Henn (Henry) Tan



Henn (Henry) Tan (b. 1957, Singapore–) is the chairman, chief executive officer and executive director of Trek 2000 International, the company which invented the “thumb drive”, a USB (universal serial bus) portable data storage device.1 The company’s revolutionary innovation popularised the use of the USB flash drive, which has overtaken the floppy disc as the most common portable data storage device for personal computers.2

Early life
Tan, the third son in a family of six boys, was born in a kampong (village) in Geylang Lorong 17. His father was a pest-control worker and mother a housewife. Tan’s family was poor and his parents spent most of their time earning a living. Although he and his brothers were often left on their own, his mother took a serious view of their education. She constantly reminded them to study hard and do well in school. If they turned in poor grades, punishment would be meted out with a cane.3

Even in his early years, Tan displayed resourcefulness. During the school holidays, he would scavenge rubbish bins in private estates in search of stamps to add to his collection.4 Aside from stamps, Tan also picked up discarded magazines, such as the Reader’s Digest magazine, which he read and enjoyed.5

Tan studied at Aljunied Technical High School, the first person in his family to enter secondary school. However, he came under the influence of bad company, and began playing truant to hang out with his friends at sarabat stalls, smoking and listening to rock music. When Tan was in upper secondary, he was once caned by the discipline master for walking out of class after an argument with a teacher. Although he managed to complete his GCE “O” Levels, his life began to take a turn only when he entered National Service. Under the strict military discipline and friendship of mentors, Tan sobered up and straightened out his life.6

Career
After completing his National Service as a military police instructor, Tan joined a German multinational firm as a machinist. Having always wanted to be a salesman, Tan joined NEC as a marketing executive in the early 1980s.7 In 1983, he was hired by Sanyo as a regional sales manager.8 In 1984, Tan changed his name from Henry to Henn at the suggestion of a business associate in Penang. “Henn” sounds like heng, which means “lucky” in Hokkien.9 In Sanyo, Tan worked his way up to become the director of operations, overseeing the company’s operations in Southeast Asia.10 In 1995, Tan resigned from the company when they turned down his request for a five-percent equity stake.11

Establishing Trek 2000
In 1995, Tan bought over Trek, a small family-owned electronic parts trading business for S$1 million.12 He restructured the company and changed its business focus to providing technology-driven engineering solutions to businesses.13 As Trek 2000 was a small establishment, Tan had to overcome many challenges on his road to success. These included securing financing from banks and the government, recruiting good staff, and convincing big companies to engage the company’s services.14 However, Tan pressed on, and in 1998, the company was appointed the design house for Toshiba.15

With his engineers, Tan began to explore ways to create a data storage device that would utilise the USB interface.16 Their solution was the “thumb drive”, a plug-and-play memory drive that required no cable or adapters, and could store more data than a floppy disc.17 In 2000, Tan launched the thumb drive at the CeBIT international technology fair in Germany.18 Though his booth was shabbily decorated, with only a small cardboard proclaiming “The World’s Smallest Drive”, it was swarmed with many buyers.19 On 24 May that the same year, Tan took his company public on the Singapore Exchange.20

By July 2013, Trek 2000 had built up a portfolio of 380 patents worldwide, with offices in the United States, Malaysia, Thailand, India, Hong Kong, the Netherlands, China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, Australia and Japan.21 It was named one of the “Best Small Companies in the World” by Forbes in 2000 and 2002, and the “Best Managed Small Company in Singapore” by AsiaMoney in 2003. Other awards received by the company include the INVENT Singapore Award 2008, the ASEAN Business Award for Innovation in 2011, Asia-Pacific Enterprise Leadership Awards for Spirit of Innovation Award in 2013, and SD Association Leadership Award in 2014.22

Working style
Tan describes his management style as dictatorial and results-oriented.23 He also cites the late Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew as his role model, admiring him for his no-nonsense work ethic.24 Known for his economical and prudent ways, Tan flies by economy class for business trips, and keeps the furnishing at the Trek 2000 office spartan.25


Qualifications and awards
Tan holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Management from the National University of Ireland, and was awarded an Honorary Doctorate in Business Administration by the University of Wisconsin.26 In 2002, he was named the Ernest & Young Emerging Entrepreneur of the Year in recognition of his business achievements.27 In 2011, he received the Engineering Leadership Award from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc during its 15th International Symposium on Consumer Electronics.28 A more recent accolade is the 9th International Management Action Award in 2015.29


