“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.
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org and my colleague will direct your email to me.
This interview was part of the Callum Connect’s column found on The Asian Entrepreneur:
Callum 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/>