"Perseverance, diligence and positivity have shaped the success of AIMS Immigration Specialist"
Elsie Liow is managing director of AIMS Immigration Specialist, a company she founded and co-owns with her husband, Pearce Cheng. The company specialises in visa services, catering to people of various demographics as well as large multi-national corporations. “Anyone who requires professional consultancy and services with regard to visas would come to us,” Elsie explains.
Today, the company has a good reputation but the last decade has not been an easy journey for Liow. “I actually have my husband to thank,” says the 38-year old. “He’s a risk-taker and he was the one who pushed me to get this off the ground.”
Liow’s interest in the immigration visa sector was sparked in 2001 when she had just finished school and joined a company that saw her provide student counselling. Her role entailed arranging for student visas to Australia, which gave her an insight into immigration procedures and arrangements. She later moved to a company dealing with immigration services, from which she gained more experience in the field. In 2006, she mooted the idea of a company focused on providing visa services.
For the first couple of years, Liow ran the company on her own, as a sole proprietorship, but it soon grew to a scale that she was hardly able to cope with. So in 2008, Cheng Left his job in the finance sector and joined her, at which point the company become private limited enterprise.
“When we plunged in, we put all our resources into the business. There was no turning back,” Liow recalls. “Growing the business was an extremely demanding task that consumed all our time. We got so involved that we didn’t even have the time to think about marriage and having children.”
But all that intensive effort soon paid off — from the days when AIMS’ employees comprised Liow and just one other staff, it has since grown to a team of 120 in its Singapore headquarters and across seven offices in Perth, Shanghai, Beijing, Shenzhen, Hong Kong, Hanoi, and Ho Chi Minh City.
“A turning point came in 2014 when we felt that we were recognised for our efforts,” Liow relates. “A private equity firm approached us and offered to buy us out. They acquired us and we became a part of a US MNC. It was a very strong motivation and encouragement. It made us feel like we finally did something right.”
But under the new ownership, it became significantly harder for Liow and her husband to oversee and run its daily operations. “All along we were doing things in a very fast-paced manner but after the acquisition, it slowed down so much that we found we could no longer work as efficiently as we used to,” she says. “Even simple decision-making required elaborate processes before approval, which is understandable for an MNC with a lot of shareholders to account to. But we just could not get accustomed to all that bureaucracy.” So a year later, Liow bought back AIMS and ran it as she did before.
As the company celebrates a decade in operations, it holds true to the principles and values that have guided the company since day one. “We’ve always aimed to be the leading provider in immigration visa services in the Asia-Pacific region and now that we have expanded regionally, we are closer to our goal,” says Liow. “We still deliver on our promises by observing our PUSHED values, which stand for Professionalism, Utmost integrity, Sincerity, Human touch, Empathy and Dedication. To ensure the success and continuity of our business, we make sure that all our employees are aware of our mission, vision and values.”
There is not too much competition in this sector as it is a niche market with high barriers to entry. But Liow says the company is not resting on its laurels. “We have registered immigration lawyers and agents working with us. They train and coach our employees to have the relevant knowledge so that we can consistently provide knowledge and assurance to our customers, and anticipate potential problems that might jeopardise their visa applications. Knowledge truly is power.”
This year, the company plans to expand into Cambodia and the Philippines. “My job is to ensure that there will be a proper system, so I’m starting a CRM system to integrate all the services that we have across the various offices for different platforms,” she says. “One system is for our employees to use, and one is a portal for our clients to log into to check the status of their visa applications.”
Outside of work, Liow enjoys giving back to the community through social work. Being Buddhists, she and her husband make donations to temples annually, in addition to supporting charitable initiatives run by churches where some AIMS employees are members.
Between 2011 and 2016, the staff strength of AIMS expanded by 30 per cent per year, and its business turnover also grew by the same percentage annually. Those were five tremendous years. And in the span of five years, between 2012 and 2017, Liow gave birth to three children and is currently expecting her fourth. Such is the spirit of this woman entrepreneur!
Setting her sights on loftier goals, Liow holds fast to the principles that have driven the company thus far. “I think my strength is my perseverance, diligence and positivity,” she says. “[The path of] entrepreneurship is not [always] rosy. Everyone looks at the company’s success today but no one really thinks about all the hard work that goes unseen. Sometimes I look at how far we have come and I shudder when I think about the hours we had to put in.”
So she thinks it’s better not to look back, but to look ahead and forge new paths.