Towering Thakral

“It is faith and prayer that have gotten me through to here as I have no education or talent” - Kartar Singh Thakral, Singapore

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Kartar Singh Thakral

Tenacity, humility and great foresight, built upon immense faith and divinity – these ingredients have been key to the recipe of success for Mr Kartar Singh Thakral, Chairman of Thakral Group of Companies and Executive Director of its Singapore-listed Thakral Corporation.

One of the most distinguished and recognisable personalities in the Singapore business fraternity and the global Sikh diaspora, Kartar’s list of achievements in the field of business are illustrious and inspiring. The genesis of a multi-million dollar and worldwide group of companies started from humble beginnings and steeped in divinity.

Kartar’s father, the late Mr Sohan Singh, became an orphan at the age of nine years when the family was wiped out by an epidemic that hit the Sialkot district in modern-day Pakistan, leaving behind his younger brother and him. Having no relatives to fend for them, the young Sohan worked in a sweets shop in a nearby village serving tea. There, a man by the name of Mr Kirpa Singh used to frequent the shop for almost a year and noticing the young hardworking boy, asked him to work for him in his textile shop in Bangkok. Starting from there, Sohan did his own textile peddling and worked hard enough to open his own shop in Bangkok in 1905 – the Punjab Store – which gradually expanded into Japan and India and laid the foundation for the international Thakral Group.

EARLY DAYS

Born in Bangkok in 1933, Kartar was sent by his father to Singapore in 1952 when he was 19 years old to help his brother expand the fourth branch of the family’s textile business.(1) After a year, his brother returned to Thailand and Kartar was left facing several challenges. His command of English was limited, while he had no knowledge of Mandarin or Malay. However, starting out afresh in a foreign and alien land did not deter Kartar.

He had learnt business principles from his father and brothers (Mr Harbans Singh Thakral and Mr Kuldip Singh Thakral), which Kartar applied effectively and strategically. Starting with a small wholesale textile shop under the Thakral Brothers’ name, at the corner of High Street and Hill Street, where the Treasury Building currently stands, he succeeded in building, over time, a conglomerate of offices in 25 countries, including several emerging markets such as Ukraine, Serbia and Romania, as well as those in Asia such as Laos and Myanmar.(2) A pro-business environment and a strategic port location in Singapore helped build the momentum of trade through the island as Kartar captured these opportunities, remaining ahead of the curve.

Many in Asia had shunned doing business in China and Russia in the 1960s due to their political regimes. But not Kartar! He saw opportunity where others did not as he developed a strong partnership with Chinese Resources Ltd while also securing non-exclusive distribution rights for Russian textiles, realising the growing demand for these goods. The company became a leading distributor of Chinese textiles in the region during the 1960s.

ENTER CONSUMER ELECTRONICS, REAL ESTATE

Kartar’s knack for identifying business trends made him realise that the textile trade would soon become overcrowded and he diversified the company into the consumer electronics business, as Thakral Brothers started an electronics division in Singapore in 1975, while also opening up an office in Hong Kong at the same time.(3) Through successful partnerships with Casio and Panasonic, among other electronics companies, over the next 20 years, the Thakral brand grew to become a household name in the region.

Under the guidance of Kartar, the group decided to invest significantly into selected real estate projects, for which he has a personal passion. Kartar and his capable management team saw opportunity in Australia and Japan, both of which he was familiar with. He started another public-listed entity known as Thakral Holdings Group, focused on Australian hospitality real estate assets.

For a considerable period of time, the Thakral Holdings Group was one of the largest foreign owners and operators of hotels in Australia, following its acquisition of a distressed portfolio of seven major hotels there in 1994, as well as its acquisition of the management rights of the All Seasons Hotel Group. When it was delisted in 2012, the Thakral Holdings Group’s total assets were valued at AUD$1.064 billion.

Kartar Singh Thakral

“An exemplary man in more ways than one, Mr Kartar Thakral built an extremely successful commercial empire with his business acumen but never allowed it to change his modest and unassuming personality.

A true visionary, he identified China as an area of growth and commenced trading operations and built lasting relationships with its leaders several decades before the international community realised its full potential. A leading member of the Singapore business community, his advice was sought for and tapped by many government and private organisations, which he served faithfully for many years.

A compassionate humanitarian and a dedicated philanthropist, he helped many causes connected with the welfare of the disadvantaged by contributing generously by way of time and money for the building and maintaining of schools, hospitals and religious institutions in Singapore, China and India.

A natural leader and mentor, he has passed on his values to his family, friends and employees which will ensure that he and his business empire will have a permanent place in the history of Singapore.

Mr Natarajan Subramaniam

Independent Non-Executive Chairman and Director Thakral Corporation Ltd

Today, the family-run business is a hallmark of the spirit of enterprise, spanning across five sectors. These are in property investment and development, built on Kartar’s own passion and expertise, in the textile industry as the group is a majority shareholder in a yarn spinning mill in Indonesia and hires about 4,000 people there and the distribution and retail of consumer lifestyle products across emerging markets in Asia, including authorised Apple retail stores.

In addition, it represents major timepiece and luxury brands in emerging markets across Indochina, including Myanmar. The group distributes technology products across Asia, and provides technology consulting services to major public and private enterprises. Kartar still remains a key part of the decision-making process of the group’s ventures, especially when it comes to investments.

