When Fang Koh Look founded Absolute Kinetics Consultancy more than 15 years ago, he embraced the fact that failing was not an option.
Without having any savings to his name, he had to borrow money from his wife to buy a laptop in order to work on his business idea.
“She lent me the money but also showed me her bank balance; she only had $300 left,” Fang told The Straits Times. “It struck me then I could not fail.”
At the time, the couple were raising two toddlers, with a third baby on the way.
Working from his bedroom at a Bukit Batok HDB flat in Singapore, he began to build the foundations for AKC. In just a decade, he was able to transform it into a $100 million firm, providing jobs to more than 100 employees.
Once just a consultancy firm, the award-winning company has branched into property investments, skills and safety training, telecommunications and even food and beverage services.
Having grown from a poor family of 10 children in a remote village called Sepang, the 48-year-old businessman revealed that his success still surprises him.
“My father came from Fuzhou when he was five and only had Primary 3 education,” Fang was quoted as saying. “My mother is illiterate. They were rubber tappers but saved enough to buy some land to grow rubber trees and oil palm.”
Having witnessed how hard his parents worked to support the family, he figured early on that he had to create a different opportunity for himself in the future.
When he was 16, his parents sent him to Singapore to pursue his higher education. His parents would sell multiple acres of land to fund their children’s education.
In Singapore, Fang took up his secondary education at the Mayfair Secondary School.
While he was unable to land his first of choice (Anderson Junior College) for his tertiary schooling, he made good with the opportunity when he was accepted at the Nanyang Technological University (NTU).
After facing several challenges and numerous failing grades, he graduated from the university with a pass degree in 1993.
“I didn’t even get third class honours. But NTU taught me to manage my failure, I have first class honours in managing failure,” he said in jest.
After graduation he landed several jobs which helped him pay the bills, but he knew there was something more worthwhile for him out there.
A year after he got married in 1996, the 1997 Asian financial crisis hit, causing him to lose his job the following year.
That would become a huge turning point in his life. Through a recommendation of a friend, he enrolled in a safety education course at Ngee Ann Polytechnic.
After finishing his master’s, he became part of a management consulting firm. This was where he learned the ins and outs of safety management and environmental technology services.
The birth of AKC would follow soon after meeting Edward Lim, who was then looking for a partner to set up a firm offering safety consultancy services to construction firms.
While the plan to be partners did not push through, Fang decided to set up his own firm in his bedroom. It also helped that Lim, who became his friend, gave him his first contract worth $45,000.
Although the early days of AKC were a struggle, business picked up eventually. He was already employing other consultants by 2002.
“I interviewed staff at fast-food joints in shopping centres. I didn’t need an office because they were deployed to work sites,” he explained.
The firm earned a revenue of more than $300,000 by the end of 2002. By 2003, revenue jumped to $700,000 and then to more than $5 million by 2007.
Through the years, as AKC grew and branched out into a myriad of industries, it faced seemingly insurmountable odds. But Fang was able to navigate his business through and eventually coursed it through multiple successes.
His company, which promotes equal opportunities, employs past offenders and people with disabilities, and offers bursaries for deserving NTU students.
“When we have achieved something, we must not forget the people around us,” he said.
AKC has won numerous awards for its human resource practices, such as WDS Best Companies for Mums (2013), NTUC Model Partnership (2014) and Most Enabling Companies for Dads (2014).
Fang’s attitude toward his employees has bore fruits not only in the growth of his business but in being a model for other firms to follow.