well because of low margins.

"I moved into the catering business when a bak kut teh shop off Beach Road became available. There were construction crews in the nearby area and I saw the opportunity to supply catered food to them. From there, the business grew."

There are seven winners in the New Entrepreneur category, which is for firms that have been operating for two to six years.

Mr Sam Chee Keong, 51, managing director of Hock Seng Hoe Metal Company, said his firm achieved revenue of $29 million last year. His metal trading firm, which deals with structural steel, has branched out into value-added services such as cutting and bending, sand blasting and galvanising, which now account for 20 per cent of revenue.

Hock Seng Hoe recently set up warehouses in Singapore and Batam, respectively. It is expanding its business to Vietnam, Myanmar, Malaysia and the Philippines.

Comprising the above two categories, the awards are jointly organised by the Association of Small and Medium Enterprises and the Rotary Club of Singapore. The overall winner in each category will be announced at a ceremony next month.

Mr Thomas Fernandez, co-chairman of the ASME's award organising committee, praised the candidates for the two prizes: "Their ability to effectively manage their business in a downturn reflects their true strength to thrive in adversity."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 05, 2016, with the headline 'Winners all, in entrepreneur awards'. Print Edition | Subscribe