Category Archives: EZ 36

Fortune Favours the Bold

Dato’ Alvin Lim Theng Hooi
Executive Chairman, Arita Plastics Industries (M) Sdn Bhd

Bold, brave and visionary best describes Dato’ Alvin Lim whose contributions to the manufacturing industry in Malaysia hasearned him pioneer status. ELEANOR LOPEZ speaks to this flamboyant yet unassuming personality about his career, company and contributions to society.

“It was fated,” explains Dato’ Alvin Lim when asked about his career in the plastic manufacturing and trading industry. “I was supposed to go overseas to further my studies but my father changed his mind. He wanted me to continue with his business.” It will never be known if it was paternal instinct or a premonition of some kind that prompted this sudden change of heart, but two years after Lim joined the company his father passed away. As the only and eldest son, the responsibility of providing for his mother and three younger sisters landed firmly on his 20-year old shoulders.

“My father was involved in many different industrial businesses including plastic trading. He had asked me to choose which I thought was most suitable for myself. So that’s how I got started in the business. This was in 1978 and all my friends had left Penang for the UK, Australia and Europe. Although I was upset I couldn’t join them, I promised myself to achieve my goal of owning my own home, my own car and my own career before they returned in four years, “ he remembers.

It was a goal he achieved through hard work and the support of friends. “I was very lucky as many of my father’s friends and business associates, even in Singapore, came forward to help me. This helped me expand my network further and from that I ventured into trading.”

Twelve years later, Lim would be setting up his own trading company with a group of friends but it was also important for him to build up his own brand. In 1993 he joined forces with ACME a public listed company in Singapore to set up Arita Plastics Industries (M) Sdn Bhd.  Starting out on his own, the business was pretty much a one-man show until his wife Datin Peggy who was working for a multinational company at that time, decided to help him out. “That was how we met actually,” she smiles at the recollection. “He was doing everything on his own – the accounts, delivery, clerical, everything! He was very hardworking so I thought “why not” and joined him as his very first General Clerk.”

Growing the business from the ground up was a challenge that would soon take root and flourish. Taking heed of then Prime Minister of Malaysia, Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s ‘look east’ policy, Lim approached the most prominent pioneer in Japan’s manufacturing industry, Asahi Kosei to be his original equipment manufacturer (OEM) partner.

“This was my vision – to always keep up with the ‘big brothers’ in the market such as Japan and Taiwan. At that time, Malaysia was still behind by 10 years. In my business I was selling products by brands from Taiwan, Japan and Korea. My father had once told me that if I wanted to be a pioneer in this industry, I would have to create my own products.”

But Lim did not rely solely on emulating the eastern business modal. Demonstrating a competitive edge, he also approached a top US based chemical company. “I explained to them that the Asia Pacific region was a growing market, offered to be the OEM partner for them.” Through his exposure to both manufacturing worlds he was able to identify the different approaches, combining the two technologies to create his own.

“Now I am one of the pioneers in the Extruded Plastic Sheet technology in Malaysia,” he states with deserving pride. It is a claim validated by the many awards and recognitions his company Arita Plastics Industries (M) Sdn Bhd, has received over the years – the most recent one being the Pinnacle International Excellence (PIE) Award 2014 for Manufacturing. The national level trophy is awarded to Malaysian organisations that have established their brand within the country and are respected as leading names in their industries.

It is an admirable feat considering Lim did not have the opportunity to gain academic knowledge in the field. “I’m not a technical guy,” he admits. “I’m a marketer. I love to talk and communicate with other people. That’s why I have many friends.”

And it is this pool of friends that he calls on to support his charitable efforts, one of them being the Joyful Penang Concert which raises funds for charity and non-governmental organisations. The 3-hour concert with a twist is the brainchild of Lim, who was inspired by a friend’s suggestion that he organise one for charity. “Instead of celebrity performers, we approach all the ministers, Datuks and Datins, the rich and famous to perform in this concert; singing, part of the band and acting to raise funds for charities. In 2011, our first year we raised more than RM550,000!” he claims proudly. “It’s not easy to get everyone together especially the ministers and CEOs, but they are all equally committed and we start weekly rehearsals at least 3 months ahead.”

