Friday, August 21, 2009

Singapore brands made in Malaysia - Malaysian Insider

By Lin Ming Hua

SINGAPORE, Aug 20 — Every August, many Johoreans who follow politics and current affairs have this habit of turning on their television sets to watch the live telecast of Singapore Prime Minister's National Day Rally speech.

This year, Lee Hsien Loong's speech lasted for more than three hours. I was more interested in two segments of his speech that had a “little connection” with us. In one segment, he praised Singapore's furniture companies for transforming themselves from a sunset to a sunrise industry. In another, he also singled out Hyflux, which was established by a Malaysian-born woman, for praise.

Lee said that while Singapore's furniture companies had set up factories in neighbouring countries because of lower production costs there, the Singapore brand was used as the selling point. In international markets, Singapore is not only the name of a country but also a symbol of good quality, a “special weapon” used by Singapore's companies to build up their business.

The “neighbouring countries” mentioned by Lee are bound to include Malaysia. The truth is, stories of “Singapore brands that are made in Malaysia” are plentiful. Straightaway, flowers and plants, ornamental fish and fruits come to mind.

As for Hyflux, the miraculous story of its founder Olivia Lum, an abandoned child who became a tycoon, also provides food for thought.

This “water queen”, whom prestigious American financial magazine Forbes named as the “richest woman in Southeast Asia”, was originally a Malaysian. Abandoned by her parents after she was born in a small town in Perak in 1961, she was adopted by a 63-year-old woman. When she was young, the family of six (the old woman had also adopted four other children) lived in a tiny dilapidated hut and relied on stored rain water for their daily needs.

Olivia Lum, Group CEO, President & Managing Director of Hyflux Ltd.

However, her difficult childhood did not dampen her desire to learn. At the age of 16, good results enabled her to study at a junior college in Singapore. After graduating from the National University of Singapore later, she worked for a Dutch company as a chemist.

Perhaps the shortage of water during her early years led her to realise the importance of water and motivated her to carry out research and development on water sources. In 1989, she quit her job, and sold her flat and car to raise S$20,000 (RM48,000) to start Hyflux, whose core business is providing water filtration systems.

Malaysia-Singapore relations were once mired in a crisis because of the water supply issue. Who would have thought that a water treatment company set up by a Malaysian-born woman is today Singapore's largest supplier of water supply systems that not only meets 35 per cent of Singapore's water needs but has also expanded its operations to all over the world, thereby spreading Singapore's reputation worldwide.

Olivia Lum is now a Singapore citizen. Hers is another story of a “Singapore brand that is made in Malaysia”. — Business Times Singapore

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