“Ready?” my driver asks with a wide smile. All I can offer is an awkward grin as the engine fires up and rumbles. I am low in the seat, too low almost to make out the pavement over the dashboard. I make sure I am strapped in. Not so much because the car is a devilish-looking black Lamborghini costing close to a million dollars, or the fact that it’s only one of 10 on the planet, but that the man behind the steering wheel is Melvin Goh.
The chief executive of supercar dealership Eurosports Global is a racer and who knows how hard he will push the 5.2-litre V10 Gallardo LP 550-2? The car can sprint to 100kmh from a standstill in a mere 3.7 seconds, barely the time required to take a deep breath. “Of course,” I reply – and cling to two facts. One: We are still in the parking space. Two: Goh listed his company on the secondary Catalist board of the Singapore Exchange seven months ago. This is a man with too much to accomplish to risk his life.
Then we are off. The G-force pushes me into the suede-covered bucket seat as we zoom out of Teban Gardens Crescent onto Ayer Rajah Expressway (AYE). In his element, the 57-year-old gushes about his baby – specially commissioned by the Lamborghini factory for Singapore. The materials used were selected to ensure the vehicle is as light as possible. The dashboard is wrapped in suede, rather than calf hide, he tells me over the engine’s roar. The panels are carbon fibre and the body, aluminium.
I run my fingers along the smooth exterior of the glove compartment. It suddenly occurs to me I probably shouldn’t be feeling up his car. I spoke to Goh for the first time only very recently for the interview. It’s a mark of his obliging nature that he acceded to my brazen request to go for a spin in his Lamborghini. He loves to drive, he tells me. Certainly, in choosing this business, Goh has married the love of his life.
THE START OF THE AFFAIR
A passion for cars runs in Goh’s veins. His father, Goh Lue Tee, owned a motor workshop, Gay Hin Enterprise, in Tyrwhitt Road at Jalan Besar. As a toddler, he would play there, using a screwdriver to “draw” on the vehicle his father was working on. At school – he attended the now-closed Labrador Primary School in Pasir Panjang Road – he would doodle cars on his exercise books, at the risk of being punished.
It was only natural for Goh to get his driver’s licence as soon as he came of age, at 18. By that time, he had been too exposed to cars to be satisfied with the four-door Toyota Corolla his father gave him to celebrate the occasion. He wasted no time in enhancing its performance and giving it a sportier look.
A mere two years later, he sold the souped-up sedan to buy his first two-door sports car – an MGB GT. He hasn’t looked back since, especially when after he took over the family business in 1981, he had to haggle with a customer over $100 for a Datsun 100A model. To attract individuals who can pay a fair price, Goh decided to go upmarket.
He turned the business into a go-to dealer for used luxury cars such as Porsche, Mercedes-Benz and BMW. In 1998, he set up Eurosports Auto – now a subsidiary of the listed Eurosports Global – to import new cars and bagged the Lotus dealership.
Goh, who is the eldest of nine siblings, says: “My father was very supportive and probably saw it coming. Selling factory-fresh cars was a way to grow the business. We had been fairly successful in the pre-owned high-end car segment and he saw that I could manage the business. In the used-car industry, you can create demand but you cannot create supply. So what’s next?
“The biggest challenge was finding out which brand wasn’t in Singapore or which existing dealership wasn’t doing a good job, so you could try to convince the factory that you can perform better.”
He found his trophy car in Lamborghini.
THE CHOSEN ONE
In 2001, following a two-year courtship, Eurosports Auto became Singapore’s sole authorised dealer of the sports car.
“I still remember the day I received the life-changing phone call from Lamborghini’s regional manager, who said, ‘Melvin, welcome to the family’. It was a week before Christmas in 2000. It is still the most memorable Christmas present I’ve got.”
The first three years were a struggle, he admits. At that time, only two to four units were sold in Singapore annually. “We had only one model, Diablo, to sell. It is what we consider an old lady. That was a low point but we had expected it.”
The introduction of new products turned the business around.
“We had been selling the first-generation Gallardo for four years since 2004. When the LP 560-4 was launched in 2008, it was a complete facelift, with better features such as a more powerful engine and an improved gearbox. There was also a lot of interest for the Murcielago LP 670–4 Super Veloce unveiled in 2009.”
The surge in sales didn’t happen in Singapore alone. By 2008, Lamborghini roared past archrival Ferrari in the sales race for the first time in the world. This feat continued in 2009.
Today, Goh says he sells between 50 and 60 Lamborghinis annually, a figure which has been consistent for the past five years.
The much-anticipated 5.2-litre V10 Huracan, the Gallardo’s successor, is due for delivery in September and 40 units have been presold here, though actual sales are subject to test-drive results.
Eurosports Global also carries top-line car brands such as Pagani, Alfa Romeo and Touring Superleggera.
EXPANDING THE FAMILY
With these “reassuring figures”, Goh felt it was time to diversify the business into luxury lifestyle products. Scoring exclusive rights to distribute DeLaCour luxury timepieces in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and Brunei in November 2012 was the first step.
“We’re in the extremely high-end segment of the automotive industry. There isn’t much space to manoeuvre other than pinching other luxury car brands, which is not an easy task. The other way is to look at our database and see how else we can service customers. My clients are high networth individuals, who are accustomed to a certain lifestyle. They are buying watches like they would a T-shirt. Selling timepieces is a natural progression.”
It was also a savvy move. Due to a softening car market here, Eurosports Global’s revenue from last March to March this year fell 54 per cent to $39.8 million. This figure includes revenue from the sale of Delacour watches, which rose 40.1 per cent to $3.2 million in the same period. The timepieces are sold in Singapore at Sincere Fine Watches and Watches of Switzerland.
