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Founder of major printing firm started off with rented desk

Front row: Winson Press founder Tan Hock Beng and his wife Ong Siew Yong and their son, chief executive Tan Jit Khoon. Behind them are their employees (from left): costing and purchasing manager Jessie Chan, customer service officer Teo Siew Lay, cus
Front row: Winson Press founder Tan Hock Beng and his wife Ong Siew Yong and their son, chief executive Tan Jit Khoon. Behind them are their employees (from left): costing and purchasing manager Jessie Chan, customer service officer Teo Siew Lay, customer service officer Magdeleine Yeo, and head of sales Zainol Ismail. The company has invested $3 million over the last three years on new equipment, software and staff.PHOTO: DIOS VINCOY JR FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

As Singapore was finding its feet after being thrust into independence in 1965, three companies here were set up and helped jump-start a business community. With the country celebrating its 50th birthday this year, Joanna Seow digs into their histories and looks at how far they have come. Winson Press, which began as an ad firm, is expected to clock turnover of $10m this year

It was hunched over a rented desk in an Amoy Street shophouse that Mr Tan Hock Beng first cut his teeth in the business world 50 years ago, in 1965.

Drawing advertisements by hand, he was living his dream of running his own advertising company - Winson Advertising - but had to work from morning to night meeting customers, designing the ads and even helping a fellow businessman out.

"The owner of the unit smoked opium and, when he was out, I would help him answer calls," said the 79-year-old with a laugh.

Mr Tan got his big break two years later when he was hired to produce clips and packaging for Swan brand socks and garments for more than $10,000.

"I had no capital to pay the suppliers. Thankfully, they found me to be trustworthy and did the job for me on credit," he said in Mandarin.

Eventually, he decided to start printing the advertisements himself, and bought a simple black-and-white press.

Over the years, all sorts of machines were added - two-colour printers, four-colour printers, die cutting machines and a hot stamping machine - chronicling the company's evolution into a major player in the printing services market, with an expected turnover of $10 million this year .

To house the burgeoning business, Mr Tan's wife, Madam Ong Siew Yong, 77, advised him to buy his own office space in Golden Mile Tower and, in 1983, closed her successful sewing school to help him.

They now own 25,000 sq ft of an industrial building in Kallang.

Their elder son, Jit Khoon, joined as a production operator in 1995, and then took over the helm as chief executive in 2005. He has taken it upon himself to write new pages in the company's history.

"For the next 50 years, we will need to look at how to continue to stay relevant, and how to attract and retain good talent to help us do so," said the 47-year-old father of two. Over the past three years, he has invested $3 million on new equipment and software, as well as staff to form new information technology, design, marketing and business development teams.

The company has also acquired a commercial printing firm and a personalised photobook business to expand its range of products.

Old habits die hard for the chief executive's parents, who continue to go to the office to help out almost daily.

And on special occasions, Madam Ong also prepares food, such as coffee cake and ondeh-ondeh, for her workers.

Long-time employee Teo Siew Lay, 49, said that Madam Ong would bring home-cooked chicken curry for dinner if meetings were scheduled to run late.

"The bosses and colleagues are very friendly people," said the customer service officer who has been with the company for 23 years.

"We spend so much time together that it feels like a family."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 06, 2015, with the headline 'Founder of major printing firm started off with rented desk'. Print Edition | Subscribe