From the simple mediocre life of one born into a large family of 13 siblings, this one could have been lost and gone down in history as another nameless underperforming nobody. But LEE NGAI MUN, took up the challenge life threw at him with no bitterness. Married, with no money and a son just born, with no family support, he had to sell off his wife’s jewellery in order to pay off suppliers and keep his newly registered business afloat. His journey to where he is today began after Form 5. He had worked in several companies but generally could stay no longer than a few months at each job. He then joined his father’s hardware business and was given the lowliest jobs to do like washing the toilet and packing orders before he was later promoted to handle counter sales. Soon customers began to look for him but the family business did not do well. It was badly hit by the sluggish recessionary times which began in 1986 and he advised his father to close the business then. At 23 years old, after a failed joint venture in 1989, with RM560 from his wife Cindy Choh, he started his Franco Enterprise, a general trading company, on 1 April, 1989. Here, he met with severe cash flow problems. He turned to his late father for financial assistance but was turned down. He went to the bank for a loan but was rejected because he had no collateral to offer. Friends did not take his telephone calls because they knew he wanted to borrow money. In his own words, “I was a wounded tiger. There was no one to turn too. I had to find a way out and finally had to pawn my wife’s jewellery entirely. She was crying. Don’t forget to redeem it for me, she said”. Dato Lee said, “That was the turning point. My business turned around. Suppliers respected me for my honesty, when I pawned my wife’s jewellery to pay them back. They began to trust me more. The business increased and by the next year, 1990, I was able to buy my first shoplot for RM198, 000 in Taynton View.” Sourcing safety products for customers brought the realization that this was a better business opportunity than hardware. Pemasaran Aik Soon Sdn Bhd was registered in 1993, to take over the general trading business. In 1996 META ALLIANCE Sdn Bhd was formed to become a manufacturing facility for safety products. By 1997, the business went fully into safety products. In 1999, it changed its name to PROGUARD Technologies Sdn Bhd. The PROGUARD group of companies is driven by Dato Lee who has a sharp eye for business opportunities and a creative mind that can convert them into real profits. His even temperament keeps him peaceful and
tenacious even in the most hopeless of circumstances and this has helped the Company to grow from zero to RM30.6m in Year 2013 in 25 short years. This is a formidable feat of one who has no capital, no business or political network to leverage on. Today, PROGUARD is the largest, privately owned brand and manufacturing facility in South East Asia with customers in Asia, Africa and the Middle East. The Group has acquired a one acre piece of adjoining land with a plan to build a 4 storey factory for the purpose of becoming the largest Original Equipment Manufacturer and Original Brand Manufacturer safety eyewear manufacturing facility in South East Asia. The investment on land, building and machineries is estimated at RM15m. The facility is expected to be operational by the end of 2015.
After a lot of soul searching, Dato’ Lee says that his late father taught him the vital lesson of “being able to stand by myself”. I didn’t go back to see him for 2 years after his rejection. But learning the hard way and being a father myself, I now begin to appreciate him. My advice to entrepreneurs and would be entrepreneurs is that great opportunities lie in great adversities. Do not be fearful. Dare to dream, dare to try, dare to fail and dare to succeed.”
Dato’ Lee enjoys admiring his Japanese Koi fishes and collecting shooter glasses from all over the world. He is still the earliest at work in his company, to set a good example for his staff, and finds it very satisfying that he is in a business that not only makes money but also saves lives – “our products live up to safety expectations”. Of himself, he says, “I am an easy going person, quite a workaholic and very persevering. I have gone through the worst and have come out alive.”
His advice to the young generation today is, “don’t aim for instant success”. Dato’ Lee cautions that people should take only calculated risks because once knocked down, many don’t have a chance to make a come back.
He said, “How would you feel having to go to a pawn shop… for when you need money to put food on the table? Where do you put your face? What happens to your pride? Not many can survive the test I underwent. It zaps a person’s energy but real gold will pass the test in the furnace. Face up to the issues honestly. Don’t give up.”