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Clive Tan, Executive Director of 8I Holdings

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“From teaching children to teaching investors how to find value, Clive Tan and 8I Holdings are finding growth in giving back”

What’s your story?
In 2008 the stock market bore a mass exodus during the collapse of Lehman Brothers, prompting the members to seize the opportunity and buy into an undervalued market. Whilst people around us were losing significant sums of money by selling their investments, both Ken and I, from the mastermind group, identified a strong need in the market for an education in value investing in Singapore – it was then that 8 Investment was born.

Personally, I started my career as a secondary school teacher, and during the time that I was teaching, I was also investing as much as I could in the stock market with my limited salary. It was then that I learnt and reaped the benefits of value investing. With that foundation, I left my education career after four years and started a childcare business with my wife from the profits of our equity investments and our savings.

During my time at the childcare business, I participated in an entrepreneurship programme where I met Ken Chee, my business partner and co-founder of 8I Holdings. Our mutual interest in value investing grew into a investing interest group aimed at realizing our shared fascination. We got together every month, either in my office or Ken’s office, to evaluate investment opportunities.

With minimal initial start-up capital, we’ve worked on all aspects of the the 8I Group. From designing training programs, marketing, finances, operations, training, business planning and recruiting to growing the business. This saw the company expand to a team of over 50 people, taking it from a start-up to being listed on the ASX as 8I Holdings Limited (8IH) in 2014.

For more information:
https://8iholdings.com/our-people/clive-tan/
https://www.linkedin.com/in/clivetan8i/

What excites you most about your industry?
Contrary to the common mass, I’m always excited about dynamism of the industry, no two days have been the same ever since we started 8I. We are always growing and learning about things and that has helped us in either making great business decisions or improving our knowledge. It’s common to underestimate humanity’s ability to innovate and achieve progress. Human beings are, by nature, very linear thinkers – we tend to think in a direct cause-and-effect way – and miss the potential for trends to bring about exponential change. In 8I, we embrace changes and aim to empower our people with that change. Moving forward, there will be more disruptions in all aspects of business and to be part of that empowerment, excites me the most.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I was originally born in Malaysia but was raised and educated in Singapore. 8I started from Singapore but has ventured into Malaysia and now Asia Pacific. A big portion of my time is dedicated in growing and enhancing our business operations in the Asia Pacific region. This is the natural market that we focus on, particularly for our private investment arm. From a macro view, the Asia Pacific region still comprises the majority of the population of the world, a region in which many are still living below an acceptable standard of living. Many of them, both businesses and people, are hungry and driven, especially in developing countries, so they have enormous growth potential.

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Although I am based in Singapore, our current business and investment interests (both private and public) spans across the Asia Pacific region, including Malaysia, Australia, Japan, India, China, Taiwan and Thailand, and we continue to adopt an Asia-centric directive in growing our business.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
It has got to be Singapore because this is where 8I was born and also a country that I have regarded as my home. Singapore has consistently been the ranked the top country to do business in given its developed business infrastructure in terms of finance, investment, governments and the likes, as well as its business buoyancy and large talent pool. It’s also strategic as a gateway to the South East Asian markets that are booming and developing. It’s only natural to be in Singapore where the best of east meets the best of west.

On a personal level, as much as I am excited about the dynamism of our industry, I still find comfort in indulging in the familiarity and certainty that Singapore gives me and that has helped me stay rooted to cope with all the changes happening around.

Apart from Singapore, I think it would be any of the Australian cities, such as Perth, Brisbane and Melbourne, especially having spent a short stint during my University days in an exchange programme there. I think Australia has an enviable quality of life, educated professionals and a good legal framework for businesses, which is quite similar to Singapore. This is also one of the reasons why 8I is listed on the ASX.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
The best piece of advice that I have received personally is “stay ahead of the curve”

This encourages me to always look and work forward, despite the mistakes that we have made. Life is not a linear progressive chart upwards, there are bound to be ups and downs along the way. But in spite of concentrating on the hurdles and fluctuations, we should focus on the long-term trend moving forward and upwards.

