THE TYRE MARKS ARE FEMININE
Youthful but discerning, soft-spoken yet articulate.
Sporting a feminine cut dress and Salvatore Ferragamo pumps during an interview with AWANI Review, Datuk Sydney Tan strikes an unusual figure in the tyre industry, what more managing one of the major international brands in the region.
“I am pretty thick skinned and don’t take things too personally,” says Sydney with a smile. “In a male-dominant industry, I had to be very assertive and vocal on what I think is right.”
At age 32, Sydney is the managing director of Kian Hon Tyres, the sole distributor of Maxxis International tyres in Malaysia. Maxxis - also known as as Cheng Shin Rubber Industry - is the ninth largest tyre company in the world.
Sydney took over the helm of Kian Hon Tyres, a family business, just about five years ago. While one may put her succession down to familial relations, the Penangite put any skeptic’s doubt to rest when she was picked to double hat as Asia Marketing Director for the Taiwanese-based Maxxis International.
Admitting that, at first, she had no intentions to venture into the tire business (“I helped the family during summer holidays”), a chance meeting with the former president of Maxxis International, Dr Wally Chen spurred her to take the leap. “He was the one who brought me into, what he calls, the global Maxxis family. He’s my mentor and is generous enough to give me lots of opportunities.”
“It was intimidating when I first started,” recalls Sydney “But I learnt that not shying away from hard work is important. I also took a lot of time to read, learn and ask questions.”
I learnt that not shying away from hard work is important. I also took a lot of time to read, learn and ask questions.
Kian Hon Tyres have branches spanning Penang, Ipoh, Shah Alam and Kedah, with its two concept stores called Maxxpit, opened within six months of each other. But apart from just looking at expansion and sales, as a retreader (the company’s full-fledged retreading plant has been operating for over 50 years), Sydney is setting her sights on elevating tyre education and awareness - a strategy, she sees crucial, to set Maxxis apart from the more established premium brands in the market.
“There are less and less people who are willing to use retreaded tyres. They are on the belief that with a single-use tyre, you can use and chuck. But that’s not environmental friendly and it’s not on par with premium tyres.”
“To stay ahead of the game, service is very important and we value what the customers have to say,” explains Sydney, “My company is also an education centre called the Maxxis Asia Truck and Bus Radial Education Centre (Matec). We have feedback from distributors from around the region - to develop the right tires and continuously look at betterment of quality.
The offroad segment is another another area that Sydney is eyeing for growth. And she intends to do so by participating in more 4x4 leisure and sports activities - a marketing initiative - which according to Sydney, has been spearheading the company’s sales in passenger car tyres.
Team Maxxis, which Sydney built from ground up in 2015, won the Rainforest Challenge for the third year in a row - the first in the series’ 21 year history.
“We realized that Maxxis is very strong in off road tyres, in general. We use it as a catalyst to bring more people to know Maxxis. Maxxis is relatively new tyre (brand) compared to Goodyear, Michelin or Continental - those are brands with over a hundred year history. So this is one of our strategies.”
Watch the full interview to find out what Sydney thinks is the most challenging aspect of running a family business. Also, she tells us why the local tyre industry is poised for disruption from Chinese players.
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