David Yong has business in his blood. When he was young, he followed his father on work trips and observed the timber logging business his father built in Indochina. Fast forward 30 years, David has taken the lead and is diversifying his father’s company with a strong focus on the Indochina region under the corporate umbrella of Evergreen Assets Management. He believes that a business must always be relevant in order to survive, even if it has to embrace changes.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
KrASIA (Kr): How did your family enterprise start?
David Yong (DY): It began more than 30 years ago when my dad ventured to Myanmar to trade timber for his employer, Intraco. He subsequently started his own timber logging and teak trading business in Myanmar, and later expanded into Vietnam and Cambodia. As a teenager, I used to follow my dad on business trips to learn the ropes and observe. I joined the business in 2010 and Myanmar soon banned the export of raw timber logs in 2014. We had to diversify downstream into manufacturing semi-finished, and finished timber products. The crisis was very challenging, but with it came new ideas. With the network we had, we built financial and investment arms.
We now do SME financing in the Indochina market, especially in Cambodia, Vietnam, and Myanmar. We tapped into cars and music, too, because I have a passion for them. We have a one-stop integrated service to cater for all automotive needs in Singapore. In terms of music and lifestyle, I’m doing some collaborations with Singaporean artists, and our South Korean counterparts.
Kr: What were your ambitions growing up? Did you plan to join the family business in 2010?
DY: I studied law in the UK. Even now, I am practicing as a lawyer in my own firm, YSL Legal. Before I came back home to Singapore, I already knew I was going to go back into the family business. Legal knowledge is a big plus, though. Business can be tricky when you don’t understand the legal side. Understanding law has helped me a lot.
Kr: What is a personal takeaway after a decade in this business and as a second-generation leader?
DY: I was very lucky to be exposed to business from a young age. I took note of the advice from my dad’s partners. The most memorable experience was the diversification that I started when I joined the company, because the export ban happened right then. It showed me we always had to be ready for change. Businesses must always be ready to evolve according to the current climate. Change really is the only constant.
Having the right team is also very important for a company’s growth. In every company and management, the people involved are very crucial. Over these 10 years, I’ve learnt to have the right team and the right businesses.
Kr: There has been a big wave of startups in Southeast Asia. Do you and your company want to be more involved in this ecosystem?
DY: Definitely. A lot of startups have approached us, looking for investments. The startup culture in Asia is looking very promising. This is something that we will place some attention towards. Financing businesses is not just about investment loans, it can also be in the form of convertible bonds or a redeemable convertible preference shares (RCPS) structure. There are different structures that we can consider. We are open and wish to be active in this space.
Kr: What’s next for Evergreen Assets Management?
DY: Evergreen is focused on deepening its Indochina roots. Even in the depths of the COVID-19 pandemic, our faith in the Indochinese economies was undimmed. In particular, there is a huge gap in SME financing in Cambodia and other Indochina markets, like Vietnam and Myanmar. We have been plugging the gap through private equity. In March 2020, we obtained a Financial Institute License in Cambodia. We were then able to offer SME financing on a larger scale, with participation from more investors. Now, there’s a probability of partnering with like-minded fintech firms. In August 2020, we launched a Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS)-regulated fund (Evergreen Fund) with aims to raise USD 73 million (or SGD 100 million) for financing and automotive businesses in Indochina and Singapore. For the next two years, we plan to obtain FI licenses in Vietnam and Myanmar. There are exciting days ahead.