Kenny Liu is an outstanding entrepreneur who fully embraces ambiguity and is comfortable with being challenged regularly. With the surge in the volume of construction and infrastructure projects in the 1990s, Kenny took over the helm from his father in 1997. As part of leadership renewal, Kenny donned the fire protection services company with a new face, renaming it J.Keart Alliances. The name J.Keart came from the word “heart” – Kenny’s definition of the essence of the business. Kenny strongly feels that in today’s construction landscape, working with a resilient heart is invaluable in bringing the company to further places.
Much has evolved within the company since he took over. With only two employees in 1997, Kenny’s stewardship expanded the team to 100 employees with its own fleet of 25 service vans and lorries for timely delivery of manpower, materials and equipment to job sites. Boasting their own prefabrication workshop, administration office and workers’ dormitory at their current factory premise in Benoi Crescent spanning an industrial space of 10,000 square feet, their operation scale is unmistakably significant. Kenny is responsible for spearheading J.Keart Alliances’ overall business operations and marketing activities. He has been charting the company’s corporate and strategic directions as well as steering their operations to expand their reach in key business segments.
Kenny was born in Singapore in 1972. His family has been involved in the fire protection business since 1988. They started off as a sole proprietorship and operated as a third tier subcontractor to established players like Tyco Fire, Hart Technologies and Mark Grow Fire Protection. Kenny graduated in 1996 with a Business Studies Bachelor Degree from Nanyang Technological University (NTU). Driven by a great sense of purpose and creativity, Kenny is always ready to make things happen. When most people see problems, Kenny sees great opportunities. As an NTU undergraduate, he founded a new social club called NaIMs (Nanyang Image Makers). It is a social community that serves as a bridge between the university and the corporate society to provide etiquette, social grace and protocol services for the undergraduates before they step into the working world. As a comprehensive and full-fledged fire protection solutions firm J.Keart Alliances is a leading provider of mechanical and engineering works for fire protection systems and fire safety-related services in Singapore. Their services include design and build, alterations and additions, building maintenance and replacement works, SCDF submissions, fire rated boards and panel customization. As an innovator in the field of design, the company adopted innovative technology to build sustainable solutions and embarked on the adoption of prefabrication methods for installation of pipes for all of their in house projects, which significantly enhanced work productivity and reduced wastages. With plans to provide prefabricated pipes to fellow pipe installers in the industry, they are clearly at the frontline of efficiency combined with innovation.
J.Keart also developed state-of-the-art servicing tablets that leveraged on cloud technologies and data analytics to step up work productivity and eliminate the need for paperwork. Customization of such an in-house maintenance module has allowed J.Keart’s technicians to update the status of servicing jobs and transmit to HQ instantaneously. Emails can then be sent to customers to inform them of job completion. Smart use of technology has significantly improved their maintenance service turnaround.J.Keart has been enjoying robust growth in sales turnover and brand loyalty. The company’s total sales turnover registered a growth of 81% for the past four years to $6.7 million in 2015. The building maintenance portfolio was their main engine of growth as J.Keart Alliances focused on fire protection servicing to reap recurring income. “We were simply inspired by the huge market potential, and went along with our gut instincts.” The tightening of the SCDF Fire Safety Act and Fire Codes/Building Management Strata Act was a boon for their business. The demand for their products and services grew in tandem with the surge in construction projects, hardly showing any signs of slowdown.
J.Keart Alliances also witnessed a greater awareness of their brand presence in the local construction industry as main contractors, building owners and facilities management firms gained confidence with the company’s services and on-time project delivery commitment. The number of fire protection maintenance contracts in their portfolio increased from only 80 in 2013 to 200 in 2015, out of which 65% came from contract renewals. Increased customer loyalty is the result of improved brand performance over the past 3 years. This is especially evident in their market coverage of town councils in Singapore. Presently, J.Keart Alliances is the exclusive fire protection maintenance contractor for 9 town councils, up from only 4 in 2013. They are presently servicing and maintaining the fire protection systems for close to 5,000 HDB residential blocks and car parks in these 9 town councils in different parts of Singapore. The company was awarded Singapore Prominent Brands 2015/ 2016 (Business Excellence).
The tightening of labour laws on foreign workers had greatly impacted the construction industry, but Kenny had his own unique take on stepping up his game on labour productivity. By stepping up training programs for his team to transform them into multi-skilled workers, they eventually enjoyed greater flexibility in deploying their available resources, and used enhanced mobilization to their advantage to reduce the number of low-skilled workers required onsite. Workers who have completed BCA’s skills assessment would then qualify as higher skilled workers and reduced the foreign worker levy liability.
Undefeated by labour constraints, Kenny had yet another hurdle to overcome – low productivity. At their initial stages, they used the traditional installation method whereby 2 teams of manpower were needed for each job site – 1 team for onsite measurement and pipe fabrication and 1 team for pipe installations. As they moved along, they started to use prefabrication technology and deployment of computerised machinery and equipment to manufacture pipes in a factory premise. Now, only 1 team is needed for pipe installation at the work site using prefabricated pipes.
Kenny’s strong commitment, tenacity, and willingness to work harder than the rest is apparent. “Never say die, always say try” is his mantra in confronting all business setbacks and he is ever ready to alter his course of action and chart new paths wherever new business conditions lead him to. “I find it exciting to implement new ideas and see them through to fruition. The satisfaction in implementing out of the box ideas that ultimately benefit the business operation and improve profitability is irreplaceable.” He also believes in healthy competition, and the desire to come out on top of others is a great force in motivating him to push his limits harder to succeed in his business.
Cutting an imposing figure of 1.9m tall, Kenny is one tough taskmaster. In his vast headquarters at Benoi Crescent, he tosses challenges at his legion of staff to keep their eyes on the ball. He expects his staff to complete assignments fast and with depth. He is passionate about “ownership”, “self-actualisation” and “value-adding”. On a typical day in the office, there is little easy-going work styles to be found between Kenny and his staff, who seem to toggle between reverence and slight fear of his presence. On a lighter tone, Kenny appreciates the finer things in life. He loves golf and good wine. He is also an avid scuba diver. Kenny is also very active in local community work. J.Keart Alliances has been a long-time partner of the charity organisation Willing Hearts. Besides donations of food items, the company often deploy its staff to help out in the daily operations of their Soup Kitchen, which currently serves 4,500 daily meals to the underprivileged, the needy and other marginalized people in Singapore.
Looking forward, Kenny targets sales turnover to reach $20 million by 2020 and has already laid out detailed blue prints to scale up operations to become a market leader as a prefabricated pipe supplier for the fire, plumbing and air-con industries. He also plans to increase service footprint for the maintenance of fire protection systems for commercial and industrial buildings and expand distributorship of proprietary fire-rated boards, panels and doors.
“We envision ourselves as a one-stop fire safety service provider. J.Keart Alliances’ commitment to deal with any emergency is unquestionable and our customers can be assured that we are always just a call away 24/7 in any event of critical fire incidents or fire safety violations. We are continually raising the bar for service excellence and delivering positive experiences for our customers”.
Kenny also hopes to expand into franchising over the next 3 years to advance J.Keart’s brand in overseas markets. Although Kenny is the heart and soul of the company, his greatest task is to shape a team of multiple leaders who will keep the company growing based on the same values of entrepreneurship that he has built up in the course of his career and to empower them to continue to create positive experiences and deliver service excellence to his clients.