At 98, Sin Heng Chan group chairman still turns up for work every day

At 98, Sin Heng Chan group chairman still turns up for work every day

Every day, he wakes up at 5.30am and goes for a brisk walk outside his bungalow before breakfast.

As soon as he steps into his office in Tras Street, he turns on his iPad and computer to monitor the stock market.

But this is not a young professional at work.

Mr Eng Liat Kiang is 98 and still as active as ever.

Last Friday, at the inaugural Teochew Entrepreneur Award 2016, Mr Eng, who is chairman of the Sin Heng Chan Group, received the Honorary Award.

The awards ceremony, held at the Ritz-Carlton, honoured a total of 28 Teochew entrepreneurs.

Mr Eng tells The New Paper on Sunday: "I am honoured to receive this award because I am not the only successful Teochew entrepreneur.

"But I am glad that people respect my contributions after all these years."

He started out in the 1940s with two partners, running a small provision shop in Rochor Road.

Today, its core business is concentrated on higher-end residential developments in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Japan, Australia and the UK.

Other businesses used to include rice and sugar trading, and feed milling.

Details of his company's businesses and history come to mind quickly for Mr Eng.

He provides dates of milestones effortlessly, without any prompting.

His eyes also light up as he shares stories and anecdotes.

It all started, he recounts, when he arrived in Singapore in 1936.

He had left China to avoid being called up to serve in the army.

He worked for a relative, helping to sell fruits, but the business folded when World War II hit.

FOOD SHORTAGE

Despite that, he got the idea to start his own business when he saw there was a shortage of food supplies.

To build up his capital, he sold onions and garlic by the roadside.

He recalls: "People doubted me when I wanted to start my own business because I had just come from China and couldn't speak Malay. I also had no money to start with.

"I bought many Chinese-to-Malay translation books and picked up the language to better communicate with the locals."

Four years later, his hard work paid off and he opened the provision shop.

Gradually, he grew his business, branching into different industries each time he saw opportunities.

Mr Eng says: "I am thankful to be here in Singapore because there is political stability. Everything is 'clean'."

He adds with a laugh: "If I were still in China, I would've been long gone already."

Says Mr Eng Bak Chim, 67, Mr Eng's eldest son who is the managing director: "My father is a hero of determination. He loves to tell his grandchildren stories about his past.

"He is always looking forward and hoping that the third generation gets involved in the business as well."

The senior Mr Eng has six children and eight grandchildren.

He has already planned for his grandchildren's future by setting up property management company Nest at Nest last year. It specialises in resort service apartments and villas.

He says of his success: "One should not be too calculative over wins and losses. You should treat people well and must always be honest in your business dealings.

"Keep an easygoing demeanour, but don't ever give up because nothing is impossible. But of course, I think I have also been blessed all these years too."

seowyr@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on June 19, 2016.
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