Monday, April 16, 2012

The legendary Dato John Lim Tow Yong JP (1925-2012)

Singaporean Dato' John Lim Tow Yong JP (拿督林道荣局绅), born in Suatow (仙都乡), Jinshizhen (金石镇), Chao'An (潮安县), Chaozhou (潮州市), China and actived in South East Asia, has just passed away on 7 April 2012 at the age of 87. That was just a few days right after his biography book, The Legend of Dato' Lim Tow Yong JP -- Founder of Emporium Holdings (英保良二老板林道荣·新马汶百货巨子传奇) been published. His death and his legendary life was widely reported in newspapers in South East Asia.

Dato' Lim has a brother Lim Tow Seng (林道信) who reached Singapore in 1935 at the age of 15 and  worked as an apprentice in a trading company, 7 days a week, 14 hours a day, with a monthly salary of $4 only. 3 years later, he started up his own provision shop called Lim Seng Huat (S) Limited.

In 1940, Dato' Lim also reached Singapore, first worked at his uncle's pork shop, later joint his brother's provision shop as a saleman. The business of Lim Seng Huat grew after World War II by importing and distributing made-in-China products. From Singapore, they expanded to Malaysia and Hong Kong. They even became the sole distributor of German MontBlanc pens in Singapore, Malaysia and Brunei.

In 1961, the Lim brothers founded the Emporium Holdings Group, and 5 years later, they opened the 1st Chinese-managed emporium in Singapore namely Oriental Emporium on 1 December 1966, selling made-in-China products on the same street with British's Robinson that sell high-end Western goods.

In 1968, they opened another emporium in Singapore, selling local products as well as made-in-China products. They continued to expand, and by 1979, they opened 16 emporiums in Singapore. In 28 March 1980, they opened another 8 emporiums and 2 restaurants in the same day.

At the same time, they opened 22 emporiums during 1967-1979 in Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Ipoh, Melaka, Seremban, Johor Bahru, Kuantan, Kulai, Kluang, etc. In December 1972, they registered Emporium Holdings (M) Bhd in Malaysia. Later in November 1973, they also registered Emporium (S) Pte. Ltd. in Singapore. Dato' Lim became the managing director of the Emporium Group.

Being a visionary boss, Dato' Lim paid attention to his employees' training. He sent his employees to Western countries to study the operations of large departmental stores there. He invited professor from Japan to give lecture to his employees.

He emphasized on team work and cultivated good inter-relationship among employees. He cared about employees' benefits and engagement of his employees. He brought in advanced management methodology and technology to improve productivity. He improved customer service to engage his customers. He led in the computerization of his operations way back in the 80's. At the same time, he established a mentoring system, breaking down his employees into 5-people groups with a leader, each group in charge of about 400 sqft in the departmental store, and awarded according to their sales contribution.

While the Emporium Group focused in selling oriental goods, Dato's Lim also established Klasse Departmental Sore to sell Western goods, and joint-venture with Kimisawa Departmental Store to sell Japanese goods.

In early 1985, at his peak, Dato' Lim made a Guiness World Record of having 113 companies around Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei and Hong Kong.

However, a recession in Singapore in 1985 also brought him down. In 31 July 1985, 500 employees were retrenched. In 23 October 1985, another 200 employees retrenched.

The Emporium Group gone into trouble, because they margined too much on bank loan for expansion, and they never close down branches that didn't make money. Besides, high inventory level also caused cashflow problem. Later, they tried to convert some departments into consignment basis, which eventually formed a norm in departmental store operations nowadays.

In 1987, the Emporium Group in Singapore was taken over by Malaysian tycoon Bill Ch’ng (庄宝), and Dato' Lim resigned from the empire he built.

Meanwhile, the Emporium Group in Malaysia was applying for public listing in KLSE at the same time, but failed. In November 1987, 31 emporiums was bought over by Natvest Sdn Bhd backed by the Lion Group, and were renamed Parkson.

In 1988, Dato' Lim was declared a bankrupt by Singapore high court at the age of 63. By that time, Dato' Lim was in Labuan, trying to make a come back with RM100k capital. Since his bankrupcy, Dato' Lim was trapped in Singapore for 2 years, until he met Dato Hapitz who helped him restarted his business as Milimewa in Brunei.

In 1992, Dato' Lim made a come back by expanding his business to Sabah. In 1999, he was finally discharged from bankruptcy at the age of 75. In 2003, he had 18 departmental stores in Sabah, and in 2004, he sold all of them to The Store and gained a few millions. He became a millionaire again!

In 2010, Dato' Lim had 8 departmental stores in Brunei. In 2011, he used back the Emporium brand for his departmental stores. He also planned to build a hotel in Labuan.

On 24 September 1996, while Dato' Lim was still in his bankruptcy, 700 of his ex-employees invited him to a dinner to thank him for fostering them while they were in Emporium Group.

10 years later on 20 December 2006, Dato' Lim invited back his ex-employees to a dinner, and attended by 1380 people from Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei and Hong Kong. That night, Dato' Lim spent over 300k to thank back his ex-employees.

On 30 March 2012, Dato' Lim invited his ex-employees again to his dinner, in conjunction with the launching of his new book. That dinner was attended by over thousand people. However, Dato' Lim didn't make it to the dinner, he was hospitalized, and later passed away in his glory. His funeral was attended by several hundreds of his present and past employees.

There are 2 things that we all admire Dato' Lim. One is his business skill in building his business empire recorded in Guiness Book of Records, and making him a millionaire once again after bankruptcy. Another is his leadership charisma in having over thousand of engaged employees, who still remember and feel thankful to him regardless he was in failure or success.


yy said... Reply To This Comment


mkh proposed BONUS issue:)

Post a Comment

Hint: Click on the "Older Posts" link to continue reading, or click here for a listing of all my past 3 months articles.