'I don't buy Lamborghini, Ferrari or yachts': This Aussie entrepreneur managed to turn $2,000 into a business empire over 30 years in Singapore

'I don't buy Lamborghini, Ferrari or yachts': This Aussie entrepreneur managed to turn $2,000 into a business empire over 30 years in Singapore
PHOTO: Screengrab/YouTube/Max Chernov

It's difficult to start a life in a new country, much less doing it twice.

But Australian entrepreneur Michael Ma managed to pull that off, having moved to Singapore over 30 years ago with just $2,000 to his name. 

In an interview with content creator Max Chernov, which was uploaded to YouTube on August 3, Michael shared the journey that led him to his current successes.

The 55-year-old IndoChine Group chief executive officer (CEO) has come a long way from his humble beginnings as a child of Laos-Thai Teochew heritage, fleeing with his family to Australia during the Vietnam War.

After Michael's family left Laos for Australia in the 70s, his 52-year-old dad had to start from scratch with five kids in tow. 

Starting from a humble small shop in the western suburbs of Sydney, his entire family chipped in, with Michael working after school, to grow the family business into a success. 

"He made so much money, he ended up with three shopping centres," Michael shared. 

Coming to Singapore

The hard work and dedication of his father have certainly rubbed off on Michael. Wanting to make a name for himself, he made his way to Singapore 30 years ago, armed with only $2,000.

"My father's rich but I want to see how I fare out on my own," Michael stated, recounting how he didn't have a room for the first few months when he arrived in Singapore. 

Fast forward to the present day, he is the head of the IndoChine hospitality group. 

At its peak, IndoChine restaurants were peppered all across Singapore, but now Michael has closed most of them as he pivoted his resources to his resort in Phuket. 

His property holdings extend beyond F&B spaces, including a few shophouses.

He has heeded the wisdom of his grandfather, who said, "A bank is where you borrow money from, not to put your money into". 

Therefore, he chooses to invest his assets in properties rather than extravagant luxuries. 

"I don't buy Lamborghini, Ferrari or yachts," Michael explained. "When I have money, I buy properties," he stated. 

Tips for success

During the interview, Michael also shared some of his principles for achieving success in life. One of them is "elephant tasking". 

It simply means breaking up your tasks into smaller pieces, allowing you to manage one thing at a time. "Whatever problem you have, don't overcrowd it," Michael advised. 

Another good quality to have is to be humble. He recalled the time when he cleaned a toilet even though he was a day trader back then.

Even though he was told that it was not his responsibility, he didn't mind doing it. 

Michael also emphasised the importance of following one's passion rather than focusing solely on monetary gain. 

"You've got to find what you really like and are good at. Money is a secondary thing and it will come later, Michael mentioned. 

His favourite things about Singapore

The interview also shed light on Michael's admiration for the late Lee Kuan Yew (LKY), Singapore's first prime minister.

Michael praised LKY's linguistic abilities, integrity, and thought process, expressing how honoured he was to have met him on several occasions.

Fun fact! Did you know Michael bought a property near the late Lee Kuan Yew's house? 

Having made a name in Singapore, Max was curious to know whether the entrepreneur applied for citizenship. 

Michael, despite being a Permanent Resident in Singapore, made a deliberate choice not to apply for citizenship, even though he was offered the opportunity. 

He expressed that as a refugee, he felt a profound sense of honour and gratitude to be welcomed by Australia.

To him, Australia is not just a country, it holds a special place in his heart, akin to a "mother."

ALSO READ: 'The city transformed itself into a real world power': 90-year-old former NUS professor details his life in Singapore since 1961

venkat.gunasellan@asiaone.com

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