Entrepreneur Liew Kee Sin from SP Setia to Eco World, passing the baton to the right person

Eco World_Liew & SonLiew and his son Tian Xiong (left) at the interview. The biggest shareholder of Eco World Development Group is Tian Xiong, who at 22 in 2013 became the major shareholder of the company.

Entrepreneur who drives the smaller Eco World group is still a much talked-about figure in corporate world

AT 57 years of age, Tan Sri Liew Kee Sin can easily count himself to be one of the most talked about personality in Malaysia’s corporate circle – by the Government, the private sector and property investors.

Amidst the unravelling of events over the past four years, including his exit from SP Setia Bhd, Liew continues to be among the corporate figures today that enjoy the adulation of some and the wrath of others.

Since leaving SP Setia a year ago, Liew has been furiously on the ball, trying to “regain” what he has lost. He has kept a fast and furious pace, though buffeted on every front by unabating current.

Although he has previously overcome challenges thrown at him, the pressure this time is different, in severity and magnitude. It’s a pressure cooker in Eco World Development Group Bhd (EWB), he admits.

“The momentum is on-going. It forces me to be the face of Eco World,” he says.

The positive side to all these is that he has about 300 out of a staff count of 800 who joined him from his previous company. This round of rebuilding includes his son, Tian Xiong, 24. That may also account for him being more driven than before.

While he has made a success of the 4,000 acres in S P Setia’s flagship development in Shah Alam years ago, today’s climate of high house prices and stagnant wages mean his team would have to work doubly hard. So far, however, most of his projects in the Klang Valley and Johor seem to enjoy take-up rates of 80% and above.

His latest launch in Batu Kawan, Penang, has prices hovering in the RM700,000-RM800,000 bracket.

Credited with making something out of 4,000 acres in Shah Alam, Liew is trying to do the same in Semenyih, Selangor, and Batu Kawan, Penang, on a smaller scale. Liew says his objective is to set a new benchmark in terms of concepts, ideas and designs for branding purposes.

Next month, he will be launching 1,130 units in London City Island with a gross development value (GDV) of £617mil, at a time when house prices are frothy, with wages stagnant. The May 7 elections is another dampener. The Employees Provident Fund (EPF) has just sold a building at a profit and may be selling another.

The weakening ringgit works for and against him. For local investors, a property abroad is a good hedge against exposure to any possible future weakening of the ringgit. The downside is that the pool of buyers shrink with the weaker ringgit.

However, the target market for the London City Island project goes to Hong Kong, Singapore and London.

Even as he is keeping his finger on sales, other challenges faces Liew and the Eco World group.

Eye on SPAC

In October last year, Liew and his team proposed to list Eco World International Bhd (EWI) as a SPAC (special-purpose acquisition company). But the Securities Commission has yet to approve the application.

While awaiting the SC’s nod for the the proposed SPAC, in January, he and his right hand man Datuk Voon Tin Yow in their personal capacity, via a private vehicle, entered into a joint venture with UK-based Ballymore on a 75:25 basis to develop three projects in London – with the first slated to kick off next month.

The plan was to inject the three properties into EWI, which will be the vehicle for the proposed SPAC. Shareholders of EWB would not be left out as they would be offered up to a 30% stake in EWI.

It was a neat plan – at least on paper.

But the snag is that a SPAC is a blank cheque listing. It is supposed to list without pre-identified and ready assets, which is an issue when it comes to EWI. This is despite Liew’s plan to inject the private purchases “at cost plus holding costs” – meaning Liew and Voon do not profit from the asset injection.

“But this goes against the spirit of SPAC guidelines as set by the SC. A SPAC is a blank cheque listing … a cash box looking for assets,” says a merchant banker.

“To go global, we must react quickly to market conditions, better design concepts and learn. We have the skill set,” he says. He learned a lot managing and marketing Battersea. No matter how challenging a project, “you gotta break it down to smaller bits”.

Nevertheless, Liew hopes to see some development with respect to the SPAC application within the next month or so.

Keeping EWB and EWI on separate lanes will help him to manage the gearing of both companies and reduce dilution for shareholders of EWB that includes his son, who is the major shareholder.

Liew says he also does not want to park the London assets under EWB because they are too big for its balance sheet.

