11 April 2013 by Adeline Lum CM-
“We absolutely refuse to indulge in bribery or to practice any form of mismanagement whatsoever. My staffs know the value of personal integrity. The day we do not live by this principle is the day we’ll start seeing ‘cracks’ in our own ‘walls’, that is, in our character.”
Well said. And these were the words penned down from Dr Nehemiah Lee Chee Hai, managing director of NEHEMIAH Reinforced Soil Sdn Bhd (NRS) in The Star Newspaper in 2009.
You may see his concrete walls everywhere when traveling down the highways or passing beside flyovers, such as KL-Karak Highway and Second East-West Highway. They had a distinctive feature of interlocking hexagonal blocks and a technology to make a wall to last for 120 years!
A foundation for his company, Nehemiah Lee’s strict integrity is the evidence of Isaiah 33:15-16.
15 Those who walk righteously
and speak what is right,
who reject gain from extortion
and keep their hands from accepting bribes,
who stop their ears against plots of murder
and shut their eyes against contemplating evil—
16 they are the ones who will dwell on the heights,
whose refuge will be the mountain fortress.
Their bread will be supplied,
and water will not fail them.
With his high-soaring success, one would be surprised to know that Nehemiah Lee did not even know how to read a financial statement before he started his company. So, how did a civil engineer become market leader for reinforced soil technology in the world?
At 40 years old, Nehemiah went through ‘mid-life crisis’ when he began to question himself on whether he should continue working for the same vocation or choose another path for the remaining of his life.
“I wasn’t really happy with the construction business because there were lots of corruption involved, dealing with big money. It didn’t jive with my conscience in the process. Although I was not involved, I felt that I was part of the process which made me feel uncomfortable,” recalled Nehemiah.
Although he was in a fairly senior position at that time, he was dissatisfied with his status quo and the corrupted ways of business, citing Nehemiah 1:4.
When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven.
At that time, he really admired the character of Nehemiah in the Bible. That’s why he chose this name for himself and even named his company later after this same name!
“The Lord then gave me a vision and asked me: Why don’t you start your own business and glorify Me?” said Nehemiah.
But what does this glorifying mean?
“Glorifying God in business sounds very general. Can you have a mixed lifestyle? Can you immerse into corrupted practices from Monday to Friday and then on Saturday and Sunday, you ask God for forgiveness?” said Nehemiah.
So, being a practical man, he drew tangible definitions for glorifying God in action. Firstly, his profit would channel to a ministry he felt burdened about. Secondly, he would conduct his business with integrity.
“That means I would not indulge in bribery. When I shared this with my friends, they told me that I am preparing for my demise because it’s already hard to start a business; nine out of ten businesses would fail within five years. Plus, I was a weak businessman,” said Nehemiah.
Hence, NRS was founded in 1993 on the bed of many challenges. His RM200,000 of savings were insufficient to start a company. With a lack of credit track record, he could only borrow RM35,000 from the bank and another RM300,000 from his family. If he failed in his business, he would need to work in another job till he paid off his debt.
Renting his office, phone and fax machines on a shoestring budget, he recalled being billed for every call and fax made.
In addition, due to the company’s novelty,it became a subject of mockery in the industry.
“Nehemiah wall? Never heard of it. It will sure collapse wan lah,” recalled Nehemiah who could relate to how Nehemiah in the Bible felt when Tobiah the Ammonite mocked him (Nehemiah 4:3).
Tobiah the Ammonite, who was at his side, said, “What they are building – if even a fox climbed up on it, he would break down their wall of stones!”
In addition, he also faced challenges to hire employees. Instead of interviewing employees, they interviewed him back for the company’s history in the market and growth.
“Employees were reluctant to join because they were concerned that the company wasn’t stable. Besides that, there had been pressure to conform to bribery and we have lost many projects as well because of that,” said Nehemiah.
So, the company persevered for five months since it’s inception until he finally got his first project- Pantai Dalam Project.
“I was very surprised with how quickly the JKR approved the project. People thought that I had a ‘dai goh’ in JKR but I knew no one,” said Nehemiah who knew that the ‘dai goh’ was the sovereign hands of God.
And praise the Lord! The project was successful which set a more credible portfolio to bid for the second project. But alas! This time, the JKR did not approve their project for three months and they lost it.
“I felt that God was telling me that the reason I got my first project was because of Him. And without Him, I will not be able to do anything,” said Nehemiah.
Hence, after the first project, subsequent projects came in like manna, whereby each project was just enough to last for a few months before the next project came in time.
“God doesn’t give us too much but it is enough to keep us going. It was like hand to mouth… hand to mouth for the first five years,” said Nehemiah.
Today, the company has made a profit for 19 years now except for the first year of lost profit. It has also ventured into the global market, exporting its ‘Reinforced Soil’ technology to Singapore, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, India, Australia, and India.
Not to mention, it has received numerous awards such as the Brand Laureate, Red Bull, Ernst and Young, Star Outstanding Business Award and Entrepreneur of the Year Award. The media also caught on, where The Star Newspaper, BFM radio, and Astro Awani interviewed Nehemiah on how he could conduct business with integrity.
Watch a video interview by Bisnes Awani (June 2011)!
To listen to BFM interview, please visit http://www.market-eagles.com/NEHEMIAH/Radiointerview2.htm
“What difference do we make in the construction industry in Asia? The difference is that we don’t bribe. And why the publicity? I believe in Matthew 5:16 where right from day one in starting this company, I want to glorify God,” said Nehemiah.
In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.
“I didn’t think I was a businessman because I was an engineer. But this is how God show us that He is powerful when I am weak (2 Cor 12:9). And if we honor God in our business, He will honor us,” said Nehemiah. “I am everything I am because God loves me. And I feel privileged to be loved by God.
2 Cor 12:9
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weaknesses.” Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest in me.
Indeed, Dr Nehemiah Lee Chee Hai has built not only a wall that could last for 120 years, but a legacy of integrity that would last through generations.
Would you dare to conform to God’s ways in a dog-eat-dog, corrupted world of business? Like what John Haggai said, “Attempt something so great for God it's doomed to failure unless God be in it.”
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References for pictures: