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Business DNA: Bringing International Private Education to Thailand

Growing up in Singapore, Kelvin Koh Yew Hock, would get up very early and help his mom open her food store before washing up and going to school. Sports and Kelvin’s mom taught him perseverance. The same perseverance made him stay in Thailand and build his business, even though he arrived in the country just before one of its military coups.

Kelvin says his perseverance is part of his DNA. You must have a clear mind about what you want and how you will take it to the next level, and never stop learning.

In 2001, SISB Public Company Limited (SISB TB) was incorporated. It was first listed on the Market for Alternative Investment (mai) in 2018 and then moved to the Stock Exchange of Thailand on 23 April 2019. SISB is a provider of international schools in Thailand and is based on the Singapore curriculum specializing in mathematics and science. It follows a trilingual teaching approach with English, Thai, and Chinese. Since its establishment, SISB has expanded to five campuses that provide education for all levels between pre-kindergarten and the 12th grade. As of 31 December 2020, 2,638 students were enrolled.

Download the full interview (1.2MB pdf)

Company DNA: SISB

The focus of this interview was to try to understand the company’s DNA. Now that we had a little bit of a background on the company, we want to drill down to find the unique essence of what differentiates SISB.

Please take a moment to explain your Business DNA.

KELVIN: I think for education, the DNA is quite clear. We want to make sure that our students grow their potential, and at the end of the day, we use a holistic approach. We want them to know about social responsibility and not just academic excellence. We want them to have values and skill sets such as critical thinking. We want them to be a conscientious person. So my DNA, I will say when I run a school, my students must be able to reach their full potential.

Education is a business that needs more responsible business people

KELVIN: To run an educational business, you have to be very responsible because you impact a kid’s life, from two-year-olds to grade 12. So you must take it to heart that education is a sacred business because you are impacting life. I like to make sure that when recruiting teachers and students, they realize that education is sacred. So, I would say that education is a business that needs more responsible business people than many others.

Tell us the most significant misconception people have about your business?

KELVIN: The biggest misconception people have today is that educational businesses should not be for profit. We have to differentiate between a government’s initiative and a private school. Private schools have to survive. It is not just about making a profit.

Profitability allows for improvements

KELVIN: We have to make sure that we have a balance. We do this by ensuring that the school is profitable first, then we improve the facilities, hire better teachers, or pay our teachers and staff better to maintain them. So this is how we strike a balance, and we continue to show parents the school’s development. That’s why we have been continuing to build new facilities with the profit that we have generated.

Leader DNA: Kelvin Koh

Take a moment to introduce yourself, maybe a story about experiences and obstacles in your life.

KELVIN: I’m Kelvin, CEO of SISB Public Company Limited. We are the first educational company to be listed on the Stock Exchange of Thailand. We got listed in November 2018.

Moved to Thailand shortly before a military coup

KELVIN: I am Singaporean, and I worked with a Singapore company that had a trading business in Bangkok. That was about 29 years ago. My boss asked me if I was interested in going to Thailand. And I thought, why not? So I moved to Thailand without any hesitation even though I did not know much about the country. A few days after I landed in Thailand in 1992, there was a military coup.

There’s something about me; if I take up a job, I want to do it well. I persevere. This is something that is part of my DNA. So I stayed in Thailand even with the coup.

Helped his mom to run a food shop

KELVIN: I do not come from a very well-off family. I had to get a lot of things for myself when I was young. I had to work to get my tuition fee. I also was a keen sportsperson. I think that has shaped me in terms of perseverance. I want to do well in life, sports, studies, and career.

My parents did not make a lot of money. My mom ran a food shop. I would get up very early and help her open the shop and set up before washing up and go to school. In the process, my mom inspired me with her perseverance.

Can you share with us what motivates you? What is your source of inspiration during challenging times?

KELVIN: It is straightforward. The biggest inspiration and motivation for me is my students. When I see them do well and get into the top universities, or they are on the national gymnastics team, or are junior golfers in the Top 20, and so much more.

I also get encouragement from parents when they recognize that I did a good job. That gives me a lot of motivation. I can’t be happier than when people tell me, “thank you for what you have been doing for my kid.” To me, that is the biggest motivation that keeps me going.

If you had to reduce everything you’ve learned over the years down to one short statement, what would it be?

KELVIN: Sincerity. If you’re not sincere, you won’t be able to build lasting success.

Key Takeaways

  • Education is a business that needs more responsible business people To run an educational business, you have to be very responsible because you are impacting young lives. You must understand that education is a sacred business. Make sure your teachers understand this too.
  • Nothing wrong to make a profit in educational businesses – There is a misconception that educational businesses should not be for profit. The profit allows for improving facilities, hiring better teachers, or increasing salaries to maintain great staff.
  • Be an accountable decision-maker – Have a clear mind, be tough on facts, be a decision-maker, and take responsibility for your decisions. If you are this kind of leader, people will want to work with you.
  • Never stop learning – Continue learning, continue improving, and develop. As with any business, when you stop innovation, you go backward.
  • Human resources are the primary constraint to growth for SISB – There are many opportunities for the business, but the constraint is the human resources. The challenge is how to get good people who share your vision to deliver the outcome.

Learn more about Kelvin and SISB in the full interview.

Download the full interview (1.2MB pdf)

DISCLAIMER: This content is for information purposes only. It is not intended to be investment advice. Readers should not consider statements made by the author(s) as formal recommendations and should consult their financial advisor before making any investment decisions. While the information provided is believed to be accurate, it may include errors or inaccuracies. The author(s) cannot be held liable for any actions taken as a result of reading this article.