SINGAPORE - Almost five decades ago, Mr Mohamed Abdul Jaleel didn't have a roof over his head. Sometimes three meals a day were hard to come by and, as the years passed, he dropped out of secondary school to help his father run a small shop.
Today, there is a vast gulf between his childhood days and his current comfortable and wealthy life. Mr Jaleel, 55, runs a construction logistics business which has an annual revenue of more than $100 million. The Mini Environment Service (MES) Group, of which he is the founder and chief executive officer, is a pioneer in providing dormitories for foreign workers who flock to Singapore for better-paid jobs.
However, he insists that those early days of hardship taught him life's best lessons and everything he knows and credits his success to those difficult days. They motivate him every minute of his life, he says.
Mr Jaleel came to Singapore in the 1960s as a five-year-old with his family from Chennai, India. Soon, his father had to send his mother and four sisters back due to financial difficulties. The young Jaleel stayed on to help his father.
"My father ran a small convenience store just behind City Hall, where the Prime Minister's office stands," Mr Jaleel tells tabla! in his sprawling office in Lower Delta Road where, in an anteroom, sit miniatures of his many dormitory projects.
It was a three-storey shophouse, which the duo were asked to vacate for redevelopment projects which were going on in full swing in Singapore in those days. They were offered shops in Toa Payoh and Jurong in return, but his father could not afford the rent. Instead he opted to take up a stall in a back office on High Street before moving to Stamford Road. Which is where, Mr Jaleel says, life really began for him.
"I can still remember and feel the hardships of those days. Even three meals a day were a luxury then."
His father's convenience store opened from 6am to about 10pm, which didn't suit the young and restless Jaleel.
"I didn't like sitting in one place. I had dropped out of secondary school (Whitley Secondary) and was restless to do some work and earn some money for the family," he says.
He took to cleaning cars and shops and washing toilets, which led to him meeting construction company Sum Cheong Piling's then-boss Low Sum.