At the age of 16, Mr Chu Sau Ben set an ambitious goal for himself which is to lead a publicly listed company. Today, he has achieved this and more.
As Chairman and CEO of Libra Group Limited, Mr Chu is leading a growing company listed on the Catalist Board of the Singapore Exchange, with strategic business units that operate in Mechanical and Electrical Engineering (M&E) Services; Manufacturing and sale of air- conditioning and mechanical ventilation ducts (ACMV) and trading of ACMV related products; and Building & Construction Solutions.
The eldest of eight children, Malaysian-born Mr Chu came to Singapore at the young age of 18 to support his family. It was tough finding a job, so Mr Chu took on odd jobs, eventually picking up valuable hands-on experience in various areas of ACMV components.
In 1997, Mr Chu founded Kin Xin Engineering Pte Ltd (Kin Xin Engineering) together with a few partners. Kin Xin began as a specialist in installing ACMV systems in buildings. At the time, the company had five staff, including Mr Chu, who was the operations manager.
The company progressively took on projects of increasing scale and value as a sub- contractor for both public and private sector customers. Projects awarded included the supply and installation of ACMV ductwork and refrigerant copper pipes for a condominium project at Rivervale Crescent and the supply and installation of ACMV ductwork and chilled water pipes at a water reclamation plant at Changi.
In 2005, Mr Chu was appointed as managing director. At the same time, the management team was strengthened and the company took on more significant projects such as ACMV projects at a government hospital at Outram Road. Mr Chu also identified the opportunity to expand into manufacturing of ACMV systems to provide a one-stop service to customers, giving rise to the incorporation of Libra Engineering Pte Ltd (Libra Engineering) in 2005. In 2007, Kin Xin Engineering began to expand into the supply and installation of fire alarms and fire protection systems, electrical systems as well as sanitary and plumbing systems.
In 2010, in preparation for the listing on the Singapore Exchange, Libra Group was incorporated as a holding company for Kin Xin Engineering and Libra Engineering. In 2011, Mr Chu’s childhood dream was fulfilled when Libra Group was listed on the Catalist Board of the Singapore Exchange.
Libra Group’s notable projects include M&E works at MND Office@Jurong East Gateway, One Canberra Executive Condominium, Sports Hub and Temasek Polytechnic East Wing.
After the listing, Mr Chu was appointed as Executive Chairman of the Group, leaving behind the Group’s strategic direction of the business operation to his CEO. However, the weak performance of the Group over two years had prompted him to return and he took over the helming of the Company
Mr Chu led a major restructuring of the company to raise productivity, reduce debt and brought in key management such as Chief Financial Officer Mr Alex Chua, Deputy Managing Director of Kin Xin Engineering Mr Deng Rong, General Manager of Kin Xin Engineering Mr Xu Rui Bing and Assistant General Manager of Libra Building Construction Pte Ltd Mr Du Yijun to support his efforts to turnaround the company.
Mr Chu also identified the opportunity to expand into Building & Construction services, which complements the existing core M&E and manufacturing businesses. Libra Group acquired main contractor Libra Building Construction Pte Ltd (formerly known as Ai-Build Pte Ltd) in 2013 and Cyber Builders Pte Ltd in 2015. According to Mr Chu, “We believe that by expanding to be an integrated building solutions provider, the Group is better positioned to deal with the challenges in the construction industry such as rising costs and labour shortage.”
Under his leadership, Libra Group posted record financial results in 2014, with revenue surging 102% to S$63.7 million and net profits up 922% to S$5.3 million. Over the year, Libra’s share price almost doubled to close at 20 cents as at 31 December 2014.
Despite his achievements, Mr Chu is striving to inject more growth into the company. Apart from eyeing regional expansion opportunities, Libra Group is also looking to diversify into new businesses. This will help to broaden the company’s revenue sources and improve its growth prospects while complementing its existing businesses. Mr Chu believes that this will be key to delivering sustainable growth given the challenges in the construction industry and limited market in Singapore.
On a personal level, Mr Chu aims to fund the building of schools and education-related initiatives for the less fortunate, as he believes in the importance of education. Mr Chu, himself, has taken time off his busy schedule to take up courses to ensure he is well- equipped to deal with the challenges in today’s business environment. In 2014, Mr Chu was accepted for a CEO training course at the prestigious Tsinghua University in Beijing, China.
Looking back, Mr Chu believes that his drive to succeed has allowed him to overcome the challenges at work and in life. His advice to aspiring entrepreneurs would be to have the perseverance and determination to succeed and to excel in everything they do.
Mr Chu considers his biggest achievement to date to be able to provide good jobs to his staff of close to 500 people. “The worth of a person is measured by the kind of footprints that he leaves in the hearts of the people around him.” A Buddhist, Mr Chu believes in giving back to society and cares about the well-being of his employees.
As Libra Group moves into its next stage of growth, Mr Chu is mindful of the need for succession planning and building a team of capable management who are able to deliver sustainable growth for the company and shareholders so that Libra Group can continue flourishing even when he takes a back seat. It would be his legacy as a leader.
Chu Sau Ben is a winner of the Asia Pacific Entrepreneurship Awards 2015 Singapore, under the Outstanding Category. The Awards were held on 14th August 2015 at Singapore Marriott Tang Plaza Hotel.