The 2017 Life Power List

The people in this annual list, now in its 12th year, prove that obstacles cannot stop them from reaching their goals

This year's Life Power List of the top 20 names in the arts, entertainment, food-and-beverage and retail sectors has a good mix of new entrants and regulars, aged 30 and up.

But if they have something in common, it would be that they made the annual list - now in its 12th year - by being able to overcome obstacles, whether they are the usual ones such as Singapore's small market size, or the more unusual, such as cultural sensitivities.

Mr Melvin Ang's (No. 1) entertainment conglomerate mm2 Asia made a bid earlier this year to buy Singapore's largest cinema chain, Golden Village. That it failed was a "big disappointment", says the executive chairman, but his firm picked itself up and went after the second largest player, Cathay Cineplexes, and it worked.

Comic artist Sonny Liew's (No. 5) National Arts Council grant was withdrawn two years ago for the sensitive material in his graphic novel, The Art Of Charlie Chan Hock Chye; it was published anyway and made bestseller lists in Singapore and, this year, he became the first Singaporean to win at the Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards.

No. 6 on the list, Ms Viola Tan and Ms Rachel Lim, co-founders of womenswear retailer Love, Bonito, did the unexpected: They jumped from a thriving online presence to a brick-and-mortar one, when traditional stores are trying to do the opposite.

No one said that making it in Singapore would be easy.

And as the Life Power List shows, the ones that succeed don't like to take no for an answer.


Entertainment Powerhouse


ST PHOTO: JONATHAN CHOO

1 MR MELVIN ANG, 54, EXECUTIVE CHAIRMAN OF MM2 ASIA
 

"According to feng shui, any '17' year is not supposed to be good for me," says Mr Ang.

Perhaps he needs a new reading.

This year, his entertainment conglomerate's expansion binge kicked into high gear, with growing profits to boot, making it the most dominant company in the local entertainment industry.

mm2 Asia has a wide umbrella of subsidiaries that make it a top dog in show business.

 

It produces films - such as this year's box-office hit Ah Boys To Men 4 - distributes them, manages artists and organises concerts. Its operations extend beyond local shores to Kuala Lumpur, Taipei, Hong Kong, Beijing and Shanghai.

Last month, it acquired Cathay Cineplexes for $230 million, giving it just under one-third of all screens in Singapore.

mm2's expansion comes on the back of a stellar year in earnings. This year, it posted a 30 per cent year-on-year rise in net profit to $6.4 million.

It first entered the Life Power List at No. 7 in 2014 because it was the first local film production company to be listed in the Singapore Exchange. Today, market analysts love its diverse entertainment holdings, which give it the ability to weather slumps, negotiate better deals and carry out cross-promotions.

"We have had a lot of success and I'm thankful to everyone around me," says Mr Ang, who got his start in the 1990s as head of business development at the then Television Corporation of Singapore.

The father of two sons says mm2 Asia will continue to expand regionally because Singapore's market is too small to consume and produce entertainment in quantities that can make the island a Bollywood-like regional powerhouse.

"We have a lot of talent here, we can groom it here, but we have to give it a lot of space. That space is outside Singapore," he says.


Making art a way of life


PHOTO: GIN TAY FOR THE SUNDAY TIMES

2 DR EUGENE TAN, 45, DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL GALLERY SINGAPORE

This curator-turned-art administrator, now running Singapore's flagship art institution, has been on the Life Power List over the various stages of his career.

This year, he comes in second for a series of blockbuster exhibitions at the National Gallery Singapore that has solidified the gallery's reputation as a leader in the regional art scene.

The first is Yayoi Kusama: Life Is The Heart Of A Rainbow, which showcased the 88-year-old Japanese artist's signature polka-dotted sculptures and mirrored rooms. That exhibition drew more than 235,000 visitors.

The second is Century Of Light, which runs until March 11 next year, featuring 19th-century masterpieces that have never been exhibited in the region.

