Show Me The Money

Word on the street is that one in 35 Singaporeans is a millionaire. We picked the brains of a few enterprising money makers to find out just what it takes to hit the seven-figure mark.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

Word on the street is that one in 35 Singaporeans is a millionaire. We picked the brains of a few enterprising money makers to find out just what it takes to hit the seven-figure mark.

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You may be a Monopoly queen, but what does it take to become a millionaire in real life? We ask Ong Chih Ching, co-founder, executive chairman and executive director of property developer and hospitality group KOP, which deals with luxury resorts and housing like The Ritz- Carlton Residences, for her insights.

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1. Give it your all

“If you want to make your first million, you cannot play it safe. Many people with cushy jobs can learn to be less risk-averse. For the sake of a stable income, they may stick with their full-time jobs and pursue their passion after work, only going all in once they’re successful. But this dilutes their time and concentration and possibly their chances of success. You have to give it your best shot so you’ll have no regrets because you tried your best.”

2. Keep your focus

“To me, focus and dedication are key. While I’d still be working at 9pm or even 11pm, some friends and partners would choose a more balanced life. I find it difficult to juggle a family and social life and still be successful. The fact is, your level of success is commensurate with the effort you put in. A woman who wants success and a family will need a very supportive spouse or very capable helpers. So I’m not saying that you can’t have work-life balance and still succeed; it’s just tougher.”

3. Act on your ambition

“Some people are not ambitious enough, or they’re content with what they have, so that keeps them from becoming a millionaire. For instance, they may run a successful cafe but aren’t interested in expanding. Then there are those who aim too high and give up easily. You need passion to drive you to achieve your goals, but not so much that you become emotionally attached to your product or business. Running a business requires a rational and logical mind, so it’s important to dream big but think small: Dreaming big makes you limitless and gives you a vision, while thinking small grounds you and helps you set up your operations. Most millionaires didn’t start out thinking they were going to become millionaires; you can’t plan to become a millionaire, but you can realise your dream through hard work and proper execution.”

4. Be humble

“Being humble is underrated. When you humble yourself, people are more inclined to offer advice when you ask for it; you’ll also be more accepting of the advice and of new information. There’s a lot of information overload these days, so it’s about filtering all of it and learning to process and apply it.”

5. Keep an open mind

“When you make your first $100,000, it’s probably through personal effort, but when you want to make one million, it’s about the people around you. Being in sales, I need to be friendly and service-oriented. Being knowledgeable and openminded is also important. Being open-minded helps me relate to the other person and understand their needs, while being knowledgeable about the subject makes it easier to find a solution and close a sale.”

6. Know your business

“Be prepared to roll up your sleeves and get involved with the nitty-gritty of your business. You can’t just delegate from the office; you have to be on the frontline to see how your team executes tasks. You have to think about your finances, talk to your accountants and legal teams, and oversee everyday operations. Only if you’re familiar with your work will you win the respect of your team.”

Catch Ong Chih Ching at the SCCCI Career Women’s Group’s “Women for Women” Celebratory Conference cum Concert on March 4, 2017. She will be speaking about “Women Finding Success Against the Odds”.

