Setia Gemilang Auto rises to the top as No 1 Proton dealer

The first 4S dealer has been breaking the sales record for 6 months to stay on top of the leader board

ANDREW Quek Tze Kean, 39, is the MD of Setia Gemilang Auto Sdn Bhd, Proton Holdings Bhd’s first 4S (sales, service, spare parts and spray paint) dealer in the country to carry the new corporate identity and colour to meet the standard requirements.

The company is the current top Proton dealer, breaking the carmaker sales record for a dealer since new Proton era after the Edaran Otomobil Nasional Bhd (EON) period. Setia Gemilang Auto sold 315 units in August this year. This is the extract of the interview with Quek.

Q: How long have you been a Proton dealer?

I have been in the business of selling cars since I graduated from the US, so I will say I have about 15 years’ experience in the auto industry. Setia Gemilang Auto was set up in November 2008. My father and I are both the directors of the company.

Q: What is it like working with your father in this business?

I would say, my father is quite a cool person.

He allows me to manage the Proton business the way I see fit. He doesn’t interfere too much except when he sees something he thinks could be done better. Generally, he supports my decision and leaves the daily operations of the business to me.

Quek has been in the auto industry for 15 years since he graduated from the US

Q: How has that developed you as a person?

In a lot of ways, this working arrangement has helped me build my character in the business.

There were decisions made which were not so well thought of, but the good thing is, I was able to learn from those mistakes and make more informed decisions now. Sometimes, it is good to make some mistakes here and there, it becomes a more effective way to learn. If I had not made those mistakes, I wouldn’t be a better manager or a better person that I am today.

Q: You graduated from the Hawaii Pacific University with a degree in political science. Totally different from what you are doing now. How did you get into the business of selling cars?

When I first graduated and got back home, I was actually quite drawn to the national political scene. Somehow, I just wanted to contribute something to the country. It is just something that had been playing in my head.

At that age, I was eager to do many things.

However, as things turned out, fate had a different destiny for me.

My uncle, who was in the auto industry then, persuaded me to join him. And that was how I got into the Proton business. Looking back, in some ways, I did serve my initial intention — which was to contribute to the nation, albeit in a different way. In parallel, Proton is a national establishment, so for, me being a Proton dealer wasn’t that far off the mark.

Q: So far, how is the experience of being a Proton dealer and how has the journey been so far?

Being a Proton dealer has helped me sharpen my entrepreneurial skills. In a lot of ways, it is a good experience. I have to learn how to manage many things and various matters, from staffing to the operation part of the business. I also have to learn things from scratch. So it is a lot of work. The invaluable part is, I get to learn more about myself, discovering things I never knew I could do and the ability to do it.

Being in this business means I get to meet many people from different walks of life and diverse backgrounds. This has helped me with my work in dealing with people and understanding the behaviour of customers. The good thing is, some of these customers are also my friends now.

Q: Over the years, what do you think is the key to managing a continuous business?

Like any business, I believe it must be founded on some level of integrity and honesty. By this I mean, whenever we engage with our customers, we have to be honest in our dealings with them. If there are issues, it has to be resolved. At the same time, a proper explanation will need to be given to customers. And a time frame needs to be established so that customers know we are working on their issues.

I think customers just like to be treated like they matter. So in my dealings with them, I always put them as my priority.

Doing business is all about putting customers first. We need to understand customers’ behaviour, their needs, before we can propose a solution.

Beyond this, running a business is all about managing your team. It is about identifying the strengths in your team and to leverage on that. When everyone works in unity, we get the results we want.

Techicians servicing a car at the plant. Quek says running a business is all about managing your team

Q: Is it tough managing your working team?

I will be lying if I say it is easy. Well, you know the saying. Managing people is the toughest job in the world! It is true. But having said that, I also need to credit my team for their support and contribution. I think individually and as a team, they have in their reasonable capacity, given their best.

A lot of time, I do put myself in their shoes to see where they are coming from. Sometimes when we get so busy, we forget the human element. So I try to have that balance when I manage the team. Overall, I am proud of their work.

Q: How many staff are you currently managing? How difficult or easy to get the best out of them?

Well, I must tell you that running a business is not easy. Tougher when you need to deal with people. But I always hold to the belief that we all can be great if we enjoy the work we do. Imagine if I enjoy painting, but you ask me to be a cook? Of course, nothing will get done. At present, I have a good team.

There are about 100 staff under me, inclusive of sales and service. Each one of them knows what they need to do and they deliver what is expected of them.

