Me & My Money

Dad's financial setbacks gave him a hunger for business

Thirst for 'revenge' spurs 29-year-old, who owns 4 ventures including one offering financial courses to business owners

The thirst for "revenge" against the economic woes that struck his family in his younger years steeled entrepreneur Boo Kok Chuon's determination to succeed.

Mr Boo has used that motivation all his life and now, at just 29, is the owner of four businesses, including newly launched Corptown Capital, which offers financial courses to business owners, and a printing firm.

His impressive portfolio also extends to a mobile application and Web-based software developer and a social media platform developer.

ACHIEVE FREEDOM WITH CONTROL

If you manage to control your desires such that the money you currently possess exceeds that, then you have, theoretically, achieved your financial freedom.

MR BOO KUOK CHUAN

  • Worst and best bets

  • Q What is your best investment?

    A My investment in getting my diploma and degree.

    Knowledge is one thing I have gained. The other is the contacts and the rapport with the lecturer. I'm still in close touch with my lecturers, in fact, one just became my business partner.

    I paid for both these courses through my own means. The diploma cost around $3,000 and the degree around $20,000.

    Q What was your worst investment?

    A I bought my first stock when I was a poly first-year student. I invested my entire savings of $1,000 into this company called L&M Group Investments. I was very naive then, I thought the share price was only one cent and so no matter how low this share price could fall it would never go beyond one cent.

    My father did advise me to consider if the low share price was due to something being wrong with the fundamentals of the business.

    Eventually this company was purchased by another company and it got delisted and I lost everything.

    What was wrong largely had to do with the management of the company. The management changed hands quite a few times and apparently there was some politicking going on.

    That was when I realised that because these people lead the organisation, their integrity, character, and the way they manage the company is very important. It's, in fact, more important than the numbers you see on a financial statement.

    It's hard to judge the management as an investor. Even the news will only mostly showcase what is good about them; they will normally hide the ugly under the table.

    We look at the long-term performance of the manager over the years. People like Robert Kuok, Ng Teng Fong - time has proven their character.

    Jeremy Koh

Mr Boo recalls two experiences that shaped him. During the 1997 Asian financial crisis, his father suffered heavy losses in the stock market, forcing the family of four to move from a bigger house to a four-room flat. "Initially, I couldn't accept this," he says.

The second was the closure of his father's bread manufacturing and distribution business. The Government took back the plot the business was built on for other developments, and it had to move to Bedok from the northern part of the island.

Mr Boo says that moving to Bedok "was not realistic because our market was focused on the north and west areas and Bedok was in the east". At that time, his uncles, who were his father's partners, also wanted to retire and so the business ended.

"All along, I had admired my father and, suddenly, he was out of a job. I couldn't accept that failure so I wanted to make a comeback for the family".

Mr Boo, who is married, holds a diploma in banking and finance services from Ngee Ann Polytechnic and a Bachelor of Science in economics and finance from the Singapore Institute of Management-University of London programme.

Singapore-based Corptown Capital emerged after he approached the corporate advisory firm his then-fiancee worked for in Hong Kong with an idea. "I realised a lot of corporate finance service providers don't go around actively looking for clients. Their marketing is passive," he says.

"A lot of companies, on the other hand, want to be listed but do not know what is required for this," he says. "A lot of clients are, in fact, qualified. Some, in fact, are overqualified. But they don't even know they are qualified, although they want to bring the company public."

Mr Boo proposed setting up a training company to help bosses decide whether they could go public and to prepare and guide those that wanted to.

Although he did not have much working experience in the area of finance, he showed his potential partner he was serious by putting together a team with relevant experiences and qualifications, he says.

"I sourced for people who possess qualities, knowledge and experience that I didn't have."

The team has managed to deliver on the number of participants it said it would bring to its courses, he adds.

Q Moneywise, what were your growing-up years like?

A I feel I was groomed to be an entrepreneur from a young age as I came from a family of entrepreneurs.

My grandfather ran a provision shop and my father ran his own food and beverage business.

I closed my first deal when I was nine. What I did was try to sell bread my dad used to make to my friends in school. I ended up selling only one.

I thought I could keep that few cents as extra pocket money, but my dad confiscated that. He said: "You haven't even paid for the goods that you got from me." That was where I learnt the concept of revenue and cost first-hand.

