From Tower to Power - The Journey of OCK Group Bhd's Sam Ooi Chin Khoon

From Tower to Power – The Journey of OCK Group Bhd’s Sam Ooi Chin Khoon

Tower of Power

“A lot of people think I am ambitious and had these grand plans to become this big successful entrepreneur, but this is not the case. I only started by own business because the company I was working in at the time was downsizing and I was one of the staff being let go.”

These are the surprising words of (Sam) Ooi Chin Khoon, the Group Managing Director of OCK Group Bhd as he recalls the nascent days of his eponymous company, OCK Setia Engineering Sdn Bhd. Nineteen years later, and today, the company is no longer a sole proprietorship. Instead, OCK Group Berhad is now the largest and biggest Telecommunications Network Services provider in Malaysia, has been a public-listed company since 2012, hires over 2000 people, and in 2017, posted a staggering revenue figure of close to MYR500million.

Even more staggering, as recently as 2014, when the company was transferred to the Main Market of the Bursa Malaysia Securities (it was listed on the Ace Market in 2012), the company’s annual revenue was hovering around the MYR100 million mark. Due to some very smart and aggressive regional expansion plans, OCK Group experienced a monumental period of accelerated growth in the short space of seven years, multiplying its revenue, not one, not two, not even three but fivefold. Not bad for a man who professes to never having such grand designs or ambitions for his company.

“Yes, these past few years have been very hectic for my staff,” Ooi says matter-of-factly if betrayed by a small smile. “Since we became public listed, we have raised a lot of funds and increased our debt to MYR500million. So that was our investment to transform our company from a contracting company to one with recurring income. And last year, our recurring income has increased to over 47% of our total revenue.”

These are heady days for OCK and for Ooi, a far cry from the time when a young man decided to set out on an entrepreneurial adventure simply because he was soon to be out of a job and in the hope that he may be able to “afford a Honda Accord.”

“At that time, I thought that would be enough for my life,” says Ooi, laughing fondly at the memory. Obviously, things have since changed.


An electrical and electronics engineer by trade, 51-year-old Ooi began his working life as an Electrical Engineer then Contract Manager before he was unceremoniously let go when the global recession hit in the late 90s.

With his hand forced, Ooi opted to open a 50-50 partnership called Standard Power Sdn Bhd. “We didn’t have any business for whole year,” he recalls. Faced with another crossroads, he toyed with the idea of looking for a new salaried job but with the encouragement and advice from his brother, he instead incorporated a small sole proprietary company called OCK Setia Engineering Services.

“At that time, one of my university friends was working for a company that was the main contractor for Maxis so he asked me to become one of his sub-contractors. This is how I got into the world of the telecommunications industry.”

Initially, OCK was performing on just a very small scope (cable pulling) of the overall services provided by the main contractor but he soon built a team that learnt to perform all the other parts of the whole process.

Then after about four years, Ooi faced yet another crossroads and a decision that would prove to be a crucial turning point. Ooi recollects: “The main constraint for me at that time was our inability to go out and look for new business because then we would be competing against the main contractor who would terminate our contract with them

“But I told myself that if things remained as they were, OCK would always remain a small company because our income is 100% dependent on one main source. I decided to take a risk and to put in a tender for a job directly. In 2004, we became an Approved Service Provider (ASP) for Ericsson and Alcatel-Lucent. This was our first step up in the industry.”

True to his predictions and risk assessment, the one and only contract job OCK had at that time was terminated overnight at the point of the submission of the tender. Six months later, the gambit paid off and it would prove to be a catalyst of major change within the organisation as well as set it on a trajectory.

“After we won that tender, we began to realise that to become a strong main contractor we needed to change; we needed strong cash flow, strong bank facilities, and a strong management team. We needed to become competent is all these aspects.”

More small successes were to follow as OCK racked up more contracts in the next 8 years, with Digi, U Mobile, Celcom, ZTE, Huawei and YTL, amongst the clientele captured.

In the process, OCK was establishing a solid reputation for the excellence of its services whilst refining its processes in the “provision of telecommunication services equipped with the ability to provide full turnkey services.” In other words, as a Network Facilities Provider (NFP) Licensee, OCK builds, owns, and leases telecommunication services that they provided in Malaysia but soon enough, they refined their plans to suit both the unique business landscape and maturity of each different market.

For example, in Indonesia where the telecommunication market is highly matured and where telcos do not own their own towers and lease them from parallel companies, OCK positioned itself as a company that maintains towers for these existing tower companies.

In Myanmar and Vietnam, OCK chose the path of injecting significant amounts of investment in order to build, own and lease telecommunication towers to mobile operators there as well as towers and rooftop structures to telecommunication operators in Malaysia. This comprehensive service covers all segments of this market, including network planning, design and optimisation, network deployment, network operations and maintenance, energy management, and infrastructure management.