Although his stake has diluted from 35.05% in 2013 to 13.52% on March 27, 2015, he is still the major shareholder.

Visionary though he may be, time was on his side when Liew built his previous “priced possession”, which is S P Setia. He built S P Setia over the years at a more even pace while the momentum and task he faces today with regards to the Eco World Group has been nothing short but blistering.

Within two years, the company has accumulated 5,396 acres with a GDV of about RM55bil. Debts was up at RM1.15bil as at Jan 31, 2015, from RM215mil in September 30, 2014. (Sept 2013: RM52mil). EWB completed a rights issue raising RM800mil and will undertake a placement. At the end of the corporate exercise, EWB’s gearing will be less than 0.6 times and it will be sitting on a pile of cash that will be used for working capital to develop the massive land bank here.

Liew says he received a lot of offers to work with landowners.

“People ask, why so aggressive? It’s because of the brand. We want to charge ahead in Malaysia. We are using up about 800 acres a year.”

Dealt a good hand

Although Liew has been dealt a good hand in his working life, he may be losing another priced project, all within two years.

As he goes about tying up loose ends on the Battersea chairmanship, a legacy from S P Setia days, and finishing the restructuring in EWB by the end of this month, questions about conflicts of interest have surfaced.

The Battersea Power Station is a 40:40:20 project with S P Setia and Sime Darby holding equal share and EPF remaining 20%.

“When I resigned from S P Setia in April 2014, the Battersea board suggested I wait till September 2015. At that time, there was no Eco World Ballymore (Holding Co Ltd, a developer of the three projects) yet.”

The private vehicle belonging to Liew and Voon – Eco World Investment – has a 75% stake in EcoWorld-Ballymore while UK-based Ballymore Group owning the rest.

At about June of last year, he declared to the board of Battersea of his interest to go into property development in Britain. He was told to wait.

Six months later in January this year, Liew and Voon went public with their 75% stake in the UK-Malaysia joint venture. At that point, he felt “obligated to resign” but was told to wait.

“We have three projects which may seem to be competing with Battersea Power Station although in terms of price point, they are priced differently.”

The latest Battersea Phase 3A units are priced at £1,700 per sq ft while the EcoWorld-Ballymore units are being sold at about £1,000 per sq ft. About 90% of the EcoWorld Ballymore units will be less than £1mil.

Ironically, a vexing issue confronting Liew these days is his chairmanship of Battersea. The roots of the situation he is caught in today can be traced to his entrepreneurship that created Malaysia’s biggest property company that he lost control to Permodalan Nasional Bhd – after a protracted corporate exercise which started in 2011.

Liew, however, is still capable and motivated to use his set of skills to further create value for himself and those around him. But the dichotomy is between duty and interest.

“I do not want to offend anyone anymore. But I (also) feel duty bound,” says Liew.

The Battersea project, which is Liew’s brainchild when he was in S P Setia, has several key milestones in the next one year.

Phase one of the project will be handed over to buyers next year. Work on Malaysian Square – the pride and joy of Malaysia – has just started. Work on London’s underground Northern Line extension, which connects to Battersea, begins this year. These milestones will help the investment to appreciate.

The British authorities are concerned about the reconstruction of the four white chimneys and the restoration of the power station brickwork. So Battersea has quite a bit of important obligations to meet in the next one year and it cannot afford any slip-ups.

“I am under a lot of pressure … Morally, I should resign. But when I buy (my land in London), I also declare (to the board). I am duty bound to declare on the grounds of good governance. At the same time, I am also duty-bound as chairman because this year is crucial for the Battersea.

“I am trying to get out of this (situation) because I want to reduce the areas of conflict between myself, the Government and everybody else. I have lost S P Setia and I should gentlemanly give up (Battersea),” says Liew.

Time will only provide an answer.

With London mayor Boris Johnson ending his term in 2016 – and considering Liew has a good working relationship with him – there are are more than several reasons for shareholders of Battersea to continue to retain him for another year as chairman. Before works such as the construction of the underground station and reconstruction of white chimneys take off, there is a lot of interaction with the London authorities, something that is not easy to cultivate.

