Category Archives: EZ 34

A Belle and Her Dreams

It is a story right out of a fairy tale; a girl dreams of making it big, chases her dreams and builds a fantasyland that makes other girls’ dreams come true! In a journey of self-realisation and exploration, one Penang-lass makes it to the big league with her large dreams and bold ideas. For this issue of EZ, we talked to Anne Lee, the bridal industry maverick and fairy godmother to a host of brides and brides-to-be.

When Malaysian king of badminton and world champion Datuk Lee Chong Wei decided to tie the knot with his sweetheart, former Malaysian badminton singles player, Datin Wong Mew Choo, only the best would do for the special occasion. He and his now-wife turned to Anovia Bridal, more specifically Anne to capture and immortalise the couple’s love.

To Anne, this celebrity wedding was the most outstanding one that she has been involved in and goes down as one of her most memorable projects. ‘There are a lot of celebrity weddings, but there’s only one Datuk Lee Chong Wei, and I’m proud to have had the opportunity and ability to handle his wedding,’ said Anne when met at her latest bridal boutique, Obsidian in Penang.

‘He is one of the world’s top badminton players and he makes Malaysia proud. He even asked to visit Anovia and have a look at the chapel. That made me feel very proud because before that, he already had his wedding photos taken at Sepang. He was training there, and therefore he couldn’t come to my place in Penang. But at the very last minute, Datuk Lee suddenly said that he wanted to come to Penang. ‘I want to go to Penang to take photos, your shop is very nice,’ he said.’

‘There are a lot of celebrity weddings, but there’s only one Datuk Lee Chong Wei, and I’m proud to have the opportunity and ability to handle his wedding.’

– Anne Lee, Managing Director of Anovia Bridal and Obsidian Production Studio

Long before Anne’s Anovia Bridal captured the attention of Malaysia’s golden boy, the bridal house was already generating positive buzz not only within Malaysia, but also overseas. Housed in a sprawling heritage mansion with an immaculate garden adorned with angelic sculptures, Anovia Bridal has a celestial wedding chapel built on its grounds where love-struck couples can pledge their love and seal their marriage.

The idea for Anovia Bridal came at a time when Anne had decided to take a break from the bridal industry, which she was involved in for almost two decades as a wedding gown designer, a sales person, a bridal house supervisor and then as a bridal house manager. Knowing the ins-and-outs of the industry and having worked with top bridal houses in Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Penang had prepared her to build and run her own business in the bridal industry.

Invited by her friend to view a property, which used to house the famous Penang establishment, Bagan Bar, Anne was reluctant at first. This would however change the moment she entered the mansion. ‘When I reached Bagan, I don’t know why but I immediately felt a connection to the place. I could visualize so many changes to the place; this is where I could have my reception, and there would be the gown department, and I kept talking and talking about my ideas,’ recalled Anne, saying that it was almost akin to a ‘love at first sight’ with the mansion.

That deliberate maneuver by her friend was successful in reigniting within Anne the passion for the bridal industry. ‘From then on, my dream started once more. I wanted this, I wanted that, I wanted a chapel; I didn’t want this tree… I talked a lot with the designers to create and realize my own dream bridal house. When I first entered this area, the premises were derelict and unkempt. It was like a jungle, with trees here and there. But it had such a big compound that I could make a dream wedding house of my own,’ she said.

Any visitors to Anovia would feel like they are entering a surreal world, one that is magical and serene. The concept of this bridal house is very clear and tactical, and it is all credited to Anne’s vision. ‘Last time, my dreams and ideas were restricted by my superiors. But now that I had a place of my own, I could let my creativity run loose. I could have what I wanted at Anovia, like the statue, decorations, everything which was from my heart. I created a feeling that was welcoming, and with every step you take in Anovia, a story unfolds in your mind. We can feel it inside, in ourselves. That’s what I visualized, that every step is a moment of its own with a different scenery and perspective playing out in the mind of every visitor,’ explained Anne on her concept.

