Chinese community leader gets top honour

Mr Chua Thian Poh is the second Chinese community leader to receive the Distinguished Service Order since it was instituted in 1968.

SINGAPORE - Prominent businessman and property developer Chua Thian Poh, 66, tops this year's list of National Day Award winners with the Distinguished Service Order (Darjah Utama Bakti Cemerlang).

The chairman and chief executive of public-listed Ho Bee Land, is honoured for his leading role in the Chinese community and contributing to its diverse groups - from business and social services to medical and clan organisations.

He is the second Chinese community leader - after banker Wee Cho Yaw - to receive this award since it was instituted in 1968.

A former president of the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SCCCI), the self-made property tycoon took over the reins of the 200-strong Singapore Federation of Chinese Clan Associations four years ago from Mr Wee, who received the award in 2011.

This year's more than 3,300 recipients of the National Day Awards included military staff, public servants, community and grassroots leaders and educators.

Six received the Meritorious Service Medal: Competition Commission of Singapore chairman Lam Chuan Leong; Esplanade chairman Theresa Foo; former director of medical services in the Health Ministry Satkunanantham Kandiah; Legal Service Commission member Lee Tzu Yang; former Community Chest chairman Jennie Chua; and Council of Presidential Advisers member Po'ad Shaik Abu Bakar Mattar.

Mr Chua, chair of the Business China social network group and Ren Ci Hospital, and president of the Hokkien Huay Kuan, told The Straits Times yesterday that the older generation of Chinese community leaders inspired him.

"Without their selfless contributions and dedication, we would not be where we are today."

The seventh child of a tongkang (bumboat) builder, Mr Chua left school at 16 to work for his father before striking out on his own.

By 21, he had made his first million producing metal hooks and spikes for the logging industry, but his business went bust within a year.

He moved to Indonesia in the 1970s to do import-export business, but lost millions after the 1978 devaluation of the rupiah. His fortunes changed after he returned to Singapore in the early 1980s to start the Ho Bee group of companies and ventured into property development.

Mr Chua, one of 26 billionaires here according to Forbes, donated over $10 million in recent years to endowment funds at the National University of Singapore, Nanyang Technological University and Singapore Management University.

His involvement in the Chinese community began in 1993 when he became an SCCCI council member.

This article was first published on Aug 9, 2014.
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