Chew Hua Seng is currently a successful entrepreneur whose listed Raffles Education Corporation (“RafflesEducationCorp”) is now Asia’s largest private education provider with 38 colleges in 35 cities around 14 countries.
But his path to success was not an easy one. He was an early investor in China and he paid a high price in his early years.
“In 1996, I had a factory in Dalian. My general manager mortgaged my factory to build his own next to mine. I lost everything and I had to walk out with nothing.
“That was very shattering for me because it was all my savings. After that, I learned how to do business in China and that was an expensive tuition fee I paid.”
As a result of his hard-won experience, he advises people to start young if they want to be an entrepreneur. “They need to strike out as early as possible to give room for you to fail. Then you can pick up the business and take it on again.”
It will come as no surprise that he ranks perseverance as a key characteristic that separates the sheep from the goats. This was a lesson he learned early in life. He grew up in a kampong, where he was one of eight children. His father was a fisherman and his mother was a housewife. Those early years left their mark on him.
“Like most of the kampung boys that time, we did not have much. We had to learn very early in life to make a living for ourselves. We made do with what we had.
“The deprivation part of it (childhood) is the very seed for me to strive hard to get out of poverty.”
He made it to university but he had to sell insurance while juggling his studies. The one consolation was that he was so busy with studies and work that he had no real time to get distracted.
At university, he described himself as being not a “terribly bright student.”“I had to work very hard to pass my examinations. That was a good lesson. I learned that in life, if you work hard, you get what you want. With those foundations, he went on to build his business empire.
Today, he is still persevering. Raffles Education Corp used to be a stock market darling but the share price has languished in recent years. However, this does not bother him as he takes a long-term perspective.
“I’m a builder of business. I’m not a stock market player. To me, this business has a long way to go. Asia has 3 billion people and education in most of the countries is underprovided; the growth potential for RafflesEducationCorp is enormous.”