More than 60 works from famous Impressionists are on loan from the well-known Musee D'Orsay in Paris.

Another part to the exhibition focuses on the Western artists' contemporaries, Indonesian painter Raden Saleh and Filipino painter Juan Luna, who are national heroes in their countries.

The Kusama exhibition happened almost by accident, he says.

A gap opened in the exhibition schedule because of delays putting together Century Of Light.

He was in London and spotted a Kusama exhibition at the Victoria Miro gallery.

Gallery shows usually take three to four years to set up, but some of his colleagues had connections to museums which owned significant Kusama works. "Thanks to an amazing team of curators, we made it happen in a year," says Dr Tan.

He has been on the Life Power List four times before. For example, in 2015, he was ranked No. 1 for setting up the National Gallery Singapore and opening it in time for Singapore's Golden Jubilee celebrations.

In 2012, he was ranked fourth for turning the former military buildings at Gillman Barracks into a gallery cluster.

He has a PhD in art history from the University of Manchester and is married to a housewife. They have a 12-year-old daughter.

Running parallel to the Kusama show was an inaugural Children's Biennale, with activities and art tailored to intrigue kids and families. The biennale, which ended on Oct 8, attracted more than 286,000 visitors over four months.

Dr Tan says such programmes are important to the museum's mission of building an audience for art.

"It's about inclusivity and reaching out to audiences who wouldn't otherwise have come to the museum," he says. "One of our aims is to share how different coming to the museum is compared with other lifestyle activities. Appreciating art takes work."


A crazy year for author


PHOTO: COURTESY OF KEVIN KWAN

3 KEVIN KWAN, 43, WRITER

The book Crazy Rich Asians put this Singapore-born, United States-based author on the Life Power List in 2013 and made him a global publishing phenomenon.

This year, with a star-studded, Warner Bros-produced film adaptation of that novel, as well as a new book out, he returns.

The movie, helmed by Chinese-American director Jon M. Chu and starring the likes of actresses Michelle Yeoh, Constance Wu and Gemma Chan, is a refreshingly Asian-driven effort in a predominantly white film industry.

Crazy Rich Asians introduced the world to a new side of Singapore - the lives of the Republic's outrageously wealthy. Its raucous humour also challenged the stereotype of straitlaced Asians. More than one million copies are in print worldwide.

The bestseller has grown into a trilogy, the last instalment of which was published this May.

Titled Rich People Problems, the story details how the Shang-Young clan flock to their matriarch's deathbed in the hope of inheriting her estate, Tyersall Park.

Filming for Crazy Rich Asians began this year. It will be released in August next year.

"It wouldn't be an exaggeration to say this has been the busiest year of my life," says Kwan over the telephone from Los Angeles, fresh from his Europe book tour.

He dropped in on the shoot earlier this year and was "awe-struck" to witness scenes such as an elaborate flower-viewing party at the family's mansion. "To see 200 extras redoing scenes at 4am in a house completely designed straight out of my book, all for one minute of film - it was an unforgettable experience."

His three books - including China Rich Girlfriend (2015) - have spent more than 60 weeks on The Straits Times' bestsellers list for fiction, which is collated from major bookstores in Singapore.

Kwan, who is single, hopes the books and film will keep challenging Asian stereotypes around the world. "When I first moved to the US in 1985, I would tell my classmates I came from Singapore and they would ask, 'What part of China is that?' and 'How can you speak English so well?' Now I don't have to explain that any more."

He adds: "I hope readers and viewers who don't live in Singapore come away with a sense of the richness of our culture."


The last word on cool


PHOTO: ST FILE

4 CHRISTINA ONG, 70, FOUNDER OF LUXURY FASHION AND LIFESTYLE RETAILER CLUB 21 AND LUXURY HOTEL BRAND COMO HOTELS AND RESORTS

A purveyor of the high life, this savvy businesswoman runs a resort chain, a slew of high-end luxury stores and, now, a spanking new lifestyle enclave that has been drawing foodies and fashionistas and is fast becoming one of the trendiest places in Singapore.

