Mechanical engineering might have been Tom Ng's chosen career path, but creating a shoe empire turned out to be his true passion.
He always had a soft spot for shoes. In the early 1990s, as a student at Oregon State University in the United States, he saved up his pocket money to amass a "sizeable collection" of the wildly popular Nike high-tops, among other sneakers.
His love for shoes would come full circle almost a decade later when he ventured out of the corporate world to become the owner of his own shoe brand.
Today, the 44-year-old is the founder and director of Pazzion (pronounced pah-zzon), the trendy, home-grown shoe label. There are eight Pazzion stores in various malls, all of which opened in the last 10 years. Its Wisma Atria store is the brand's flagship.
It is also franchised around the world in countries such as Japan, Mauritius, South Korea and Russia. Thailand alone has more than 18 Pazzion stores.
Recalling the early days when he picked up his shoe habit, he says he loved being in touch with shoe trends, even then.
He says: "Like most students, I didn't have much spare cash but given a choice, I always splurged on shoes over other things such as video games or gadgets."
His foray into the entrepreneurial world was perhaps influenced by his father, who ran an export company selling luggage wholesale for 30 years.
The family of six lived in a kampung-style house with a zinc roof in Mandai until he was 12. They then moved to a terrace house in the east. He is the youngest of four children.
He has two older sisters, aged 52 and 49, and an older brother, 46, a pilot instructor based in Australia. Their mother, Madam Tan Mui Kiang, is a housewife.
Mr Ng, who excelled at drawing and painting as a child, remembers his childhood days as being carefree and simple.
"Our neighbours were farmers who reared chickens and pigs, or they grew rambutans and durians. On weekends, my mother took us to explore the Botanic Gardens or Seletar Reservoir."
Turning 16 marked the start of his independence as his father sent him abroad to study mechanical engineering, and join his second sister, who was studying for a finance degree, in Oregon. She graduated three months after Mr Ng arrived and returned home.
Mr Ng, who studied at Broadrick Secondary School, says: "I was pretty much on my own. It was a fun time because I could do whatever I wanted." He remembers he and his friends driving to the beach or Las Vegas for weekend jaunts. But he kept his grades up and was on the Dean's List for three years out of the four that he was there.
After graduating at age 20, he came home for national service.
Soon after finishing the 21/2-year stint, he worked as a project sales executive for a local construction firm, which specialised in soundproofing works for venues such as movie theatres, auditoriums and music-recording studios.
He says: "I did have an interest in engineering, so it was a natural progression to work in the field. I thought I would expose myself to the industry, but they offered me a position in sales and managing projects, so I tried my hand at it."
After two years, he quit and joined an American oil and gas company, working in sales in the fibreglass piping department. When he left three years later, he had risen through the ranks to manage the company's sales portfolio for part of the Asia-Pacific region.
While at the American company, he did a part-time graduate diploma course in business administration at the Singapore Institute of Management.
Mr Ng, who completed it in 15 months, says: "My first two jobs ended up being non-engineering related. I wanted to learn more, to further my knowledge of the business side of things."