Unable to find a product for personal use, Jeffrey Liew created a business to ensure that no-one else had that problem.
What’s your story?
In 1988, while constructing my home, I sought quality windows. Memories of uPVC windows’ insulation from my late 70s Toronto university days surfaced. Curiously, Singapore lacked uPVC window suppliers. In 1989, during a UK visit to my friend Maurice, I connected with Deceuninck, a global top-tier window profile producer. This led to founding Sapphire Windows (SW); a fresh start amid family responsibilities and my children’s infancy. Despite gruelling 12-16 hour days for months, my wife Lee and my mother’s unwavering support fuelled my dedication. Rooted in passion, commitment, and Integrity these values, along with luck, paved my business’s triumph.
What excites you most about your industry?
Our construction and manufacturing industry is an ever-changing landscape. Some may even call it a sunset industry. But I dissent. We are creating amazing, complex designs in our buildings, and constant innovation to reach new limits sets new challenges for us. We are excited to be a part of this landscape. Today, our motto, “Do it Right, Do it Proud”, embodies our principles. With an excellent team, we encourage each member to take ownership and bask in the pride of a well-done job. This encapsulates my excitement for an industry grounded in steep history, but with so much to look forward to in the future.
What drives you in your career to push beyond what other people consider normal?
My passion to excel. To be the best in what we do and do it the best we can. We like to turn clients’ dreams into reality. We have made the tallest door, the biggest door, and the heaviest door because our customers have special requests. Most of the time, our competition cannot do it.
We will not say ‘No’ until we try it out ourselves and fail. It doesn’t happen often, as we manage to outdo ourselves most of the time. Seeing the smile on our client’s faces brings us much pride and joy in our creations amongst our staff.
What have been the most useful skills you have learnt and applied in your journey?
People skills, business negotiations and hands-on approach. Most of which I probably picked up in my younger years following my dad around and then the 7 years when I worked with him. I saw him interact with his workers and business associates, deal and negotiate with bankers, putting himself through the tough work with his blue-collar workers. SW business is a new business to me. I had to learn everything from zero. It was a tough learning journey. Fortunately, luck was with me, and I succeeded.
What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
My uncle once told me, “Follow your heart, but remember to stay its course”. Interestingly, this counsel still echoes for today’s youth, five decades later, albeit with a nuanced focus.
Primarily, it’s about heeding your heart, not just your passions or aspirations. This entails identifying your intrinsic convictions and committing yourself to them.
However, the crux lies in the second part—staying on course. Launching a business is arduous, and success demands unwavering dedication. Once the wheels are in motion, alignment follows, sooner or later. If setbacks arise, persist. Seek advice, get help. Yet, action must initiated, and accountability assumed.
Who inspires you?
My source of inspiration is my father. He arrived from China, much like my mother. Despite lacking formal education, he thrived. In the 1950s, he managed a small shop alongside my granddad, and in the ’60s, he ventured into ship supplies. The ’70s marked his role as a steel stockist for shipbuilding and oil industries. Through my schooling at various levels, from primary to technical school and Singapore Poly, I closely shadowed him. A self-made entrepreneur and esteemed community leader, he led by example, working alongside his team. I deeply respect his hands-on approach and attribute many of my skills to his influence.
What have you learnt recently that blew you away?
Recently, the awe-inspiring learning was the 2022 completion of our new headquarters. Initial setbacks hit hard—our first contractor folded five months into the project. Opting to re-tender risked time and money. In a bold move, my son Sean, a mechanical engineer with no construction background, stepped up as project manager. While I initially guided him, my illness in 2021 meant he had to helm it primarily. Sean adeptly orchestrated diverse trades, culminating in early 2022’s successful building completion. A pinnacle was our Grand Inauguration on August 4, 2023, graced by the President and her spouse—an immensely proud moment.
If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I would embrace technology in IT & automation earlier, including implementing software systems like SAP etc, that would help reduce manpower and paperwork and increase efficiency and productivity.
How do you unwind?
I play badminton 2-3 times weekly with friends, associates and staff. I also take walks and cycle occasionally. Playing and spending time with my 2-year-old granddaughter is relaxing and fun.
What is a major mindset change, belief shift or ‘ah ha’ moment that you’ve experienced in relation to your career?
We cannot fight technology. It will come sooner or later. The earlier we accept it, the quicker we are ahead of the competition.
We have now invested in a million-dollar production line, the most advanced here and perhaps in SE Asia. We are preparing ourselves for the future, for faster and more precise production, reducing manpower through automation. However, this move needs a new set of skills. The younger generation is more adapted to it. I am blessed that my kids do this part of the work.
Everyone in business should read this book:
I read mainly Newspapers and magazines. I enjoy attending seminars and listening to talks by professionals on diverse subjects. Meeting new people of all ages from different networking groups often & sharing experiences and ideas with them is more my cup of tea. To me, personal interaction is more interesting & my way of learning from the ground.
Shameless plug for your business or career:
Experience the evolution of windows and doors with Sapphire Windows. For over 30 years, we’ve transformed from a pioneering start-up to a trusted name in local construction. Our commitment to service and quality radiates in every product. Enjoy our premium line:
-Unmatched thermal insulation against tropical heat.
-Energy savings by retaining cool air.
-Superior sound insulation, repelling urban noise.
-Enhanced security with intricate lock sets.
-Low maintenance for tranquillity.
-Profiles engineered to last over 40 years.
-Exceptional water tightness and wind resistance.
Our reach extends globally, supplying finished products and raw profiles with fabrication training. Elevate your spaces with Sapphire Windows today.
How can people connect with you?
Social Media Links?
This interview is part of the CallumConnects series.