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5 minute read

How 3 Singaporean Companies Came Back From the Brink

Before you shopped at their supermarkets, before you listened to music with their technology and before you (or your wife!) used their facial products… these 3 companies were once on the brink. Learn how they turned things around and be inspired to push your company through these tough times.

It is a difficult time for companies worldwide.

The owner of women’s beauty wear and products Victoria’s Secret announced that 250 stores will be closed, with more to shutter over the next few years.

Clothing brand Esprit will be closing all of its 56 stores in Asia (outside mainland China). Even prominent American department store chain J. C. Penney has filed for bankruptcy.

If the biggest brand names in the world are struggling during this pandemic, how can the smaller ones survive?

Today we will look at the stories and experiences of three Singaporean homegrown companies; their struggles, their mistakes, and their biggest lessons.


With products sold in 100 cities across Europe, the US and Asia, SKIN INC is also the first-ever Singaporean brand to be carried by international beauty super-mart Sephora.

But it wasn’t always this popular or successful.

Started young

Ms Sabrina Tan, founder of SKIN INC, had actually “entered” the beauty industry at the young age of nine, when she started practicing facials on her mother.

Her mother had to run the business and take care of her at the same time, so Sabrina would follow her mum to the salon on a daily basis as she grew up.

Worked elsewhere

But in 1997 the business was sold and Ms Tan ended up working in the tech industry for the next 11 years.

As a working mom who was short on time, Ms Tan craved for a skincare routine that was both fuss-free and effective.

“It’s just natural for (people from the tech industry) to problem-solve and look for solutions,” said Ms Tan.

Back in the game

And so marrying her IT expertise with research and technology from Japan, she returned back into the beauty business, developed her award winning line of customisable skincare, and she’s never looked back since.

Lessons learnt from SKIN INC: don’t be afraid to join a new industry and return stronger- Ms Tan left for 11 years and returned with a priceless amount of experience in IT, using it to propel an industry that she was once a part of towards new and unimaginable heights.

Read Also: 5 Must-Have Free Digital Tools to Help Boost SME Productivity


Believe it or not, this Singaporean tech company once saw its revenues peak at US$1.6 billion!

Going toe to toe with Apple Inc.

In 2004, CREATIVE, a local company formed in 1981 as a computer repair shop in Chinatown’s Pearl Centre, even launched a battle with Apple INC in a move to be the global leader in the music player market, embarking on a S$165 million worldwide advertising campaign.

The fierce competition was brutal to CREATIVE in the long run- they were badly affected due to low margins and eventually lost the war.

Lowest point

In 2007, CREATIVE delisted from the NASDAQ, about 2,700 jobs had to be cut and the company’s revenue fell by hundreds of millions.

It took some time and a lot of hard work for them to recover, but in recent times CREATIVE’s fortunes seem to be on the up and up.

Bouncing back

In 2019, a good 12 years after their lowest point, CREATIVE announced their comeback by bagging 4 awards at CES (Consumer Electronics Show), including “BEST OF CES”. CES is one of the world’s biggest trade shows for the consumer electronics industry.

Costing over US$100 million in research and development over 2 decades, their Super X-FI technology has been hailed as a game changer.

The technology works by taking a picture of the user’s face and ear shape to create a customised listening experience, combined with artificial intelligence (AI) engine, it aims to bring the best 3-dimensional listening experience to a user.

CREATIVE might not be near where they were in terms of their early 2000s success, but they’re slowly but surely returning to the top.

Lessons learnt from CREATIVE: Do not give up. Despite the losses and failures, their CEO Mr Sim Wong Hoo focused on what he was ultimately good at: audio. Remaining passionate and enthusiastic despite the setbacks, Sim put his energy and efforts into developing a product that would bring his company back from the brink; even personally showing up at tech conventions and speaking to consumers face to face at his booth to promote his products.

Read Also: How Can SMEs Survive the Coronavirus? 


From pig farmers, to selling chilled pork at a rented stall, and now, a supermarket chain with more than 60 outlets across the island.

Today, the family behind the Sheng Siong chain are billionaires, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

In many interviews that he has done with local websites and media outlets, its founder and CEO Mr Lim Hock Chee has repeatedly shared the values that has helped his company become the success that it is, namely by being hardworking, taking care of your staff and to keep making mistakes.

Being hardworking

“I’m CEO, so we have to be more hard-working than others, faster than others, start work earlier than others, go home later than others. This is the most fundamental rule. If not, I won’t be able to manage a company.”

Staff welfare

“If you don’t take care of your staff, then they may end up being taken care of by other people!”

In addition to providing one free meal a day for its entire staff, Sheng Siong pays competitive wages and has bursaries, long service awards and retirement schemes.

Making mistakes

“The more you do, the more mistakes you make. The less you do, the fewer mistakes you make. If you don’t do anything, then you won’t make any mistakes. So it’s OK if you make mistakes. It shows that you are doing something.”

There was an occasion when Mr Lim and his IT team designed a self-checkout and payment system. To him, it was a great design and he was very proud of it- until a customer said: “whoever designed it were complete idiots!”

While it made him ashamed, the comments spurred his team to improve the system.

After 4 iterations, and receiving more feedback from his customers, they finally came up with a design that pleased his shoppers.


Whether it was a “EUREKA” idea, focusing on what they were good at, or making mistakes — all three Singaporean companies had a similar focus: Improvement, which ultimately led to success.

Why not embark on a similar journey for your company by utilising the employer programmes available for you at WSG?

From hiring to training employees, job redesigning to funding, there are a number of viable options to allow your company to survive this lull and come out stronger.

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