Having established Anovia Bridal in 2011 and receiving rave reviews and accolades for her celestial bridal concept, Anne has unveiled another exciting concept this year. Obsidian, which is right next door to Anovia Bridal, is like the hip, younger sister complete with its exposed brick walls, obsidian black ceilings and glam wedding gowns.

‘Obsidian’s concept is completely different from Anovia’s. It is urban, contemporary and bold – a different way to present a wedding. It appeals more to the young generation. Another thing is I think that in the whole of Malaysia, you’ve never seen a bridal house with a black or grey ceiling. It’s a very strong colour, and it’s such a bold concept that I had to spend a few months mulling it over,’ said Anne.

Introducing such a novel concept to an already saturated industry could be daunting, something that was certainly not lost on Anne. She had to ensure that the concept was not just a superficial one that was contemporary in its aesthetics but one that was daring to create new trends within the bridal industry. ‘One of the main products we offer here in Obsidian is short film productions. Out of the whole of Malaysia, this is the only bridal house with its own screening theatre. We create short bridal videos, and hold previews as well as screenings for the customers to present the finished product to their family and friends,’ said Anne.

‘In my opinion, photos capture memories without sound and movement. Many years after the photos are taken, they still evoke nostalgia but we can only make simple statements while looking at them. However, videos and short films are different. We create short bridal films because a marriage doesn’t concern just two people; it involves the joining of two families and their worlds. Only a short film can capture the worlds of the bride and the groom. So, one day, when the customer watches the short film of their wedding, he or she can listen to the voices of loved ones and relive the moment.’

Another key aspect of Obsidian’s short film concept is its technical and creative crew, which Anne assures are all professionals – both from the bridal industry and international film industry. ‘When a customer signs up for the short film package with us, we create a story for them. We prepare a script, a director, art director, producer … basically everything for the customer. Obsidian has invested in an overseas movie crew, and so we have a team of specialists whose expertise lies in making short-film movies,’ she said, ‘You can make a short film with your girlfriend, or a short movie with your friends. That means this service is not restricted to just newlyweds or engaged couples. This is Obsidian’s new challenge for the market. This is our new plan for the millennium.’

With Anne realizing her own dreams and ideas, what she has done is give this generation a channel to make their own dreams come true and to capture it for all eternity.

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When East Meets West

In 2011, a new art event took place that would, over the next four years, change the position of Singapore within the Asia Pacific art industry. The very first edition Art Stage Singapore was held at Marina Bay Sands and each year since, the event has attracted worldwide attention. At the 2014 edition of the art fair, the team from EZ had the privilege to sit down for a chat with the man behind Art Stage Singapore, Lorenzo Rudolf. We discussed how the art fair has grown and its relation to the Southeast Asian and global art market in general.

Lorenzo Rudolf is a prominent figure in the art world. Long before he headed east and brought a much needed breath of fresh air and vigor to the Southeast Asian art world, Rudolf was at the helm of the world’s most recognised and lauded art fair for the modern and contemporary – Art Basel. From 1991 to 2000, he led Art Basel as its director.

This Bern, Switzerland native has always been surrounded by art, not surprisingly. ‘It started all in the house of my parents who were art lovers and culture lovers. I grew up in a place at the time which was probably one of the most interesting moments in the history of contemporary art,’ said Rudolf during the interview on the last day of Art Stage Singapore 2014.

‘Exactly at this time the Kunsthalle Bern was directed by a guy who was at his time considered crazy but he was the one who really opened the doors for contemporary art as the conceptual thing with his very famous exhibition, When Attitudes Become Form. I was once standing in front of his museum in Bern and saw this museum was packed; it was the first time I crossed a packed building,’ he said. The ‘crazy’ curator was none other than the controversial Harald Szeemann, said to be the most important curator of the post-World War II period.

‘So I was probably also lucky to grow up at the right time, at the right place. In that context I made my career start as an artist myself and then realizing that there were better artists than me, and coming to the point, maybe I can bring together my professional background with my passion to organize events – that’s the way how we’re doing it, and I became director of Art Basel, and from there, step by step it continued,’ he said.

