SINGAPORE - Not long after his mother died when he was in Primary 5, Andrew Koh had to take a Chinese spelling test.
Emotionally traumatised by his loss and struggling with his studies, he cheated by referring to words he had copied down on a piece of paper hidden in his pencil box.
"My teacher saw what I did but didn't confront me. He let me finish the test, and then came over and whispered in my ear. 'Just don't do it the next time'," recalls Mr Koh, now 48.
"In fact, he still gave me 85 marks. I was stunned. After that, I never cheated again."
The episode, and several others, helped shape what has become a guiding principle in his life: "Never blame your circumstances. Life is 10 per cent of what happens to you and 90 per cent how you respond to it. I just work hard and make the best out of a bad situation."
He has. Despite a sad start in life, one marked by tragedy, deprivation and hardship, he rose above his trials to become an extremely driven and successful, but thankfully not hard or cynical, man.
The A-level holder cut his professional teeth as a sales representative in a local company. He beavered away to eventually become the general manager of consumer business for Japanese multinational corporation Canon in Singapore. Last August, Canon India appointed him to oversee the brand's camera business as senior director.
The diminutive corporate honcho grew up as the elder of two children in a kampung in Potong Pasir.
His father, he says, was an alcoholic and a wastrel.
"He ran his own small business, didn't do well, took to drinking and gambling and was always borrowing money. My paternal grandparents had to work and ran a small provision shop to support his habits," he says.
When he was seven, his grandfather died.
"My mother sewed and did whatever she could to help raise us. I remember she worked in a hawker centre near Kallang Gasworks and she would wake my sister and I early in the morning and take us to work with her," he says.