Fengshui consultant made his first million at age 26

Datuk Joey Yap attributes his success to understanding himself and those around him, making shrewd choices based on that understanding, and putting in a healthy dose of good, old-fashioned hard work.
Datuk Joey Yap attributes his success to understanding himself and those around him, making shrewd choices based on that understanding, and putting in a healthy dose of good, old-fashioned hard work.ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

He says metaphysics helps people make wiser choices and is not the same as fortune-telling

He started a fengshui consultancy website at 19, made his first million by 26, and was conferred a datukship - an award given to Malaysians who have made significant contributions to the country - at 36.

At 39, Datuk Joey Yap, the founder and chief consultant of Malaysia-based Joey Yap Consulting Group, has established a global name for his company which provides consultancy services on Chinese metaphysical arts such as fengshui and qi men dun jia, an ancient form of divination from China.

Mr Yap, who is married with two daughters, said he was mocked for choosing the path of "fortune-telling" when he started pursuing his interest in the subject at the age of 15.

But he brushed aside the snide comments as he felt these people did not understand that metaphysics was not like its fatalistic "fortune-telling" cousin that claims to reveal what fate has in store.

Metaphysics is said to allow people to better understand their own strengths and weaknesses, and help them make choices, he said.

  • Worst and best bets

  • Q What has been your biggest investment mistake?

    A My worst was my investment in a furniture company in 2006. I lost just under RM1 million over a six-month period.

    I didn't understand the business then, and it being a start-up meant that I couldn't rely on it being an established name.

    Another investment that I incurred heavy losses in was also in a start-up.

    My friend had just started his own clothing line in 2006. Again, I was not familiar with the business, and even though I knew my friend was not competent in managing the business well, I invested in it because he was my friend.

    I lost my principal amount in a few months - I can't remember how long - and that, to me, was a bad investment.

    My judgment was clouded by friendship and this failed investment kept me stagnated for a while as it involved a lot of emotional investment too.

    Q What has been your best investing move?

    A My better investments have been in my properties.

    There was a factory in Kuala Lumpur that I bought for RM5 million in 2014. I sold it in less than a year for RM8.5 million.

    It was a good return because there is demand for industrial properties like this. As with my other industrial properties, I consulted property agents for their views on whether its value would appreciate.

    I like to buy my properties when the prices for them are low, so that I will make more when they appreciate.

    Tan Fong Han

"It's an art; it's also a science, but a science based on empirical data that cannot be verified in a laboratory," he said, explaining the patterns metaphysicists see between, for instance, the movement of the planets and a person's character.

NO FREE LUNCH

Passive income is a myth. Even if I had properties, I would still have to collect rent. You would still need to watch your investments. Money doesn't manage itself, you'll have to do it.

'' DATUK JOEY YAP, on his philosophy on making and managing money.

As a child, he was curious to find out whether he would succeed or fail in life, so he read up on metaphysics.

He started a website when he was 19, offering his consultancy services.

His popularity grew as talk of his ability spread, and more clients started approaching him for advice. At 21, he set up his company in Malaysia with RM4,800 (S$1,600).

On metaphysics and understanding the importance of choices that people make to maximise their strengths and weaknesses, he said: "I believe the default human experience is to experience inertia, to do exactly the same thing they did yesterday.

"Even though people want to be outstanding, they choose the easy way out: This is what we try to change with metaphysics."

The same principle of being actively involved applies to how he manages his money. He said he does not plan to retire and will continue to work indefinitely.

"Passive income is a myth. Even if I had properties, I would still have to collect rent. You would still need to watch your investments. Money doesn't manage itself, you'll have to do it," he said.

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

A My siblings and I were always taught to save enough so that we would be able to lead good lives.

We were in very traditional situations: We had hand-me-downs and were told not to waste things we did not need, like a typical middle-class family in Malaysia.

Q How did you get interested in investing?

A When I was studying in Malaysia, I met the owner of Kuala Lumpur Metropolitan University College, where I was studying. He became my mentor. He was a self-made millionaire despite coming from a poor family. I was inspired by his story .

When I began my own consultancy business, I had the opportunity to meet many tycoons who also shared their business and investment tips with me.

Their simple explanation to getting rich - to make fruitful investments and make their money work for them - inspired me to try investing on my own.

Q Describe your investing strategy

A I am a conservative investor who invests for the long term. I do not believe in short-term investments. For me, not making any money and losing your capital is a bad thing, so I avoid going into high-risk ventures.

I invest in start-ups involved in event planning and applications development. I believe that these are areas that will go a long way in the future.

I also invest in land and property. I learnt this from the business tycoons I've met in my business. They told me that the biggest thing in life was not to get rich, but to protect oneself from poverty. To achieve that, I needed to own things that have appreciating value over time.

For instance, I select companies in sectors that belong to the elements that resonate with me because I would understand them better.

(The five elements in Chinese metaphysics are wood, fire, earth, metal and water.)

My metaphysics background adds to my knowledge about the company, but I still try to rely more on fundamental analysis as my main investment tool. Research is important.

Q What is in your portfolio?

A Property and land investments take up around 75 per cent, while the remaining 25 per cent is occupied by equities.

For properties, I buy shop lots and prefer to invest in commercial properties.

In Malaysia, we have industrial properties, which are good investments because we rent the properties out to become showrooms, and the tenants handle the renovations on their own.

A good example of industrial property that I have invested in would be a semi-detached industrial factory in Malaysia.

I initially purchased it for RM5.2 million a few years back and its current value is RM8.5 million. Its retail yield is about 6.5 per cent.

Around 20 per cent of my investments are overseas. I have residential properties in Singapore, London and Australia.

Q What are your immediate investment plans?

A I have just set up an office in Singapore (invested amount undisclosed) and will focus on expanding my business here.

In terms of business expansion in Singapore, I would like for it to adhere to the cardinal principle of zero-overhead growth. We will try to control overhead costs as much as possible and keep expansion proportionate to potential revenue generated.

We plan to expand the team size to 10 full-time employees by the end of this year.

I plan to invest in a ski resort next, and am looking at resorts in Melbourne or Japan, but the skiing business is mostly weather-dependent so I am still evaluating the investment.

Q What does money mean to you?

A In short, freedom. The reality is, money is needed to fund any sort of dream. It is a catalyst.

I seek financial freedom - to have the ability to live my own life without having to chase savings. With money, I can own time, time to do what I want.

With this wealth, I don't have to retire. I can continue working, knowing that I can choose to take a break when I want to.

Q Home is now...

A A house that I designed and built in Malaysia. I moved in in 2008.

Before 2008, I lived with my parents. When I'm in Singapore, I have a house in Tampines where I meet clients.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 03, 2016, with the headline 'Fengshui master made his first million at age 26'. Print Edition | Subscribe