The concert was such a success that it made headlines in the local news. Whilst talking about his philanthropic projects, he becomes more animated and eager, pulling out photos of previous events from his mobile phone. It is clear that these activities are very close to his heart. He is also responsible for organising the biggest food fair in Penang, the Harmony Charity Food Fair, which is endorsed by the state government. “I’ve been the Organising Chairman for more than seven years and every year we raise more than RM200,000 which is divided between 20 beneficiaries including old folks homes, orphanages and the Red Crescent Penang.”

There is no doubt that these extra activities make Lim even more of a busy man but he doesn’t see it as an additional burden. ”This is something we have to do. It is not work, it is helping people and contributing to their welfare.” EZ_36 Alvin Lim2

Of Diamonds & Pearls

EZ36_Cover_PearlLee Sze Suen
Managing Director of SUEN Jewellers

EZ catches up with the reclusive entrepreneur who has been creating subtle waves within the fashion industry with her diamond jewellery boutique in Bangsar.

There are times in one’s life when the path set is often not the path taken. Likewise for Lee Sze Suen who practiced law for a year before fate introduced her to the diamond business. “I actually think that education is all about the development of the mind, development of analytical skills,” she muses during a quick chat at her boutique. “I think studying law has helped me with the business – being able to spot real issues and attack it and find the best solutions.”

Starting out as partner in the upmarket The Carat Club in 1997, Lee decided to venture on her own after the business unravelled three years later. SUEN Jewellers was founded in 2010 and officially opened its doors to the eager public in early 2011. Located in the prestigious neighbourhood of Bangsar, the SUEN brand, which is an evolution from The Carat Club, now caters to the astute taste and lifestyle of the contemporary consumer.

“When I launched SUEN, it was actually built on the corner stone of style and quality. I’m always trying to find new, interesting styles and quality. Basically that’s the benchmark that we set,” says Lee who makes personalised service a priority in dealing with customers. “We are a lot more customer-centric and aim to be recognised for creating exceptional and remarkable pieces of jewellery.”

Although Lee doesn’t design the pieces herself, she is constantly inspired by new ideas and keeps tabs with the creative views and works of some of the most creative minds in fashion, furniture and forms. “I can’t cut off sketch reasonably well, but I give a lot of input in terms of influences and design direction.”

Taking a stroll through the bright and spacious showroom, it’s clear that her taste for modern elegance is not confined to craftsmanship. The space which occupies three bungalow lots houses different galleries within which the sparkling gems take centre stage in polished glass cabinets.

The Love Diamond boutique is a particular favourite for couples looking to acquire a bespoke piece for their special day. Here wedding bands are customised to the customer’s preferences without compromising the brilliance of the diamonds.

“In diamond cutting, it is always yield versus profits. To get a better cut obviously you discard a bit more but then the brilliance is different, the brilliance speaks for itself,” explains Lee who admits that her choice of diamond cut makes the stones slightly more expensive. “It is very interesting because when we first started, some people who understood diamonds didn’t think we could survive. Because obviously, when we offer better quality we are slightly more expensive than others. But I think we have carved a niche for ourselves and people can see the differences in quality for themselves.”

Four years later, the SUEN brand is slowly but surely making a name for itself within the local and international scene. “We find a lot of jewellers knocking at our door – French jewellers, Italian jewellers – but we are fairly picky about whom we select,” says Lee who currently carries the Lalique, Daum and Hodel brands in her boutique. Lee’s vision for fine craftsmanship has also led to the commissioning of New York based Malaysian artist Eng Tay to create a signature design for the brand, which was later turned into a limited edition jewellery piece.

With its emphasis on simple, classic jewellery SUEN offers a wide range that encompasses diamond solitaire rings, eternity rings, varying styles of diamond earrings, tennis bracelets and Riviera necklaces. The gallery also houses the full works of more elaborate ready-made jewellery in diamonds, pearls, rubies, sapphires, coloured gemstones and jade.

The pearl collections by Hodel are a particular draw as SUEN is one of the very few dealers who carry the exclusive brand. The signature line features Baroque necklaces, gold-dyed pearls and pearl rings in diamond encrusted settings.

Needless to say the boutique keeps Lee very busy and any reason to travel whether it’s for work or leisure is a welcome respite from the demands of the store. “I enjoy long distance travelling. I find that in that quite space, I’m able to actually reflect on work a lot.” And as a mother of three, the juggling of work and home life does not come without its claims. “I think my challenge is always trying to find that balance between work and children. But I always put my children first. For example, I can be serving customers and I may not take calls from other people but whenever it’s my children I will pick up the phone.”

