Lessons From Dad: Alvin Ea On His Entrepreneur Father’s Quiet Influence
This Father’s Day, Alvin Ea, the co-founder and CEO of container haulage platform Haulio, discusses his father’s impact on his personal journey as a business owner
Five years ago, Alvin Ea left his position as CEO of his family’s business, Hub Logistics, to start his own company in the haulage industry. Along with his business partner Sebastian Shen, he established Haulio with the aim of helping to fully digitise the highly traditional sector across Southeast Asia by the year 2025.
Although, ask Ea if he foresaw becoming an entrepreneur a few years before that and he would have said no. “I’ve never wanted to be an entrepreneur. I never saw myself becoming a businessman when I was younger,” he says. “I only ended up becoming one because I was filial and decided to join my dad’s business as the eldest son.”
Inevitably, working side by side with his father for several years proved pivotal to his life. It not only brought him closer to the man he hardly saw growing up, it also allowed him to learn the ropes of building and running a company from the experienced entrepreneur that is his father.
Today, Haulio is one of Southeast Asia’s largest container haulage platforms. It uses technology to better connect global logistics players with first-mile partners in Southeast Asia. It has partnerships with 98 percent of Singapore’s container haulage companies, and is growing its presence in Indonesia and Thailand.
This Father’s Day, Ea recounts moments from his childhood with his father and the lessons from the latter that have contributed to his approach and understanding of business.
What was your relationship with your father like growing up?
Alvin Ea: As the breadwinner of our family and an entrepreneur for an essential industry that never sleeps, my dad was often busy working. At home, his parental approach was one of tough love, and although my two younger brothers and I didn’t see him much as kids, we deeply respected and looked up to him. Growing up, our love for each other was pretty much unexpressed and unspoken.
This started to change when I entered the family business. Our relationship improved, we communicated a lot more, and we saw each other every day at work. But back then, I was more idealistic and impulsive. And due to our generation gap and different business mindsets, there were moments of father-son disputes and familial tensions.
How has your relationship evolved after you joined the family business, left and started your own venture?
AE: It’s been five years since I left the family business to start Haulio and our relationship has never been better. I know that my dad, who has witnessed my personal and professional growth, is proud of me.
With age, some hard knocks and my own business to run, I started to see things from his perspective that I previously couldn’t comprehend. I’ve applied many of the values and ways of doing business he had taught me in the past to what I’m building today.
Now that Haulio is expanding further into Thailand and Indonesia, we have even more common topics. My dad is proficient in Thai and Bahasa Indonesia and I’m learning to speak both languages as well.
Our dinner conversations are also more open, interactive and uplifting. In fact, I’ll be asking him out for the first time in my life for Father’s Day, for lunch alone, just the two of us, and I hope to continue this special bonding time with my dad regularly!
Was there a particularly pivotal moment in your relationship with him?
AE: It was the moment I left the family business to set up Haulio. My dad’s best parting gift to me was a S$50,000 cheque, but it wasn’t about the amount that greatly touched me. To me, it was a gesture of faith, a vote of confidence that he believed in me and the future of Haulio. Experiencing his unconditional love for me, my respect and love for my dad continued to grow from that point on.
What have been some of the biggest lessons he’s given you about business or entrepreneurship?
AE: He taught me how to take risks at different inflexion points of a company’s growth journey. He also showed me that the tough decisions you make along the way will not be the same, and you have to consider different angles for each unique decision made. And he taught me to be true to myself as a business leader, to have integrity and ethical values. We don’t have to step on others to climb.
In what areas do you think the both of you are most similar and most different?
AE: We’re similar in that logistics chose us and we’re both fiercely determined individuals who are defined by our strong value system.
We’re different in that my dad is a man of few words, while I’m outspoken and tend to provide more explanation. Also, my dad’s current passion is cooking, while I’m still obsessed with logistics.
What’s one thing you would like to tell your dad that you’ve never said before?
AE: “I love you.” I’ve never said this to him before and I hope I can convey this heartfelt message to him, on behalf of my brothers too.