ONE DAY some three months ago, Boyd Au and his wife Lisa went to their church pastor with an unusual donation: a cheque for a six-figure sum.
It amounted to 10% of what he had just received from selling all his shares in Enzer, the SGX-listed company whose core business used to be the distribution of electronic products.
Boyd made his donation without any fanfare and the pastor later told the congregation at Trinity Christian Centre in Adam Road about it without divulging his name.
Giving to his church had increasingly become a dominant theme in his life. The call to the highest form of giving, as it were, came about a few years ago when a pastor asked him: “If God called, would you give up your work to serve Him?”
Boyd was taken aback initially but the seed was sown in his heart. He was further moved when he read a best-seller, Half Time, which showed how people can transform the second-half of their lives into a more satisfying – and significant – time, especially if they have already achieved ample financial resources and do not have to work for money anymore.
Last year, an inspired Boyd decided to step down as CEO of Enzer, the company he founded 23 years ago, in order to devote more time to the church. He stayed on as executive chairman, a post he vacated three months ago when he sold his interest in the company.
Today at the age of 56, even as Boyd charts a new course in his life, Enzer too is being directed onto a different path by its new owners. Technology and satellite communications businesses are being acquired, and the old electronics business - which was rated a Singapore Superbrand in each of the past three years - being streamlined.
Survival lessons in Salvation Army home
From his bungalow home in Bukit Timah where he spends much of his time these days, Boyd can reflect with satisfaction on his business and personal success.
Some of the drive and street-smarts that contributed to his success can be traced back to his days in a Salvation Army home among about 90 boys who were referred there by social workers or the police.
At the age of six, Boyd was placed in the home in Pasir Panjang – he later moved to the one in Newton - after his parents divorced and his mother went to a rubber plantation in Malaysia to work as a cook.
“In the six years I stayed there, my parents never came to see me. Every month, parents of other boys would take them home and they would return with goodies. A very low point for me was during Chinese New Year, when everyone went home, except me,” recalls Boyd over tim-sum lunch at The Cathay Restaurant in Handy Road.
“That’s what drove me to be an entrepreneur. I was poor, and nobody respected me. I wanted to make it in life.”
Among the boys in the home he was not exactly held in awe. He was somewhere in the middle of a hierarchy established through fights among the boys and behind the backs of the home’s supervisors. The high-ranking boys were accorded privileges by other boys, who would reserve thick slices of bread slapped with lots of kaya during breakfast for them, for example.
During Christmas, after gifts donated by members of the public had been distributed to the boys, the top-ranking ones would lay claim to the choice ones.
Boyd moved out of the home when an aunt agreed to take him into home, an attap house in a village in Tiong Baru. After Secondary 4, he left for national service.
From technician to MBA achiever
His first job was as a technician. After a series of higher jobs, he co-founded Enzer with $5,000 in 1984 when he was 33. The company began life as a trader of electronic components before embarking in 1998 to develop its own brand of consumer electronics goods such as telephones and DVD home theatre systems, and penetrated regional markets.
Along the way, Boyd sought to beef up his education, obtaining a Diploma in Personnel Management in 1981 from the Singapore Institute of Management and a Diploma in Industrial Management in 1983 from Institute of Industrial Management.
Not content with that, he pursued a Masters in Business Administration and achieved it from the University of Hull in 1996.
Describing himself as a Sunday Christian during all those years, he says his wife, Lisa, a vice-president for marketing and communications in a MNC, regained her own religious fervour and prayed for him. Shortly, about four years ago, he was moved by the Holy Spirit to kneel down and pray.
“It was around 4.30 am, and I was in the bathroom. I knelt down, and I cried. I cried like a baby. When I opened my eyes, it must have been some 45 minutes later,” says Boyd. As his “walk with God” became closer, Boyd decided to quit Enzer.
Best business lessons
Asked to share some management lessons he had gleaned, he says: “Pick the right business model - one with growth, profitability and, most important of all, cashflow.”
He learnt the hard way about the importance of cashflow: Enzer’s cashflow was bad, as it could be as long as seven months before the company saw its money back.
First off, it would place orders with a Chinese factory using a letter of credit. The goods took 2 months to be made and another 2 weeks to be shipped to Singapore, where they might sit in a warehouse for a month. Then they are delivered to a customer, who will take 90 days to pay up.
“It’s far better to have a business where you collect cash and have no inventory,” says Boyd.
Along with a great business model, hiring good people is critical – but it’s a difficult challenge. “Senior management can perform well during interviews but once on board, they can fail to deliver. When they leave, they leave with the people they had brought in. The experience can be painful,” says Boyd, citing his own experience.
In motivating staff, it is not always money that works. For example, some may be motivated by the opportunity to run a segment of the business in China, as Boyd has encountered. “A change of environment can also help people achieve more.”
He now mentors his daughter, Claire, to be an entrepreneur after she left her marketing job with a major fast-moving consumer goods company. She is setting up a chain of about 15 fish-soup stalls, the first of which is at Blk 6, Tanjong Pagar Plaza.
The business is not all about making money but has a social objective of hiring disadvantaged people such as ex-convicts, and will channel part of the profits to church work.
It also will benefit old and lonely residents, who will receive dinner vouchers via grassroots organizations.
Claire, who also manages the family investment portfolio, reports to her father who, among other things, is a council member of Global Business Network Partners, a not-for-profit organization that provides mentoring and business coaching for Christian-owned or managed businesses.
His days now are largely filled with church-related work and all things spiritual. Even when he takes guitar lessons at a school in International Plaza, it is to sing songs of worship.
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