The self-confessed workaholic admits that she hardly has time for other pursuits and this could account for the low profile and minimal publicity. “I generally avoid frivolous talk and I just think don’t think it is necessary to have too much publicity. I like my privacy,” she muses before continuing with a laugh. “Actually I spend a lot of time working, in the evening sometimes I’ll be online with suppliers from New York and friends. Otherwise I play some tennis, go to the gym or start planning my next holiday destination.”



CURATOR of creativity

Richard Koh
Founder of Richard Koh Fine Art

As the gallery’s 10th year anniversary approaches, founder Richard Koh speaks to EZ about nurturing talent, promoting contemporary art and the developing art industry in Asia.  

Operating private gallery spaces in Kuala Lumpur and Singapore, Richard Koh Fine Art has not only been a platform for the viewing of pioneer works, it also serves to provide emerging artists access to a wider audience.

“It is a gallery that nurtures young contemporary artists. We promote them wherever we can,” explains Koh who with over 20 years of experience, is a valued resource for many of the region’s important private and public collections. “These are young, up and coming artists who have never had any exposure or opportunity to show their work but who are very good.”

Recently four Malaysian artists, who under the auspices of Richard Koh Fine Art were selected for the recent “Arts KL – Melbourne 2014” exhibition in Australia. The creations of Fendy Zakri, Haffendi Anuar, Hasanul Isyraf and Yeoh Choo Kuan are inspired by current events and communicate their ideas through abstract expressionism and reinvented images. It is progressive talents such as these that Koh is eager to discover and promote to the world.

Starting with Malaysian artists, it wasn’t long before his patronage extended to Southeast Asian artists and beyond. Koh often travels to discover new talent, keeping his eyes peeled for someone with the ‘it’ factor and has journeyed as far as the Middle East and South America. “At one stage there were more foreign artists than Malaysians”. This wasn’t so much the lack of home grown talent as the lack of new material produced by local artists. “Malaysian art is still the same in a sense, they are still painting the same thing but there is a new interest for a lot of  people,” Koh observes giving credence to developing interest in art collection which has created a demand for new ideas and techniques.

EZ36_Cover_Richard2It is certainly a very different scene from what it was about 10 years ago when art was seen as a privilege for the more astute section of society. Now with increasing accessibility through mainstream galleries and art shows, the world of art is opening up to the general public especially here in Asia. “Malaysia art is starting to have attraction. People are interested to buy real works of art, you know, for their homes and to collect or to simply enjoy it.”

The evolution within the art industry in Asia is certainly escalating especially with the emergence of auction houses, and there is some apprehension that this could turn into a double-edged sword. “The art scene is very interesting in that sense that they are developing. At the moment, in the Malaysian art scene there are more investors than collectors, so maybe in a way it is not as healthy as it should be for the artist to actually have a chance to develop,” says Koh who does not subscribe to the rules of economy where art is concerned. “When it is market driven then basically the art is done for the consumer. (But) art is a recording of history in many ways, so it must come from heart and not from the market proven perspective.”

The market is certainly buzzing here in Asia, although in Koh’s opinion this is not an indication for everyone to go out and buy art. “I think anytime is a time to buy art. A market is a market, you know. The only difference is with Asia, people are beginning to collect art. So the awareness of art is there now. In the west it’s been around longer, so it is a slightly more mature market compared to us.” When asked if this could potentially kill the market, Koh disagrees. “You need the auction houses, to generate interest you know. Malaysia never really had a secondary market till the auction houses came about but it has changed slightly because it is no longer about the secondary market.”

Although art is not regarded as an asset, Koh admits that there is a tendency to treat it like stock in the share market which is bought and sold for the sake of making a quick buck. “In many ways the auction houses have given the public awareness of art, but on the other hand it has also created, in strange way a very speculative market for people to play in.”

His advice to the public eager to bank in on this trend is to be exposed to the art scene as much as possible and do their research to be better informed about their potential purchases. “I think one needs to understand and know what they are buying art for – whether for pleasure, to decorate a house, investment. And before you buy, visit as many shows and galleries or museum as possible to help you understand what you really, really like.”

Koh is also keen to point out that the price of art is not necessarily an indication of its quality or worth. “Sometimes the cheapest piece art is something that you like the most and gives you the most pleasure. It may not go up with the price, it doesn’t matter but you enjoy it. And that’s special thing about art.”