Lim Chee Kong was only 33 years old when he founded Lim Tayar in 1985. Now 68, he sits on the board and doubles as an advisor, having passed the driver’s seat to his daughter Melissa and son Clement.
Both siblings have rebelled against the commonly shared notion that mixing family and business is a recipe for disaster. The duo are joint managing directors of Lim Tayar, which over the years has been built up as a `go to’ name as a car maintenance service centre.
“My father said that we [Melissa and I] were going to be joint managing directors and that was it. There was no asking whether we agreed or not - he told us that this is what he thinks is best,” says Clement Lim.
Melissa embraces it. “He knows my weaknesses and I know his, and we complement each other with our strengths.” In a company of 270 staff, Clement claims that Melissa is more likeable. “It’s like good cop, bad cop,” he laughs.
The family ties don’t stop there - they have uncles, aunts, and even cousins who are in the business. Melissa says: “There’s 11 of us now in the company- from the first and second generation.”
"We can learn a lot from the first generation. There are certain things that we can do better as a family. We make sure there's transparency in the business- to ensure no conflict. We always ask ourselves: 'How do we manage better?," she adds.
The duo have taken quite a detour from their respective fields. Prior to joining the business, Melissa was an actuary in Singapore, while Clement was a hotel management and culinary arts student in Switzerland.
“My father found his way up as a skilled mechanic, and I - as a skilled cook. That’s why we’re more passionate about the guys on the floor,” he says with a smile.
“We developed our own scholarships to help students who cannot afford to study but have the passion."
This passion drove them to not call it quits after opening 20 stores across Klang Valley and Seremban. Instead, they took it a step further and set up their own vocational school, School of Skills, in 2014.
“We realised the issue - many Malaysians cannot afford an education and to us, education is a basic human right,” Melissa explains.
“We developed our own scholarships to help students who cannot afford to study but have the passion. We educate them, upskill them and equip them with experience. This is how we’re trying to fill the existing gap in the market,” she adds.
“We have to keep looking for ways to attract students to come in and study,” echoes Clement. Till date, 40 students have benefitted from their scholarship programme.
Their courses are accredited by the West College of Scotland, one of the biggest public vocational schools in Scotland, as well as City and Guilds UK.
Students that complete the 2-year Train and Place programme are guaranteed job placements. They receive theory-based education at the vocational training institute in Setia Alam, then practical training in Lim Tayar stores or partner venues.
“They get jobs either with us or our available partners, because the market is hungry, and the programme produces really good students,” Clement continues.
“Many people don’t find this business sexy. They think it’s dirty and would much rather wear a tie and go to work.” However, he believes that increasing the minimum salary will help empower and encourage the younger generation to pursue technical education and vocational training (TVET).
According to Melissa, one of the company’s biggest challenges is the lack of enforcement. “We need to have more stringent criteria for opening service centres because right now, the barrier of entry is very low. At the moment, you can pretty much open centres anywhere.”
Acknowledging that prices are slightly higher than regular mechanic stores, Clement says that their customers are paying for quality. “People tend to just depend on what the best price is.”
However, the lack of enforcement and quality control may be dangerous to consumers who blindly rely on these unregulated materials.
If you want to run very fast, you run alone; if you want to run very far, you run with the team
“We are doing so much just to sell a piece of tyre, that’s how much hard work it is. We are an organised and structured company, in a very disorganised, fragmented industry.”
Since taking over the reins from their father, the duo has pushed for modernisation with the aid of technology, as well as a meritocracy, instead of “one man telling us what to do.”
Stores are currently concentrated in the North of Klang Valley with about 10 to 15,000 monthly customers. Today, they are planning on expansion in the South.
“Klang Valley contributes to 55% of the nation’s turnover in terms of replacement tyres, so I think Klang Valley will be our priority,” Melissa adds.
Clement and Melissa credit most of the company’s success to its employees.
Quoting their father, Clement says: “If you want to run very fast, you run alone; if you want to run very far, you run with the team.”