It is Como Dempsey, an uber-cool cluster of restaurants with long wait lists.

Already making waves are the one-Michelin-starred Peranakan restaurant Candlenut and Japanese restaurant Ippoh Tempura Bar by Ginza Ippoh, which opened late last year, and celebrity chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten's The Dempsey Cookhouse and Bar, which opened in March.

There is also Como Cuisine, which serves healthy, light cuisine. It was previously available only as a pop-up at the Paddock Club of the Formula One Singapore Airlines Singapore Grand Prix.

Then amid the cool eateries, an even cooler shop opened - in fact, one of the coolest in the world.

In July, the 12,325 sq ft Dover Street Market threw open its doors, giving Singaporeans a unique experience melding art, street fashion and architecture.

The store is the first offshoot of the high-end multi-brand retailer first started by Comme des Garcons founder Rei Kawakubo in London, one of the most hallowed concept stores in the world.

For the sure hand behind the tenant mix and for revitalising the Singapore retail and F&B scene, Mrs Ong makes the list this year.

This is the fourth time she is on the Life Power List for her various career coups. For example, the billionaire businesswoman made her debut in 2007 when Club 21 celebrated its 35th anniversary. In 2014, she was ranked No. 4 for putting Como Hotels and Resorts on the global map with new hotels in Miami, the Maldives and Phuket.

Mrs Ong is married to property magnate Ong Beng Seng and the couple have two children. She declined to comment for this story.


Art of venturing into new genres


ST PHOTO: JOYCE FANG

5 SONNY LIEW, 43, COMIC ARTIST AND WRITER

Liew put Singapore on the comics world map in July by sweeping three awards at the Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards for his graphic novel, The Art Of Charlie Chan Hock Chye.

He became the first Singaporean to win an Eisner, considered to be the Oscars of the comics world.

He hopes the book can present a more complex, nuanced view of Singapore to readers from elsewhere. "Many may not know anything about Singapore or have encountered only limited narratives about it.

"So whether it's our history or economy, it would be good if everyone realised that things are more complex than a superficial or biased reading would allow."

He first made the Life Power List in 2015, when the book came out. Published by Epigram Books locally and by American imprint Pantheon overseas, it looks at Singapore's political history through the eyes of a fictional comic artist.

The book has spent 19 weeks on The Straits Times' bestseller list for fiction, which is compiled from major bookstores in Singapore.

It had already attracted attention in 2015 when the National Arts Council withdrew a grant for it, citing its "sensitive content".

"If being part of the Life Power List really conferred any actual power, I would use it to make the arts here freer and less constrained by the needs of any one political ideology," says Liew, who was born in Malaysia and became a Singapore citizen five years ago.

He is now working on his next book, which is tentatively set in 1980s Hong Kong and explores capitalism, as well as projects such as the artwork for miniseries Eternity Girl, under DC's Young Animal imprint.

This year, he also ventured into theatre with Becoming Graphic at the Singapore International Festival of Arts, which experimented with bringing a graphic novel to life onstage.

He is not likely to return to theatre, but is considering exploring other fields such as animation.

He admits to slight concern that the fame of The Art Of Charlie Chan Hock Chye may overshadow his future work, but adds: "I see it more as a challenge than a fear. I'm excited to do and try new things."


For the love of fashion


Ms Viola Tan (left) and Ms Rachel Lim, co-founders of Love, Bonito. PHOTO: THE BUSINESS TIMES

6 MS VIOLA TAN, 33, AND MS RACHEL LIM, 30, CO-FOUNDERS OF LOVE, BONITO

In a sluggish retail market, local e-commerce womenswear label Love, Bonito defied expectations by opening its first permanent brick-and-mortar store here in October.

The two co-founders - Ms Tan and Ms Lim - had always dreamt of setting up a physical shop since they started their blogshop 11 years ago.

The third co-founder, Ms Velda Tan, is no longer involved in the daily operations of the business.