The group and Kartar have both been recognised for their achievements. He was awarded the Businessman of the Year award in 1995 while Thakral Brothers was ranked the top private company in Singapore in the same year in the first ever Enterprise 50 list compiled then by Andersen Consulting and The Business Times.

NATIONAL RECOGNITION

Kartar’s achievements did not go unnoticed by the Singapore government. During an era when Singapore was developing its own economy and building the Singapore Inc. brand name globally, the Thakral group’s success in evolving into a diversified company, with its own innovation and manufactured products, as well as its track record of gaining large presence in markets around the world, proved relevant. The government tapped onto Kartar’s expertise and wisdom as he was appointed a Director of the then-Singapore Trade Development Board by the Minister for Trade and Industry for a period of four years until 31 December 1998.(4) He was also a member of the Committee to Promote Enterprise Overseas and a member of the Regional Business Forum, both appointments made by the government.(5)

SELFLESS CONTRIBUTIONS

Besides his economic and business contributions to Singapore, Kartar has also played a key role in the Sikh community and wider society through his philanthropic and community service work. His selfless contributions have helped realise many key projects and initiatives in the Sikh community in Singapore and overseas.

Kartar has also been helpful to community organisations which seek his advice and guidance in other strategic matters. He has served as a Trustee of the Singapore Indian Development Association from 1991 to 2006. In the Sikh community, he continues to serve as a Trustee to the Singapore Sikh Education Foundation and the Sri Guru Nanak Satsang Sabha (6) and as a Patron to the Sikh Welfare Council (SIWEC) and Singapore Khalsa Association (SKA).

His principles of integrity, resilience and humility, and community service can be traced back to his focus on developing his spirituality and living a Sikh way of life. In 2008, he was Singapore’s 30th richest person, according to Forbes, but despite all these achievements, Kartar remains humble as he attributes all of this success to divine blessings rather than personal traits.

Prayers, he added, have helped him gain a lot of blessings from God and these are the very values he has instilled in his family which keeps them and their enterprise grounded. This focus on faith and spirituality also helped him overcome a very difficult period in his life. In 1986, he was diagnosed with stomach cancer and, in February that year, he had a major surgery to remove 80 per cent of his stomach. “With perseverance and prayers, I was healed and able to live till now. I remain to have strong faith in God,” he shared.(7)

In spite of being a successful businessman and leading figure in Singapore’s economic landscape, particularly during its developing years, Kartar stated: “It is faith and prayer that have gotten me through to here as I have no education or talent.”(8) This is indeed a hallmark of a remarkably humble, grounded and selfless man.

Thakral Corp Ltd directors: Front row, L-R: Inderbethal Singh Thakral, Natarajan Subramaniam and Kartar Singh Thakral. Back row, L-R: Lee Ying Cheun, Bikramjit Singh Thakral and Dileep Nair – Source: Company Annual Report 2016

Kartar Singh Thakral

Executive Director, Thakral Corp Ltd

Mr Kartar Singh Thakral is an Executive Director of the Company and was the Executive Chairman since the Company’s listing until 31 December 2011. He was first appointed a Director since the incorporation of the Company on 7 October 1993 and was last re-appointed on 29 April 2016. He is a member of the Nomination and Investment Committees of the Company.

In addition, Mr Thakral is the Chairman of the Thakral Family Companies. He joined the family trading business in 1949. He was a director of the Singapore Trade Development Board appointed by the Minister for Trade and Industry for a period of four years until 31 December 1998, the Joint Chairman and Non-Executive Director of Australia listed Thakral Holdings Limited and a Non-Executive Director of India listed GIVO Limited till 22 October 2012 and 31 March 2009 respectively. He was also a member of the Committee to Promote Enterprise Overseas and a member of the Regional Business Forum, both appointed by the Singapore Government; and was a trustee of Singapore Indian Development Association from 1991 till 31 December 2006. He was awarded the Singapore Australian Business Council President’s Medal in 1998 for significant contribution to the Australian Singapore business community. He had been awarded Business Man of the Year 1995.

He is a Founder Trustee of Nishan-E-Sikhi Charitable Trust, India, a trustee of the Singapore Sikh Education Foundation and Sri Guru Nanak Sat Sang Sabha and a patron of Singapore Khalsa Association, Singapore Sikh Welfare Council and Central Sikh Gurdwara Board. He is an Honorary Fellow of the All India Management Association.

Source: Thakralcorp.com, downloaded on 14 March 2018

 

Endnotes

1 The Next Leap Forward, The Business Times, April 28, 2015. 2 Ibid. 3. Thakral Brothers: From trading to manufacturing, The Business Times, February 10, 1996.
 4 www.thakralcorp.com.
 5 Ibid. 
6 Ibid. 
7 Interview with Mr Kartar Singh Thakral, October 16, 2015. 8 Ibid.final-sg50-book[This article is courtesy of SINGAPORE AT 50: 50 SIKHS AND THEIR CONTRIBUTIONS, a book published in 2015 by the Young Sikh Association, Singapore (YSA) in conjunction with Singapore’s 50th birthday. Some parts of the article above have been adapted from other external sources]

 

[ASIA SAMACHAR is an online newspaper for Sikhs in Southeast Asia and surrounding countries. We have a Facebook page, do give it a LIKE. Follow us on Twitter. Visit our website: www.asiasamachar.com] 18222

 

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