Family30
Wife:
Adeline Teo

Sons: Wayne Tan, Winn Tan and Will Tan
Daughter: Lydia Tan



Author
Isabel Ong




References
1. Nanda, A. (2011, January 24). Trek record. The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Trek 2000. (2013). Management. Retrieved 2016, July 21 from Trek 2000 International website: http://trek2000.com.sg/index.php?id_cms=20&controller=cms; Au Yong, J. (2006, January 8). The drive to succeed. The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
2. Lee, M. (2004, August 15). Thumbs up for thumb drives. The Straits Times, p. 38. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
3. Nanda, A. (2011, January 24). Trek record. The Straits Times, p. 4; Tan, M. P. (2006, March 7). From caning and joking to trekking. The New Paper, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
4. Tan, M. P. (2006, March 7). From caning and joking to trekking. The New Paper, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
5. Nanda, A. (2011, January 24). Trek record. The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
6. Long, S. (2001, September 21). Firm hand puts him right on Trek. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
7. Long, S. (2001, September 21). Firm hand puts him right on Trek. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/; Asia Pacific Entrepreneurship Awards. (2012, November 8). Henn Tan. Retrieved 2016, August 1 from Asia Pacific Entrepreneurship Award website: http://www.apea.sg/henn-tan
8. Long, S. (2001, September 21). Firm hand puts him right on Trek. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
9. Tan, M. P. (2006, March 7). From caning and joking to trekking. The New Paper, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10. Kwang, M. (2013, July 12). Drive to innovate – Henn Tan. China Daily Asia. Retrieved 2016, August 1 from China Daily Asia website: http://www.chinadailyasia.com/leader/2013-07/12/content_15078055.html
11. Long, S. (2001, September 21). Firm hand puts him right on Trek. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
12. Tham, I. (2011, June 19). ThumbDrive founder’s crusade against copycats. The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
13. Nirmala, M. (2001, December 8). Can a hawker’s child still be a president scholar? The Straits Times, p. 14; Tan, M. P. (2006, March 7). From caning and joking to trekking. The New Paper, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
14. Au Yong, J. (2006, January 8). The drive to succeed. The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
15. Long, S. (2001, September 21). Firm hand puts him right on Trek. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
16. Tan, M. P. (2006, March 7). From caning and joking to trekking. The New Paper, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
17. Lee, O. G. (2005, March 25). Rule of the thumb. The Business Times, p. 28. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
18. Tan, H. (2005, March 15). Handy inventions. The Straits Times, p. 18. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
19. Au Yong, J. (2006, January 8). The drive to succeed. The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
20. Singapore Exchange (2016, January 8). Basic info. Retrieved 2016, August 1 from Singapore Exchange website: http://infopub.sgx.com/Apps?A=Cow_CorporateInformation_Content&B=CorpInfoByCompanyNameInitial&F=1585
21. Chia, Y. M. (2013. July 30). Thumb drive creator’s back... with the Flucard. The Straits Times, p. 13. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Trek 2000 International Ltd. (Aug 2014). Corporate fact sheet. Retrieved 2016, August 1 from Trek 2000 International Ltd website: http://trek2000.listedcompany.com/misc/factsheet_020914.pdf
22. Trek 2000 International Ltd. (2014). Annual report 2014. Retrieved 2016, August 1 from Trek 2000 International Ltd website:  http://trek2000.listedcompany.com/misc/ar2014/ar2014.pdf; Asia Pacific Entrepreneurship Awards. (2012, November 8). Henn Tan. Retrieved 2016, August 1 from Asia Pacific Entrepreneurship Award website: http://www.apea.sg/henn-tan
23. Tham, I. (2011, June 19). ThumbDrive founder’s crusade against copycats. The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
24. Long, S. (2001, September 21). Firm hand puts him right on Trek. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
25. Nanda, A. (2011, January 24). Trek record. The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
26. Trek 2000 International Ltd. (2013). Management. Retrieved 2016, August 1 from Trek 2000 International Ltd website:http://trek2000.com.sg/index.php?id_cms=20&controller=cms; Low, K. C., & Dunlop, P. K. G. (2000). Who’s who in Singapore. Singapore: Author, p. 467. (Call no.: RSING 920.05957 WHO)
27. The winning touch. (2002, October 7). The Business Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
28.Trek’s CEO receives Engineering Leadership Award from world’s largest technical professional society. (2011, June 14). Singapore Government News. Retrieved from ProQuest via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
29. Boon, R. (2015, October 29). Firms urged to embrace change to sustain growth. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
30. Low, K. C., & Dunlop, P. K. G. (2000). Who’s who in Singapore. Singapore: Author, p. 467. (Call no.: RSING 920.05957 WHO); Nanda, A. (2011, January 24). Trek record. The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.



The information in this article is as valid as at 31 August 2016 and correct as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

 

Subject
Personalities
USB (Computer bus)
Businessmen--Singapore--Biography
Tan, Henn (Henry)
Personalities>>Biographies
Business, finance and industry>>Industry>>Computers