ADMIRA: Innovating laminates through the right people

By Pang Yanrong

Jake Tan, executive director and third generation of ADMIRA strongly believes that people and innovation are the roads to success for the company.  

ADMIRA was not always known as a distributor for laminates in the early days. Instead, it was a small carpentry shop that manufactures furniture in old Singapore (located where Bugis+ stands today).  

Previously known as Seng Lee, the name was only incorporated in 1975 under the leadership of its second generation. “My father’s generation took over and they stopped doing carpentry work. They started bringing in a lot of products as a distributor and it was then that my father settled into doing laminates,” said Jake Tan, executive director and third generation of ADMIRA.

AMIDRA’s old office in Bugis, then known as Seng Lee

Such is the history of this family-owned company. Today, the huge blue and white building with its bronze ‘A’ logo printed on the exterior sits on a 4,500-square-metre land, a far cry from its humble beginnings. Walking into the vast reception area, different variations of wood-grained laminates warmly greet visitors. Further in and through a laminated wooden-textured door on the right, it is a sight to behold. Crates upon crates of laminates (each holding about three to 400 sheets of laminates) stretch across the warehouse, all stacked and ready to be shipped. But that’s not all, the company is looking to increase warehouse capacity to cater to growing export markets by installing advanced racking systems. This will house more stocks in the same area while keeping in line with the government’s plans for more productive usage of space in land-scarce Singapore.

On the side, a sample production area lines the right of the warehouse, all ready for workers to bring to life new designs or textures of laminate samples.

The current name of the company, ADMIRA, which means “to wonder” in Portuguese, was rebranded in 2010, a push by Tan to build a modern and fresh image for the company in this current environment where innovation is vital for growth. But it wasn’t all that easy for the previous generation to accept initially, “but [my father] slowly understood that it was integral for survival. The fact that he has let go of this shows us we were in the right direction,” said Tan.

The name also ties well with the design community where laminates create a dream place for ADMIRA’s customers – a vision of a place they admire and would want to work at or live in, Tan explained.

With three finance and economics majors under his belt, one would have thought Tan as a “numbers” person over “creative”. But Tan proves wrong by being ambidextrous. In fact, his continual strong emphasis on hiring the right people and to innovate are the key drivers of ADMIRA’s current success.


People: The corporate strategy for ADMIRA

ADMIRA’s most precious resource, the company says, is its employees.

Jake Tan, executive director of ADMIRA

At 34, Tan is young for a leader and his move back to ADMIRA nine years ago is admirable.

“I felt like it was important for me to come back for the people who are working here. They are the ones who ’paid me’ to go to school so I get to be where I am today. So I have to give back to them to make sure that the company continues to grow,” Tan said.

With 60 people hired under him, it is a huge responsibility. “It’s like being the president of a country. Every decision I make will affect their future,” Tan joked.

“I really believe that for the company to grow and excel, it depends on our most important resource—people. We have strong faith in our laminates but we can always change it. However, our people will always be the most important asset for the company,” he added.

In a country with no natural resources, Tan has to rely on his people to create and add value for the company. In fact, succession characteristics for the next generation of managers is already foremost on his mind.

“My successor must be innovative because there are all these ideas out there that need to click when an opportunity arises,” Tan said.

Innovation as the key driver for product strategy

Innovation in ADMIRA’s laminates is a fundamental strategy for Tan. Initially, ADMIRA used to only sell what their manufacturers offered. Today, the company sources materials from across the globe and develops them to their preference and according to the needs of the design industry. 

Some of these developments include simulating wood grains realistically including their textures as well as in other form of materials such as concrete, marble, leather and backlit marble.

Interior fit-outs featuring ADMIRA laminates for Khoo Teck Puat Hospital in Singapore


Part of the strategy is also looking into developing design solutions for their designers and consumers. For instance, kitchen backsplashes are usually done with glass or tiles. But to achieve a consistent theme in the house, ADMIRA developed their newest collection, Cerarl, with characteristics such as fire resistant and water-proof surfaces suitable for kitchens and bathrooms.

In a challenging and competitive landscape, diversification is important for the company too. Today, ADMIRA sells to different countries including Singapore, the Philippines, Australia and especially Malaysia. With a warehouse in Kuala Lumpur too, the company is also looking to distribute their unique range of products in Sabah and Sarawak. In addition, the company is also looking to expand distribution network to the rest of Southeast Asia.

“We are working with like-minded partners in Philippines, Myanmar and Australia at the moment, but are looking for more partners who understand our business philosophy and have the acumen to sell our laminates the ADMIRA way,” Tan said.

As a new generation to the company, Tan weaves a different management style from the previous generations where things are told to be done without second guessing. But that does not work for Tan.

“I like them to think,” Tan said. “Let them take ownership of their own ideas.”

Through that, he believes that employees will find their job more meaningful and be more motivated when the idea takes flight.

“I want not only a company that has products people can admire but a company that people admire too,” Tan said.


This article was first published in Panels & Furniture Asia (Nov/Dec).

ADMIRA will be taking part at this year’s IFFS and SingaPlural event.