Interest versus duty

Whatever the outcome of his Battersea chairmanship, there are at least two broad contentious issues here. His fiduciary responsibility and duty of care is one. Liew has taken that duty seriously and returned value for that which was entrusted to him. The second issue is his skill set. Life has obviously given Liew a good card, despite his losses.

Now, the question that arises is if he should wait if opportunities come, complete all ties with Battersea and S P Setia before embarking on new ventures that may not come knocking every day?

Every day, directors are offered various opportunities which conflict with their fiduciary duty. Often times, the fiduciary duty of directors, parallel to trustees, can be onerous. But the law is the law.

Yet, in many ways, Liew’s situation is parallel to a 1978 case of Queesland Mines Ltd v Hudson. The company Queensland Mines was an iron ore mining company that established as a joint venture between A Ltd and F Ltd. Hudson was the managing director of A Ltd and had negotiated with the Tasmanian government for mining licences.

Just before the licences were issued, Hudson’s joint-venture partner ran into financial difficulties and was unable to proceed with the venture.

Hudson resigned, taking the licences with him, and formed his own company. At considerable risk and expense, Hudson exploited the licences and earned profits. Queensland later filed a suit against Hudson for what it claimed was abusing his position to divert opportunties for himself.

However, the courts ruled that although the opportunity to make profits came to Hudson through his position at Queensland Mines and was something that the board was made aware of, Hudson was not in a position of conflict.

The position Hudson was prior to 1978 is the predicament Liew faces today. In both these cases, the contention boils down to timing and turn of events.

If one were to consider the big picture and balance out the events surrounding Liew in the last four years, should he not be allowed to exploit the resources due to him because of his skills and expertise? Or should he be shackled by time and ties, despite having added value to those he has been entrusted with? That would be unfair to Liew.

The legacy issue – passing the baton to the right person

AT the spanking new Eco World International Centre in the Gardens office block in Kuala Lumpur recently, a photo session was in progress. There was a light-hearted camaraderie in the air.

Tan Sri Liew Kee Sin and his top management were present, all of them in their white Nehru-collared shirt with green trimmings.

The photo session was as much symbolic as telling. It was as if to say: “These are the people I will need to grow Eco World Development Group Bhd (EWB).”

With a staff strength of about 800, about 300 of them were from Liew’s previous company S P Setia Bhd. Despite the market conditions working against the property sector and crushing issues confronting him, Liew was his usual warm, confident self.

A lot of this has to do with the people around him. Liew was named chairman in March and his right-hand man Datuk Voon Tin Yow, previously from S P Setia, joined the group officially as executive director.

A notable addition was newbie Liew Tian Xiong, 24, bright-eyed and smiling. He first surfaced in 2013 and has been seen as a proxy of his father. The presence of that young man has changed the landscape for Liew.

Passing the baton

It is a legacy issue. As one considers the property sector, a number of the country’s developers have in one way or another paved their sons and daughters to join Dad.

There is Datuk N.K. Tong, 47, group managing director of Bukit Kiara Properties Sdn Bhd who joined Datuk Alan Tong, who is known as Condo King for his work in Sunrise Bhd’s Mont’Kiara.

It was the elder Tong who saw the potential of the area, then Segambut and bought 100 acres there. Over the years, Mont’Kiara has progressed to become a thriving suburb and is currently considered as “an aspirational location” among the young.

Ken Holdings Bhd group managing director Sam Tan, 35, joined his father Datuk Kenny Tan. That was 2004, and he was 24.

Over at the Sunway group, Sarena Cheah, 40, the daughter of Sunway Bhd founder Tan Sri Dr Jeffrey Cheah and anointed successor, will assume full control of the group’s key property unit effective May 1. She may well have been the youngest to join Dad, when she was just 20, in 1995. She started out in the corporate finance and group internal audit divisions.

Passing the baton cannot be done overnight. There is a lot of planning to do. There is also the task of moulding and nurturing the right person for the job and looking over the shoulder of the young person to ensure they are constantly on the straight and narrow. If there are more than one, then there is the selection process of who will take up the position of annointed successor.

After the painful lesson of having lost S P Setia, Liew would clearly circumspect legacy and stewardship issues.

Which takes this story to next level.

Who is working for who?