What started as a blogshop called BonitoChico, when Ms Viola Tan was a teacher and Ms Lim a student, has today morphed into a multi-million-dollar business, now complete with a 4,603 sq ft physical store at 313@Somerset mall.

For the duo, the opening of the store was undeniably one of their biggest achievements yet, coming on the back of six years of opening pop-up stores locally and regionally to test the market.

This is their first time on the Life Power List and the brand has undoubtedly carved a niche for itself in a market saturated by international fast-fashion giants such as Zara and Uniqlo.

They hope to eventually venture into other product lines.

Though they did not disclose what these are, they say the goal is to "help the brand grow with each customer through different periods of her life".

Ms Lim says of 2017: "The past year has been a crazy yet exciting one - it was spent rebuilding and strengthening our foundation internally and externally.

"The challenge, especially in today's saturated market, is to stay focused on who we are fundamentally as a brand and continually differentiate ourselves.

"Being able to do that and not be distracted by the noise and temptations has been one of the biggest accomplishments for us."


An aye for film-making


PHOTO: COURTESY OF KIRSTEN TAN

7 KIRSTEN TAN, 35, FILM-MAKER

Her impressive debut feature, Pop Aye, has collected a string of accolades - including being picked as Singapore's entry to the Academy Awards next year - but the journey began two years ago when writer-director Tan locked eyes on Bong the elephant.

"It was too good-looking," she said in an earlier interview.

Now Bong's serene presence has been felt in cinemas all over.

At the Zurich International Film Festival, the film, which tells the story of a Thai man who goes on a cross-country quest with his watermelon-loving four-footed buddy, picked up the prize for best international feature film.

At the Sundance Film Festival, it won a screenwriting award.

This is the first time the young film-maker, who is based in New York, is on the Life Power List.

After stints living and working in Jeonju in South Korea and Bangkok in Thailand, she did a master's degree in film production at the renowned Tisch School of the Arts in New York University and made several short films that travelled festival circuits.

Pop Aye was produced by Singaporean film-maker Anthony Chen, whose film, Ilo Ilo (2013), won the Camera D'or at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival.

"I never thought my film would be able to reach audiences from Singapore to Mexico to Japan to the United States," she says in an e-mail interview.

The scrutiny has had her feeling "naked and exposed", says Tan, who is not married. But she adds: "Yet I am moved and surprised that with this vulnerability came connection and appreciation from complete strangers, with whom I might not even share a language."

She is looking forward to some time off after a gruelling year of touring and promotion.

"I have been itching to start writing again so, hopefully, come 2018, I get to hibernate a little in the comforts of home and start penning down ideas that have been brewing in my head."


Bold vision is Quay for developer


PHOTO: THE BUSINESS TIMES

8 MR KISHIN R.K. HIRANANDANI, 34, FOUNDER AND CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER OF PRIVATELY HELD PROPERTY AND HOTEL COMPANY, RB CAPITAL

Just four years ago, the upscale Robertson Quay area was a shadow of what it is today.

Back then, it was a quiet residential enclave peppered with the odd casual dining and bar option.

Fast forward to June this year and the area - now known as The Quayside - has been completely transformed at the hands of Mr Hiranandani.

The bachelor is the scion of one of the co-founders of the Royal Brothers property group, which has done business in Singapore - originally in the textile trade - for 70 years.

RB Capital, which Mr Hiranandani founded in 2006, acquired The Quayside and the former Gallery hotel six months apart in 2013, making the combined site for redevelopment nearly 120,000 sq ft in total. But the massive scale of the project did not faze him, given that he had a vision for the project from day one.

Even prior to his acquisitions, he conducted research to understand the gaps in the market.

He went on to present his proposals on the tenant mix in the area to members of the local Quayside residents' committee for feedback.

To his credit, the rookie developer, who is making his debut on the Life Power List, has more than delivered on his plan.

