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Hard work to become the go-to company for machine parts

Kian Ann Engineering group managing director Loy Soo Chew (left), 48, and founder Low Han Cheong, 80, at their warehouse complex in Changi. Even though the company was bought by South Africa's Invicta Holdings in 2013, the latter wants local top mana
Kian Ann Engineering group managing director Loy Soo Chew (left), 48, and founder Low Han Cheong, 80, at their warehouse complex in Changi. Even though the company was bought by South Africa's Invicta Holdings in 2013, the latter wants local top management to run the show.ST PHOTO: YEO KAI WEN

When local machinery parts distributor Kian Ann Engineering was sold to investors in South Africa, the company's founder asked the new owners to retain the distinctly Singaporean name.

After all, the company, which was founded in 1965, made its name in the Republic and continues to be run by many Singaporeans.

"We asked that they don't change the name, and they agreed," said Mr Low Han Cheong, 80, who was the company chairman until it was bought by Invicta Holdings in 2013 for nearly $193 million. "We worked so hard to build up the company; if the name was gone, it would be sad. Anyway, it's so well respected."

When Mr Low first started the company with his nephew Law Peng Kwee, he had to spend his days running around to meet potential clients and suppliers.

Working out of a rented shophouse in Tyrwhitt Road with $15,000 - a hefty sum in those days - in capital pooled together from their savings and help from family members, they struggled at first to grow the company.

Banks were unwilling to lend them money to bring in more spare parts. It was also difficult to locate more customers and suppliers from overseas without sophisticated communication technology.

"In this line, having no suppliers is like cooking food with no rice," said Mr Low.

So he invested time into wooing the banks, until he put together enough to buy their first warehouse in 1979 in Kallang Basin.

He also took the risk of allowing customers to order on credit so that they could make larger orders.

Some bad eggs made off with the parts, while others would delay payments during downturns. But eventually, they would pay up, as there were few other companies with as wide a network as Kian Ann.

"In this part of the world, if you want a spare part, you probably need to come to us," said group managing director Loy Soo Chew, 48, walking around the company's 344,000 sq ft warehouse and office complex in Changi, which it moved into in 1999.

The hard work put in all those earlier years paid off.

Today, the company has over 200 suppliers, and distributes parts to around 60 countries, for machines such as bulldozers, excavators and marine engines made by companies like Caterpillar, Komatsu and Mercedes Benz.

Mr Loy, who joined the company in 1996 as a finance manager and worked his way up, said that Invicta continues to want him and the local top management to run the show.

"It's important for us because the majority of our business is in South-east Asia, and our staff know how to communicate with people in China and India," he said.

"We know the culture and we speak the language."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 06, 2015, with the headline 'Hard work to become the go-to company for machine parts'. Print Edition | Subscribe