Who inspires you?
Warren Buffett – he inspires me for his investing acumen and for what he has created with Charlie Munger in Berkshire Hathaway. As a company, we are especially inspired by Berkshire Hathaway because they took on a much more active role in terms of private investments, as well as how they structure their deal making. We also look at how they run their businesses, the letters to shareholders by Buffett, the values he advocates, and adopt those practices which we think are relevant to our company

In Asia, I also personally look up to Li Ka-Shing. His energy in every investment and business never cease to amaze me. I also have great respect for his business acumen in a variety of fields.

What have you learnt recently that blew you away?
I have recently learned about China’s history (which is probably very basic at this stage)on how the different dynasties and empires rise and fall and that fascinates me. History repeats itself in different shapes and forms and I am still blown away by great strategists like Sun Tzu, whose ideologies and strategies still remain very much relevant in this day and age.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I believe you are what you choose to be so to be honest, I wouldn’t choose to do anything differently. Without those experiences that resulted from my choices, it would be hard for me to internalize the life lessons that come with any decisions made.

But taking into accord the lessons that I have learned, I believe I could do a much better job in people management, of which I am still learning how to manage it better every single day. For example, looking back, there are instances where I realised I could have better managed the expectations of partners as well as team members in terms of their growth and future plans. Constant alignment to ensure that we are on the same page will facilitate fulfilment for all parties.

How do you unwind?
When I am not in 8I or looking at investments, I like to treat my body to either a good workout such as cycling or hiking or to a nice massage, and treat my mind via leisure reading.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
It most probably has to be Phuket, Thailand due to it’s proximity to Singapore. Phuket is close enough allow people to catch a quick breather and to recharge ourselves with island life.

If Australia is considered as an Asian destination, it would be Melbourne given the quality of life and the similarity it has with Singapore as well.

Everyone in business should read this book:
How to be Rich by J Paul Getty.

Shameless plug for your business:
8I is the ultimate value investor that invests in the value of people, knowledge and businesses, and developing those values to their greatest potential is what we do best. We always aim to inspire people with our knowledge, experiences and resources when we believe in their value, and that has so far been rewarding for both ourselves and all of our investments.

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For more information, visit https://8iholdings.com

How can people connect with you?
I love connecting with people at our our 8I events. Although I have taken on more responsibilities since 8I got listed, I still love to give workshops and classes personally as often as I can. You can also connect with me via LinkedIn or follow me and 8I Holdings on Facebook. Otherwise, you can call our office at +65 6225 8480 or email [email protected] and my colleague will direct your email to me.

This interview was part of the Callum Connect’s column found on The Asian Entrepreneur:

CallumConnectsCallum Laing invests and buys small businesses in a range of industries around Asia. He has previously started, built and sold half a dozen businesses and is the founder & owner of Fitness-Buffet a company delivering employee wellness solutions in 12 countries. He is a Director of, amongst others, Key Person of Influence. A 40 week training program for business owners and executives.

Take the ‘Key Person of Influence’ scorecard <http://www.keypersonofinfluence.com/scorecard/>

Connect with Callum here:
twitter.com/laingcallum
linkedin.com/in/callumlaing
Get his free ‘Asia Snapshot’ report from www.callumlaing.com

Callum Connects

Benjamin Kwan, Co-Founder of TravelClef

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Making music to create a life for his family, Benjamin Kwan, started an online tuition portal and his music business grew from there.

What’s your story?
I am Benjamin and I’m the Co-Founder of TravelClef Group Pte Ltd, a travelling music school that conducts music classes in companies as well as team building with music programmes. We also run an online educational platform which matches private students to freelance music teachers. We also manufacture our own instruments. I started this company in 2011 when I was still a freshman at NUS, majoring in Mechanical Engineering.

I was born to a lower income family, my father drove a taxi and was the sole breadwinner to a family of 7. I have always dreamed of becoming rich so that I could lessen the burden placed on my father and give my family a good life.