The years of passing the baton may be painful, for both parties. This explains why the years of preparation are so crucial before the final moment of actually handing over the reins. In each of the three cases – N.K., Sam and Sarena – the children joined Dad and allowed themselves to be moulded.

Which takes us to the next question.

Is Tian Xiong working for Dad, or is Dad working for Tian Xiong?

Every parent wants the best for their children and Liew is no exception.

By joining the company now, Tian Xiong will have “the history” of the company. But will he be able to take on turbulent times?

He ponders: “It’s a pressure cooker here.”

If the staff do not accept him, he will never be the “real boss”, says Liew.

Of late, Liew has been keeping the young man closely by his side.

The rationale, says Liew is that, whatever Tian Xiong had learned in EWB in the last two years, he would take years to learn outside. So he better learn fast and learn now.


It is not just passing the baton. It is stewardship.

Says Tian Xiong after Liew steps out of the room: “Every night, from 9 to 10pm, he would nag me about how I dress, my tie, what time I get into office, how long I took for lunch and what I did after lunch. And other larger office and market issues.

“He also told me that I have to earn it, that it is not going to drop on me, that I have other siblings,” says Tian Xiong.

On whether he was pressured into returning to Malaysia from Melbourne where he graduated in 2012 with a Bachelor of Commerce from the University of Melbourne, Australia, he says he returned on his own free will.

The young man first surfaced in 2013 as a buyer for a little known company Focal Aims Holdings Bhd. His emergence “caused a tsunami” because during that period, there was many questions as to Liew’s move.

Tian Xiong started out in corporate finance department for the first two years and is currently in corporate marketing.

By Thean Lee Cheng The Star/Asia News Network

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Chinese women’s marriage criteria,logical search for a mate

72% of women consider housing as a key requirement for a marriage partner, says the latest report of the Chinese Marriage Status Survey 2014, issued by China’s leading marriage service provider Baihe.com on Jan.11, 2015.

Researchers collected the results of 73,215 online questionnaires and held in-depth off-line interviews with 200 single men and women from 34 provinces, municipalities and autonomous regions.

Why still single?

The report shows that 63% of single men and women spend an average of more than six hours alone on their rest days; and 32% spend more than 10 hours alone. Surfing the internet, hanging out with friends, and just “quietly” staying at home have become the top three activities for single people.

32% of single women follow TV dramas while 67% of men scan websites, killing their private time at home.

The report concludes that the main reasons for remaining single is too much time spent alone – too few social contacts is the top obstacle to meeting the right person. 80% of single women report this.

Gender differences in marriage requirements

Nowadays, love is no longer the only passport for two people to enter marriage. The report says that more than 40% of single men and women are only willing to get married with a person in a suitable situation. People are becoming ever more rational and realistic when choosing their spouses.

The top three concerns for single men are appearance, physical health, and emotional experience. Single women attach more importance to a partner’s financial situation, physical health, and career.

33% of single men and 27% of single women have experienced interference from parents in their relationships.

Focus on housing

The report shows that 71% of women view housing as a key requirement for a potential marriage partner. 18% of women counted car ownership as one of the basic requirements, a rise of 9% compared with 2012. Both men and women said that a stable income and some savings were important factors.

Nearly 60 percent of women do not intend to have a second child, according to the report, although China has relaxed its birth control policy to allow couples to have a second child if either parent is an only child.

The report also shows that 33% of women think that Chinese men do not deserve Chinese women, in terms of “self-accomplishments and ability to care for themselves.” – (People’s Daily Online)

Home_Love The logical search for a mateChina_Love

‘Love’ takes a back seat when seeking prospective life partners

LOVE is not the only criterion for marriage in China. A recent survey shows that more than 40% of Chinese look to marry someone who suits them in appearance, educational background, social status, income and other characteristics.

Baihe.com, a major dating portal in China, released its 2014 Chinese Marriage Status Survey Report on Sunday.

The site has tracked marriage trends in the country since 2007.

The latest results show that 44.4% of male and 49.7% of female respondents said the reasons for their choice of a marriage partner include their prospective mate’s coming from a family of equal social rank.

“This means people are much more rational when it comes to the marriage decision,” the report said.

“They would like to match each other under every single standard. Love is no longer the only pass.”

The report also said that more than 70% of female respondents said they would consider marriage only if the male partner owns property.