The Quayside now boasts the likes of a New York-style steakhouse and chic fine-casual dining options offering Indian, Mexican, Italian and Mediterranean fare.

Besides the elevated dining options, the extensive redevelopment project also includes a 22,000 sq ft private members' club called 1880, which opened last Saturday, as well as a 225-room hotel managed by InterContinental Hotels.


Local store hits global stage


PHOTO: ST FILE

9 MR DENNIS TAY AND MS AMANDA ENG, BOTH 32. HE IS THE FOUNDER OF NAIISE AND SHE IS ITS CHIEF MARKETING OFFICER AND BUYER

With overseas expansions and a new retail space here in the works, it seems like there is no stopping the growth of four-year-old multi-label lifestyle and design store Naiise.

Its founders made their debut on the Life Power List at No. 15 last year and have moved up to No. 9 this year.

This year, they took Naiise overseas for the first time with the launch of websites dedicated to Britain-based and Malaysia-based shoppers.

A month-long pop-up store also opened in the Shoreditch area in East London in October. There are plans to set up a permanent physical store in London.

Following the launch of their Malaysia website in June, Ms Eng, who is married to Mr Tay, says they chanced on a "cool creative compound" in Kampung Attap, Kuala Lumpur, and will open an integrated space there - comprising a Naiise retail store, a workshop studio, a bakery, an office and warehouse space - next month.

On home ground, the brand opened its sixth physical store at Millenia Walk this year.

It is also working hard on Design Orchard, a new space in which local designers can showcase and sell their work. This is due to launch late next year.

Ms Eng says: "It's been an exciting year with many new challenges. We are very happy, grateful and honoured to know that our work is being recognised and appreciated.

"Naiise definitely has evolved over the years, from being just an online player to an omni-channel retailer; from just being home-grown to now being able to compete globally."


A tough gig to put on concerts


PHOTO: SINGAPORE GP

10 MR MICHAEL ROCHE, 59, MANAGING DIRECTOR OF LIVE NATION LUSHINGTON AND EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF SINGAPORE GP

As head of both concert promoters Live Nation Lushington and Formula One race organiser Singapore GP, Mr Roche is the man behind some of the biggest concerts in Singapore this past year.

These include the two sold-out nights by British band Coldplay at the National Stadium in March and April. Fans snapped up more than 100,000 tickets the moment they went on sale.

In September, at the 10th edition of the Singapore Grand Prix, the Padang stage saw up to 60,000 fans party with the likes of dance music stars Calvin Harris and The Chainsmokers as well as pop singer Ariana Grande.

In all, the Englishman and his team put on 23 gigs in Hong Kong and Singapore this year, selling more than$28 million worth of tickets. He was also on the Life Power List in 2010 (No. 2), 2011 (No. 4), 2012 (No. 5) and 2013 (No. 7).

It has been an "unbelievably hectic" year, says Mr Roche, who is married with an 18-year-old daughter. "Everyone says to me, 'must be easy now, kind of runs itself'. Believe me, that's not the case - every year is a new mountain to climb."

Next year will be a significant one for him as Lushington Entertainments, which started in 1990, will end the 50-50 joint venture, which kicked off in 2013, with American promoters Live Nation.

"It may mean we will lose some of the big names, but we hope to continue to deliver more wonderful, ground-breaking shows and events."


Blooming time for Blue Lotus


PHOTO: ST FILE

11 MR RICKY NG, 45, MANAGING DIRECTOR OF BLUE LOTUS CONCEPTS INTERNATIONAL

It has been a whirlwind year for savvy restaurateur Ng as he went on an expansion spree of his 41/2-year-old Blue Lotus brand.

He opened Blue Lotus Chinese Noodle Bar at Savourworld at Science Park in May; Blue Lotus Chinese Grill House at Tanjong Pagar Centre in July; and Blue Lotus Mediterranean Kitchen + Bar in Alexandra Road - the only non-Chinese restaurant in the group - in October.