After his long tenure with Art Basel, Rudolf traveled around the world setting up various other fairs, namely the Frankfurt Book Fair and the International Fine Arts Exposition in Palm Beach. In 2007, he headed to China to launch the ShContemporary art fair in Shanghai. ‘The first country in Asia which really became important in the international arts was China, and that had a lot to do also with Swiss, maybe. The first big gallery in China, it was a Swiss who opened it and is still today the biggest gallery,’ explained Rudolf on the Swiss-China art connection. Incidentally, it was also the great Harald Szeemann who would be instrumental in bringing Chinese art to the international art world.

However, Rudolf’s fascination with Asian art had started long before his move to the East with the first piece of art work from Asia that he had collected during his time at Art Basel. ‘The first few pieces I bought were in the early 90s, which were brought over to Europe through these people,’ he said. It would seem coincidental that the bridging of Southeast Asian art and the global art world would be paved by yet another Swiss.

As he became involved with Asian art during his stint at SH Contemporary, Rudolf’s interest for it deepened. It was his first big show in Asia and China at that time was experiencing a huge boom, quite rightly an exciting time of growth for the art world. Inspired by the buzz around him, Rudolf felt the urge to do something in Asia, particularly Southeast Asia. ‘I fell more and more in love with this region because I think Southeast Asia has incredible creativity, and it’s not only a creativity which is trying to fulfill certain Western criteria of contemporary art, but has its own character and identity,’ he said. And that was how the seed for Art Stage Singapore was planted.

‘That’s also the reason why I decided to come to Singapore and do this show here. The show, which is a platform for the entire Southeast Asia, brings (the countries) together and in exchange, at the same time, opening a window to the West,’ he said about the concept behind Art Stage Singapore. 2014 marked the fourth edition of Rudolf’s grand visionary plan of a world-class art fair based in this oft-overlooked part of the world, and the mark Art Stage Singapore has made on the overall art market of this region is not just highly visible, but also profound.

‘I think today we are at a situation where we have a momentum all over the world for Southeast Asia. There was never a curiosity and interest in Southeast Asian art as today; that has surely to do also with the phenomenon here. I’m glad we can help Southeast Asia to go out, to become a part of this global art world, to integrate Southeast Asia in this global context. That’s why, at the end, I’m happy that we can contribute,’ he said.

‘I think today we are at a situation where we have a momentum all over the world for Southeast Asia. There was never a curiosity and interest in Southeast Asian art as today …’

Southeast Asia is comprised of diverse art scenes; each of the nations in the region has their own distinct art scenes that have their own unique microcosms. To bring them together as how Rudolf has done with the Southeast Asia Platform at the 2014 edition of Art Stage Singapore is quite a novel concept, to say the least. The discourse between the different member countries makes for a rather fascinating study. ‘I think what is important in the Southeast Asian context is when its different countries and art scenes begin to interact with each other – not only the Indonesians among the Indonesians, Malaysians with Malaysians, Thais amongst Thais. I think it is important to have this exchange,’ Rudolf explained.

‘Contemporary art is a global language; it is an expression which has to be understood everywhere. A good art piece done by a Malaysian artist is understood in New York as well as in Jakarta. A good art piece done by an Italian artist is understood in Singapore as well as in Tokyo. That’s what you have to create here. I think for that, this place here is ideal, because Southeast Asia is quite a big region. There are a lot of interesting artists, but not a lot of infrastructure. Here we have the infrastructure. Here we can build up the bridge to the West, to the world, to everybody,’ he said, making a point for the suitability of Singapore as a hub for the region, ‘And that at the end is what we do.’

This year, to coincide with Art Stage Singapore, the Singapore Art Week was held with numerous art-related events strewn all across the island nation. There were also a number of auctions held, capitalizing on the congregation of the movers-and-shakers of the art world in Singapore for the week. When asked his take on the cluttering of so many art events at the same time, Rudolf commented, ‘Every medal has two sides, I think. On the one side, it’s good to have a lot of things around and not only one event because it attracts a lot of people. On the other side, it’s clear the more you have things around that people spend money on, the more it spreads left and right.’

