PAP potential MP still bitter over not getting Maths prize in P5

Speaking to reporters on the sidelines of a community event last Sunday (20 Apr), MP for Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC, Dr Ng Eng Hen, said that new faces have been introduced in his constituency. Dr Ng, who is also PAP’s organising secretary, had earlier said that potential candidates for the next general election have been active on the ground in many GRCs.

One of the potential PAP candidates spotted by the media for Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC is 48-year-old Chong Kee Hiong, currently the Chief Executive of public-listed company OUE Hospitality Trust.

Mr Chong is a newly minted grassroots leaders in Toa Payoh, helping out at the PAP’s weekly Meet-the-People Sessions in Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC.

According to information from BusinessWeek [Link] and OUE website [Link], Mr Chong is a familiar face in the corporate circles holding senior corporate positions in many companies before:

1990 to 1995 – starting out at KPMG Peat Marwick
1995 to 1997 – Financial Controller at RSP Architects, Planners & Engineers
1997 to 2000 – Group Financial Controller at Tuan Sing Holdings
2000 to 2001 – Senior Vice President of Adroit Innovations
2001 to 2004 – CFO of Raffles Holdings
2005 to 2012 – CEO of Ascott Residence Trust Management Limited (Ascott is a subsidiary of CapitaLand)
2012 to 2013 – CEO of The Ascott Limited
2013 to current – CEO of OUE Hospitality Trust and OUE Hospitality Reit Management.

In addition, he is also active in the labour movement, serving as President of the union-linked Orchid Country Club and Chairman of NTUC Foodfare cooperative. He is a non-Executive Director of SLF Leisure Enterprises (Pte) Ltd, Pasir Ris Resort Pte Ltd and Aquamarina Hotel Private Limited. He is also the representative of Mandarin Orchard Singapore as a Board member of the Singapore Hotel Association and as a corporate member of Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce & Industry.

He serves as a Member of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Finance and Trade and Industry Resource Panel, as well as the Finance and IT Committee at Sentosa Development Corporation, a government statutory board.

Mr. Chong holds a Bachelor of Accountancy degree from NUS and completed the Harvard Business School’s Advanced Management Program in 2008. He is a member of the Institute of Singapore Chartered Accountants.

Interview with ST

Two years ago, during an interview with the ST (‘To be a CEO, read martial arts novels’, 13 May 2012), Mr Chong told the reporter that he was still feeling upset about not getting a prize for scoring the highest marks in mathematics when he was in Primary 5.

Then, at the now defunct Kim Keat Primary School, he scored the highest marks for mathematics and Chinese among his Primary 5 cohorts. But his teacher told him he had won one prize too many and gave the maths award to another pupil who had finished half a mark behind.

“I didn’t argue with the teacher but I was very upset,” recalled Mr Chong. “The fact that I still remember it with such clarity shows that I am still disturbed by it.”

The episode went against the ideals of fair play and meritocracy, he said. Mr Chong is a strong believer in meritocracy. He told the reporter that if you work hard, have the desire to do well and grab opportunities given to you, you will do well. That, he said, is the beauty of meritocracy.

When he was a child, his family was poor. His father ran a small footwear stall in the Bendemeer market. He told the reporter that he read a lot of Chinese sword-fighting novels by some of the genre’s most loved writers, such as Jin Yong, Gu Long and Liang Yusheng when he was a child.

“In these novels, the heroes will always prevail although they have to undergo a lot of hardships first,” he said with a hearty laugh. “Also, in many of the stories, skilful pugilists and old masters would impart their skills only if the heroes showed great perseverance and sincerity, so I told myself I needed to have those qualities too.”

Being good in his studies, Mr Chong’s education was practically self-financed. He later attended Raffles Institution and Raffles Junior College, received three scholarship offers when he got into NUS.

He at first wanted to study engineering but settled for accountancy instead as he was given a scholarship by KPMG, which paid $5,000 a year. Also, at the time, engineering graduates were having difficulties getting a job. Mr Chong recalled, “It was the mid-1980s and there was a recession. An engineering course would have taken four years instead of three and engineering graduates were also finding it difficult to get a job then.”

After KPMG, he went to work for RSP Architects for 2 years before moving to Tuan Sing Holdings. The reason why he left RSP for Tuan Sing was because Tuan Sing, a property developer, offered him a posting in Shanghai. He told himself that his resume would “look more impressive” if he had overseas exposure. He was sent to Shanghai in 1997 to oversee Tuan Sing’s finance and administration, and was among the first wave of Singaporean expatriates based in Shanghai. He was on an expatriate package.

“The expatriate life was quite good in those days… For instance, you paid a bit more but you could get doctors to come and see you, not the other way round,” he recounted his good life in Shanghai to the reporter with a laugh.

Success, however, did not make him forget his roots. In 2011, he took his wife, two of their four sons and one of his brothers to visit his father’s village in Meixian, in Guangdong province of China. His father came to Singapore from China in the 1940s. He told the reporter that his trip back to his ancestral home proved to be an emotional experience.

“There I saw the house that he (the father) shared with five other families. I was told that he walked six hours from his village to the pier to take the ship to Singapore and that was the last they saw of him,” Mr Chong said.

He met everyone in the village, hosted a lunch for 80 people, and visited his grandfather’s grave. He also met his only surviving aunt, the youngest of his father’s 4 sisters, who is now in her 80s. “The moment I saw her, I knew she was my aunt. She looked like my father and her mannerisms were like my grandma’s. She would hold my hands while talking to me. It was amazing, and not at all awkward,” he said.

He told the reporter that he intends to revisit his ancestral home, taking with him his other children and siblings. By his accounts, it appears that he is very emotionally attached to his ancestral home in Guangdong.

At the time of his interview in 2012, he and his family were already living in a semi-detached house in Bishan and driving a Mercedes convertible.

Indeed, the lucky star appears to continue to shine on Mr Chong after having come a long way. He’s now being identified by the PAP as a potential candidate for the next general election and possibly a potential minister in future?

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