Gerard Er makes no bones about the fact that he is driven to make money.
“My biggest passion is to earn money,” declares the director of GE Lines Pte Ltd, a one-stop freight-forwarding, supply chain and logistics company that he founded in 2006 when he was just 26 years old.
And no, he didn’t set up the company using mummy and daddy’s money. In fact, they were quite poor. Born to a low-income family (his mother was a housewife while his dad worked as a telephone operator at Singapore General Hospital), he has always felt that if he needed or wanted something, he had to get out and earn it himself.
“Since I was in Primary 6, every year school holiday I would work at my uncle’s food stall just to earn my own pocket money,” says Gerard, who is now 39.
The exposure to working life at such a young age helped him develop a spirit of entrepreneurship, though this was at the expense of academic progress.
“I was not very interested in studying when I was young,” explains Gerard, who says that his highest academic qualification is GCE O levels. “But my hands-on experience from working led to my developing a sharp sense of business.”
Upon completing national service when he was 20 years old, Gerard had his first real job – as a warehouse clerk with a salary of just $1,250. By the end of his first year, he was earning $1,700, and he bought himself a Tag Heuer watch, which he holds precious till this day.
“It was the first expensive thing I bought for myself with money that I earned on my own,” he says. “Besides its great sentimental value, it remains a constant reminder to me that I must never lose sight of my passion for my work in this industry.”
It was this passion that drove him as a youngster, and he rose quickly through the ranks – from being a warehouse clerk and learning all there was to learn in that position, he moved to an administrative position in the office, and was soon invited by the sales manager to join the sales team, which he did.
But the ambitious young sales executive would reach his culminating point in the company shortly.
“From there, I went from salesman to senior sales executive to senior sales manager, and after that, there was no more room for me to grow,” explains Gerard.
With no more room to move up to, it became imperative for Gerard to head out. And this is how GE Lines started 13 years ago.
“I started GE Lines because I wanted to grow bigger, and it was also a chance for me to execute my business ideas,” says Gerard.
Now, a typical working day for him starts with a good, black coffee without sugar, after which he checks his email. He would then set out to visit customers or the warehouse to make sure that each and every task and enquiry is taken care of nicely.
And one thing that’s crucial for him is to lead by example.
“The reason its simple – if you want your staff to do things, you must show them that it can be done,” he explains. And he has the chops, having had hands-on experience on the ground in his youth.
Part of the thrill of his work is sales – finding new customers, as he puts it, for that fuels his passion of earning money.
“I like the feeling whenever I secure a new customer,” he says unabashedly. “It’s like an achievement. Or what people would term, shiok!” he says.
“After all, it’s about doing business to earn money and enjoy life,” he adds.
Enjoying life to him means lots of exercise – he loves jogging and going to the gym – and making new friends, says the father of two – a 10-year-old daughter and an 8-year-old son.
But it was not all plain-sailing for this youthful entrepreneur. In 2009, his entire sales team was poached by a competitor and that caused a major disruption to the profile and profit of GE Lines.
“Our sales volume dropped by 60 percent overnight,” he says solemnly. But being a person who won’t take a setback sitting down, he rolled up his sleeves and started the painful process of rebuilding immediately.
“I had to bite the bullet and rebuild, but we recovered within the space of a year,” says Gerard.
Today, the main challenge to GE Lines is the uncertain economy, which leads to caution and thus the slowdown in orders resulting in a corresponding slowdown in shipments, increases in cost due to the increase in fuel prices, and a price war from competitors in the industry.
But the service-oriented Gerard has a strategy to counter those.
“We deal with these by offering value-added services like cargo matching between seller and buyer. We also offer tax-reduction information as well as making applications and handling documentation on behalf of our customers,” says Gerard.
Speed is of essence, too.
“We use speed to our advantages,” says Gerard. “For instance, while most industry players would take a full day to complete documentation for shipment and logistics, we would do it in half a day.”
One of his goals is for GE Lines to have its own building housing all aspects of their business, such as warehousing, chemical storage and also the transport team.
“This is the long term plan,” says Gerard. “We plan on getting this done once each department of my current business is stable and has an anchor customer. Getting a building is easy, but we need to ensure that that, in turn, generates the equivalent in profit. And that’s the tricky part,” he adds.
Meanwhile, he feels gratified that whenever he meets former employees, they would greet him and still call him “boss”. Some of his ex-staff would even call him out for lunch or dinner.
“That makes me feel that I have treated them well and that I’ve never in any way, shortchanged them, which is why they feel connected to GE Line.”
That, and perhaps his closeness to the staff through leading them by example.