Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Making The Incredible Credible

Kum Tatt believes that his mind can help him to do a lot of things that he wants done. He believes that our minds can help us too if we know how to use it. Not many feel comfortable with this belief. Many people like me feel that those who live by their sixth sense and gut feel live dangerously.

But Kum Tatt has shown that he has a way of testing his sixth sense, which we cannot understand, before he plunges into action. I have seen this happened in many of the things he did. Now we become his believers and supporters instead of being his cynics and critics.

In the RISIS case, he was proven correct in:

(i) his decision to encase the orchid in gold.

(ii) his prediction that people would buy this product and even queue up for it

(iii) his forecast of the first year’s sales

(iv) his belief that the gold orchid would not be a passing fad but can be a business that can be sustained. RISIS is now 31 years old!

Science students are trained to with the intangibles and handle the abstracts. We cannot see the atom, gravity and electro magnetic forces but the science people will spend time to experiment and produce evidence to show that these things exist. They produced concepts, and theories about them to predict how these forces can be put to more and better use. This is how science progressed.

Science & Technology affects every aspect of our modern life. We reject scientific theories and hypothesis at our own peril.

Kum Tatt is no longer considered a crazy scientist but a creative person who can become a hero sometimes when he can make the incredible credible. He is still learning how to teach us make the incredible happen just as he has taught us how to apply the use of science to improve our lives.

Engeline Lee


Predicting the Unpredictable

I have no crystal ball nor was I given any 5 year plan to implement during the greater part of my professional career. I was often given a general mission to fulfill and insufficient financial and manpower resources to do what had to be done in my days. Because of this many of the things I did may appear to have happened by chance and not planned. Many, who are used to routine and working under close supervision, find it difficult to understand how I can work without any definite plans.

The RISIS gold orchid is one such example. Many people tried to create a truly Singapore souvenir soon after Singapore’s independence. Many attempts were made but none succeeded. There was no lack of cynics and critics who run down efforts by others to create new things. Where moral support is needed any disparaging remarks can be very damaging. Some of us have to deal with such cynics more than others.

I initiated the gold orchid project to fulfill a promise I made to my wife during our courting days in 1955. This started off as a hobby after my return from a trade mission to east European countries in 1967. Our European lady guides were so delighted to receive the live orchids we gave them. I felt that if I could preserve the orchids in gold many ladies will be mesmerized by them. This was just my gut feel not many shared but I pursued it as a hobby.

One of my ex-staff offered to give me some metal forming solutions to experiment on in 1973. The hobby and experiments produced some very interesting and promising results after 1 ½ years. With this I persuaded SISIR to set aside $25,000 from its reserve fund to carry on the research to produce the prototypes using better facilities instead of make-shift plastic tanks and rectifiers I used at home.

We presented one of the first gold-formed orchid to Mrs. Benjamin Sheares – Singapore’s First Lady in 1975. I felt strongly that the people of Singapore and tourists would be very keen to own the products when we produce them. Not many shared my enthusiasm on this matter. Originally we planned to launch the product in early 1975 through a local souvenir manufacturing company. The deal fell through.

Although we have no experience in marketing souvenir products we decided to launch the product ourselves. We stepped up the prototype production with a couple more staff. The number of rejects were frighteningly high. In addition we still had to produce the promotional and packaging material and do the marketing etc before the product could be sold. We defered our launching date twice over a period of eight months because of difficulties encountered.

Finally we formed a private subsidiary company SETSCO Pte Ltd just three days before the launch to handle the project. The general feeling of many was that we would fail.

The launching day, 19th April 1976, came. My gut feel and sixth sense were proven right. Singaporeans and tourists queued up in our four appointed retail outlets. The sale was rationed. Each customer could only buy one RISIS orchid. The 3000 orchids we had were sold out in a few mornings. ( Pl. see photo attached).

This experience produced another challenge. How to produce the orchids fast enough to meet market demand? To build an establishment consisting of production, marketing, financing and promotion etc. from a prototype project requires some major decisions. Important questions had to be answered.

(i) what were my sales projections like to plan for the size of the plant

(ii) can the sales be sustained or will it turn out to be a passing fad?

How does one expect to answer such questions without any past experience or record? The sales figure I gave was $2.0 million for the first year. I was then asked how I arrived at that figure. Our people then were accustomed to assess imported products and industries where the sales and profit figures can be more easily ascertained. However there was no way to predict other than through gut feel what the sales figure would be for a new venture like the RISIS.

My answer was that the figure given can be likened to a Sunday Ice Cream. It is very attractive, sweet and appetizing but mostly nuts. If they like it they buy it. I invited those who asked me the questions to give me their own views and figures which they can justify and on how we can go about achieving their projections. I even invited anyone who was interested to participate in getting us through this stage. There were no takers to my offer. My prediction was accepted.

Our sales for the first year touched $1.98 million. This represented a sale of about 100,000 pieces of orchids, a figure few would expect, for the first year. The pre-tax profit was more than $700,000. After that it was easier to project the sales and profit figures for the following years.

If we had been tripped by these “normal” procedures the project might not have taken off. I am thankful to my minister and members of SISIR’s Board for their trust and support they gave to me. We accepted the challenge and enjoyed making the incredible happen. We hit the target on the dot. Whether this was sheer good luck, a fluke or my psychic sense is anybody’s guess.

There was no magic in what I did. I just practiced what I preach. “When in doubt be positive”. I was proven right. This is what counts. The late Mr. Hon Sui Sen, then Minister for Finance, congratulated us for a “signal” success. This was worth more than anything else anyone can give to me.

Lee Kum Tatt

1 comment:

Ray said...

I have much about the 'magic' of positive thinking. But there is also much material on how positive thinking can lead to "wishful" thinking. How do we know where to draw the line between "positive" and "wishful"?