Family ties keep Cyclect together

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The third generation of Cyclect continues to grow and evolve its business.

AMERICAN journalist and leading feminist Letty Cottin Pogrebin once said: ‘If the family were a fruit, it would be an orange, a circle of sections, held together but separable – each segment distinct.’

In a similar fashion, the various departments of the Cyclect Group are very distinct from each other and clearly separate, with each managed by a different person, but held together by a common core competency.

And at its very heart, it is held together by a family.

From a small shophouse in Tras Street with a handful of employees that provided household electronics repairs, Cyclect has grown into a 75,000 sq ft main plant in Tuas with a staff of 400 and a business spanning three industries.

The story began in 1943, when Tan Ai Meng, the founder and the first generation of Cyclect, decided to brave the Japanese earmarking of electronic technicians as threats and started the company with two friends. It soon got involved in the marine industry.

In the 1960s and 1970s, the second generation of the Tan family began work in the company and it was awarded with major contracts from the British Royal Navy and ASEA, which is now part of ABB.

Now with the third generation running Cyclect in ‘3G’ as its CEO Melvin Tan jokingly remarked, the company has diversified into the construction and clean energy sectors.

Each of the third generation manages a different aspect of Cyclect, with Melvin handling the overall business direction, his brother Marcus involved in the offshore oil and gas market, and their cousin Ee Wei in charge of a few overseas offices along with corporate branding and marketing.

Taking a page from Singapore’s playbook, the second generation still plays a part in the company’s leadership, with chairman Tan Sin Poh and co-chairman Tan Yuen Poh having taken the backseat and serving as the ‘Minister Mentors’ who look into the strategic direction of the company.

Cyclect 3G: From left, directors Peter Tan, Marcus Tan and Melvin Tan; and business development executive Tan Ee Wei, of Cyclect Electrical Engineering

So will the company suffer the ‘curse of the third generation’? Will the business last beyond the third generation? Melvin jumped headfirst into the question, saying that they do not believe in the curse themselves.

‘There is a lot of collaboration between our family as we were brought up in such a way that we have support for each other, with our elders advising us along the way.

‘The company is run on a family basis but there is a professional aspect as well. Though each of us manages a different department and have different titles, we are all CEOs in our own right.

‘We do not try to share the same job and stir the same soup. Each of us is in charge of a different stock that all make up a superb soup,’ he added.

Indeed, the Tan family has brewed up a delicious broth together. Cyclect was recently recognised as one of the top 50 privately owned local companies at the E50 awards.

It offers its services all over the world, with offices in Brunei, Malaysia, China, Indonesia, Philippines and Japan.

The company has evolved over the years, taking on more roles and industries to service as the opportunities came.

Initially making its name as a marine engineering company, the company soon branched out into the construction industry when customers began requesting for their service in that particular sector and Cyclect saw potential in its participation.

Marine and construction continued to be Cyclect’s main businesses until the early 2000s, when an interesting additional business opportunity happened to fall at Cyclect’s doorstep, which led to the company taking its next big step.

Its evolution into a more innovative and research-based organisation came as a pleasant surprise to many in the company.

According to Melvin, 38, at that point in time, Cyclect was working together with the National University of Singapore (NUS) to co-sponsor and develop the first absorption chiller to be built in the country.

Whilst performing installation work in the laboratory, they began talking to the professors at NUS, and with one thing leading to another, the company made the decision to form an R&D department.

In 2002, the Economic Development Board (EDB) approved Cyclect’s application for an Research Incentive Scheme For Companies (RISC) grant.

‘It then went on and on and on from there,’ said Melvin, with projects vastly different from its original absorption chiller developed after.

It clinched its first TEC Innovator Award from the Prime Minister’s Office in 2004 together with the Singapore Civil Defence Force for its development of the mobile ammonia scrubber project.

In the following year it claimed its second TEC award together with the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) for its development of a sensor and alarm system for airport runways.

So where to for the future?

‘We are looking to go into a few new industries, with new products, services and intellectual properties to be developed,’ said Melvin.

He added that Cyclect is looking to get involved in the electric vehicle market as an infrastructure provider.

He emphasised that at the end of the day, the company will still stick to its core business of engineering even whilst branching out into other industries.

The company is also looking to raise its profile, with Ee Wei having been assigned the job of working towards such an objective.

‘We want to brand the company such that when people talk about Cyclect they may talk about it as being equivalent to perhaps General Electric or Singapore Technologies, as a complete engineering solution provider,’ said Ee Wei, 30.

(Written by Keith Chee, featured in The Business Times on 26 Jan 2010. Copyright 2010 Singapore Press Holdings Limited. All Rights Reserved.)

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