AIMING HIGH

Elsie Liow

MANAGING DIRECTOR – ASIA PACIFIC

AIMS IMMIGRATION SPECIALIST PTE LTD

(Pulsar Category Winner 2017)

"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.

AWARD JUDGE

BG (NS) Chan Wing Kai

Director

Seed Global Investment

BG (NS) Chan Wing Kai spent 29 years in the Singapore Armed Forces as a military officer. He rose up to the Army’s top leadership and held numerous key appointments.

The years in the Armed Forces provided him a strong foundation in leadership, human capital management, operational planning, training development and critical diplomatic skills.

He retired from active military service in 2016 and is currently a Director with SEED Global Investment, a real estate investment firm. He oversees the company’s portfolio and business development in the US and UK. He holds a MSc in Applied Finance from the Singapore Management University, and is no stranger to corporate finance, portfolio management, equities, bonds and derivatives.

AWARD JUDGE

TIN PEI LING

Member of Parliament
CEO

Business China

Ms Tin Pei Ling is the Chief Executive Officer of Business China, a non-profit organisation that harnesses the support of the public sector & private enterprises to strengthen the ties between Singapore and China. Prior to joining Business China, Pei Ling was the Group Director of Corporate Strategy for Jing King Group.

Pei Ling is an elected Member of Parliament in Singapore since 2011 and currently serves on the Public Accounts Committee. She also serves on the Government Parliamentary Committee for Communications & Information (from 2018, Dy Chairperson) and Health (2011 – present) and previously for Law/Home Affairs (2011-2015) and Social & Family Development (2015 – 2018, Dy Chairperson).

AWARD JUDGE

RYAN CHIOH

Managing Director

Faseastflora.com

Mr Ryan Chioh joined FEF.com in 1998 as Executive Director of Far East Flora Holdings Pte Ltd.

Always a firm advocator for technology, Ryan identified the direction for e-commerce development and saw a business opportunity to offer FEF.com’s extensive range of flowers and gifts online in 2001. Ryan blended his IT savviness and prudent business sense to steer the company’s website to become the leading portal for flowers and gifts. Ryan also brought the company to another level by spearheading the development of a CRM and ERP business solution, integrating the front-end and back-end operations so that there would be easier identification of customer base.

AWARD JUDGE

NEO SING HWEE

Head, Operations System & Control

MAPLETREE INVESTMENTS

Sing Hwee is the Head, Operations System & Control of Mapletree Investments Pte Ltd. He is responsible for the business processes and control functions, information systems and technology as well as Internal Audit and Risk Management.  He also takes ownership of the Group’s Delegation of Authority and Procurement Policy. 

Sing Hwee has more than 20 years of experience in providing risk management, performance improvement, internal controls and business advisory services to clients in various industries, including the real estate sector.  Being a thought leader and a recognised expert in this field, he used to sit in the Ernst & Young (EY) ASEAN Partner Governance Council and led the Advisory (Risk) Internal Audit Practice in Asia Pacific, ASEAN and Singapore covering 17 countries, 30 partners and 700 professionals.  Before joining EY, he had spent many years in risk consulting with PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) and Andersen.

AWARD JUDGE

DR LIM WEE KIAK, PBM

Member of Parliament
CEO

Eagle Eye Centre

Dr Lim Wee Kiak, is an elected Member of Parliament for Sembawang GRC since 2015 and serves as chairman of Government Parliamentary Committee (GPC) for Ministry of Community, Culture and Youth. An Ophthalmologist, Dr Lim is currently the Chief Executive Officer and Co-Founder of Eagle Eye Centre.

Dr Lim joined the Singapore Armed Forces as a medical officer in 1994 and completed subspecialty training in Ophthalmology in 1998, with a Master’s degree in Medicine and two post-graduate specialist qualifications in Ophthalmology. During his service in SAF, he led numerous humanitarian missions to neighbouring countries. He joined Singapore National Eye Centre and was awarded the MOH HMDP fellowship in 2003, doing one year of clinical and research Fellowship at the National Eye Institute, National Institutes of Health.

Dr Lim had been an active grassroots leader since 1998 before joining politics in 2006. For his active community involvement, he was awarded the Young Executive of the Year in 2000 and Public Service Medal (PBM) in 2003.

AWARD JUDGE

Chew Mok Lee

Assistant Chief Executive
ICM & Digitalisation
Enterprise Services & New Industries

Enterprise Singapore

Ms Chew Mok Lee is the Assistant Chief Executive in charge of ICM & Digitalisation, Enterprise Services & New Industries in Enterprise Singapore, a government agency spearheading enterprise and industry development, reporting to the Ministry of Trade and Industry, Singapore. Enterprise Singapore is also the national Standards body in Singapore.

Prior to Enterprise Singapore, Mok Lee was with National Productivity Board (NPB), PSB and SPRING Singapore. She graduated from National University of Singapore, majoring in Economics and Statistics. She has a double Masters and is well versed in the area of enterprise promotion, industry development and partnership building, having been involved in various aspects of capability development, support for local enterprises, enabling a viable enterprise eco-system and entrepreneurship for 29 years. She also served as Secretariat to the Action Community for Entrepreneurship and was responsible for working with the Minister in Charge of Entrepreneurship and private sector members to foster entrepreneurship and support start-ups in Singapore.

AWARD JUDGE

CHIA KIM HUAT

Regional Head
Corporate and Transactional Practice

Rajah & Tann Singapore

Mr Chia Kim Huat has extensive experience in capital market, public and private mergers and acquisitions, cross-border joint ventures and private equity investments, both in Singapore and the region. He travels regularly in the Asia-Pacific region advising clients on a wide range of matters, including direct investments and infrastructure projects in China, major acquisitions in Korea, joint ventures in Taiwan, Hong Kong and Japan and cross-border mergers and acquisitions transactions. Kim Huat also advises foreign investors on their investments in Singapore, including listings on the Singapore Exchange, privatisations, secondary and dual listings.

He has been recognised as a leading lawyer in his field by International Financial Law Review 1000, Chambers Global “Leaders in their Field”, Asia Pacific Legal 500, “Eminent Practitioner” in Chambers Asia Pacific, Who’s Who Legal: Corporate – Merger & Acquisition/Capital Markets – Debt and Equity and Merger & Acquisition, ‘Leading Lawyer’ in Asialaw Profiles and Best Lawyers, 2017 Edition.

AWARD JUDGE

TAN WEE BENG

Deputy Chief Executive (Operations)
SkillsFuture Singapore

Wee Beng is the Deputy Chief Executive (Operations) of SkillsFuture Singapore (SSG). He leads the Business Technology Group (Operations Planning Division, Capability Development Division, Operations & Support Division, Security & Infrastructure Division), the Training, Manpower & Infrastructure Group (Manpower & Infrastructure Planning Division, Office of Lifelong Learning, and Institute of Adult Learning which comprises Learning and Professional Development Division, Research and Innovation Division, Learning Services and Support Division ) as well as the Business Services Group (Shared Services Management, Integrated Business Services Division &, Corporate Services Division).

Prior to joining SSG, Wee Beng was an officer with the Singapore Armed Forces, leading both large and small teams. His last appointment was Chief-of-Staff, Republic of Singapore Navy, overseeing a range of staff departments and ground commands. Other key appointments held were Head Naval Operations, Commander of Maritime Security Task Force and Commander, Naval Diving Unit. Wee Beng holds a Bachelor of Arts and a Master of Arts in Physics from Oxford University, UK, and a Master of Science in Management from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA.