'Grand Old Man' of tech industry aims for 2016 listing
By Karamjit Singh August 15, 2014
- Runs two companies, in healthcare and financial sectors
- No slowing down despite suffering from neuro disease
WITH a listing targeted for 2016, backed by 30 support engineers in Hong Kong, offices in Wall Street, Hong Kong, Singapore and of course in Malaysia, and gushing with excitement describing his company as “being in the right place at the right time,” you would have guessed Harres Tan (pic) to be the 20-something founder of a hot Internet company.
“The Grand Old Man” is how he describes himself because at 63, Tan displays the boundless energy of a man determined to make the most of his time.
He is suffering from a neurological disease called MSA (Multiple System Atrophy), but that hasn’t stopped him in his tracks, with two companies to run – one that focuses on healthcare, and the other on the financial sector.
With his healthcare-focused HT Consulting Sdn Bhd celebrating 25 years in business, Tan ponders when asked what he has learned over his long entrepreneurial journey.
“Passion combined with perseverance is what makes for a winning formula,” he says.
From 2001 to 2004, for instance, he spent two weeks out of every month in Hong Kong, building the business himself while trying to convince HSBC Bank to adopt his cheque-deposit machine. This was under his other company, Rototype International (HK & China) Ltd.
Having won the contract to deliver the cheque-deposit machines to HSBC Malaysia, the deal got held up by the bank’s Hong Kong headquarters, which was worried about relying on a ‘small and unknown software company’ from Malaysia.
But Tan persisted and finally won the confidence of HSBC in Hong Kong, agreeing to design the machine to its liking. It took three years, during which time he slept in a small room at the back of his 1,000 sq ft Hong Kong office.
“Sure, I could have afforded an apartment or rented a hotel, but you have to be prudent and be prepared for the long haul,” he says.
As one of the earliest tech entrepreneurs in the country, Tan says he “made my money” as a reseller of a relational database management system (RDBMS) from Unify Corp, going head-on against US-based RDBMS giant Oracle Corp and winning – or as he elegantly puts it, “beat the heck out of Oracle.”
His strategy? “Always project yourself to be bigger than what you are.” He did this by taking part in tech exhibitions and insisting to organisers that he wanted a space close to where Oracle was.
“Oracle had a bigger marketing budget and I knew would attract a lot of people to its booth. So I instead made sure that the Unify booth was equally as grand as the Oracle one.”
Customers who came to visit Oracle would inevitably check out Unify and discover that the pricing was almost half of Oracle’s.
“We did very well. It was so easy to make money in those days,” Tan recalls wistfully of the era in the 1980s when he had to just pass customers a magnetic tape and collect RM500,000.
And because there was an inevitable shortage of talent that could understand the relational database language, Tan took matters into his own hands and started offering three-month training courses – for free, and with the guarantee of a job after the training.
His problem though was that not enough people were taking up the course, and all those who did were snapped up by Tan’s customers.
One interesting consequence of these training courses is that today, Tan is proud to point out the many chief information officers in the industry who started out their IT careers through this three-month programme.
While Tan is focusing on Rototype, run by his son-in-law Irwin Oh Weng Tyan under Tan's tutelage, it is HT Consulting, run by 30-year old Angust Gan, with two of Tan's long service managers, TH Saw and JImmy Ng, that is aiming for a public listing, riding on its EMR (Electronic Medical Records) product that has seen a total of US$6.3 million (RM20 million) of research and development invested into it over the years.
Because it was built from the ground up, and took almost eight years, today Tan is proud to announce that HT Consulting is the only local company to have successfully developed its own EMR product, with two live installations in Malaysia, and five hospitals in Jakarta as customers.
“We are the only ones who have the source code to our EMR software and have now integrated it with an HIS (Hospital Information System),” he says.
But Tan acknowledges that HT Consulting made the mistake of not productising its HIS. “We wanted to focus on the EMR side but we helped a listed company in Singapore build an HIS which it then took to market with great success, earning high margins,” he says.
But with that lesson learnt, and having adapted it for tablet and wireless use, Tan is seeing a strong pipeline for the product with many hospitals in Malaysia now ready to adopt EMR.
One reason why he claims HT Consulting’s EMR has earned market confidence is simply down to the fact that the company has been around for 25 years, and involved in healthcare for the last 15 years.
“With so many hospitals having experienced the painful failures of their imported HIS or EMR products because of various issues, the fact that we build our own product, own the source codes and are applying for the Intellectual Property (IP) to it, and have a world-class software team, has made the market sit up and take notice of us,” he declared.
But there is another reason Tan wishes to list HT Consulting: To reward his loyal staff, many of whom have been with HT Consulting for 25 years.
“They have been loyal to me and I want to see them rewarded for their devotion to building up HT Consulting,” he says.
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