After working really hard in my first semester at NUS, my results didn’t reflect the hard work and effort I put in. At the same time, I was left with just $42 in my bank account and it suddenly dawned on me that if I were to graduate with mediocre results, I would probably end up with a mediocre salary as well. I knew I had to do something to gain control of my future.

During that summer break, I read a book “Internet Riches” by Scott Fox and I knew that the only way I could ever start my own business with my last $42 would be to start an online business. That was how our online tuition portal started and after taking 4 days to learn Photoshop and website building on my own, I started the business.

What excites you most about your industry?
Music itself is a constant form of excitement to me as I have always been an avid lover of music. As one of the world’s first travelling music schools, we are always very eager and excited to find innovative ways to a very traditional business model of a music teaching.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I was born and raised in Singapore and I love the fact that despite our diversity in culture, there’s always a common language that we share, music.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Hands down, SINGAPORE! Although we are currently in talks to expand to other regions within Asia, Singapore is the best place for business. I have had friends asking me if they should consider venturing into entrepreneurship in Singapore, my answer is always a big fat YES! There’s a low barrier of entry, and most importantly, the government is very supportive of entrepreneurship.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
I have been blessed by many people and mentors who constantly give me great advice but right now, I would say the best piece of advice that I received would be from Dr Patrick Liew who said, “Work on the business, not in it.” This advice is constantly ringing in my head as I work towards scaling the business.

Who inspires you?
My dad. My dad has always been my inspiration in life, for the amount of sacrifices that he has made for the family and the love he has for us. He was the umbrella for all the storms that my family faced and we were always safe in his shelter. Although my dad passed away after a brief fight with colorectal cancer, the lessons that he imparted to me were very valuable as I build my own family and business.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
You can not buy time, but you can spend money to save time! With this realisation, I was willing to allow myself to spend some money, in order to save more time. Like taking Grab/Uber to shuttle around instead of spending time travelling on public transport. While I spend more money on travelling, I save a lot more time! This doesn’t mean that I spend lavishly and extravagantly, I am still generally prudent with my money.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I would have taken more time to spend with my family and especially my father. While it is important to focus our time to build our businesses, we should always try our best to allocate family time. Because as an entrepreneur, there is no such thing as “after I finish my work,” because our work is never finished. If our work finishes, the business is also finished. But our time with our family is always limited and no matter how much money and how many successes we achieve, we can never use it to trade back the time we have with our family.

How do you unwind?
I am a very simple man. I enjoy TV time with my wife and a simple dinner with my family and friends.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Batam, it’s close to Singapore and there’s really nothing much to do except for massages and a relaxing resort life. If I travel to other countries for shopping or sightseeing, I am constantly thinking of business and how I can possibly expand to the country I am visiting. But while relaxing at the beach or at a massage, I tend to allow myself to drift into emptiness and just clear my mind of any thoughts.

Everyone in business should read this book:
Work The System, by Sam Carpenter. This book teaches entrepreneurs the importance of creating systems and how to leverage on systems to improve productivity and create more time.

Shameless plug for your business:
If you are looking for a team building programme that your colleagues will enjoy and your bosses will be happy with, you have to consider our programmes at TravelClef! While our programmes are guaranteed fun and engaging, it is also equipped with many team building deliverables and organizational skills.

How can people connect with you?
My email is [email protected] and I am very active on Facebook as well!
https://www.facebook.com/benjamin.christian.kwan

This interview is part of the ‘Callum Connect’ series of more than 500 interviews

Callum Laing is an entrepreneur and investor based in Singapore. He has previously started, built and sold half a dozen businesses and is now a Partner at Unity-Group Private Equity and Co-Founder of The Marketing Group PLC. He is the author two best selling books ‘Progressive Partnerships’ and ‘Agglomerate’.

