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Regal Entrepreneurial Spirit
When Kenneth Yam dropped out of high school at 17, his prospects seemed bleak. His parents persuaded the owner of an Indian trading company, which they worked with, to offer him a job as a messenger, and he found himself thrown in at the deep-end of working life of 1960s Hong Kong.
"Every morning I needed to clean the office and desks, then make coffee for the boss, and then by eleven go to the bank. In the afternoon I had to go to the shipping companies to get their receipts for shipping orders, then run back to the office to pack sample orders for the Middle East and West Africa. After that I'd deliver rolls of fabric," he recalled. "Most days, I wouldn't finish work until midnight, but I didn't mind, I was grateful to the boss for giving me a chance."
Today, Mr Yam is a model of the Hong Kong entrepreneurial spirit, and proof of how determination and hard work can be rewarded with success for those willing to try. As Managing Director of Regal Enterprises Ltd, his company manufactures baby products for the world's top baby products brands, a testament to his fanaticism for quality and innovation.
But the road to success wasn't easy. The young Mr Yam used to work six days a week as a messenger, and as a part-time shop assistant on his day off at Yung Kee barbecue meats. Three years of working 16-hour days and ambition for greater things made him scour the classifieds in the South China Morning Post looking for a new job, any job. He applied to TVB, Union Carbide, and even the Trade Development Council, but due to his lack of education, all of his applications were ignored.
Eventually, a company in Hung Hom manufacturing radios employed him to work in its parts procurement department. "I was lucky enough to be employed by a big company because I had a good name as a workaholic. I never counted the hours, just worked until midnight. Eventually this helped my prospects even though I never received a good education," he said.
His reputation as a grafter helped him secure a job at a company making television sets and TV games, and later with radio manufacturer Soundic Electronic in 1977 as sales and marketing manager. Here, his career took off, as he helped the company transform its business from radios to TV games and secured large orders for the new line from Europe. His boss, delighted with turning the company round, promoted him to a director and gave him a 5% share in the company.
By 1982, the company's annual turnover had grown from HK$28 million to HK$120 million. But it wasn't all good news. Mr Yam was working practically day and night at the company, until one day a friend forced him to think of life out of the office.
"A friend said I would go crazy if I continued to work such long hours, so I asked him, if I don't work, what else can I do? So he introduced me to the Lions Club, which I loved and have been actively involved with its activities ever since," Mr Yam said.
Despite the company's impressive growth, the owners began to overstretch themselves, which led to financial difficulties.
"In 1985 the bank of the company asked me to sign a personal guarantee for HK$15 million for a loan. I only had a 5% share and my annual salary then was around HK$700,000. How could I give such a guarantee? So I said no way," he said.
He left the company and started up a little trading company operating out of a 300 square foot unit in North Point with his savings. Again, his reputation for hard work and quality easily persuaded his old customers to throw some business his way.
"I was very, very lucky in the first year and managed to get a turnover of HK$18 million. The next year, one of my Lions friends who made lady purses for Kmart needed to put a calculator in the purse, and asked me to source suitable items for him. Although the cost per piece was very low, I shipped over 2 million pieces which gave me a very good second year."
At the end of 1987, he got a call from an old customer that used to buy TV games and clock radios from his former companies. This time, he was looking to produce baby monitors for the U.K. chain store Boots.
"He sent me a mock up, which was quite easy to produce with my experience in electronics. I said it was similar to walkie-talkie technology, but of course had to be very reliable as it was to monitor a baby. That was my first entry into baby monitors and the start of my specialization into baby products," he said.
Starting out doing OEM for well-know baby brands around the world, Mr Yam said, "I was like the chef locked in the kitchen, whatever they wanted I would cook for them."
Business was rosy, but in the early 1990s, his largest customer was taken over by Tiger, and in one day he lost 70% of his business as the merger resulted in them using their other supplier.
Undeterred, he looked to design his own products, from bottle sterilizers, to breast pumps, to educational toys, and looked for ways to improve upon existing products on the market to add value.
His efforts were rewarded in 1995 with the launch of his own brand, Care, which has won awards for its designs. Today, his products are sold in over 50 countries around the world, often under leading baby brands using his designs.
His experience as a salesman gave him a taste of how dominant brands often have little time for small fry, but Mr Yam tries to help out small entrepreneurs just starting out. Instead of insisting that they place minimum orders of each product, he allows them to select a container-load of mixed items from his Care inventory, and in some cases finances aspiring businesses up to HK$3 million in stock credit to give them a leg up.
"If a customer from Africa, or East Europe contacts me, they are often small guys so I can help them consolidate a container of various Care branded items -- sterilizers, monitors, breast pumps, and so on -- from our stock inventory. This is flexible for them because they don't need to pay to have the products safety certified, bar coding, graphic design, etc, because we have done all that already," he said. "So it is quite flexible for small customers to get started doing business with us."
Over the years, we have helped businesses overcome adversity and thrive locally, in Mainland China and internationally.
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