And come Dec 12, the second outlet of Chinese Grill House opens in one of the stand-alone units at the Stevens Road site where the Mercure Singapore on Stevens and Novotel Singapore on Stevens hotels are located.

For the rapid growth of his restaurant chain, the Hong Kong-born Mr Ng, who was with the TungLok Group for 15 years, debuts on the Life Power List at No. 11.

His flagship Blue Lotus Chinese Eating House, which opened in 2013, is located at Quayside Isle on Sentosa and its catering arm currently operates from the same premises.

Next year, Mr Ng hopes to expand the catering business outside of Quayside Isle with a production kitchen and also has plans for a kiosk concept in malls; a French-Chinese fine-dining restaurant; and a Hong Kong-style char chan tang (teashop in Cantonese).

He is also in talks to take the Blue Lotus brand overseas to countries such as China, Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam and Malaysia.

Mr Ng, who is married with a son, says: "It has been a fruitful and exciting year and we have maxed out our resources.

"We will keep thinking of crazy ideas for the brand because if you never try, you'll never know.

"There have been so many people opening and closing in the food and beverage scene, but I think owners are getting more serious and not opening for the sake of opening.

"They are even getting their hands dirty and waiting tables."


Food vending machine trailblazer


PHOTO: ST FILE

12 MS JOCELYN CHNG, 50, CHIEF EXECUTIVE OF JR GROUP, WHICH RUNS CHEF-IN-BOX VENDCAFE

It began as a cluster of six vending machines at a Housing Board void deck in Sengkang in August last year. Since then, Chef-in-Box VendCafe by the JR Group, headed by Ms Chng, has expanded into more heartland locations and cemented its presence at MRT stations, hospitals, schools, offices and army camps.

And last Friday, she launched VendCafe's first cluster of vending machines at the JCube mall in Jurong East, marking its first venture into shopping centres.

As a trailblazer for the food vending machine revolution dishing out ready-to-eat meals, she has earned a debut spot at No. 12 on the Life Power List.

Chef-in-Box VendCafe is a culmination of eight years of research, labour and grappling with technology from when she first operated stand-alone vending machines in hospitals and schools in 2008.

The brand is a subsidiary of her food business, JR Foods, which Ms Chng started with her late husband Richard Wong, who was key in sparking the idea in 2001 of launching ready-to-eat meals in Singapore.

To further her goal of feeding the masses with fresh hot food, her World Chef Series for Chef-in-Box VendCafe features collaborations with chefs from India, Thailand and South Korea.

In August, she signed a memorandum of understanding with a partner in Britain to take Chef-in-Box VendCafe to London. She is still fielding inquiries from the United States and Australia.

The mother of three sons aged 15 to 22 says: "Ready-to-eat meals are already established as part of the culture in the UK. Chef-in-Box VendCafe will be good for the universities and we can take Singapore food to Singaporean students living there."

Under the JR Group, there are also subsidiary food and beverage brands including Japanese restaurant Shima at Goodwood Park hotel. Four of her six siblings continue to run the sauce business Sin Hwa Dee, which was started by her parents and exports to more than 30 countries.

On how the industry has grown since Chef-in-Box VendCafe started, Ms Chng says: "People used to talk about how eating food from vending machines is a last resort. That has started to change and, with healthy competition, it raises more awareness so consumers are confident about buying."


From music to IPO


PHOTO: UNUSUAL LIMITED

13 MR LESLIE ONG, 50, CHIEF EXECUTIVE OF UNUSUAL LIMITED

If you have watched concerts in Singapore in the past few years, chances are that at least one was brought in by Unusual Limited.

Now you can buy its stock too: One of Singapore's largest concert promoters, Unusual was publicly listed in April this year.

With a presence in Malaysia and Hong Kong, the company has come a long way from its original business two decades ago, which was renting out equipment for events and shows.

Mr Ong makes it on the Life Power List this year for a strong line-up of major bands and artists and for leading the company to its successful public listing, which was described by Bloomberg as Singapore's top performing initial public offering.

