Building on a Legacy: Wah & Hua’s Melissa Tan on What Lies Ahead

Melissa Tan of Wah Hua

Founded in 1978, Wah & Hua is one of the longest operating waste management companies in Singapore. Over the last 40 years, the waste management giant has evolved by leaps and bounds. Building on its legacy, Melissa Tan, CEO of Wah & Hua, has been steadily evolving the company her father built to create a cleaner and greener planet for present and future generations.

“My father started the business with only one truck. He started with only recycling paper and cardboard. In Singapore, this kind of business is known as Karang Guni – where you collect recyclable materials that you then trade for money,” shares Melissa. “It was only in the 1980s that a friend of his said ‘why don’t we get into waste management?’. And that is how we began.”

It was with Melissa’s entry into the business in the year 2000 that Wah & Hua began its evolution into a waste management solutions provider.

“When I joined in 2000, we were still purely focusing on waste collection. We were just collecting and recycling materials, but later on, we moved into waste processing by crushing, bailing, etc. Now we are looking at renewable energy and one-stop solutions for service buyers,” said Melissa. 

Melissa believes in taking care of Wah & Hua’s employees has also been key to the growth that the company has seen over the years. For her, supporting her teams both directly and indirectly, while also building a culture of integration and cooperation is instrumental in the success that Wah & Hua has seen. 

“For me, being the second generation entrepreneur, it is important to support my employees – not just financially, but also in multiple other ways. We work really hard to support our 300 to 350 strong employees,” shares Melissa. “We work on continuous training and upskilling our drivers, workers, and employees with regular courses and workshops. We conduct sharing sessions with different groups and departments on what’s happening on the ground for cross-learning.” 

When the Covid-19 pandemic hit the world and Singapore went into a lockdown, we ensured that our employees were well supported.

“In Singapore, our work is classified under essential service. We were out there every single day clearing the waste. During this time, we worked with our people to assure them that we were there for them. We provided both mental and physical support to our employees, during those life threatening times” says Melissa. “We made them aware about how to take care of themselves, what to do if they get Covid etc. There is a lot of ownership that the company has taken to really take care of its people.”

Melissa sees a change for the better coming in the near future for the waste management sector. Increasing awareness around correct waste management post the Covid-19 pandemic has been catalysing the way both people and Governments look at the importance of the sector. 

I think, now people are more aware of the environment, aware of waste collection, and recycling. But sometimes, they want to do it but don’t know how to do it. A lot of education and teaching has to go in place to guide them and create proper awareness,

“After the Covid-19 pandemic, the Government has become more aware of sustainability and the need for circular economies and thus have become more proactive now and are providing grants and incentives, to support the sector.” says Melissa.

In its newest metamorphosis, Wah & Hua is eyeing the renewable energy sector to create a customized platform, for waste management solutions. 

“Wah & Hua currently does the waste collection and waste processing. Now we are able to churn out clean energy from the waste collected from a household, industrial or commercial establishment. So, we are evolving ourselves into a one-stop shop,” shares Melissa. “I think the company is now ready to embark on a new journey overseas and we are looking at expanding Wah & Hua to other geographies. We may need purely technology expertise or partnership on material processing or we may simply need logistics. It is this flexibility to play around and not just restrict ourselves to one type of offering, that we want to take overseas.”

Melissa sees digitalization driving the trends of waste management is not just in Singapore, but in southeast Asia as well. 

Moving forward, the company has to be prepared for unforeseen circumstances. We really need to upscale not just employees but also companies where we are more tech-oriented. Waste management is not glamorous. I think we have to move away from that kind of mindset, so people say that we are in waste management – we protect our people, we protect our planet, and we work with pride.

 

She adds that the urgency with which countries in Southeast Asia are looking at waste management solutions can also have the added advantage of helping alleviate poverty as well.

“I was recently telling a friend of mine that I have realized that at this point, I feel that I am in the right business,” she adds with a smile.

As the custodian of Wah & Hua’s legacy, Melissa’s typical workday includes a number of meetings with both internal and external stakeholders that ensures the smooth functioning of the company. Her favourite way to unwind is to spend time in some peace and quiet.

“I like to relax- with a good meal, sometimes I go out with friends, and generally keep life on an easy-going pace when not working. I do read a lot of books on health, meditation, and spirituality to keep me calm and grounded,” she shares.

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