The implosion of investment banking firm Lehman Brothers in 2008 was an event destined for the history books, fueling the greatest economic downturn the United States had seen since the crash of 1929 and sparking a banking crisis around the world.
For Gregor Gregersen, the firm’s collapse acted as a professional light bulb moment.
“Seeing it from the inside was life-changing in some ways for me,” he tells The CEO Magazine.
German-born Gregersen had entered the world of finance early on in his career, starting off as a stockbroker trainee. He had worked his way up to the position of Senior Data Architect at Commerzbank Singapore, overseeing development, consulting and training for corporate clients, when the crash happened.
With both the housing and stock markets flailing, he began taking notice of precious metals, reading a book on the subject – Guide to Investing in Gold and Silver by Michael Maloney.
“The question became very clear that, if the financial system is just based on trust, and if that trust is going to evaporate as it was at that point in time, where do you put your assets? Physical gold and silver suddenly made so much sense” he says.
“It was off my radar before, but it quickly became very relevant.”
But when he actually set about buying some silver, nobody was willing to sell it, he recalls.
“I went to 12 different dealers and banks until finally I managed to get a one kilo silver bar from the gift shop of the European Central Bank.”
From idea to enterprise
Gregersen returned to Singapore, full of conviction about his new side-project, and started looking for a place to buy silver there. But again, nobody appeared to be selling it.
“The closest I got was Mustafa in Little India, they were selling silver coins that were 90 percent silver,” he says. “But I was looking for the investment trade volume, the big brand LBMA [London Bullion Market Association] bars. Nobody was doing it.”
So he decided to ship it into Singapore himself.
Setting up a company was initially the means to an end, enabling him to navigate the goods and services tax requirements. But he soon started wondering whether others in Singapore would be interested in buying silver without all of the shipment and tax rigmarole he had just undertaken himself.
Physical gold and silver suddenly made so much sense.
He built a website with live inventory and live pricing simply to gauge interest.
“I called it Silver Bullion because I figured somebody would type ‘silver bullion Singapore’ in Google if they’re looking for it,” he explains.
“It made it very clear what we do. That was the extent of branding.”
It was only after he had notched up US$584,000 in sales that he decided to formalize the operation, establishing a physical office and hiring his first team member in April 2009. He also wrote the company’s own fully integrated accounting system, drawing on his former professional experience.
The interest was certainly there, prompting Gregersen to launch subsidiary business The Safe House, a 630-metric-ton-capacity gold and silver vault in Singapore, in 2014.
In the decade after establishing the business, Silver Bullion grew to sales of US$87.5 million per year.
Challenging the status quo
But then another global event would sent shock waves around the planet – the COVID-19 pandemic. While disastrous for so many, it turned out to be immensely beneficial for the company.
“For us, the pandemic was a game-changer in many ways in 2020,” Gregersen says. “Post-pandemic, our sales jumped to SGD$360 million [US$263 million].”
He attributes this surge to growing unease about the security offered by the big banks, combined with the simple fact that people suddenly had more time to look into money management.
“It was a catalyst for people to question the status quo,” he reflects.
It was a curiosity that resulted in an eager audience for the message he was communicating.
Precious metals are going to become more and more relevant.
While the pressures of founding and running a business are plentiful, particularly amid such testing times, a series of personal events have helped to keep Gregersen grounded – becoming a father, for one, as well as his father’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis.
It’s a balance that has also helped him become a better leader, mastering the art of delegation and empowering his team to the benefit of the business.
Now, the next few years will see Silver Bullion go “all in”, he explains.
“Precious metals are going to become more and more relevant because of the geopolitical tension, the amount of debt being created and various other factors. And so in many ways there are not a lot of strategic decisions to be made anymore.
“It’s all about execution.”