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We enlisted the help of financial experts and millionaires to find out how to invest smart and make money in your sleep.
1. Invest in what you know
A self-confessed traditional investor, founder and CEO of property firm Manor Group, John Lim, devotes a significant part of his investment portfolio to tangible assets like real estate. To date, his best investments have largely been hospitality-related. He started out by renovating his father’s properties with his savings before renting them out. Discovering he had a knack for it, he then expanded into the design, construction and logistics business.
He encourages investing beyond Singapore and is himself investing in two new projects overseas – in Chiang Mai and Japan – with plans to develop more machiya (traditional wooden town houses) in Kyoto.
Ray Tan, who became a millionaire at 26, is the youngest and fastestpromoted executive director at life insurance company Great Eastern Life Singapore. He says: “I invest in things I know and spend time on. I like the financial sector and it helps that my line of work falls within it, so I’m attuned to market movements.”
Ray relies on wealth-management tools such as endowment plans and fund investments. “I’ve bought some endowments because I like the predictability of the amount and the timing of the maturity of funds. I also regularly channel my savings into the market through exchange-traded funds (open-ended investment funds traded on a real-time stock exchange) to grow my money.”
2. Find a mentor
“Your actions, not birthright, are what make you rich,” stresses Fabian Lim, self-made millionaire, founder and Group CEO of tech start-up Page Advisor, and author of The Science of Getting Rich Decoded. His tip for success: “Find someone whose skills you can mirror, whether in digital marketing or other areas, and leverage on your strengths.”
In the words of Chinese business magnate Jack Ma: “Before you turn 30 years old, follow somebody… it’s not which company you go to, it’s which boss you follow. A good boss teaches you differently.”
3. Network, network, network
There’s a saying that network equals net worth. “Networking shouldn’t just be about swopping name cards and expanding your social circle. The question is, why would a wealthy person want to mingle with you?” Fabian asks.
“To get someone’s attention, you must be able to add value to their lives.” Think barter trade. “Millionaires are not interested in trading purely in cash. The director of a top property agency in Malaysia flew to Singapore to meet me as he wanted to tap on my digital marketing experience. In return for my help in developing a digital marketing strategy for his firm, he helped me secure investors for Page Advisor.”
“Find someone whose skills you can mirror, whether in digital marketing or other areas, and leverage on your strengths.”
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4. Think of ways to grow your business
“When it comes to jobs, a company determines your fate. A job was never designed to make you rich,” says Fabian. “As an entrepreneur, you are in control. Say you’re an Uber driver. You can only ‘single-task’ – drive one car at a time. On the other hand, as the founder of Uber, you’re benefiting from so many cars on the road.” So, scalability, or the potential for growth, matters.
Chih Ching concurs. “Scalability is the only way to make millions. When you want to make millions, numbers are important. I personally don’t like businesses with a ceiling that limits the amount you can make, like artisanal or bespoke products.”
5. The pay-off of passive income
Rhonda Wong, founder of online property marketplace platform Ohmyhome, made her first million at 25 from trading, but recommends investing in property as a source of passive income that you don’t have to constantly monitor. Stocks rise and fall but “property won’t hit zero”, assuming the unit is in a liveable condition. “Even if a property in a less ideal location depreciates by 10 to 20 per cent or 50 per cent, it can still be rented out.”
To achieve a return that exceeds your initial investment, Rhonda suggests looking out for certain factors when buying: location, scarcity of the property type (for instance, exclusive units in a condo might feature a squarish living room or sea view) and future developments in the area, such as shopping malls or MRT stations, all of which may increase the value of your investment. Fengshui is also a key consideration for some buyers, who may prefer unit number eight over four.”
“When buying your first property for investment, considerations like a sea view are not as crucial. If that gives you a higher monetary return, go ahead, but don’t choose it because it’s something you would want in your dream home,” says Rhonda. “If you live in your first home instead of using it as an investment, you’ll be paying it off for years before you see any return. It would be wiser to rent it out for, say, $4,000 and rent a place elsewhere for $800.”
“An HDB flat is more of a shelter than an investment product,” says Rhonda. To invest, she suggests looking beyond Singapore to places like the UK, where you might be able to get higher returns. Australia is also affordable and, like the UK, its policies are similar to those of Singapore as contracts are governed by Commonwealth law, so it’ll be easier when it comes time to sell.
6. Focus your energy on things that matter
Spending too much time in the morning picking out what to wear? Learn from Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who wears a grey T-shirt every day so he can channel his focus and energy to more important decisions. The same goes for Rhonda. “In my office wardrobe are items that I can easily pick to get ready quickly. It’s a waste of time thinking of what to wear.”
Stocks rise and fall but “property won’t hit zero”… “Even if a property in a less ideal location depreciates by 10 to 20 per cent or 50 per cent, it can still be rented out.” 
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