And more than 70% of the women hoped their future husband’s income would be double their own.

Zhou Xiaopeng, the chief marriage consultant at Baihe.com, characterised the phenomenon as “supermarket marriage”, where people come with “money in hand” and want to select the best “products” after shopping around.

Tu Ying, a researcher at the portal, said that seeking a partner with quantifiable requirements is efficient.

“In everyday life, it is more and more difficult to find the right person and get to know him or her – not to mention the cost it comes with,” Tu said. “If people start with quantifiable standards, and then develop their relationship based on that, it is more likely to be a stable relationship.

“Starting marriage with money cannot guarantee stability from the beginning.

“Every relationship needs cultivation from each side.”

Zhou Xiaozheng, a professor of sociology at Renmin University of China, attributes the new approach to marriage choices to changes in society.

“Chinese people’s view of choosing a mate has undergone many changes,” Zhou said.

“In the past, marriage was arranged by parents, which reflected the will of family or country. Then it became a personal choice, or socalled love choice. And now it is more related to material standards, or what we call materialism in marriage.”

“This is simply because people live in a materialistic world: A couple needs an apartment to live in, which costs a lot; the couple needs to find a good school for their children, which costs a lot; the couple who live far away from their parents need to find a way to support them, which also costs a lot,” Zhou said. “It is a vicious circle.”

Zhou said to reverse the materialistic trend, the country needs to continue its anti-corruption campaign and improve social welfare, and young people need to know that money is not the solution to everything. – China Daily/Asia News Network

Youngest USM don: Prof Dr Michael Khoo Boon Chong has made Penang proud

Khoo Boon Chong

Expert views: Prof Khoo delivering his public lecture at USM’s Dewan Kuliah A.

GEORGE TOWN: Penang-born Prof Dr Michael Khoo Boon Chong has made the state proud as the youngest professor in Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM).

Prof Khoo, 39, who obtained his associate professor title in 2007, became a professor in the School of Mathematical Sciences four years ago when he was just 35.

He specialised in Statistical Quan­tity Control.

Prof Khoo, who hails from Bayan Lepas, said he chose to complete all his studies where he was born.

“I got my education, including my PhD in Penang. I went to La Salle School in Batu Lanchang (the school was closed down) from Year One to Year Three and then to St Xavier Primary School in Farquhar Street during Standard Four and continued my studies in St Xavier’s Insitution until I finished Form Six.

“I got my degree in Applied Sciences with first-class honours and my doctorate in Statistics from USM in 1999 and 2001 respectively.

“I joined USM School of Mathe­matical Sciences from 2001 as a lecturer,” he said after his inaugural public lecture after his appointment as a professor.

Citing the reasons for studying in Penang instead of overseas, he said as the only child, he wanted to be with his parents.

“I am not from a rich family. My 65-year-old father, Khoo Kah Peng, was a clerk with the city council and my mother Hoo Kim Bee, 67, is a housewife.

“My main priority during that time was that I wanted to stay close with my parents,” he said.

Prof Khoo said he followed his supervisor’s path to specialise in Statistical Quantity Control.

“I love to do research on Statistical Quantity Control, which is useful for industries to maximise profits and reduce costs,” he said.

He said he was thankful to USM as his hard work and research efforts were appreciated.

Prof Khoo is actively involved in publishing manuscripts and work papers.

He has published almost 100 manuscripts in international journals and presented more than 50 papers at national and international conferences.

BY Crystal Chiam Shiying The Star/Asia News Network

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Education: alleviating poverty or causing it, funding children with retirement fund?

Education_financial snacksIt is not prudent to fund children’s education with your retirement fund

EDUCATION is the social game changer. In poor countries, it alleviates poverty. In developing nations like Malaysia, a more educated population can catapult us to developed status.

Scores of parents are striving hard to send their children to international schools to gain the holistic education, have better choices of tertiary institutions and have access to better paying jobs.

Borrowing future funds

Sending children to international schools is deemed the ticket out of mediocrity in Malaysia and to have a fighting chance in the global job market. But to what end?

Whether it is using EPF savings or selling off property to fund children’s private or international school education, this can be costly to many middle-class parents. While it may be acceptable to borrow funds to ensure our children get better secondary or tertiary education as they can always pay off the loans when they become employed, it is harder to replace “lost” retirement funds.

