Thursday, October 30, 2008

My most admired entrepreneur

Recently, I came across an exhibition in the National Library showcasing the contribution of a prominent entrepreneur and philanthropist, Mr Tan Kah Kee and his son-in-law, Mr Lee Kong Chian.

Just a little background on
Mr Tan Kah Kee:

Tan Kah Kee was born in Jimei, Xiamen, Fujian Province, China, and went to Singapore in 1890, when he was 16 years old, to work for his father's rice store. After his father's business collapsed in 1903, Tan started his own business and built an empire from rubber plantations and manufacturing, sawmills, canneries, real estate, import and export brokerage, ocean transport to rice trading. His business was at its prime from 1912-1914, where he was known as "Henry Ford of Malaya".

With the profit that he made from his business empire, Tan contributed greatly to the community, both in Malaya and his native Fujian Province. He set up the Jimei Schools (now Jimei University) in 1913. In 1919, he set up The Chinese High School, now named Hwa Chong Institution in Singapore, while in 1921, he set up the Xiamen University and financially supported it until the Government of the Republic of China took it over in 1937. In 1920, he married his daughter Tan Ai Li to Lee Kong Chian, who worked under him and who later became a famous Singaporean philanthropist and businessman.

The part that I admired the most about Mr Tan, is his relentless effort in contributing to the society while he himself leading a frugal lifestyle. From the documentary, I remembered there was one incident when Mr Tan’s business was not in a good shape and his advisors had advised him to stop his funding to the schools and used those funds to help the business instead.

However, Mr Tan did not agree. He said that his objective in doing business is to contribute to the society, especially education. If he cannot continue to contribute to the society, there’s no reasons for him to run business. Afterall, he is leading a very frugal lifestyle and he can live with eating just plain porridge every day.

In a society where we measured everything by its practical and monetary benefits; In a society where most people, be it elites or commoners, are being motivated by only the most pragmatic factor, that is money, I really wonder how many people can be like Mr Tan?

The exhibition is still open, at 10th floor of the National Library, until 31st December 2008. I would highly recommend people to take a look, especially entrepreneurs.