Von Lee of Expand Construction shares his strategy for maintaining an edge in the industry

SINGAPORE (Oct 29): Von Lee is not one to shy away from taking risks, even in bad times. At the height of the Asian financial crisis in 1998, he gave up a well-paying government job to help his eldest brother with his struggling signage business. Two years later, when the local construction sector suffered a dearth of projects, Lee, a civil engineering graduate, established Expand Construction. The company competed with other contractors to be “cheaper than the cheapest” for small-scale projects.  

The timing of both of Lee’s career decisions was probably “the worst possible”, he concedes with a laugh as he sips Chinese tea in his office on Defu Lane. When he decided to quit his job as a project manager at the Housing and Development Board, for instance, “99 out of every 100” people he knew thought it was a bad decision. His parents, who had been fishmongers in Ang Mo Kio, thought he was crazy. “To them, stability is more important than entrepreneurship,” he says. But he chose the path, as it could improve his family’s standard of living.

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