In secondary school, I sold mobile phone accessories, which my dad sold at a shop in Malaysia, to teachers, friends and retail outlets in my neighbourhood. I stopped taking pocket money from my parents when I was in Secondary 2.

Later, when I was in polytechnic, I gave tuition and briefly tried out the business of matching tutors with students.

Q How did you get interested in investing?

A In 1995, I was 11 or 12 and my parents were buying stocks actively, that was when I first started getting interested in stocks.

They ended up losing more than $300,000 in the 1997 crisis. That really got me interested because I wanted to "take revenge". It motivated me to take my education in finance and investment seriously.

Through investing, I also evaluate how companies became successful. This is of interest to me and what I enjoy doing, as entrepreneurship is in my blood.

Q Describe your investing strategy.

A I look at the fundamentals of the business as opposed to the latest trends in share price movements. I will look at the company prospectus and study who runs the organisation.

Then, I will see if the company is overvalued or undervalued by looking at metrics such as the price-to-book value.

I do sensitivity analysis to test the worst-case outcome, and always ask myself whether I have the appetite to handle it.

I do not trade actively in the market - my investment horizon is more long term of one to two years.

My entry is always during bearish market conditions. When I plan an entry, I gradually increase my holdings over a period of time as opposed to buying the amount of shares I intend to hold at once and hoping that entry price is the lowest.

Q What's in your portfolio?

A I'm looking at financial institution stocks such as OCBC and UOB for asset preservation purposes. I don't really study the prices of these stocks. I'm more concerned about their financial performances and that they pay out consistent dividends.

For asset preservation purposes, I go for stocks that don't have high gearing. In addition, these companies must have at least 20 per cent of assets in cash and cash equivalents.

To buy undervalued stocks, I look at stocks with a high correlation to market, such as Shangri-La. Due to their exposure to the market, these stock prices follow the trend of the market and drop below their fundamental values when the market is bad.

I now have about 80 per cent in asset-preservation stocks. These investments are easily liquidated, so when there's an opportunity, I have available capital to tap it.

Now, I'm looking to pick up more undervalued stocks as I think it's a good opportunity to go in.

Q What does money mean to you?

A To me, money is a commodity you use to exchange for the things that you need. However, what you need is a matter of demand and supply.

If you have a limited supply of money but unlimited "demand", in terms of your desires, it will never be enough.

If you manage to control your desires such that the money you currently possess exceeds that, then you have, theoretically, achieved your financial freedom.

I don't go for luxuries and flashy cars. I think indulging in good things once in a while is OK, but once it's a habit, I might get complacent.

Q What's the most extravagant thing you have done?

A I sponsored an eight-day vacation, at a cost of $8,000, for my parents, uncle and aunt to Henan, China, earlier this year. We have a retirement house in Malaysia and my uncle has taken care of this house for us.

I thought, as I had some little results in my career, I should share with him some of them.

Q What are your immediate investment plans?

A Investing in Corptown Capital is my priority - it requires a lot of investment.

We plan to bring the company to the United States over-the-counter market within, at least, 12 months.

Further than that, within the next two to three years, we hope to uplift this company to Nasdaq or New York Stock Exchange.

I'm planning to get another degree in corporate finance next year.

Q How are you planning for retirement?

A I don't think I will retire. Doing business is an addiction.

Sometimes, when I take a holiday overseas, I still can't put aside my work. I will still check my e-mail messages and do follow-ups.

I could retire if I wanted to right now. I previously started up a printing business, which I have hired people to run. It's about almost "automated".

The income generated from that business, which is $5,000 to $8,000 a month, can sustainably fund my needs.

Q Home is now/I drive...

A I live with my parents in a four-room Housing Board flat and I've an upcoming Build-to-Order flat in Boon Keng.

I drive a Mitsubishi Lancer, but I try not to drive unnecessarily, partly to discipline myself to not becoming too complacent and dependent on conveniences.

NOTE: An earlier version of this story misspelled the name of Mr Boo Kok Chuon. We are sorry for the error.  

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 18, 2015, with the headline 'Dad's financial setbacks gave him a hunger for business'. Print Edition | Subscribe