Singapore – The Executive Chairman of The Straits Trading Company Limited, Ms Chew Gek Khim, was interviewed by news anchor Tung Soo Hua in a recent episode of her Be My Guest series.
Ms Chew is the only female on the Forbes Singapore’s Richest list of 2019 with a family net worth of US$1.42 billion (S$1.97 billion). Ms Tung shared how her initial impression of the composed and serious businesswoman based on media was changed when she met the cheerful and humorous woman.
The episode, which aired on Channel 8, begins with a view of a magnificent bungalow that was built in 1926 and later acquired by Ms Chew’s grandfather, the prominent Singapore businessman Tan Chin Tuan.
The bungalow, which was later known as the Tan Chin Tuan Mansion, received an Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) Architectural Heritage Award in 2008. It is currently being used for social gatherings and other events for the Tan Chin Tuan Foundation.
Ms Chew has numerous fond memories of her grandfather, who became known as “Mr OCBC Bank” due to the solid growth experienced by the Oversea-Chinese Banking Corporation (OCBC) during his leadership.
She recalls that her grandfather had asked her to enter the family business and that she initially declined because she was beginning a career as a lawyer. When circumstances changed, she went to see her grandfather and said: “You know, I quit my job.”
This was during a time when people did not quit their jobs. Her grandfather, although unhappy at first for her leaving a job, gave her a position in the family business.
Already a skilled negotiator, Ms Chew accepted the job on one condition. “I will work for you for two years, and the reason is you and I have a very good relationship. We get along well as grandfather and granddaughter but I’m not sure whether we can work together,” she said.
Ms Chew told her grandfather that if things didn’t work out after that time-frame, “We quit, no hard feelings”.
Ms Chew succeeded her grandfather and won the bidding war for The Straits Trading Company in 2008.
“The biggest lesson I learned from my grandfather is that you must try everything,” she said. “This is my first interview in Chinese. It’s a breakthrough for me,” she added.
It was through her grandfather’s mentoring that Ms Chew learned to do things in a proper manner with integrity. “His attitude in life is when you’re given instruction or when you’re given something to do, do it. It helped me in many areas,” said the chairman or director of 34 companies. “It doesn’t matter if you fail, you tried. And a lot of times, it turns out better than you expect,” she added.
Ms Chew is also known for her signature attire, the cheongsam. Ms Tung took the opportunity to ask her about it. “It’s practical and convenient. There’s no need to think if it matches or anything,” replied Ms Chew.
A portion of the interview focused on Ms Chew’s lineage and on the fact that some children of well-known figures avoided living in the shadows of their parents. When asked if she felt the same, Ms Chew said: “I think that we should not apologise for our background. You are what you are.” She added that one’s background does not determine the future of that person. “It influences you, it moulds you, but the final decision is your own.”
Watch the full episode here.
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