‘Contemporary art is a global language; it is an expression which has to be understood everywhere. A good art piece done by a Malaysian artist is understood in New York as well as in Jakarta.’

However, seeing that collectors are a discerning bunch in general, and some might be collecting art for the sake of investment, the presence of many art auctions and sales also mean that they have a wider selection to choose from. ‘They concentrate their purchases where they really want, where they find the best,’ said Rudolf, adding that this translates to the different players in the art scene trying to do their best to outdo the other. ‘The more you have around, you always have to try to be the best and then you can be sure people come here to sell and buy.’

‘It’s proof that Southeast Asia and Singapore is moving, it’s developing. If that was not the case also, nothing would happen. So in other words, all in all, I think it’s great but it has to be (coordinated) a bit. Only then can we have a round and sound result as something without any concept behind it would help nobody’, he said on the activities surrounding Art Stage Singapore 2014, ‘If really a lot of events are complementing each other to create something new, great! It’s fine.’ Seeing the success of Art Stage Singapore 2014 and the various art-related activities that Rudolf’s brainchild has inspired, it all bodes good news for the development of the Southeast Asian art world.

A MATTER OF PRECISION

Over 30 years ago in the idyllic Penang town of Air Itam, a Chinese physician who loved to tinker with his toolbox came up with a brilliant idea. With a passion for mechanical inventions and a fascination with machinery, the late Dato’ Teh Ah Ba did the unconventional; he opened a workshop, Eng Hardware Electrical, behind his clinic in 1974. The workshop produced jigs and fixtures. Today, that workshop has grown to become of Malaysia’s leading homegrown producer of precision tooling for the semiconductor industry – the ENGTEK Group.

A journey that is as remarkable as it is inspiring; the evolution of Eng Hardware Electrical to ENGTEK Group is one of calculated precision. The late 1980’s saw the company opening a 40,000 sq ft plant in the Bayan Lepas Industrial Zone and venturing into actuator production for the hard disk drive industry. It was also during this time that ENGTEK’s investment holding company, Eng Teknologi Holdings Bhd (ETHB), was set up.

In 1993, ETHB debuted on the Bursa Malaysia Second Board. Since then, ENGTEK has set spread its reach to outside of Malaysia, setting up plants in the Philippines and Thailand, as well as forging strategic alliances with Singapore’s Altum Precision, making it the Group’s first regional acquisition. ENGTEK celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2004 and is today the leading manufacturer and supplier of electrical components in South East Asia.

Despite its rapid expansion, ENGTEK has remained a family business, run by the core members of the late Dato’ Teh’s family. At the helm of the group is Dato’ Teh Yong Khoon (YK Teh), the late Dato’ Teh’s son, who is the CEO of ENGTEK. In an interview with EZ, YK Teh said that he growing up under his father’s tutelage prepared him to lead the company in the direction that his father would have been proud of. ‘I would say that I have enjoyed the life growing up with him. I really respect him in many, many ways and he brought me up as a good technical man. It also gave me a lot of opportunity to learn together from him,’ said YK Teh.

YK Teh’s proclivity towards the engineering and mechanical field was clearly one that was in part cultivated from young and the other matched by an interest that was sparked by being exposed to his father’s business. ‘I have always been very involved in the technical aspect of the business, rather than corporate planning or anything else – it is the technical part like research into process improvement and research in new product development to fulfill the customer’s needs. It always triggers me, you know, like a really huge hobby, trying to perfect or improve a product,’ he said.

ENGTEK, which was transferred to the Main Board of Bursa Malaysia Securities Berhad in 1999, recently underwent the process of privatization. The move to privatize, said YK Teh, is one of the best decisions the Group has made thus far. ‘Having it listed, I guess we had the ego of trying to expand, and then going into listed status 20 years ago which is in 1993. We did a good job, I must say, for the last 20 years. We did not have any funds or sourcing from the listed market, so in actual fact we’ve been putting in quite of a lot of dividends public after the listing process.’

