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Stepping stones to success

Unearthing TOP’s secrets to ascend to greater heights

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CEO and founder Victor Tan shares that companies need to invest in its people and continually improve to maintain its success.

Established in 2014, TOP International Holding has grown from a small local enterprise to a leading mining and trading company specialising in the export of bauxite and coal in major parts of Asia Pacific and Guinea, West Africa.

Enjoying double-digit growth in profitability throughout the years, the company, which employs over 200 employees, achieved 82 percent growth in its operating profit before tax in the last financial year. 

Its CEO and founder Victor Tan reflects on the company’s journey, and reveals the secrets of his company’s success:

Q: How do you feel about winning the E50 award? 

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A: Our team feels privileged and honoured to be recognised. The journey involved a lot of hard work and it is very satisfying to see the pay-off. This award also marks a milestone for us where we take a breather to reflect and refuel for the journey ahead. 

Q: What are some of the biggest challenges TOP has had to overcome?

A: One major challenge which I had to overcome was when Malaysia banned the export of bauxite, essentially shutting down the industry. Reading the signs early, we were able to plan ahead and with the help of trusted partners, we transitioned our business into Guinea. We are still the only private company operating in Guinea which is known to produce top grade bauxite. 

When we decided on this course of action, we had to undertake financial risks along with numerous risks due to doing business in an unfamiliar and less developed country. We also had to spend significant time and effort in setting up our team and the infrastructure, such as camp and machineries. Looking back, it was a lot sweat and a huge step for us.

Q: What qualities have led the company to success?

A: Our core values are defined in TOP: Trustworthy, which is about having integrity and being reliable in everything that we do; Opportunity, which is what we capitalise on; and Professionalism, which is how we conduct our business affairs.

These have enabled us to be nimble in seizing opportunities, flexible in working through the right solutions to any problems, and building an entrepreneurial and team culture. 

More importantly, we recognise the need to invest in our people and continuously improve ourselves.

Q: How do you compare TOP to its competition?

A: Our industry is dominated by giants such as Glencore, Rio Tinto and BHP. We are still very far from them in all aspects and hopefully one day we can close the gap.

It is our source of pride that despite being a private company, we are able to achieve what we have duringthese few years, from revenue growth to the quality of our output and operational productivity. 

Q: Technology is king these days. How has TOP adapted to it?

A: In our industry, technology has the biggest impact in operations. Phase one of our technology roadmap focused on deploying sophisticated machineries to improve the safety, quality and productivity of our operations. We have already invested over US$10 million ($13.75 million) into machineriesthatarepredominantly used by big players in our industry. 

We are now getting ready for phase two to assess solutions for other business needs such as data analytics and robotic process automation for our back office. We are already using multiple solutions to manage different parts of our operations. The goal is to have an integrated system providing the best solution for each aspect of the business. 

Q: Where do you see TOP in the future?

A: We would like to make a positive impact to society and mature as a company. Now that we have put in place a sustainable core business, we hope to expand and diversify into other geographies, industries and different business models.

We believe that all of us are linked and are part of a bigger picture. It is obvious to us that we have to play our part in running a sustainable and responsible business, providing positive ripple effects wherever we operate.    

Q: What advice would you give to new business owners?

A: Starting a business now as compared to 10 years ago is vastly different, mainly due to the impact of technology,the changing of people’s mindset (especially with millennials entering the game), increased competitiveness, a new and more stringent regulatory environment, and a more VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) landscape.

Whether these are viewed as opportunities or threats depends on the company. What does not change is that new companies still need to have the fundamentals in place: Identifying the value of their products and services to their customers, the right business modeland their differentiators. 

New companies should also be pragmatic and realistic in what they want versus what they need to do to achieve their goals. Dreaming big without having the right components, hard work and perseverance in place will mean it will continue to be just a dream.