Connect with Callum here:
twitter.com/laingcallum
linkedin.com/in/callumlaing
Download free copies of his books here: www.callumlaing.com

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Callum Connects

Nadia Al Sheikh, Founder & CEO of Flenco & Deal’n

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Nadia Al Sheikh has created a business module which incorporates philanthropy and business to empower others, and herself, she’s called her business Deal’n.

What’s your story?
My story is mirrored in my work. Flenco and our Singaporean eco skin care brand, “Flen” combines Dead Sea minerals from the lowest point of earth with Chinese medicine, which represents the wisdom and mystics of the east and these things represent my journey. I’m a single mother rediscovering my identity at a low point in life. Throughout my journey, determination, flexibility and assertiveness are the pillars of innovation. Thus Deal’n was born after years of groundwork in volunteering with various NGO’s and pursuing my masters degree. Transforming a vision, into a module that incorporates philanthropy and business, with tools to empower others and empower myself!

What excites you most about your industry?
The endless opportunities for improvement, innovation, creativity, free thinking which is mastered through interaction with other players in the market and customers creating a virtual place for brainstorming and the exchange of ideas. An evolving industry that challenges each and every person to use their skills, talents, expertise and utilise all their abilities to claim a slice of the pie.

What’s your connection to Asia?
Asia and specifically Singapore are my second home. It’s my spiritual and business safe haven that provides fair opportunities for everyone to succeed. If I was back in the Middle East as a single mother, I’m pretty sure my struggle would have been much longer and more difficult, however, it wouldn’t have stopped me from achieving my dreams. Singapore specifically empowered me professionally and Asia spiritually in redefining who I am as a person and understanding myself better.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Singapore, although it’s a very tough and competitive market for entrepreneurs to start a business, it provides them with support and motivation through grants, competitions and subsidising the cost of exhibiting or promotional events to promote their business.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
Success is measured by achieving your own personal goals and dreams and not what others think you should achieve.

Who inspires you?
Those who go unnoticed. From senior citizens, cleaning tables at food courts regardless of their wealth of knowledge and experience to single mothers, who are fighting everyday to overcome the social stigma and manage taking care of their children while earning an income. The amazing people who give their lives to start an NGO to empower others asking for nothing in return except the success of their beneficiaries, the humble members of our community that work in silence changing lives not for the spotlight but for their belief in making the world a better place.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
To step onto the balcony! In order to evaluate situations and understand people’s motivations from different perspectives and even to understand ourselves better we all need to step onto the balcony and become observers rather than participants. It gives you the power to see life through a variety of lenses.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I’d be wiser with my decisions, evaluate situations from different perspectives and believe in myself and my capabilities. That all came with experience and the ups and downs throughout my journey so I guess, to be who I am today I would have accepted the rough times and embraced them because they were my best teachers. So I wouldn’t undo the past but I am changing my future.

How do you unwind?
Meditation, exercising, listening to music, reading a book and a walk in the botanical gardens.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Maldives, I love the peace and harmony in the simplicity of what it offers; beautiful beaches and wonderful people.

Everyone in business should read this book:
The Wisdom Of Crowds by James Surowiecki

Shameless plug for your business:
Deal’n provides opportunities for all members of the community to utilize their skills, talents, expertise, capabilities and abilities in various ways, aiming at empowering all users to become productive members of their community. Using the services of other users for all to grow and benefit, interact with each other through the Deal’n community, thus enhancing their self esteem, level of confidence and as a result, a more empathetic and happier community!

How can people connect with you?
Through my FB page Nadousheh, my email [email protected]

Twitter handle?
@nadiaalsheikh

This interview is part of the ‘Callum Connect’ series of more than 500 interviews

Callum Laing is an entrepreneur and investor based in Singapore. He has previously started, built and sold half a dozen businesses and is now a Partner at Unity-Group Private Equity and Co-Founder of The Marketing Group PLC. He is the author two best selling books ‘Progressive Partnerships’ and ‘Agglomerate’.

Connect with Callum here:
twitter.com/laingcallum
linkedin.com/in/callumlaing
Download free copies of his books here: www.callumlaing.com

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