By Phyllis Lee and Laura Zhang
His rags to riches story has been making rounds on the Internet since he announced his bid to run for this year’s Reserved Presidential Elections.
Having gone through 40 over years as an entrepreneur, Mohamed Salleh Marican has had his fair share of failures in several industries. But with his determination to succeed, he is now the chief executive officer of Second Chance Properties – the first Malay-owned company to be listed on the Singapore Exchange.
As a candidate from the private sector, Mr Marican does not meet the minimum $500 million shareholder equity threshold required to qualify as a contestant. Over the last three financial years, his business only registered between $254.3 and $263.25 million.
Nevertheless, he still believes that the Presidential Elections Committee will grant him a discretionary eligibility to contest in the elections.
On Thursday (31 August), The Independent went down to his Second Chance Properties office at Tanjong Katong Complex and caught up with him through a Q&A session, before his eligibility to contest is announced on the Nomination Day.
Interestingly, he will be turning 68 just two days after 13 September – so earning the right to contest will definitely be a great birthday present for him to receive.
Why did you want to run for the Presidential Elections?
We all have different aspirations in different stages of our lives. From time to time, people might want to do something different or meaningful.
When I was in my 30s and 40s, to me, success is being wealthy, having a big business and being admired. When I was in my 50s, I realised that family is more important and spent more time with my wife, children and grandkids. When I was in my 60s, I began to realise that I can help more people. Now, I believe if I become President, I can do more good.
People say, if you don’t become President, you can also do good. But if I’m elected as the President and write to CEOs of all the big companies to support my charitable initiatives, I think most of them will support me. We’ll make them understand what we’re doing.
But as an ordinary citizen writing to them, I don’t know if they’ll read the letter or not. The President’s influence will have a great impact on whatever activities he hopes to promote.
How has your campaign preparations been going?
Since the Writ of Elections was announced, my team members have all been excited. The day is getting closer. We are anxiously waiting for the result of my application, whether I qualify or not. We are not starting our campaign because we are waiting for the nomination. Our plans are all scheduled until after the Nomination Day, on the 13th itself. I’m waiting for the green light saying that I can run.
Because I’m not sure whether I qualify or not, there are many things I cannot do. For example, printing the posters, pasting them and going around Singapore with them. It takes a few days. For the last elections, they gave the nominations six days before the Nomination Day. That would be good and fair because everyone will have a few days to get things ready.
What are your views about the aging population in Singapore?
This is the concern of most countries; it’s a global problem. People are living longer because of better medication, healthcare and awareness of active living. But maybe, robots might save the day. Robots can replace the babies!
Tell us your thoughts about Singapore’s reserves.
The reserves are managed by Temasek, GIC and Monetary Authority of Singapore. No one knows the exact amount because many of the investments fluctuate. From my own estimate, Singapore now has at least $800 billion in reserve.
But they are becoming more transparent. Recently, GIC mentioned that they lost four over billion because they invested in UBS Bank. That is transparency. That is bad news, but they still let people know about it. They’re not hiding their loss. I believe it’s being well-managed by professionals, people who know about investing.
My pledge is that I will ensure that the reserves are not unwisely used. There might come a time when it needs to be used. What is important is that if someone wants to use the reserves, the President will study and discuss it with the advisors.
If the money is to be used for the good of Singapore, then that is when you should agree. The system is put in place to prevent a rogue government. This is an institution that is evolving for the long term.
Tell us your thoughts about the various social issues in Singapore, such as the death penalty, racism and gay rights.
The President has to be a unifier. To me, to be a unifier, you must not divide the people. All these LGBT, tudung and racism issues are very divisive. As the President, you should not be talking about these openly. It should be done in closed-door meetings with community leaders and the relevant people.
Do you keep up with social media?
I’ve never carried a handphone all my life. I bought one three months ago, because my team said that I must have it. After I used a handphone, I cannot leave home without my phone now. I use it to read about what is going on, what people are talking about my competitors and myself, and follow the interviews.
It takes time, but I’ve already started using it – I have a Facebook and Instagram account. I still need to run my business and keep in touch with my team to plan the campaign.
A lot of people had asked, what if there’s some decision to be made, and you’re not around? I said, my deputy must make the decision. That’s how I can know whether he’s the right person to take over later on! Because I’ve established myself, I delegate most of the responsibilities. It’s good to see them make the decisions.
What kind of books do you read?
I always carry a book when I travel. I like to read books that are based on historical facts. James Clavell, one of my favourite authors, wrote books like Taipan, Noble House, Shōgun. I also like John Grisham and Ken Follett. Some of them write so well that when I read the book, it’s like an escape for my problems. I am transported to that time.
What scares you the most in life?
To me, the most frightening thing is dementia. I’ve seen some of my relatives… they say the same thing that they’ve said five minutes ago. Some don’t even remember their family. Your family members will be affected.
I hope I won’t get that. This is something that has no cure. Diabetes… you can prevent. But I’m healthy for my age, I still can do 10 pull ups.
What are some words of advice you have for young budding entrepreneurs?
What you read about in the media is only the success stories. For that one person who managed to become a billionaire because he created Facebook or Google, thousands have failed. You must be aware that success is not easy. Almost everyone, including myself, when venturing into business, do not plan for failures.
When we go out for a mission in the army, the first thing we need to do is to plan for failures. If the mission fails, where are you going to escape?
It’s the same with businesses. When something happens and you’re not prepared, you make more mistakes in decisions. If you’re more prepared, of course you’ll lose, but you can cut your losses.