The Education Of An Entrepreneur

CHEW HUA SENG (BBA 1979)

 

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.”

Alumni Appreciation Dinner 2014

Date: 29 April 2014 (Tuesday)
Time: 7.00 pm
Venue: Movenpick Heritage Hotel at Sentosa
Organiser: Global Alumni Network Office

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Alumni-Appreciation-Dinner-2014

There is one special night in the year that NUS Business School Global Alumni Network Office (GANO) looks forward to, and that is the annual Alumni Appreciation Dinner. This is the occasion when we get to recognise and thank our alumni for the many ways they have given back to the School over the year through their tireless involvement, time and skills.

Starting on a high

Energy was high and the air abuzz with the sound of merriment as Business School alumni gathered at the beautiful Movenpick Heritage Hotel at Sentosa on 29 April 2014 for the celebration dinner. Picking up on the energetic vibe, Dean Prof Bernard Yeung thanked everyone for their invaluable contributions and acknowledged the roles of the three alumni associations as well as the Bizad Club and GANO for helping to forge a strong NUS community.

Keeping the party atmosphere going

The emcee for the evening involved alumni in a host of fun activities including an elimination bingo competition and a ‘Guess the Song’ contest, which had people on their feet and running for the stage to deliver their winning answers. Party balloons were the centrepiece for another game, adding to the celebratory atmosphere. Of course, there had to be a dance or two thrown in for good measure.

GANO’s heartfelt show of appreciation

As a thank-you gesture, GANO put together an appreciation video that recapped the year’s events and highlighted all the wonderful contributions and the many ways the Business School alumni community has given back to the School. The Dean then led the room in a toast to thank the alumni for their tireless involvement and, together with Ms Ng Pheck Choo, Director of GANO, presented everyone with custom-made tokens of appreciation.

What motivates our alumni to give back?

So what exactly spurs on our alumni to continue to give, be it as mentors, association committee members, speakers or event organisers? We spoke to some of those present to understand better why they continue to be involved with the School in their own time. Mr Ronald Wong (BBA Hons and MSc Management 2012), an NUSBSA member, highlighted the need to encourage active participation among younger alumni. This spurred his involvement in NUSBSA Connexxion, a series of networking events between current students and alumni that aims to nurture the giving spirit in current students with the hope they continue to be involved as alumni upon graduating. Exhorting fellow alumni to help make a difference, Mr Tan Boon Chin (APEX-E MBA 2003), Chair of the Annual Golf Reunion Committee 2014 and Vice President of NUS Business School Alumni Association since 2010, explained his motivation for his continual involvement: “Golf is something I have a passion for, so it is easy for me to be involved in the golf committee,” he says. “It’s my way of giving back to the School, and it is always nice to see all the old faces on a regular basis!”

Some alumni use their professional skills to give back, including Mr Lee Ming Hui (BBA 2008), who volunteers his marketing skills and creative ideas to support the marketing programme for the Bizad Charity Run 2014. His conceptualisation of its promotional video was much appreciated for its creativity and humour. Another way that alumni have contributed their skills over the years is by sharing their industry knowledge with the next generation of leaders. One such volunteer was Ms Angela Sim (BBA 1998), who presented an engaging talk that covered the various grants and incentives available for SMEs at the second Mind My Business event. “I am grateful for being given the opportunity to not only share my knowledge and expertise, but also give back to my alma mater,” she explains. “It’s my way of not just giving back, but paying it forward.”

Some students start their contributions to the School early, as is the case with Mr Kapil Shukla (MBA 2011). “I am proud of the School and the education I have received here and rallying my cohort in the ranking is a way I can recognise the School for all it has done for me”, he said. Current student Sean Ling Wei Tsi, President of the Bizad Club, recognises the importance of a continued association with the School to build a strong alumni network. “Coming to an event like tonight is invaluable for me,” he says. “It shows me first hand the value of being involved, being part of something bigger than myself, and being an active alumni is something I shall certainly be after I graduate.”

As the evening wound to a close, the revelry didn’t. Alumni continued to mingle, catching up with old friends and forging new associations – all made possible because of the strong common bond they share – belonging to the NUS Business School alumni community!

We thank you all for what has been a great year.

The many ways to give back

The Alumni Appreciation Dinner 2014 got us thinking about the many different ways our alumni contribute to the School, be it time, skills, knowledge, mentorship, organisation or fundraising. So we took the opportunity to talk to some of our alumni volunteers, both in Singapore and overseas, to find out more about how they contribute and what motivates them to continue to do so despite their busy schedules and lives. (Read more)

Sowing the seeds for stronger alumni participation

Lee Keng Leong (BBA Hons 2004)

lee_keng_leongLee Keng Leong is proud to be an alumnus of NUS Business School and recognises the advantages of having an old school network to fall back on and a resource for graduating students to reach out to.

So he took the initiative to form the NUS Business School Alumni Youth Initiative (BSA Youth), along with buddy Ronald Wong Longfa (MSc Management, CEMS MIM 2012). Their goal was to create the “Harvard of Asia” – to make the business school alumni a close-knit community to which alumni can turn for career advice, mid-career switches and networking opportunities, and where students can access internships, obtain career advice and find mentors.

Trying to engage over 30,000 alumni on limited resources was a challenge. So Keng Leong adopted the 80/20 rule. “We didn’t have resources to connect to 80% of the alumni, so we focused instead on the 20% that we thought would be grateful to engage with fellow alumni and pay it forward,” he explains. The idea of BSA Youth is for alumni to pay it forward. “Our attitude is, ‘I don’t need anything from you. If you have benefitted from our meeting, then pay it forward to the next guy.’”

The easiest way to grow roots was to connect with existing students and encourage them to take up the baton when they graduate. “We develop the youth, pick out people who are willing to get involved and bring them into the Exco,” Keng Leong explains. “We have also formed a Facebook page and that’s a fantastic platform that enables everyone to stay in touch and make new connections.”

The Connexxions events, held two times a year, have proved a great platform on which BSA Youth can engage and bring on board new students. These events consist of a talk by a guest of honour followed by a Q&A session, before participants get into mixed groups of alumni and students for a one-hour focus group discussion. In this session, alumni give advice to the students and pass on their experiences. “We did it this way because we believe that alumni are more likely to be honest and give real and useful advice in small groups than they would be on a public podium,” explains Keng Leong.

“This last event in January was the highest attendance we have seen so far, so it’s definitely growing as intended,” he says. It is his firm wish that at some point, BSA Youth will come to a “tipping point” and become a fraternity that graduating students will be dying to join.

Over the years, BSA Youth, now 300 strong, has become self-sustaining, entirely run by the students and mentored by the alumni. “I am pleased to say that I have been able to pass the baton over to Year 2 student Charles Tey Wee Chow,” affirms Keng Leong. “Now I just offer my services as I am needed but the ball is in Charles’ court to keep the momentum going.”

“I got involved when BSA Youth taught me how to network,” says Charles. “I realised after a few sessions that networking wasn’t so scary. It is really just like making friends. And these friends can open doors and create connections for you.”

But first and foremost Charles says he has benefitted from the knowledge he has gained from networking with alumni. “I’ve met alumni from many diverse industries such as Banking, IT, Sales. Over the sessions, I have explored such industries, and from alumni’s feedback I am more aware of the types of career that would suit my personality,” Charles explains. “Without this type of networking, this is something I would never have known without going out into the marketplace and perhaps making the wrong career choice.” Charles was also lucky enough to be offered an internship at one Connexxions event by an alumnus who wanted to give back. And for Keng Leong, that is what BSA Youth is all about.