Therefore, it is not a prudent move to use funds meant for retirement as the fund is most needed when the “parents” are not at income-generating age any more.

Prioritising funds

With today’s Gen X-ers who are becoming parents at later age, we not only have to nurture our children but also care for our ageing parents whilst saving for our retirement. Prioritising investments is key.

1. Be realistic. Parents want the best for our children. If education savings are started early to take advantage of compounding effect, that’s great. If funds only permit an overseas tertiary education, then find the best local education option as our children can still experience holistic learning during university years abroad.

2. Gen Y-er parent, start investing now into a diversified portfolio. It is already too late if you have not started, as the cost of education will only increase.

3. Education is not just about getting the paper qualification. It is about learning. Parents can show kids new ways to learn without busting purses. Take advantage of free online courses like TedTalk or Khan Academy and “experiences” offered by museums, art galleries, nature trips and even playtime in the park.


The writer can be contacted at info@successconcepts.biz / http://www.successconcepts.biz/ The Star/Asia News Network

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Financial planning is all about investing

LOTS of people shy away from financial planning because they think they may be pressured into investing. And when you think investing, what comes to mind are horror stories of people who lost their life savings during the Asian financial crisis and Dot Com Bubble.

We hear tales of greed and chasing the hottest sexiest investment themes that has led them down the path of poverty and for some great debt due to leverage.

Admittedly, in the wealth management business, investments do form a large part of conversations that happen between ourselves and our clients.

For the most part, people speak to financial planners or wealth managers about how to make their money grow faster so they can meet their goals.

How much return can I get?
What can I get if I invest in equities?
How about properties?
How can I start investing in currencies?

When people engage in a conversation about investments, inevitably, we get seduced by the quest to find the highest yielding asset. We steer into instruments we are not familiar with, drawn by the allure of high headline returns.

Think dotcoms. Think gold investments. Think land investments. Think bitcoin. Not necessarily bad investments but the basic concept of risk and diversification fall by the wayside as we chase returns.

But, step back for a moment.

Are you asking the right question?
Is financial planning only about finding the next best investment?

While investing will likely play a key role in your financial plan, there are a lot more questions that need to be answered before you can choose the right investment, or if you even need to invest aggressively.

First question, how much do you need?
Second question, when will you need it?
Third question, how much have you set aside or are prepared to set aside?
Last question, what returns are you going to get?

So say, I would like to buy a property in five years, of which I plan to make a downpayment of RM50,000. I have currently set aside RM10,000. I can currently save RM500 monthly.

Investing_coin_hands Investing_house

Let’s assume I have no experience investing and decide to place it in fixed deposit at 3% per annum. Doing my maths, after five years, with interest compounded, all this adds up to only RM43,000. You are RM7,000 short.

In such an example, most people approach an adviser to find out what could yield them higher returns. In the above example, any misadventures in your investments could possibly set you back in your acquisition of your next property.

What if this was your children’s education? You may not want to risk your child entering university two years late. These are things your adviser needs to know as there other alternatives.

Financial management is very much about balancing between these four requirements. While getting higher returns so you can meet your goal is one way, it’s not the only way! You have other options. So, let’s go back to the four questions.

Firstly, you could buy a cheaper property with RM43,000.
Alternatively, you could wait another year to purchase that property, giving you more time to save up.
Or, you could increase your monthly savings to RM600 at 3% per annum.
Lastly, consider investing in something that yields you 7% per annum.
So, really, out of four options, only one is about investing.

For the most part, investing plays quite an essential role in most people’s portfolio. However, before you even have that discussion, think about the goals you want to achieve and whether investing is required and what kind of investment performance is needed.

By Ong Shi Jie

For the most part, investing plays quite an essential role in most people’s portfolio. However, before you even have that discussion, think about the goals you want to achieve and whether investing is required and what kind of investment performance is needed, says Ong.

Ong Shi Jie (CJ) is head of wealth management, OCBC Bank (M) Bhd.


Money, money, money … Love of money is the root of all evil !