Q: Back to Proton, you have been the No 1 dealer for six months this year — January, February, June, July, August and September. Year-to-date (YTD), you have been consistent at the top circle.

It is all about teamwork and respect for one another. When you have deadlines and you need to chase for sales, everybody works hard to deliver their sales target. We encourage healthy competition and top sales personnel are rewarded.

In addition, I would also like to thank the Proton management for outlining a rewarding sales commission and wellrounded incentive schemes. Personally, they have given a lot of support and encouragement, not only to me, but the whole dealer network.

Q: You were given a higher sales target, that is, to break from 200 units per month to 300 units per month. What were your thoughts at the time?

I was blank. My mind faded to black. No… just joking. But seriously, I thought it was a tall order. Selling 300 units per month is not easy. Obviously, I was apprehensive of whether I could deliver the numbers.

Q: For August sales, you sold 315 units, breaking the record in the new era after the EON days. This record was not broken for a very long time. How did you do it?

With a lot of hard work, dedication and luck of course! I have a good team, from sales to service. Everyone helped to contribute to this success. There were days when we just wanted to slow things down, but of course we persevered and shouldered on. It is teamwork at its best. Besides, I need to credit Proton for creating a strong infrastructure for dealers to thrive. They have given us tremendous support.

On another note, and a very important one, our customers have been wonderful.

They have been very understanding and have allowed us the opportunity to service them. Without customers’ belief in us, none of this would have been possible.

Q: Your sales performance saw an incredible increase of almost 400%, comparing YTD results — 2018 versus 2019. What is the secret?

My answer is going to sound really boring. There are no shortcuts to success. We have to sacrifice a lot of time and effort to make the numbers a reality. I also believe the strong line-up of new models from Proton helped us with that leap in sales.

The quality increase in Proton cars have also brought about perception change in the market. Now, Proton cars are not only high in technology, it is also better in quality compared to before.

I am also appreciative of the support I get from Proton’s management. Their regular visits, discussions and engagement sessions helped a lot.

Q: Your outlet was the first to upgrade to the new facade. What are your thoughts on that? Did you immediately jump on that idea?

Yes. We were the first to upgrade to meet the new Proton standard requirements of a new outlet in the country. That was in June 2018. We were initially hesitant because of the substantial cost involved, but very soon, we warmed up to the idea because we also knew that it is the only way for us to stay relevant in the market. We need to move with the times, continue to excite the market and be noticeable by customers. It has to start with a new outlet.

A sales personnel attending to a customer. I think customers just like to be treated like they matter, says the MD

Q: What do you think about Proton CEO Dr Li Chunrong? How do you think he has steered Proton?

For me personally, he is someone with great leadership abilities, who can spot talent and encourage competition. I learned a lot from him. His speeches are always insightful and impactful. I find him a reasonable person and someone who works very hard to improve the brand in the market. I remember our first meeting. He just looked at me and gave me some targets. Of course, some of them were nerve-wracking, but at the same time, I understood his point of view. The initiatives are for Proton’s turnaround. So we all need to gather ourselves and move towards a common goal. I think he is doing a fantastic job. By the way, I still get the jitters whenever I need to meet him. That is the kind of person he exuberates. Firm, but sensible.

Aside from this, I also need to acknowledge the management team under Li. They have worked really hard, listened to us when we have issues and ensured that all our issues are addressed accordingly.

Q: How has that experience been for you, having a CEO with such strong character, who expects a lot from his dealers?

It was a hell of a ride of course! Nonetheless, his backing for us dealers meant that the sky was the limit. He brought out the competitiveness in us. All of us work tirelessly to beat our best. It was his faith in us as well. I would like to also say, collectively, all dealers have actually done better than previously.

That said, I am happy to be part of the Proton family. It is our national pride and it reflects our country’s achievements.

Q: What is next for Setia Gemilang Auto?

We will continue to do our best and deliver results.

Q: What do you do before you settle for the night?

I will usually schedule for the next day’s appointments and things to do. I try to get it organised so that I don’t miss out on the important things that need to be done.

Q: On a lighter note, what keeps you grounded in life?

Basically I just want to live a simple and meaningful life. I have to thank my family for that. My wife is not only my life partner, she is also my best friend. My children have different ideas about life in general and they bring a different kind of perspective compared to mine which is good. It is amazing how kids look at things. As I educate them, I also learn from them.

Q: Currently, what is your life motto?

That would have to be our current Proton tagline — Inspiring Connections.

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