Getting the basics right: Mr Yeo Keng Joon

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Mr Yeo Keng Joon has the following advice for budding young entrepreneurs — don’t rush into it. Join a company instead. Build up your capabilities and learn what you can about running a business. That way, when start your own company, you’ll have a higher chance of success, according to Mr Yeo, the Chairman of fish feed manufacturer Bharat Luxindo Agrifeeds.

Mr Yeo’s own career is a case in point. He became an entrepreneur only in his mid-40s. He spent more than 20 years in the corporate world, eventually rising to become Director and General Manager of a specialty chemicals company in Malaysia. Deciding that he needed more exposure, he applied for a regional position in Singapore, where, on top of his work, he studied for his part-time MBA from the NUS Business School. Between his experience and his MBA, which he obtained in 1985, Mr Yeo developed a wide portfolio of skills and a deep understanding of business. As a result, when the opportunity arose in 1997 to start a new venture with a bunch of ex-colleagues, he grabbed it with both hands.”

“Having been a corporate manager and having business school training made it much easier for me to launch a business,” said Mr Yeo. “I knew what was needed to make a business successful. The product mix, the sales mix, the human resource part, all these play a role in making a business successful and having the corporate experience gave me that knowledge.”

Feeding Nemo

The company began with a fish and prawn feed factory in Medan and later expanded to Jakarta as well. Today, Mr Yeo’s company is also in India, and opportunity he is very excited about.

“The market is humongous. There are a few million acres of fish ponds in India,” said Mr Yeo. In Andra Pradesh, where the company has a factory, the biggest pond there is a staggering 25 acres.

India is attractive not just because it is an enormous market but also because much of the fish farming there still relies on inefficient, traditional methods. Fish farmers in India are used to tossing fish meal and soy meal into fish ponds for the fish to consume. Unfortunately, much of this is wasted and ends up decaying in the water.

Bharat Luxindo offers farmers a different solution. The company sells fish feed that has been turned into pellets so that they are easier to consume. In addition, these pellets are customized for different types of fish. The end result is that farmers get a better yield using less fish feed. They also end up being less polluting as well.

Value for money

The challenge is convincing Indian fish farmers that the expensive fish pellets are better value for money because the yields are higher and because it is better for the environment.

The company is making headway though. To convince skeptical farmers, the sales people show examples from other countries and provide data on yields. They also bring some of the bigger customers to Indonesia where Indian farmers can see for themselves how the right feed can make a difference. Farmers are slowly warming to the idea and sales has picked up. Last year, the company posted a revenue of US$5.2 million, up from US$3.8 million the year before.

It has been an eventful journey for the company thus far. In fact, Mr Yeo had to overcome an early setback when the Indian partner pulled out of the original venture. After that happened, Mr Yeo had to take a long hard look at whether to go ahead on his own. In the end, he decided to press on, a decision which he did not regret. Today, the business is not only profitable, it is also resilient. While businesses everywhere are facing enormous challenges from the global economic downturn, Bharat Luxindo’s business has held steady. People still need to eat and fish is a relatively low cost source of protein; this is something a world recession will not change.

Looking ahead, Mr Yeo is very optimistic about the prospects for the company. With growing affluence, per capita fish consumption in India can only grow, Mr Yeo believes, and he wants to be there when it happens. The company is already drawing up plans to build more factories in India, in Andra Pradesh and possibly West Bengal.

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