To achieve colossal of triumph, you need to put your heart and mind to that great work. But what else you need is to hang in there no matter how bad it gets. You need to continue doing what you do in a defined way, even though you are stuck between a rock and a hard place. And only then through the ages of nightmares, you will emerge as a winner. Among all the successful leaders who remained constant in their views, passion and dedication and gave all their efforts to make their dream come true, one is Derek Goh.
Fight from the Deep End of the Pool
Goh was among the ones whose life is a true rags to riches story. Juggling between work and studies to bring additional income for the family was a tough row to hoe. It was the time when he was thrown into the deep end of the pool, where one has to either sink or swim. But this early taste of hardship came with many life lessons, which later helped Derek shape his life and work philosophy. From a young age, he learned to be pragmatic and a opportunistic. He knew his strengths & weaknesses well and it always reminded him that he was in control of his life and could change his path anytime and in any shape he wanted. Derek was in his late teenage years, when he joined the Navy to serve the next eight years. During that time, he seized the opportunity for self-enhancement, and furthered his studies. There he earned an NTC certification and developed a passion for engineering and IT. After that, he left the Navy to start his own electronics businesses.
A Humble Beginning
After the Navy, he started trading electronic components. It was a humble beginning – one man, one telephone, and one fax machine located at the back of his wife’s florist shop. It was a solo-man operation: he was the salesman, delivery man, driver, manager and the boss. At that time, electronics manufacturing industry was growing rapidly in Singapore, and gradually his business began to flourish. His confidence was improved and it led him to establish Serial System in 1988. However, the early years of his startup were as difficult as his life back then, and there was no absolute certainty over the future. Life was never easy for Derek. He faced many challenges and obstacles in his path, but one thing kept him going – he was determined to succeed.
When Persistence Paid Off
Initially, Derek had no reputation nor backing, thus no supplier wanted to entertain him. He kept his rounds of approaching alive and the persistence paid off. Soon, he managed to win their trust as well as established a close rapport with them. Within the first year of inception, Serial System started to show revenue and the business grew. Serial System was later listed on the SESDAQ board of the Singapore Exchange in 1997 and was subsequently promoted to the Mainboard of the Singapore Exchange in July 2000. Being listed, provided Derek with funds for rapid expansion enabling them to widen their geographical coverage to even second- and third-tier cities in China. As a listed company, they also gained greater credibility among their customers and suppliers. Having more than 6,000 customers, Serial System is now the largest electronics distributor listed on the Singapore Stock Exchange and is among the leading companies in Asia for the distribution of electronic components.
When the Mistake Became a Lesson!
Although, Serial was growing rapidly, there came a mistake which became a learning lesson for Derek. As a part of Serial’s succession plan, Derek decided to step down from his position as CEO and became the Chairman. But it didn’t go according to the plan. Within 2 years, the company suffered huge financial losses and the revenue plunged from a high of S$200 million in 1998 to S$80 million in 2001. Serial lost about S$40 million in cash, which had taken Derek years to accumulate. “I knew that I had to take over the helm and restore the company that I had built with my sweat and blood. As Serial was already a listed company, I had to endure scrutiny from the media, pressure from the shareholders, and queries from our customers, suppliers, bankers and SGX. It was the lowest period in my life, but I never gave up. Serial was my baby, and I had to see this through. From this experience, I learn an important lesson – Never force a succession unless the candidate is adequately prepared and aligned with the company’s vision,” asserts Derek.
Wide as the Sky Customer Base
Today, Serial System has 53 offices and 13 warehouses across key Asian markets, to ensure maximum support provided to their customers. Serial System’s major suppliers include Texas Instruments, Broadcom Ltd, ON Semiconductor, Fairchild Semiconductor, SK Hynix, OSRAM Opto Semiconductors, TE Connectivity and Fingerprint. In Year 2014, Serial System entered a new chapter of growth by diversifying into the distribution of consumer products. It’s current portfolio of consumer products consists of household appliances and lifestyle goods, including camera accessories, printer accessories, timepieces, motherboards and hard-disk drives. Major suppliers of consumer products distributed by Serial System include Hewlett-Packard, Intel, Asus, Apple, Canon, Samsung, Advanced Micro Devices and Fossil.
Hiring, Training and Retaining Talented Staff
Every CEO needs to possess foresight and strategy, so they can able to make difficult decisions for the sake of long-term gains for the company – even if these extend beyond their core competencies or will result in temporary setbacks. One challenge that every company faces is the cultivation of their brand loyalty. Derek believes that a key part of this is hiring, training and retaining talented staff whose visions and values are in line with the company’s. “Companies such as Serial, which have a diverse international clientele, will also need to be mindful of new developments in the political sphere so as to mitigate any impact on corporate activities,” shares Derek.
Derek’s Advice for Young Entrepreneurs
“Identify and build on the unique selling points that you can offer to the masses, then tailor your approach to each client as needed. As more businesses in the region expand and/or go digital, it is also important to adopt a savvy approach to fund-raising in order to attract new partners and grow a respected global brand. Always ensure that you have strong internal structures in place to manage your company’s operational costs, so the business does not fail before getting off the ground.”
Awaiting Future of Glorious Days
Derek sees Serial as even further on its way to consolidating its position as a global leader in the distribution of semiconductors and other electronic components. In order to achieve this, Serial will stay abreast of technological trends so it can expand into high-value segments such as security and surveillance, mobile devices and enterprise cloud solutions.