This all culminated in 2012 when the OCK Group was listed on the ACE Market of Bursa Malaysia Securities Berhad on July 17 of that year and winning its first of many awards. By2015, Ooi, under the technology entrepreneur category, was one of 20 captains of industry vying for the EY Entrepreneur of The Year Award.


In 2014, OCK Group reached yet another milestone when it was transferred to the Main Board of Bursa Malaysia. “When we got listed on the main market on Bursa, we had to learn new things step by step – the new fee structures, the compliances, and even the types of people I had to talk to. Now, you are not only dealing with regular business people, but banks, investors, government officials, so we did encounter difficulties and problems which we had to learn to resolve as we went along.”

Yet this level up provided Ooi with new arsenal, the ability and legitimacy to seek and attract new capital for expansion of the business. Ooi decided that the time was ripe to step up the game. At that point, OCK were already considered as one of the top performers, if not the top performer in the industry for that segment. With revenue at around the MYR100 million mark, Ooi realised that OCK would unlikely ever exceed that if it chose to remain solely doing business in Malaysia.

“We embarked on a regional expansion plan,” says Ooi. “We started in Indonesia and Cambodia and then later Thailand, Myanmar, Vietnam and China.” At first, OCK offered almost identical acquiring companies which own existing towers. In Vietnam, they bought a company that owns around 1,900 portfolio of towers while in Myanmar, an organic growth has seen them start from one and now arrived at around 900 portfolio of towers proudly built from scratch.

And last year, they signed a MOU with a Filipino company to position themselves there as one of the future tower companies. “Recently, the Philippines government granted a new MNO licence to a Chinese company and, as a new operator there, they will need new towers built. In terms of telco providers, The Philippines is quite a mature market, but the tower company business is still considered new there.

“We are currently waiting for the Philippines government to finalise their tower policies,” reveals Ooi. “We hope they will do so by this year and then we will tender for the licence to become one of the tower operators there.”


The public listing of OCK on the Bursa Main Board also brought about a paradigm shift in the mindset of Ooi.

“I started to realise the importance of recurring income. If you are a big company and most of your revenue is through contracting works, it can be very stressful because every year you have to look for new prospects to maintain your level of revenue. So that is why some PLCs (public listed companies) who rely mainly or solely on contracting revenue have been known to sometimes bid very low for jobs. We don’t want this to happen to us.

“This is the reason why I want to grow our recurring income because I don’t want to have to simply take any business. As long as there is no margin, we will not pursue it. This is all about sustainability in the long run. Investors usually look for companies like this. They are always looking for a consistent return of investment.”

Enter Green Energy and Power Solution, the newest arm of the OCK Group which in 2017 was the second highest contributor of the four arms of OCK (M&E Engineering Services and Trading being the other two), contributing eight per cent of the group’s total profit that year.

“In 2012, we heard that the government was initiating plans to build solar farms. So we decided to open up a company and position ourselves as an EPC (Engineering, Procurement and Construction). The model is the same as our tower business. But after we constructed a few of these farms, some of the owners couldn’t pay us so I suggested to them to sell us the farms instead since we are able to raise capital to fund this project. Ultimately, we acquired 11 small solar farms.”

He continues: “I think Malaysia plans to eventually produce a few thousand megawatts of solar power through these solar farms to replace traditional power sources. If we are able to achieve our goals in this field, it should set us up nicely for the future. If you sign a contract with TNB (Tenaga Nasional Berhad) to supply them with power from these farms, it will be for 21 years so that will give us lots of time to consider what our next project should be.


On the surface, it might seem that OCK’s journey thus far has been a relatively charmed one but compressing 19 years and then just focusing on the destination disingenuously ignores the nuances and complications that have occurred during the journey.

“I always told myself to never give up especially during the tough times of our early days,” stresses Ooi. “Often, the hardest part was having to continue working hard even when you are facing failures and difficulties.

“I also believe that you must always be humble, honest and you must always treat your staff well. That’s why today I have over 2000 staff and most of my senior managers have been with me for over10-15 years, some even from when we started. You may have the vision but you will always need a good strong team to execute for you. You must learn how to trust your people so that you can empower them.”

And what are OCK’s plans for the rest of the year? “I think we will continue to grow as we have done for the past six years,” Ooi muses. “But I do want to establish more quality revenue, which basically means more stable income with a good margin.”

Throughout the interview, Ooi has come across as a deliberately thoughtful and considerate man. You wouldn’t be remiss if you were caught off guard by the fact that he is almost soft-spoken as if you would expect a successful entrepreneur to exude the exact opposite. But here stands a self-professed introvert who admits he had to come out of his shell and learn how to deal with people on a daily basis as his business grew in stature, who in remaining true to himself and pairing that with unflinching endeavour, an openness to personal growth, natural intelligence and instinctive business acumen, has come up with a winning formula that seems perfectly tailored for him.

When I suggest it seems like he is starting to lay the groundwork for his eventual legacy, he becomes somewhat animated for the first time. “No, no, no, not a legacy,” he says with a laugh. “In business, you just always have to move forward.”

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