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15 CEOs in Singapore who went from rags to riches

Date post: 03-Sep-2014
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www.andrewchow.sg Necessity is the mother of invention. This saying, which may sound trite to some, resonates resoundingly with the stories of these CEOs, who have all risen from humble beginnings to conquer the business world - and their personal circumstances. Thanks to a combination of innate smarts, hard work, and a bit of luck, they have turned their life around to become successful entrepreneurs who can well serve as inspiration for a new breed of businessmen. Click here to find out more! So who are these homegrown towkays who went from rags to riches?
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Compilation of articles by asiaone.com Compilation of articles by asiaone.com 15 CEOs 15 CEOs in Singapore in Singapore who went from who went from rags rags to riches to riches
  • Compilation of articles by asiaone.com15 CEOs in Singaporewho went from rags to riches
  • Necessity is the mother of invention. This saying, which may sound trite to some, resonates resoundingly with the stories of these CEOs, who have all risen from humble beginnings to conquer the business world - and their personal circumstances.Thanks to a combination of innate smarts, hard work, and a bit of luck, they have turned their life around to become successful entrepreneurs who can well serve as inspiration for a new breed of businessmen. So who are these homegrown towkays who went from rags to riches?
  • Chong Phit Lian, Jetstar Asia Her familystruggled financially after her father, the solebreadwinner, died just before her O-levelexaminations. While several of her siblingsstopped schooling to go to work, theMalaysia-born headed to Singapore on herown to study.To pay her living expenses and school fees,Ms Chong had to take up several tuitionassignments and apply for grants.After graduating from polytechnic in 1975,she did three jobs - as a technical assistant,selling insurance and giving tuition - beforeshe saved enough to apply to a university inBirmingham.While there, the hardships followed her - shehad to work part-time as a factory hand whilestudying and even needed to borrow moneyfrom a professor once to foot her school bills.Her never-say-die spirit is what drives her inher work, she said. "It doesnt matter ifpeople say I cannot make it, Ill just do mybest," she said.The engineering graduate has indeed comefar. She was the first woman CEO of JetstarAsia when she took the reins in 2006 - theprevious three CEOs were men and fromAustralia.
  • Olivia Lum, Hyflux Unlike most entrepreneurs whosetales begin with the struggles of setting up a business,Ms Lums started way before that - as a child worriedthat one day, there would be no food on the table andno roof over her head.It would be an understatement to say that life washard for Ms Lum as she was growing up. An orphan,she was brought up by a doting grandmother inKampar, Malaysia. Yet the gambling habits of hergrandmother left Ms Lum in constant fear that oneday, the two would be homeless and hungry.True to her fears, the gambling habits of hergrandmother led to disaster. They had to downgradefrom their terrace house with a garden, to a smallwooden home. The maid they used to employ had tobe let go because they could no longer afford to payher salary.With little money, she resorted to working during herfree time - giving tuition, working as a promoter indepartment stores, and going door-to- door peddlingeverything from cosmetics to flower pots.A spur of the moment decision saw the gutsy womanplonk down $20,000 in seed money from her ownsavings to distribute water treatment equipment andsystems. Of this amount, half was spent even beforethe business started operating, said Ms Lum.The Malaysian-born entrepreneur has since turnedwater treatment firm Hyflux from a three-manoperation into a 2,000-strong company.In June this year, she clinched the Ernst & YoungWorld Entrepreneur Of The Year (WEOY) award.
  • Neo Kah Kiat, Neo Group Mr Neosfamily was so poor that utilities got cutoff every once in a while, and they hadwooden planks nailed to the windowsto keep out the sun and rain."If the planks fell off, wed use cloth tocover the gap. When there was noelectricity, wed use candles," he said.He was a top student but chose todrop out after Secondary 2. His familywas desperately poor at the time andhe wanted to start earning money asquickly as possible.In 1992, with a capital of $15,000borrowed from relatives and friends,he leased a small kitchen in Joo Chiatand hired eight staff.Today, Neo Group is the parentcompany of three catering businesses,a wine cellar, a Japanese food-outletchain, a restaurant and a yachtcatering service.
