The in­trigu­ing story of how Thule came to Malaysia

Cycling Plus (Malaysia) - - THE HUB -

ome­times op­por­tu­ni­ties just seem to fall into your lap, but not without hard work, ded­i­ca­tion, sac­ri­fice and the re­al­i­sa­tion that it could just float away and never ma­te­ri­alise. We are all guilty of lack­ing vi­sion some­times but there are some peo­ple who man­age to recog­nise the chance of a life­time and grab it.

For 61-year-old Wong Swue Onn, one of the founders and cur­rent Man­ag­ing Direc­tor of

SThule South East Asia, his fail­ures in the past have re­ally helped him make the com­pany one of the big­gest trans­porta­tion so­lu­tion providers in Malaysia. Not only has he cre­ated some­thing that would help many Malaysians move bikes around more con­ve­niently, he also se­cured a com­fort­able life for him­self and his fam­ily.

The story of Thule’s ex­is­tence in Malaysia is quite an in­trigu­ing one. With the brand be­ing Swedish, of course it has to start with a Swedish per­son. An­ders Nordin was the man ini­tially re­spon­si­ble for in­tro­duc­ing Thule to Malaysia, but he has a small part to play in the big­ger pic­ture. It was ac­tu­ally Wong who made Thule into what it is now.

“The way things are in Malaysia, we all know that a for­eigner could not launch a com­pany prop­erly without hav­ing a Malaysian coun­ter­part,” ex­plained Wong. “For Nordin that per­son was me. We ac­tu­ally met at a din­ner party and af­ter chat­ting to him about my pas­sion of pro­vid­ing trans­porta­tion solutions to the masses, things seemed to speed up from there. The big break for Thule in Malaysia was ac­tu­ally when Pro­ton ap­proached us to pro­vide roof rails for the Juara back in 2000.”

“Pro­ton wanted to kit up the Juara with roof rails and they looked to us for the so­lu­tion. Al­though at the time many other com­pa­nies ten­dered for the con­tract, we man­aged to win the deal through our abil­ity to pro­vide a qual­ity prod­uct. The rest, as we say, was his­tory. In 2008, the rights for Thule South East Asia was of­fered to me through Pa­trik Bern­stein, my im­me­di­ate Swedish su­pe­rior at the time .

I de­cided to pur­chase all the rights for the Thule South East Asia name so that I could per­ma­nently be in charge of the op­er­a­tion here and I was happy that they obliged. The sec­ond big break for Thule South East Asia was around 2011-2014, due to the in­creased in­ter­est in cy­cling in Malaysia.

“I de­cided to fo­cus on pro­vid­ing all sorts of Thule racks for cy­clists and it paid off. Be­cause we were the first com­pany here to pro­vide such qual­ity equip­ment, we have be­come a house­hold name when it comes to bike racks. Many have tried to pen­e­trate

the mar­ket, but in the end, ev­ery­body comes back to us as we meet a great bal­ance be­tween value and qual­ity,” said Wong.

Speak­ing of bike racks, Wong was also a bik­ing en­thu­si­ast so it was easy for him to un­der­stand what the mar­ket wanted. “Al­though these days I en­joy my long walks with my dogs more, I have a soft spot in my heart for bi­cy­cles. Even till to­day I keep my Scott bike in tip top con­di­tion and hang it up on the wall like it’s my pride and glory.

“I used to cy­cle more, but these days with my grand­chil­dren and other re­spon­si­bil­i­ties, I do not re­ally have the chance to. But when I do, I’ll quickly grab my Scott and off I go. Some­times it’s eas­ier to un­der­stand what cus­tomers want if you’re like them and at the time, I cy­cled pas­sion­ately,” said the fit look­ing 61-year-old.

But it wasn’t all happy days and sun­shine, be­cause be­tween 1990 and 1999 Wong went through a pe­riod where he was job­less and only free­lanc­ing. Af­ter leav­ing his job as a com­mod­ity trader with Mapro In­dus­tries he thought he would try his hand at some­thing dif­fer­ent.

“I left Mapro in 1987 to go into the con­struc­tion in­dus­try. Things didn’t work out and I was left empty. Be­cause I had a fam­ily, I did pretty much any­thing I could to pro­vide for them. This in­cluded some free­lanc­ing work as well as dog breed­ing. I love dogs so at least the dog breed­ing part was a joy to do,” said Wong.

When we asked what the fu­ture looked like for Thule South East Asia, he ex­plained that they are start­ing to fo­cus a lit­tle bit more on an­other prod­uct seg­ment, on top of their ever pop­u­lar bi­cy­cle racks. “Right now we are get­ting a lot of in­ter­est from con­sumers from our lug­gage and bag depart­ment. We have no­ticed this de­mand and wish to make it eas­ier for peo­ple to pur­chase. How­ever, Thule is also re­vamp­ing their bike racks to make them more aero pro­filed so that it cre­ates less noise,” said Wong.

Be­fore we left, we ended the in­ter­view by ask­ing Wong the all im­por­tant, nig­gling question: “How do you pro­nounce Thule”? He laughed. “It de­pends where you are from. In Amer­ica, it is pro­nounced Too-lee, in Malaysia it is pro­nounced Thu­ley but in Swe­den it is pro­nounced Thu-la. Be­cause the largest mar­ket for Thule is in Amer­ica, Too-lee is more com­monly known world­wide.”

“Be­cause we were the first com­pany here to pro­vide such qual­ity equip­ment, we have be­come a house­hold name when it comes to bike racks.”

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