Lets not use Money as an all-powerful weapon to buy people

ONE can safely assume that the subject of money would be of interest to almost all and sundry. ABBA, the Swedish group, sang about it. Hong Kong’s canto pop king, Samuel Hui made a killing singing about it. Donna Summers, Pink Floyd, Dire Straits, Rick James and quite a few more, all did their versions of it.

Is money all that matters? The ‘be all and end all’ of life?

This will certainly be a fiercely-debated subject by people from both sides of the divide; the haves and have nots.

Just last week, my 12-year-old asked if the proverb Money is the root of all evil is true. Naturally, like most kids of his generation, he would not have a clue as to how difficult it is for money to come about. Or why, when it does come about, it has the power to make and break a person. To a Gen-Z kid, the concept of having to ‘earn’ money is somewhat alien. Simply because everything he ever needs and beyond is ‘magically’ provided for.

Forget about teaching this generation to earn their keeps, just expecting them to pick up after themselves is a herculean ask. But we are not here to talk about that, instead, is money really the root of all evil? Perhaps, the proper answer would be ‘the love of money is’.

Let’s see what sort of evil comes with this love of money. Top of mind would be corruption, covetousness, cheating, even murder, just to name a few. These, of course, are of the extreme.

What about at the workplace? How does the love of money or rather the lure of money affect the employment market? Let me take on a profession closer to my heart, the advertising industry. Annually, our varsities and colleges churn out thousands of mass communication and advertising grads. Of these, only a handful would venture into the industry. Where have all the others gone?

A quick check with fellow agency heads reveals that many have opted to go into the financial sectors as the starting packages are somehow always miraculously higher than those offered by advertising agencies. A classic case of money at work. For those who have actually joined the ad industry, some get pinched after a while because of a better offer of … money, and more. (As if this is not bad enough, the “pinchers” are often not only from within the industry but are clients!)

The fact is there is absolutely nothing wrong in working towards being the top of one’s profession and getting appropriately remunerated for it. The problem starts when money is used as the all-powerful weapon to ‘buy’ people. Premium ringgit is often paid to acquire many of these hires, some of whom, unfortunately, are still a little wet behind the ears. Paying big bucks for talent is all right, as long as the money commensurate with the ability and experience of the person.

Case in point is if an individual is qualified only as a junior executive with his current employer, should he then be offered the job as a manager and paid twice the last drawn salary? All because some of us are just so short on resources.

Now, hypothetically, if this person was offered the managerial post anyway, would he be able to manage the portfolio and deliver what is expected of him? Would he, for instance, ask what he needs to bring to the table? After all, he has suddenly become the client service director and draws a salary of RM20k a month. Does he actually need to bring more new businesses, or what? We can call ourselves all sorts of fancy titles but the point is we have got to earn it. As they say, the proof of the pudding is in the eating.

Having served on the advertising association council for the past nine years and presiding over it the last two, it concerns me greatly to see the how money is affecting and somewhat thinning the line of qualified successors to the present heads.

The lack of new talents coming into the ad business is increasingly worrisome. Though it may look a seemingly distant issue to most clients, they must now take heed. The agencies are business partners and if there is going to be a dearth of talents it will surely affect the clients’ business in the near future. So rather than pinching the rare good ones from the agencies, would it then not be in the clients’ best interest to instead remunerate the agencies so to secure better and higher standards of expertise? Food for thought, eh?

Pardon me for being old school. I am a firm advocate of the saying that one should not chase money. First learn to be at the top of your trade and money will chase you. Then again, we are now dealing with and learning how to manage the present generation. A generation of young, smart, fearless, and somewhat impatient lot who may not be as loyal as their predecessors. A generation that loves life and crave excitement. Adventure is in their blood and ‘conforming’ is a bad word. And money, lots of it, makes the world go faster for them.

As elders, we need to look hard and deep into how to inculcate the right value of money in this new generation. These are our children. They are the future. If we make no attempt to set this right and instead keep on condoning the practice of over-remunerating them, we will be in trouble. The fact that Malaysia will soon have to compete in the free-trade region further allows money to flex its muscles more. I shudder to think what would happen to our young ones if we keep on mollycoddling them with the wrong idea that they ought to be highly paid just for breathing.

Folks, my sincere apologies if I have inadvertently touched some tender nerves but a wake-up call this has to be. For our dear clients, think about the proposition to review your agency’s remunerations – upwards I mean. This, over taking people from the industry, will save you more in the long run.