  • Patrick Liew, HSR InternationalRealtors (HSR) As a child, PatrickLiews family of seven stayed togetherin a tiny room only 200 square feet inarea - he slept under hisgrandmothers bed. Today, the 53-year-old is the chief executive officerof HSR International Realtors (HSR) -the biggest property agency inSingapore, with more than 7,000employees.
  • Annie Gan, Jian Huang ConstructionAll Ms Annie Gan wanted, when shewent to Singapore more than 18 yearsago, was a good job to help pay for herpart-time studies here.At 21, and armed with just a SijilPelajaran Malaysia (SPM) - theequivalent of an O-level qualification -she arrived here in 1992 and foundwork as a clerk at a sub-contractingfirm.I did everything at the company, evenmy colleagues share of work, and Ididnt complain because I was hungryto learn, she recalled.She could hardly have dreamt of howfar she would come. Today, she is atthe helm of Jian Huang Construction, amultimillion-dollar building firm with afast-moving global operation.
  • Linda Onn, restaurateur and celebrity11 years ago, she started off as anoffice administrator with a salary ofjust RM700 (S$296) a month.When she got TV offers and became aspokesperson for various products, hersavings grew. In fact, it grew to such apoint that six years ago, Linda didntknow what to do with her money."So I decided to go into business andopen up a family restaurant becausemy parents had the experience andmost of my family cook well."From only one in 2004, she is now theproud owner of five restaurants.
  • Yeo Thian In, Yeos Mr Yeos family leftChina for Singapore in 1938 due to theJapanese threat in China. He and hisbrothers had to work doubly hard aftertheir first factory in Outram Road wasbombed by Japan in January 1942.As it turned out, the bombing was ablessing in disguise.He remained humble; even though hemay have been the boss of what isknown today as the multi-milliondollar company recognisedinternationally for its beverages,canned foods and instant noodles,people who came to the office oftenmistook him for a clerk because hehad no airs.
  • Eric Chan, Partyworld When he wasabout eight, his parents were so poorthat they could not afford to feed theirfive children and sold off one of hissisters to a temple.He recalls: "I got by with only 5 cents aday for pocket money. Some days, wehad to go without a single meal."Enamoured by music, he became aregular on the Chinese xinyao circuithere.Later, he ventured into the new thingon the entertainment scene then, KTVdisc-jockeying. He resigned from hisday job and with $10,000 from hissavings, opened a part vocal school,part "mobile KTV" business.He is now managing director andfounder of Partyworld, one of twochains that dominate the KTV businesshere.
  • Eldwin Chua, Paradise Group A minirestaurant empire, a three-roomRobertson Quay condominium andtwo luxury cars, including a Mercedes -this is a life he never dared dream of.Second of four children, his father wasa lorry driver at his grandfathersgunny sack trading company, while hismother was a part-time baby-sitter.Although the family was not poor,finances were tight and the familylived frugally.In 2002, his grandfather asked him tohelp run his coffee shop in DefuIndustrial Estate. He quit his propertyagent job, sank $10,000 of his savingsinto the stall and became a cook.He is now chief executive officer of theParadise Group of Chinese restaurants.
  • Michael Tien, Atlas Sound & VisionHis story, though not quite a rags-to-riches one, comes close. When MrTiens parents 20-year-old soundsystems business failed in the 1980srecession, the family was left withnothing save the clothes off ourbacks. It was thus a no-brainer forthe young Mr Tien, fresh out ofnational service, to abandon plans foruniversity and go into business.With affirmation from Bose Corpsfounder Dr Bose, the Tien familydecided to start over. The new AtlasHi-fi was profitable within a year, andhit its predecessors peak turnover of$3.5 million within three years.Mr Tien took over from his late fatherin 2003 as the companys CEO, anddecided to move Atlas from being afamily business to an enterprise.
