|Entrepreneur Peter Koh always focuses on leading by example, because he believes that actions resonate more powerfully than words.
“Your titles may gain you some form of respect, but people don’t follow your title, they follow courage,” said the Chief Executive Officer of SGX-listed food technology company Oceanus Group Ltd.
“They follow a leader who will lead them and show them the path that is made of purpose.”
And it was this pursuit of purpose - coupled with a leap of faith - that led Koh to join Oceanus as its CEO in December 2014, when the company was close to rock bottom.
“At that time, Oceanus was on the brink of winding up after losing its entire abalone farm due to bad weather; it was on the path of defaulting on a debt of S$94 million. So why did I choose to join Oceanus at such a turbulent time? I guess it’s faith,” Koh recalled.
|“To me, it was never a job, but a mission in life. I took up the challenge in December 2014, with a simple contract that had no upside incentives, but all the responsibilities of a listed company CEO. That remains to this day.”
-- CEO Peter Koh
“I wasn’t looking for a job then, I was looking to do something of purpose in life. Oceanus then had close to 10,000 shareholders, with the majority in their golden years. Many were in tears at the thought of losing their life savings, and I told myself that if I could turn the company around, it would bring hope to all these people.”
This was what drove Koh to step up when few believed the company stood a chance. “To me, it was never a job, but a mission in life. I took up the challenge in December 2014, with a simple contract that had no upside incentives, but all the responsibilities of a listed company CEO. That remains to this day,” he added.
Oceanus was placed on the SGX watch-list in December 2015, and was granted four extensions to exit that list. The Group finally did so after nearly six years, in September 2021.
It was a long and arduous journey back to profitability for the debt-ridden firm. “I started by staying in the abalone farm in China, living at ground zero so as to better understand the situation, and come to grips with the actual problems,” Koh recounted.
“I then formulated a strategy for the company that comprised three phases, with each phase spanning three years - the Clean Up, the Build Up and the Tech Up. My focus in the first three years was getting Oceanus out of insolvency.”
In recognition of his efforts and pivotal role in the Group’s successful restructuring, Koh was conferred the Outstanding CEO Award by Influential Brands in 2018.
“The biggest highlight for me was when my shareholders hugged me and uttered a simple “Thank you” with tears rolling down their cheeks, after we successfully completed our first three-year plan to clean up the company,” he recalled.
Koh, 56, has more than three decades of experience across multiple industries, including media, branding, manufacturing and environmental sustainability.
His past and present directorships include PT Kertas Blabak, Indonesia’s fourth-largest recycled paper mill, Eagle Coin, a joint venture with China’s largest food manufacturer and state-owned enterprise, as well as Biolidics Ltd, a SGX-listed developer of medical devices. He was also appointed Investment Advisor to the Sino-Indian Conglomerate Ramky-Revo for their overseas investments.
An active champion of social causes, Koh was conferred the Public Service Medal in 2014.
Listed on SGX Mainboard since May 2008, Oceanus has transformed from a distressed company into a multi-product, multi-country organisation today, with a diverse business portfolio spanning Food Production, Distribution, Services and Innovation.
“Since 2018, we’ve been committed to growing our business beyond a “one product, one country” scope, focusing on four pillars of growth - Food Production, Distribution, Services and Innovation,” Koh noted.
“Over the years, Oceanus seamlessly transformed and diversified with these four pillars, creating multiple revenue streams for long-term sustainable growth. Our international footprint has expanded beyond Singapore and China, to a total of 13 offices in six countries. Now that we are on firmer footing, I will expect all these pillars to continue expanding at a faster pace.”
Notwithstanding the devastating effects of COVID-19, Oceanus achieved its highest-ever turnover since listing in 2020. “This is testament to the success of our strategic diversification beyond aquaculture since 2018, and our business transformation,” Koh pointed out.
“Through our four synergistic pillars, we’re able to reap cross-selling opportunities. These highly scalable business segments also create new revenue streams along the aquaculture and FMCG value chain, allowing us to enjoy economies of scale with long-term revenue visibility.”
Opportunity in Crisis
Looking ahead, the next leg of growth lies in the Group’s Tech Up phase. “As we embark on our digital transformation, we’re confident we’ll be able to enhance working synergies across our business pillars through technology,” Koh said.
“I am now most excited about projects in the pipeline that will further cement Oceanus as a key global food security contributor, and also an important player in the e-commerce space. We expect these plans to come to fruition within the next two to three years,” he added.
In November 2020, Oceanus unveiled plans to establish a foodtech hub in Hainan, China. The hub will leverage vertical farming technology, supplied by a deep-tech company, Universal Aquaculture, in which Oceanus has invested an undisclosed amount.
Oceanus also plans to set up a blockchain-based digital food exchange to connect producers, distributors and retailers, in a bid to beef up food security.
Koh believes there could be no clearer wake-up call for this urgent and critical issue than the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I'm a strong advocate of what Winston Churchill said, “You never waste a crisis”. The pandemic has underscored the importance of local food production, not only in Singapore, but globally,” he said.
“In 2020, despite production levels remaining the same, every country struggled with food security, as logistics and distribution networks were badly affected. Looking at the current world situation, food technology is no longer an aspiration - to me, it has become a necessity.”
At the same time, finding the right talent - people who share the Group’s vision - is Koh’s biggest challenge.
“We’re looking at tech companies, both in Singapore and in the region, which we can acquire and expand with. The target company will then not only service Oceanus’ needs, but also its external customers. This has been in line with our strategy since 2018.”
|Another imperative is ensuring proper corporate governance within the Group. “Especially coming from our turbulent history, we have a lot to prove to our stakeholders and partners that Oceanus is now an organisation that emphasises transparency, credibility and accountability,” Koh noted.
“We started working on this by first ensuring that the board comprises various members that are not only astute in their roles, but also with a heart to drive Oceanus to greater heights. Looking at recent additions to our board, it’s evident that we’re well on that path.”
Between 2018 and 2020, Oceanus added four Independent, Non-Executive Directors to its Board – Edward Loy, Eugen Chua, Yaacob Bin Ibrahim and Zahidi bin Abdul Rahman.
For Koh, even when he is out of the office, his mind is constantly occupied with the business - new ways to challenge his team, fresh strategies to drive growth, or novel ways to solve existing problems.
“Unfortunately, this constant churning of ideas goes late into the night. Since joining Oceanus, sleep has become a luxury for me. My concern is that 24 hours to a day is just not enough!” he said with a laugh.
“That’s because at the end of the day, one should live without regrets - we only have one life, unlike cats!”
Oceanus Group Ltd
Listed on SGX Mainboard since May 2008, food tech company Oceanus has a diverse business portfolio spanning Food Production, Distribution, Services and Innovation. With the mission of building sustainability today for the security of tomorrow, Oceanus is digitalising its entire business model, which will drive supply chain innovation to strengthen food security.
The company website is: oceanus.com.sg
Click here for the company's StockFacts page.
For the six months ended 30 June 2021 financial results, click here.
About kopi-C: the Company brew
Text: Jennifer Tan-Stanisic
Photo: Company file
kopi-C is a regular column on the SGX Research website that features C-level executives of leading companies listed on Singapore Exchange. These interviews are profiles of senior management aimed at helping investors better understand the individuals who run these corporations.
For previous editions of kopi-C: the Company brew, please click here.