For those of us in the agencies, let us keep polishing up our skills and not let money be the sole motivator. If you are good, others will take notice. Work hard, the rewards will come. Just exercise some patience.

I leave you with a saying that one Mr Jaspal Singh said to me when I was a rookie advertising sales rep with The Star eons ago: “Man make money, money does NOT make a man”. (Or woman, of course.)

Till the next time, a very Happy Deepavali to all.

God bless!

By Datuk Johnny Mun, who has been an advertising practitioner for over 30 years, is president of the Association of Accredited Advertising Agents. He is also CEO of Krakatua ICOM, a local ad agency.

What makes us Malaysian? Happy Mereka!

Malaysia Spirit 57

I always get excited when I meet fellow Malaysians, whether at work or during social functions. – Lee Yee Thian

Our sense of belonging is strong, despite living miles away from our homeland.

BACK home in Malaysia, “Chinese” is one of the options in the race column, while in China, it refers to a nationality.

It took me awhile to get used to not nodding when I was asked if I am a Chinese.

“I’m a Malaysian,” I would answer, and get a bewildered look from the inquirers.

“Oh, so you are a Malay? But you look exactly like us. And your command of Mandarin is so good,” was their usual reply.

I would then launch into a lengthy explanation of how I am ethnically Chinese but a Malaysian national, and “Malay” refers to the largest ethnic group in Malaysia and not the people of Malaysia.

I would add that I can read and write Mandarin because I attended Chinese vernacular school, but I could tell they were confused.

“Were you born in China? How old were you when you left for Malaysia?”

“No, I was born in Malaysia. I’m a third-generation Malaysian Chinese.”

And then came the inevitable question: “Where do you feel you belong?”

I grew up singing Negaraku every Monday during school assemblies.

I learned how to draw our national flag when I was in Year One. Next to the crescent, I traced the outline of a 50 sen coin and then carefully drew 14 spikes around the circle.

And until today, I can still hum the tune of Sejahtera Malaysia, a patriotic song that was aired years ago on RTM.

When we say we are Malaysians, we say it with a tinge of pride.

In addition to Malay, English and Mandarin, most Malaysian Chinese here can also understand one or more Chinese dialects.

It is a fact that draws the admiration of many locals.

I asked a few Malaysians in Beijing what makes them Malaysian.

Lee Yee Thian, who has been abroad in the United Kingdom and then China since 2000, said our multicultural background was instrumental in helping him to adapt to living in a foreign country.

The sense of belonging is strong, despite living miles away from our homeland.

“I always get excited when I meet fellow Malaysians, whether at work or during social functions,” the 37-year-old chartered surveyor said.

“We speak freely with our Malaysian accent and pepper our sentences with slang that only Malaysians understand.”

Wesley Tan of Wav Music Production said it was the vast opportunities in the entertainment industry in China that drew him to the Chinese capital 10 years ago.

“The market is huge with endless possibilities to grow and expand,” he said.

“We have to admit that we could not do as much in Malaysia, but it does not make me any less patriotic. I grew up in Malaysia and it will always be my home.”

The advantage of Malaysians, Tan said, is our ability to create products that appeal to an international target audience, with our tolerance and diverse background.

With Beijing being a fast-paced metropolis, the quality of life has plenty of room for improvement.

Air pollution and food safety aside, trust between people is thinning. Tan said he misses the courteous and caring ways of Malaysians.

“My parents-in-law, who are Chinese nationals, were so surprised that Malaysian drivers would actually pause to give way to opposite traffic during their visit to Kuala Lumpur,” he said.

The little gestures, such as placing one’s left hand on one’s right forearm when receiving or offering something, speak volumes about Malaysians’ pleasant disposition.

I couldn’t agree more.

Two weeks ago, I made a brief return to Malaysia. When waiting for my family to pick me up at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport, a Malay girl next to me kindly shared a packet of buah jeruk (pickled fruits) with me. In return, I offered her my chocolates.

We did not exchange names during our brief encounter; only smiles and snacks, but in that moment, I knew I was home.

Happy Merdeka.


Check-in China by Tho Xin Yi The Star/Asia News Network

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