  • Jennie Chua, Ascott Group Herbeginnings were humble, as a juniorteacher in St Margarets secondaryschool in the 1960s.I had to leave university because myfamily was so poor that I had to go outand work, she says. And the only jobthat was available to me wasteaching."In 1971, Ms Chua joined the MandarinHotel as a trainee. I was paid $650 amonth, after hard bargaining, sherecalls. They wanted to pay me $400,but I said no. But $650 was big moneythen.She took charge of CapitaLandssubsidiary the Ascott group in 2007,and soon she became CapitaLandschief corporate officer. She isconcurrently president and CEO of theAscott Group; and holds directorshipsand chairmanships in othercompanies.
  • S.M.A. Jaleel, MES (Mini EnvironmentService) In his youth, he slept out inthe open at his fathers wooden stall ina back lane off Stamford Road. A thinblanket provided cover.For 12 years, he used public latrines ora standpipe to bathe and to do hisdaily washing in between hasty packetmeals and helping to tend the stallwhich sold odds and ends.He left school in Secondary 2 becausehis father couldnt afford the fees and,after selling lottery tickets tosupplement his income, startedcleaning choked drains and, later,clogged canals.Now, his company owns four multi-million dollar hostel projects and isfast expanding in the Middle- East inplaces like Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Doha.
  • Anastasia Liew, Bengawan Solo BornTjendri Anastasia to a housewifemother and provision store ownerfather in Bangka Island off Palembang,Indonesia, the third of eight siblingsgrew up in Palembang.After civil unrest in the country in the1960s forced her to stop school atSecondary 3, she signed up for bakingand cooking classes to upgrade herself.Two years after marriage, the restlesshousewife began making butter andchiffon cakes from the kitchen of herfour- room flat in Marine Parade to sellto friends.By 1987, Bengawan Solo had fivestores and a central kitchen in HarveyRoad. It became so successful thatinvestors knocked on her door withhuge bids to buy over the company.
  • Lim Hock Chee, Sheng SiongSupermarket In the early 1970s, hewas feeding pigs and cleaning pens onhis fathers farm in Lim Chu Kang.By the early 1980s, the farm hadalready been relocated by theGovernment.The Government literally broke ourrice bowl as they phased out pigfarming in Singapore, quipped Mr Lim.Left with stocks of pork to clear, hestumbled upon a mini-supermarketowner who was willing to rent himspace to sell the meat.Now, he runs one of Singaporesfastest growing retail chains, ShengSiong Supermarket.
  • Dennis Ng, Einsoon Pets SupplyGrowing up, Dennis Ng did not havemuch to look forward to. He lived withhis family of six in a one-room flat, toopoor to even think about a dream jobfor the future.Though he was faced with a life ofhardship, Mr Ng remained optimisticand studied hard, obtaining a diplomafrom Ngee Ann Polytechnic whileworking as a part-time cashier at ColdStorage.Today, he is the founder of EinsoonPets Supply, a distributor of pet food,grooming products and cat litter inSingapore, with profits increasing bythe year.
  • Presented byAndrew Chow a.k.a Ideasandrew Social Networking Facebook - http://www.facebook.com/ideasandrew Plaxo http://ideasandrew.myplaxo.com/ Linkedin - http://sg.linkedin.com/in/ideasandrew Social Media Sharing Flickr Collection - http://www.flickr.com/photos/ideasandrew/ Youtube Channel - http://www.youtube.com/user/ideasandrew Slideshare - http://www.slideshare.net/ideasandrew Podomatic - http://ideasandrew.podomatic.com Social Blogging / Micro-blogging Twitter - http://twitter.com/Ideasandrew Blog www.andrewchow.sgMore than 220 interviews/features in 5 years from local and international media