Eric Lew is the Executive Director of Wong Fong Industries, a leading provider of land transport engineering solutions and systems with a presence in Singapore, Malaysia, Myanmar and China. He also helped start Wong Fong Research & Innovation Centre (WFRIC).
In the short span of 5 years, Eric helped inject a can-do spirit in his family business, and listed the company on SGX in 2016. Today, he shares his insights and journey with us.
What were some motivations for joining the family business?
There was always an obligation to help my dad and uncle, who were working so hard. It was really out of the feeling that I could contribute and make things easier for them.
What difficulties did you face in trying to convince them to digitalize?
The generation gap poses a real challenge especially in family businesses, as the generations were brought up differently resulting in different opinions and approaches. The way to overcome these differences would be to present your ideas in a professional and logical way, and debate it bearing in mind our common objectives.
It is also important to be respectful of the core business. Don’t try to change it, but look at evolving and innovating from the core business model. The predecessors have taken much pain to build that business and this needs to be respected even as we are looking to convince them on new ideas.
What convinced you to digitalize or implement tech solutions in your business?
This was a natural progression for me, also because it is quite difficult to define ‘digitalization’. Implementing solutions like Customer Relationship Management (CRM), being active on social media, and internet marketing came naturally and gradually. Of course, this process has potential to be improved but this is always a work in progress.
What drove you to start the Research and Innovation arm of your business?
We SMEs are often stuck in a reactive stance. Often we are waiting for government organizations to take the lead in stimulating the market by awarding more contracts or grants; much like waiting for durians to fall from the tree. So with Research & Innovation, we are looking to formulate a preemptive stance, and take a more aggressive approach to growing our business. Looking at how fast technology, the economy and the business environment are changing, I think we needed to be less reactive and more proactive.
How have these implementations raised the profile of your company?
We took a rather audacious step but the true motivation was to inspire people. Firstly for our own company to have the confidence to make these leaps in innovation, but also to inspire other Singaporeans to do the same.
It is difficult to measure it in terms of dollars and cents as the value is intrinsic. Besides being known as a brand that can-do and will-do, the knowledge from the research and development work put in can be extended and applied to other areas and products as well. These will eventually bear fruits in time to come.
What would you like to see more of in the tech and digital space, in relation to SME business transformation and digitalization?
I believe strongly in the cross pollination of ideas. Things like design thinking and futuristic mindsets can be applied to traditional businesses. I think there is more room for cross disciplinary collaboration. Many industries are already overlapping, and initiatives that bring different forms of expertise together in collaborative efforts will be successful. At this rate of change, it is not business as usual anymore, SMEs have to consult the right experts and make the necessary changes.
What advice do you have for SME owners who are looking to digitalize?
It is good to digitalize, so as to keep up, but SMEs must be careful not to invest too aggressively or take too large a risk in trying to implement new solutions without first understanding how these impact overall business and process flows. For example: don’t implement in silos, but take in the big picture instead. There must be a right balance.