We talked to Ethan Tan of Tatas Equipment about revolutionizing the heavy machinery distribution sector, and he had the following to say:-
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Ethan Tan: It’s been a tumultuous year for everyone, but glad that my family and I are coping well during these covid-19 times. The situation played out in mid-Feb’20 for us based in Singapore, and there was a sense of panic within the community as we watch the situation unfold. Many routines that we took for granted had to change, and I think it’s really important to have the right support group in your life as it really made a difference during these challenging times.
The covid situation in Singapore is more or less under control now, and a certain degree of normalcy has returned. But covid-19 is still a constant threat to everyone globally, thus definitely taking the necessary precautions and spending time with loved ones is of utmost priority.
Tell us about you, your career, how you joined Tatas Equipment.
Ethan Tan: I majored in Finance & Accounting at university. It’s also where my entrepreneurial stint started, where I co-founded my first company, a clean energy company based in Nairobi, to transform slump areas into self-sustaining eco-villages. Subsequently, I co-founded a deepwater exploration drone company in London to make deepwater exploration more accessible and affordable to the masses. After that, I relocated back home to Singapore and have been working on Tatas Equipment Pte. Ltd. ever since. Tatas Equipment is a distributor of Diesel Engines, Generators, and Spare Parts based in Singapore and was started to revolutionize the heavy machinery distribution sector.
Heavy machinery distribution is one sector that hasn’t changed for decades in the way it conducts businesses; thus, I saw the opportunity of reinventing existing business models in the sector to realize greater value through increased productivity and greater customer experience through the use of technology, digital media, and backend automation.
How does Tatas Equipment innovate?
Ethan Tan: We operate in a very traditional sector(Industrial Machinery), primed for technological disruption. This presents a good opportunity for me to use technology to give our company a competitive edge, allowing us to 1)improve customer experience, 2)enhance productivity, and 3)lower operational costs. You may be surprised, there are several low hanging fruits in our sector that basic technology adoption could capture, and we did just that a couple of months into my job. Innovation at times is about taking existing technologies and applying them in a new context, and it worked really well for us. Our clients were amazed by how competitive our prices and efficient our services were.
The key to cultivating an innovative culture is to allow for a constant exchange of ideas and feedback among all company stakeholders. This has been a key consideration for me in ensuring our company can constantly innovate, allowing for open communication internally among employees, and establishing multiple communication channels with our business partners and clients. This allows us to understand if our products & services remain relevant in addressing our client’s needs, and more importantly, better understand the problems that our clients are facing. This, in my opinion, is key to innovating; having a good understanding of the problem allows you to tinker deeply into possible solutions that are 10x better than what’s available currently and at a competitive price.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Ethan Tan: We rely heavily on the global logistic network to globally get our products into customers’ hands. At the height of the pandemic, air freight and shipping lines were disrupted due to various countries’ restrictions to curb the spread of the coronavirus, and that has impacted us quite drastically. That has improved as the global logistic network resumes
gradually, but during the height of the disruption, it caused our shipment to be delayed and had an additional layer of unpredictability into our scheduling.
The best way to cope with it is to maintain constant open communication with our clients and business partners. Over-communicate, in my opinion, was key for us in coping during the pandemic as it allows greater detailed information to be communicated to our counterparts and thus minimizing any potential disruption.
The shift in how businesses are conducted due to the pandemic has also benefitted us as we were in the midst of a companywide digital transformation; thus, embracing technology and establishing new ways to conduct businesses and operations were a lot easier for us.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Ethan Tan: A lot of our business partners and clients were impacted by the pandemic; given that we operate in the heavy machinery industrial sector, our clients’ businesses were conducted in-person. With countries across the globe going into lockdown, many of them couldn’t operate and were forced to stop their business temporarily. This led to our clients despite placing orders for our products but unable to make payment for it, either due to cashflow problems or simply because they were unable to operate. This led to us overstocking on inventory, and with the risk of being unable to move them on should our customers go into liquidation.
We chose to support our clients throughout and communicated with them constantly to understand their most up-to-date situation. We told them that we would keep their order on site for no additional costs and be ready to ship it to them once they are in operation. They were grateful for our gesture but told us that they did not know when they will be back in operation. There was a lot of uncertainty when we made the decision to support our customers throughout, but in hindsight, it turns out to be a great decision. Our customers resumed their operations, and we fulfilled all pre-covid orders and current orders with our customers, with talks on longer-term cooperation.
Lesson learned, to have empathy while conducting business, and showing trust and conviction to your business partners in challenging times allows you to build greater rapport with them that will go a long way.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety, how do you project yourself and Tatas Equipment in the future?
Ethan Tan: Identify the root cause of the stress, dissect the problem, and identify what needs to be solved. I adopt a very methodological approach to resolving stress and anxiety. I’m also an avid gamer; thus, I see that as a way to relieve stress and anxiety.
I hope to project myself as someone approachable and open to different ideas and suggestions with the objective to improve myself and the business. My vision for the company is to lead the digital transformation of the heavy machinery industry that my company operates in by embracing technology and innovation. This will dramatically transform the way we operate and unlock a new value proposition for our customers, and allow us to remain relevant in the digital economy.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Ethan Tan: My competitors are the distributors of competing brands of heavy machinery equipment, diesel generators, engines, and spare parts such as Caterpillar Inc, Mitsubishi, etc.
We operate in an industry that’s slow in adopting tech to stay laser focus on our vision and create an unassailable lead through the use of technology. Constantly listening to customers and iterate our product and services to remain relevant to the needs of our customers.
Your final thoughts?
Ethan Tan: There are lots of moving parts in a business; going through the pandemic is just one of many moving parts. The key is to remain agile and be close to your customers. That will allow you to adapt quickly.