Friday, May 27, 2011

Towkay dreams? He has it covered

As a child growing up in a kampung in Ulu Sembawang, Mr Chan Chong Beng aspired to be a successful businessman.

'My mum drilled into my mind that to be rich you've got to be a towkay (big boss) doing business,' recalled Mr Chan, 56, chairman of interior furnishing company Goodrich Global. His mother was a teacher while his father did not work.

Restless to learn about running a business, he quit the then University of Singapore just eight months after he joined its architecture faculty.

It was through one of his school projects that he saw how viable the wallpaper business could be as the barrier to entry was low and it was not labour intensive.

He invested $1,500 in a newly set up firm that dealt with wallpaper and carpets and was its managing director from 1975 to 1983. After learning enough of the trade, he decided to venture out on his own and set up Goodrich Wallcoverings in 1983 with a partner. The firm has since been rebranded Goodrich Global and grown from just seven staff to 417.

When it comes to managing his personal finances, Mr Chan's top priority is to ensure that his family is taken care of should anything untoward happen to him. To achieve peace of mind, he has invested in insurance protection, paying a total annual premium of about $60,000. His investment portfolio comprises mainly shares and properties. This is because he enjoys the excitement of stock investing and the potential capital appreciation of real estate.

Mr Chan is married to homemaker Loy Tai, 51, and they have three sons - Yik Ley, 25, Kwok Ley, 23, and Tiong Ley, 14.

Q Are you a spender or saver?

I am both. I always believe that in business, you have to spend to accumulate. That includes entertaining and networking to foster good ties. As a boss in the early days, my basic pay was just enough to cover cost and sometimes it didn't. Now I give $8,000 monthly to my wife. She spends it on household items and keeps the balance. When I have surplus money, I will buy shares. My lifestyle is very simple as I eat at hawker centres and coffee shops.

Q How much do you charge to your credit cards every month?

I have six credits cards, including one from Malaysia to save on the exchange rate. My average spending is about $10,000 and I pay the bills punctually every month. My company will not extend any loan to staff who run into credit card problems. I have ATM cards but never carry them as I always forget the PINs. I always have a few hundred dollars on me and if I need cash, I will either borrow from friends or give them cheques for the money. I don't carry a wallet. I carry notes.

Q What financial planning have you done for yourself?

I manage my own investment portfolio, so I can blame only myself if something goes wrong. I have about $2 million invested in shares. Except for one Malaysian counter - Public Bank - the rest are all Singapore-listed shares and they include Singapore Press Holdings, OCBC, Yanlord, Kim Eng and Jaya Holdings. I like firms that are well-managed and have a good reputation. While I like to speculate in shares, I keep those which give good dividends for the long term. For instance, I have kept Jaya for the last 15 years. I spend about $56,000 on insurance premiums for my children's endowment and investment-linked insurance policies and about $4,000 on mine.

Q Moneywise, what were your growing-up years like?

My growing-up years were tough but fun in a kampung in Ulu Sembawang. There was a lot of free space for my four siblings and me to catch spiders and go fishing in the river and ponds. The television set and a phone were available only in the community centre. The children looked forward to any event that had free flow of drinks and food. There was no electricity and weddings had to be held in the afternoons. I didn't enjoy the convenience of tap water in the home till I was 25, when the Government provided the infrastructure.

My mum was a schoolteacher while my father took it easy and never really worked. We lived in a wooden and brick house with a zinc roof. The toilet was an outhouse 50m away. We were not rich but we were rich in family bonding and upbringing. I will always be grateful to my mother for building my character and educating me. She made us study in two schools. We would attend an English school in the morning and, in the afternoon, hop over to the Mandarin-medium school where she was teaching. We knew the value of money from young.

Q How did you get interested in investing?

I prefer to spend the time thinking about how I can grow my business, investing in the right people and building the network. I can't remember when I started dabbling in shares but I have been a share investor for more than 20 years.

Q What property do you own?

I own and live in a 4,000 sq ft semi-detached house in Springleaf Garden off Upper Thomson Road, which I bought at the peak of the property market in 1995 for more than $2 million. It is worth about the same value now. It is fully paid up.

In 2007, I bought a 3,200 sq ft unit in Hillcrest Villa for slightly more than $3 million and it is rented out for $10,000 a month. I don't know the current value. In the same year, I bought a 3,600 sq ft penthouse with five friends in Dakota Crescent, off Airport Road, for $3.4 million. My share of the penthouse is one-fifth, or $680,000. I'm not sure how much its current value is.

Q What's the most extravagant thing you have bought?

It is my current car, a Lexus 600 Hybrid. It cost more than $350,000 and I bought it as a birthday present to myself on Sept 17, 2008.

Q What's your retirement plan?

If retirement means doing nothing, then I have no plans for retirement. I used to think that I would retire when I made my first million but when I achieved that in 1993, I didn't want to call it a day.

I enjoy what I do and if the day comes when my company does not require my service, I will do something else, like social work, such as running non-profit organisations.

I do my bit for charity through the golf charity events that the firm organises to support the Asian Women Welfare Association as well as through working with prison inmates under the Yellow Ribbon project.

I will need $10,000 a month for my wife and me in our golden years.

Q Home is now....

The semi-detached house off Upper Thomson Road.

Q I drive....

The black Lexus 600 Hybrid. My wife drives a black Audi A6.


Q: What is your worst investment to date?

In 2001, I invested $1.25 million in a property firm and became its sleeping partner. The firm was set up to take some old, low-rise residential properties through an en-bloc exercise.

But it did not work out because the planning approval to build condominiums on that piece of land was rejected by the Urban Redevelopment Authority.

I got back $500,000 when I liquidated my investment six months later, which means I lost $750,000.

Q: And your best investment to date is?

It is in Goodrich, which has 18 overseas offices now.

The initial paid-up capital in 1983 was $175,000, of which I forked out half. I now own about 46 per cent of the firm.

My partner owns another 46 per cent, and the rest of the shareholding is given to staff who have contributed to the success of Goodrich.

As of December last year, the firm's turnover was $70 million and the profit was about $4 million to $5 million.


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