When Terry O’Connor first joined COURTS back in 1993, he had only intended to stay for three years. COURTS was a furniture retailer at the time, trying to spearhead a more concerted push into the electric retail space. After being promoted to Commercial Director at the end of the three-year period, Terry eventually rose to become Managing Director in 2000. He expected to leave a few years after that, but fate took a turn when the UK business went into administration in 2004. He looked his staff in the eye, told them he was not going anywhere and rallied them to stick together and seize the opportunity to find a new owner.
Fast forward to today, Dr Terry O’Connor, now the Group Chief Executive Officer of one of Southeast Asia’s leading electrical, IT and furniture retailers COURTS Asia Limited, sees the company operating at over 90 stores across Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia, with a retail footprint spanning over 1.7 million sq. ft.
Hailing from Liverpool, England, Dr Terry O’Connor took the unconventional route from his peers. At 17, he made a bold decision to leave school to work and support his family. After dropping out, Terry started his career in retailing in the cut-throat UK electrical retail marketplace with Colorvision PLC, rising to the post of Buying Director at the young age of 23. In 1993, the opportunity came when Terry was offered the position of Buying Director – Electrical to spearhead COURTS’ acceleration into the electrical retail market in Singapore. He held this post until 1997 and was subsequently promoted to Commercial Director and Deputy Managing Director from 1997 to 1998 and 1998 to 2000 respectively, before assuming the role of Managing Director in 2000. In the late 1990s, he introduced computers into the company’s retail business, and COURTS soon became the largest IT retailer in the country by the early 2000s.
However, the real test came when COURTS’ British parent firm was facing bankruptcy in 2004 and the Singapore business was left to fend for themselves. Dr O’Connor took it in his stride, overhauling the Singapore operations with a team of 10 senior managers. As he put it, “From that point onwards, I felt like a parent in many aspects, the person who’s responsible for the family, and started to think more like an entrepreneur.”
Upon separating from the British parent company, Dr O’Connor and his team steered the Group to its next major milestone – joining the Singapore Government’s Warehouse Retail Scheme with the construction and launch of its Tampines flagship big-box Megastore, alongside Giant and IKEA, opening in 2006.
After the private equity-led buyout of COURTS operations in Southeast Asia in 2007, Dr O’Connor assumed the role of CEO for COURTS in Asia. Amidst a challenging retail climate, Dr O’Connor led a turnaround of its operations in Malaysia and entry into new market Indonesia for the Group. Today, he oversees COURTS Asia’s business across its three markets of operation, steering the Group’s omnichannel retail strategy forward amid a continued tough retail outlook.
Dr O’Connor holds a Master of Business Administration in Retailing and Wholesaling from the University of Stirling. In 2013, he published a book on his personal and professional journey in retail titled ‘Why Not? The Story of a Retail Maverick and COURTS’.
Outside of business, Dr O’Connor is also a leading figure in the wider British community in Singapore. He was first invited to get involved with the British Chamber as a Board Member and to Chair the 50th Anniversary committee for 2003/4. He has also served as the President of the British Chamber of Commerce (BritCham) from 2006 to 2010 and the President of the British Club from 1999 to 2002. Under his guidance, BritCham grew to become an active organisation with over 1,000 members, delivering valuable services to the British business community in Singapore. Dr O’Connor has also spearheaded links with other British Chambers in neighbouring countries to identify synergies and opportunities in Southeast Asia.
In June 2010, Dr O’Connor was conferred the award of Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE) by Her Majesty The Queen of England. In August 2014, the University of Stirling honoured him with an Honorary Degree in recognition of his outstanding contributions to retailing and British Business in Singapore.
Being a proponent of peer mentorship and entrepreneurship, Dr O’Connor is also the Regional Chair of the Southeast Asian chapter of the Young Presidents’ Organisation (YPO), a not‐for‐profit, global network of young chief executives connected around the shared mission of becoming ‘Better Leaders Through Education and Idea Exchange’. As part of his leadership, he will oversee bringing one of the leading global peer networking and leadership conferences, YPO EDGE, to Singapore in 2018 – where more than 2,700 global leaders and entrepreneurs will converge to spark ideas exchange, introduce disruption and innovation into companies and communities around the world.
An active member of public and community service, Dr O’Connor is a regular commentator in both the local and regional media on retail issues. He and his wife, Mrs Janice O’Connor, have been actively involved in charitable activities. Since 2001, the O’Connors have been holding annual fundraising parties at the end of the year with the intention of raising funds for charities. Guests are encouraged to pledge monetary contributions – of which all proceeds will go to the beneficiaries – to support his performances.
Over the years, these parties have grown into COURTS’ two signature annual charity events, Charity Golf and Charity Party, which have since become mainstays in the corporate calendars of COURTS’ wide network of professional and personal partners and friends. Every year, COURTS brings together close to 100 business partners to contribute in their own way towards this corporate giving platform that has grown from strength to strength over the years. Led by Dr O’Connor, the events have collectively raised a total of over S$4.5 million for 24 nonprofit and charity organisations.
These beneficiaries have, over the years, including the likes of Make-A-Wish Foundation, Down Syndrome Association, Breast Cancer Foundation, Cerebral Palsy Alliance Singapore, Red Cross Home for the Disabled and Riding for the Disabled Association of Singapore – spanning the youth, special needs, elderly and underprivileged communities. Since the first party, the number of guests has grown from 40 to about 500 today, expanding beyond friends to engage business partners and associates who wish to participate in this staple in this platform to give back in a meaningful way.
Much of COURTS’ ingrained spirit of giving has been actively driven and encouraged by Dr O’Connor, who has practised life-long community-giving. He has espoused these values and made giving a part of COURTS DNA by personally driving charity initiatives. The spirit of giving has cascaded down to the senior management team, middle management and front-line employees, with each and every group doing their part to contribute.
In his personal time, Dr O’Connor volunteers his time with the likes of Heartware Network’s Youth Business School, volunteering as a mentor to young aspiring entrepreneurs. As a big believer in the power and potential of youth as the future generation of leaders, he believes in investing the time and effort to groom and inspire them to achieve their future entrepreneurial aspirations. These initiatives and more have helped collectively over the years to cement COURTS Asia’s reputation as a good corporate citizen that gives back to the community it serves.