‘At the same time, the last thing that we do see here is that we are in an industry that needs a huge transformation. We do believe that we need a change and the change could be dangerous or risky for our shareholders. So we see which change is best and do it ourselves. If it’s going to be positive, we can have the company listed again in the future. If it’s negative, then we’ll shoulder all the risk. Now, will this be better for the family? I must say that it will definitely be better for the family because we are all committed for this change that we want. So long-term wise, I think it is still very good for us to go in and to take the company private, which has already been one year. We are setting the footprint on going forward into other industries which are still focused in precision engineering,’ said YK Teh.

ENGTEK’s success in not only growing to become a multinational but also to withstand the downturn in Penang’s electronic sector and thrive is remarkable. Some may even say that Penang’s electronic industry is a sunset industry. To this, YK Teh said, ‘Well if you take Penang as a sunset industry for electronic sectors, I won’t say that it is 100 percent true statement. If you look at it in terms of labour cost or the ‘Made in China’ or the greater China side of it or if you talk about Thailand, Malaysia has still been one of the best in terms of engineering and the talent supply versus others, although we cannot be like same as China, because of the huge gap between our and their labour force.’

Penang, he said, has continued to support a sizable electronic industry with some of the businesses growing bigger and some graduating from manufacturing low-cost products to developing high value products. There are electronic manufacturing services companies in Penang that manufacture components for diverse high-tech fields such as aerospace, compute  ‘They’re getting products that are much higher value, products that need a lot more talent as compared to before, and I think that you can see that there are a lot more engineers that are involved at this particular point. So, about the electronics industry actually being a sunset industry and going away, I don’t believe so,’ commented YK Teh.

For ENGTEK to have weathered the storm and expand its business beyond the borders of Malaysia, the level of commitment from the leadership of the company to the unity of the management had been strong. This must have been particularly tricky seeing that YK Teh was dealing with family members, which can be stressful. There is even a saying in this part of the world that family businesses normally cannot survive past the second or third generation, and in response to this, he shared, ‘I think it is mainly dependent on the support from other family members and their involvements, be it in terms of conflicts or not, whether are they really supportive. So if the family is supportive, then I would say that it is not hard to run the company at all.’

With ENGTEK, he said the company does hire professionals to fill certain posts seeing that the Teh family is not big enough to fill all the seats within the company. This practice, he said, is prevalent in many other Chinese family businesses in this region. ‘I don’t think they will go with the tradition where every member of the family has to come to work in the company, or the son or whomever has to be at the helmship of the CEO, or the No. 1 post,’ he added.

Being entrusted with the responsibility of continuing his father’s legacy, we asked YK Teh if being in such a position was hard. ‘No, not hard at all,’ he answered, adding that his family is very supportive of one another and him. Besides the support system provided by his family, YK Teh said that having a right balance in life and time management was key to stability. ‘You have to have the time; you got to have your own time to do activities other than work. To me, time is how you decide, how you allocate. So if you just work, I would say, even if you work 24 hours, seven days a week, it will still be the same as when you work 8-to-5, go home, enjoy life and then come back. In fact, you will be even more effective when you take a break. Activities with family and activities by yourself, I believe, there always needs to be a balance in terms of life and not work alone.’

But then again, being a CEO of a thriving group such as ENGTEK is bound to have a toll, which YK Teh agreed. ‘You are still at the higher end in terms of stress as compared to others,’ he said, ‘But that doesn’t mean that you can totally de-stress.’ De-stressing, for YK Teh involves personal time and time with family and friends. An avid golfer, he enjoys playing golf with his golfing buddies. As for family time, he is just like every other Malaysian who loves food. ‘Going on trips with my family, it’s always a good thing to do for family bonding. One of the things to like to do together is eat. Sometimes we take trips, ‘makan’ trips,’ he said, with a twinkle in his eyes.