Datuk (Dr) Kelvin Tan spent his childhood days in the small township of Bagan Datoh, in the state of Perak, where the main economic activity was fishing and the cultivation of coconut. It was a simple life where one could easily slip into contentment but Kelvin’s drive for a better life kept him less than satisfied.
In 1986, at the age of 28, he took the bold step of uprooting himself from Bagan Datoh in Peninsular Malaysia to Tawau, Sabah. Here he began the establishment of TSH Resources as a key local commodity player. Over the years, Kelvin transformed the company into a leading efficient regional oil palm plantation player with both upstream and downstream activities. Today, Kelvin has 28 years’ experience in the industry and TSH Resources is a multi-billion ringgit corporation.
The Group has achieved a total oil palm landbank in Malaysia and Indonesia of approximately 125,000ha with many palm oil mills as well as refineries. Since 15 years ago, due to Kelvin’s desire to grow the business and also scarcity of available land in Sabah, he ventured into another uncharted territory, Indonesia, to expand TSH’s business in oil palm plantation. Many would have argued for caution but his desire to expand drove him ahead. The landbank is located in different parts of Kalimantan and Sumatera of Indonesia. Despite headwinds and great challenges, the young Kelvin was unfazed. His early acquisitions of good and strategic lands have proven to be wise and successful investments. To sustain long-term growth, he realized the necessity of creating a good and systematic management platform. Starting a training school was the first step and he went on to develop a management team to sustain his aspirations of increasing TSH’s plantation footprint in the region. With his steely determination, TSH has achieved great success in its regional expansion. In 2013, Maybank stamped its recognition and approval when it ranked TSH as having ‘The Best Crude Palm Oil (CPO) Yield in 2013’.
Kelvin’s leadership and astute business acumen paved the growth of The Group to current overall staff strength of approximately 14,500 employees, top line growth to RM1 billion and established the foundation for further growth.
Owing to Kelvin’s leadership and stewardship, the group has one of the youngest age profile of oil palm plantation in Malaysia, setting the stage for continuity of growth in years to come. In year 2013, TSH was awarded the Best Performing Stock by The Edge Billion Ringgit Club Awards and this was followed by the Highest Profit Growth Company award in 2014. These awards are again a testament to Kelvin’s farsighted business model.
It was upon the success in Sabah and Indonesia that he was tasked with the job of turning around Innoprise Plantations Berhad. He was made the Managing Director in year 2006. Innoprise was once a struggling enterprise and today it is completely well planted and a profitable outfit.
Kelvin’s business experience is not only limited to regional but also international. He was instrumental in the listing of Ekowood International Berhad on Malaysia’s Main Board in 2004. Ekowood has offices in Luxembourg, Spain, China and USA today. The brand name is well-recognized internationally despite its Malaysian origins. Kelvin believes in creating value and branding; being awarded the best Engineered Hardwood Floor in UK in 2002 showed he was on the right path. Other accolades include Superbrand Status 2005, Best Brands Hardwood Flooring 2007- 2008 and Consumer Hardwood Flooring 2013-2014 from The BrandLaureate. His local, regional and international success has won him The Brand Icon Leadership Award by The BrandLaureate Premier, 2014.
Today, Kelvin is the Chairman of two public companies – TSH Resources Berhad, Ekowood International Berhad and Managing Director of Innoprise Plantations Berhad.
Kelvin has done his fair share of service to the industry and nation. At the age of 40, he was appointed by the Ministry of Plantation Industries and Commodities as Chairman of the Malaysia Cocoa Board, a federal statutory research and development agency, for eight years from 1997 to 2004. During his tenure, the cocoa industry made a great shift from a plantation-based to an industrial-based. He encouraged further downstream processing to create more economic spinoffs, employment and value to the industry.
While Kelvin has grown his business, he has never forgotten the importance of making a positive difference in employees’ lives – be it through the provision of housing, medical, education or social facilities. Moreover, he has always believed in enabling his employees to tap as well as grow their potential. Kelvin is always grateful to the people who have played a role in his success, and encourages his staff to grow professionally as well as personally. Kelvin believes in channeling his employees’ productivity and passion by engaging his team’s energy and skills. As the business expands, he believes that the combination of sound business relationships and technical skills will set the platform for continuity of growth for TSH.
A similar balance can be seen in the Group’s business activities too – Kelvin believes that the environment and bio-diversity can always be improved while still maintaining a strong economic performance. The Group’s Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) activities focus on developing the local communities in which it operates. It funds social and educational infrastructure in these areas while also providing business opportunities. Kelvin’s emphasis is on the sustainability of communities.
Recently, he has also worked with Sabah State Forestry to regazette 100,000 acres out of 300,000 acres in its Forest Management Unit to be permanently conserved for biodiversity and research purposes. He was conferred an Honorary Doctorate in Philosophy (Agroforestry) by the University of Malaysia Sabah in year 2006 as recognition of his contribution in this often-neglected area.
He has a chair in University of Malaysia Sabah Forestry Faculty to carry out biodiversity and environmental studies and research. Many of his valuable inputs have contributed to success of various projects.
Staying positive is an important attribute for one’s well being and success, according to Kelvin. Being constantly optimistic and having a positive attitude will allow us to become more devoted to our goals. Not forgetting that staying positive is good for our mental and physical health and the good vibes will be passed to those around us.
With a positive attitude, one will develop strong self-esteem which is an important attribute that leads to peak performance. He further adds that liking and respecting oneself are fundamental principles of success and happiness and it is vital to feel fully alive, as it will automatically allow us to determine our values, strive for mastery and know what you want.
Having spent nearly three decades in building the business, Kelvin is grateful to the people who have played a role in his success. They have shed light on a path that he acknowledges he would not have been able to walk alone. Even though he has achieved certain important milestones in his life, success for Kelvin is always a constant journey.
Leadership is not just about what you do, but how you inspire, encourage and empower others to do with trust. Therefore, it is always important for a leader to take ownership of what they say and practice what they preach.
Datuk (Dr) Kelvin Tan is a winner of the Asia Pacific Entrepreneurship Awards 2015 Malaysia – Special Achievement Award. The Awards were held on 27th August 2015 at InterContinental Hotel, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.