Delacour is also available in Jakarta, and there are talks to take it to Bangkok. The next step in the diversification plan may be in the yacht-chartering business.
Goh, whose business is newly listed, is learning to be more discreet about his plans. Yet, it’s clear over the course of our conversation that his outgoing nature, as well as the ability to translate personal charm to superlative customer service, contributed to his success. Building an affluent network is key – a person who buys a Lamborghini today may very well drop down spare change for a luxury watch tomorrow.
If he’s not busy travelling to meet regional dealers and brand principals, he is wining and dining with his customers, like he did the night before we meet. “I call it work. Others call it partying. It helps a lot to have good relations with your customers. It’s a lifestyle we enjoy together. I’ve been blessed with many wonderful friends and supporters who are the reason why my business thrives.
“Our motto is ‘Walk in as a customer, walk out as a friend’. I dare say the majority of our customers have become our friends.”
Goh, who grew up in a kampung in Telok Blangah, thinks nothing of going the distance for these individuals. He did not bat an eyelid when one customer asked for the interior of his lime green Murcielago Roadster to be in two colours – one half in white and the other, yellow. It was an unprecedented request. Twenty years on, this client still has the car.
The camaraderie that he shares with his customers is also apparent between him and his staff, who are happily snapping photos of him on their mobile phones during the photo shoot. A business-relations manager tells me that most of Goh’s 60 employees have been with the company for at least 10 years.
Managing and understanding people aren’t easy, Goh shares. Adopting a give-and-take attitude is something he has cultivated throughout the years. “There are friendships which last for six months and then fizzle. There are others which are for life, even though you see them only occasionally. After all these years, I’ve realised that one cannot be narrow-minded and overanalyse a comment. Don’t be so serious.”
IN THE DRIVER’S SEAT
In the Lamborghini, Goh negotiates a turn that is a tad sharper and jerkier than what I am used to.
Perhaps a little let down by the heavy traffic on the AYE, he apologises over the booming engine for not being able to demonstrate the Lamborghini’s true prowess. Even so, as the car zips past trucks and vans along the highway at 4pm, curious drivers stare. You think that Goh must be used to it and takes it in his stride. In fact, he’s got it covered.
“The windows of all my cars (he also has a black BMW 7 series, which is his daily drive, and a white BMW 1M) are tinted in the darkest possible shade. I don’t like people looking at me when I drive. That’s why I sometimes don’t like to take the Lambo out because it draws too much attention.”
The drive over, we pull up outside his office once more. Noticing the glances of passers-by, I get a taste of how attention can be flattering but wearisome at the same time.
Today, the black mobile is further decked out with gold and white decals in preparation for a drive with his members-only Running of the Bulls club to Genting Highlands, where they will stay for a weekend. Into its sixth year, the club organises car tours at least 12 times a year, when local Lamborghini owners take road trips together, often to Malaysia. The vivacious Goh usually leads the herd.
It’s a relatively safe drive compared to his go-karting and racing days, when he would jump into a car on impulse.
Ten years ago, he and two friends joined the 12-hour Malaysia Merdeka Endurance Race on a whim. His friend’s Caterham sports car was due to arrive in time, and he thought, what better way to initiate it? The day before the race, they were still modifying its lights to cater to night driving.
They qualified in 11th position and eventually caught up to sixth, with only five hours to go. Unfortunately, the oil belt came loose and the trio did not have a replacement, so they could not complete the race.
He currently owns a Lamborghini GT3 race car, which is managed by a professional racing team that competes in international races such as Lamborghini Super Trofeo Cup and GT Asia Series. Despite his love of speed, Goh has always been aware of the danger. “I’ve always been very careful. Maybe that’s why I didn’t become a very good racer. If you want to be fast on the racetrack, you cannot be too careful. You’ve got to take the risk, albeit not recklessly.”
Asked if he has other hobbies, he sheepishly admits both work and play revolve around cars. As a father, however, this means he cannot object to his children taking to the racetrack and its resident perils.
THE PASSENGER’S VIEW
His 24-year-old son, Joshua, who is in his final year at Melbourne’s Monash University where he studies commerce, participates in go-kart races, just like Goh used to do.
Now that Goh is on the other side of the track, he admits he gets the jitters when he watches his son race. “At one of his go-kart races in Melbourne two years ago, I was muttering under my breath the whole time, ‘Don’t go so close to him. It’s so dangerous’.
“All sports have an element of danger. When I put on the helmet, it vanishes from my mind. But when I see him race, I am of course worried for his safety.
“I’m sure he will start racing when he’s back here. I will not encourage him, but I won’t stop him. I’ve told him that he can never make a living out of driving. At this age, you won’t be very good. It can only be a hobby. If you can win a race, it’s great. If you cannot, don’t risk a limb.”
Still, he beams with pride when relating his son’s adept driving skills. Not only has Joshua beaten his father in a race at a driving school in Phuket, he has also impressed Goh’s friends, who thought Goh was behind the wheel all the while.
His 22-year-old “little girl” Jaime, as he affectionately calls her, is not quite as deft. She studies mechanical engineering at the same university as her brother. “I sat in her car and was a bit nervous. I’m not sure if she’s equipped that way,” he says with chuckle.
Neither of them is allowed to drive his Gallardo. “I have to keep them grounded,” he says. He won’t force them to take over the business, even though he already has plans for Joshua to work at a bank for at least four years to “lay the foundation”, upon his graduation and return in December.
But, if they eventually run Eurosports, his only hope is that they are fuelled by a passion for it. “I don’t know how you can be inspired if there is no passion. Inspiration is so short-lived. I won’t say I’m a perfectionist. But I will not leave any stone unturned.”
For Melvin Goh’s top three driving routes in Europe, download The Peak Singapore app on Magzter.