CEO capitalises on crises to grow Tat Hong

By Karen Ng

11th May 2010 – Singapore Business Times - TAT Hong took a long time to get where it is today. But now, it looks set to conquer the world. It is Asia’s third biggest crane owner – and one of the world’s largest crawler crane lessors.

Mainboard-listed Tat Hong started as an earth-moving equipment trading company back in the early 70s. On the way, it identified lucrative opportunities for crane and equipment rental, especially during downturns, when companies preferred to rent rather than buy equipment.

With the acquisition of Tutt Bryant Group in 1996, Tat Hong became a multi-brand distributor. The acquisition also helped the crane lessor grow its general equipment rental division.

In 1997, during the Asian financial crisis, Tat Hong aggressively expanded its rental fleet by buying fire-sale cranes and equipment. By not trimming costs and capitalising on expanding its assets at low prices, the company was primed to capture growth opportunities when the market eventually recovered.

Tat Hong’s president and chief executive officer Roland Ng says: ‘We also took the opportunity during such crises to streamline our operations and fine-tune our business model.’

A crisis is the best opportunity to grow a company’s talent pool, he reckons. In addition, Tat Hong stayed focused on its core business, keeping a close watch on cashflow and strengthening its balance sheet.

The crane giant gradually shifted its focus to crane rental while at the same time maintaining its equipment sales operations. And when sales and crane and equipment rentals stabilised, the company set its sights on a new market – renting tower cranes in China. Tat Hong established a beachhead in this market in 2005 – and since then has grown its tower crane rental fleet from an initial 50 to 400 today.

Mr Ng is also being recognised for his efforts at the Singapore Corporate Awards this year, clinching the Gold award for Best CEO under the mid-cap category.

Now, the company is a one-stop shop for crane and equipment requirements. It also provides maintenance, spare parts and training facilities and courses.

Tat Hong’s management now includes plenty of professionals, unlike in the past where half of its employees were family members. Mr Ng says recruitment and career advancement are based on merit, and advocates equal opportunities across the board.

He feels that for a workforce to be successful, good leaders must motivate their staff to work hand-in-hand with them, aligning their mindset with the company’s goal.

‘Every employee contributes to a company’s success and a good leader must be able to let employees know their worth,’ says Mr Ng. ‘Only through this can a good leader motivate his team to work together for the company’s future.’

Foresight, coupled with savvy cash management, helped Tat Hong weather the recent recession. With the market showing subtle signs of recovery, the company is starting to receive more enquiries for cranes and equipment. ‘We are confident of positive prospects,’ says Mr Ng. ‘It’s still early days in terms of recovery and we need a few more months to obtain a clearer outlook.’

In the meantime, Tat Hong will remain focused as a rental company, while maintaining equipment sales. It plans to remain prudent with capital and risk undertakings and manage inventory effectively.

As for overseas expansion plans, Tat Hong is on the lookout for merger and acquisition opportunities in China. It also wants to focus on organic growth to support such M&As. Also in the pipeline are plans to explore new markets with strong potential, such as India, Hong Kong, Thailand and Vietnam.