Leading to Grooming – KC Tan

KC Tan

After changing his own leadership style, Group Managing Director of Signature International Bhd, KC Tan is now equipping his management team with the necessary leadership and management skills to steer the company to greater heights.

KC Tan, Vistage VCE-22 member since November 2009, says he has undergone a makeover in terms of how he steers his company Signature International Bhd. Though difficult at first, he reveals that his personal style of leadership has changed from micro management to strategic leadership. After realizing the benefits of change, he wants to see similar progress down the line. Towards this objective, he has placed 11 of his senior managers under an in-house Vistage Key Group which started in April 2013. This top-totoe grooming is expected to rejuvenate the whole company and spur it towards greater heights.

KC Tan and his partner Michael Chooi started Signature Kitchen in 1994 to supply and install built-in kitchen and wardrobe systems. The company has since grown by leaps and bounds. Today, it is the market leader in Malaysia with annual sales in the RM100-150 million brackets and a retail network of 29 outlets. It has carved a niche in the premium segment (retail and project). Besides the mainstream kitchen and wardrobe systems, the group is also in appliances and accessories distribution plus glass and aluminium works. The group’s holding company Signature International Bhd was listed on the Second Board of Bursa Malaysia in 2008.

The Signature Kitchen brand has made its mark in upmarket property projects in Kuala Lumpur, Mont Kiara, Bangsar, Petaling Jaya and Iskandar, Johor. It has also made inroads abroad with 15 overseas dealers in markets like India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Thailand, Indonesia and its fully own subsidiary in China.

Looking back, KC Tan reveals that he was very much an ‘operational and technical man’ and loved to be meticulous in whatever he does. He liked to “do it myself” and feel the self-satisfaction. After joining Vistage, he has learnt the benefits of letting go. “I have moved from hands-on to hands-off,” he declares. In the beginning, many of his loyal staff, kept going to him to make the decisions. Eventually, they learnt that the boss was passing the buck to them.

In the process of delegation, KC Tan restructured the company into departments with specific heads. He recalls that one of the major decisions he made after discussion with his Vistage group was to set up a Group Marketing department. Back then, the sales and marketing were one and the same. At the start, the specialisation of duties represented a big change for his staff and resulted in corporate hiccups. “My people were not ready,” he notes. It dawned on him that his key managers needed to be groomed to handle more responsibilities and take on leadership roles. He believes that Vistage can provide the mentoring and learning experiences needed for his senior managers in various departments. “Our management team must be equipped with the necessary leadership qualities as well as management skills to achieve company goals,” he emphasizes.

Signature Kitchen intends to raise the bar on both customer service and business volume. Pleasing the customer is not easy because there are many personnel, skill sets and processes needed to deliver a quality kitchen or wardrobe system. For instance, electricians, carpenters and plumbers must work in unison to get the right fit of components and accessories. “One error can lead to many other errors,” KC Tan points out. Thus, he sees customer satisfaction as a hallmark of competence. The challenges, he says, are in lowering the error rate, addressing problems fast and increasing customer satisfaction.

KC Tan plans to up the ante by giving more value-added services to delight customers. Among his ideas is to provide cleaning service at the customer’s premises once a kitchen system has been installed. Then, technicians will drop by to demonstrate how to use certain kitchen appliances and storage systems.

In business development, Signature Kitchen sees growth in a new market segment. It launched a new brand called Kubiq in 2009, a modular kitchen system that targets the middle and lower income groups. While the average cost of a premium Signature kitchen can be RM30,000, a kitchen under Kubiq can be priced between RM3,000-RM5,000. The lower price is made possible by mass production of modular components and a “self-involvement” customer approach.

“It is a bit like Ikea or Air Asia, with no frills,” KC Tan explains. There are low overheads because there are no designer fees, no sales commissions and no project management costs. Customers are given a unique tool called “EziKit”, where they can do their own design without having the knowledge of design software, and select their cabinets’ components plus obtain their own quotation instantly. He sees Kubiq as a key growth area as it has a wider customer reach.

On the global front, Signature Kitchen will develop new markets in China and Indonesia. It will also focus on innovative ideas in brand promotion. It had a successful run with the Asian Food Channel which featured celebrity chefs cooking in its brand of designer kitchens. “More strategies will be put into place to increase the value of the brand locally and internationally. We will never stop improving,” KC Tan concludes.

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