Mr Ong, who started working part-time in the live events line during his national service days, was last on the Life Power List in 2007 (No. 7).

The company's concert-organising wing, Unusual Entertainment, brought in American band Foo Fighters, one of the world's biggest rock acts; Hong Kong Heavenly King Jacky Cheung and K-pop idol Taeyang. Other popular concerts include those by boyband veterans Backstreet Boys, and Mandopop and Cantopop acts such as G.E.M., Wakin Chau and Grasshopper.

Unusual's gig calendar next year, which includes three sold-out nights by Cheung in February, will feature more marquee acts, says Mr Ong, who is married and has a daughter, aged 18, and a son, 14.

He describes the SGX-ST Catalist Board listing as "the cherry on the cake" in "a very fruitful year".


Stylish company


(Left to right) Sven Tan, Kane Tan, Julene Aw, and Jaclyn Teo. PHOTO: IN GOOD COMPANY

14 CREATIVE DIRECTOR SVEN TAN, 37; CHIEF DESIGNER KANE TAN, 35; MANAGING DIRECTOR OF OPERATIONS JULENE AW, 39; AND MANAGING DIRECTOR OF MARKETING AND SALES JACLYN TEO, 39, ALL CO-FOUNDERS OF IN GOOD COMPANY

While major global retail players are shuttering stores amid a retail slump, In Good Company is the little local clothing label that could: Not only has it added to its store count here this year, but it has also expanded into two new countries.

The stylish yet eminently wearable label was founded by four Singaporeans, including designers Sven Tan and Kane Tan. It launched this year in Dubai at Robinsons department store, as well as in the Philippines at The SM Store in Makati City, Manila. That is on top of its existing outposts in Hong Kong, Bangkok and Jakarta.

Here in Singapore, it opened a second brick-and-mortar store at The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands (MBS). Its first store, at Ion Orchard, opened in 2015.

But it did not just expand physically. It also expanded its range of offerings to include its first menswear collection in January. Previously, it offered styles for women and children as well as accessories.

"It does seem like more has happened for us in 2017," says Mr Sven Tan. "This year has been a ride, sometimes overwhelming, as so much work and effort goes into each thing we do. But it's always exciting.

"The new stores in Manila, Dubai and, now, MBS all happened because the opportunity or partners came at a time when we just happened to be ready."

This year, In Good Company also collaborated with the new Andaz Singapore hotel to design staff uniforms, alongside its architect Andre Fu of The Upper House in Hong Kong.

Mr Tan calls the project an "industry accolade" that reminds him the brand is "doing something right".

With a 23 per cent year-on-year increase in exports - not including e-commerce sales - the five-year-old brand definitely seems to be company shoppers like to keep.


Steady march to the box-office summit


PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

15 JACK NEO, FILM-MAKER, 57

This is Neo's fifth appearance on the Life Power List, but it looks like he will be here several more times if he keeps making his hugely popular Ah Boys To Men military comedies.

This year, he returns because his Ah Boys To Men 4 movie earned $4.3 million after just under three weeks of release in Singapore, making it the top-earning Asian film of the year here.

It opened on Nov 9 and is still in cinemas.

Neo, who directed and co-wrote the film, did not reply to a request for an interview.

He is in the midst of filming his 2018 release, which will feature him playing the housewife character of Liang Xi Mei that he made popular on the Mediacorp variety show, Comedy Tonight.

That his Ah Boys comedy has done well at the box office should come as more than a financial victory to Neo: It was mired in criticism during production and then criticised again after its release.

Actor Shrey Bhargava in May posted on Facebook that he was asked to portray a caricature version of an Indian during his Ah Boys audition, resulting in media scrutiny of Neo's production.

Then, on its release, critics tore into its lack of structure and intrusive product placements.

Still, Neo remains bulletproof and even his non-Ah Boys movies do well: For example, the two-parter Long Long Time Ago (2016) both made good ticket sales (a combined total of more than $6 million).

When he calls in his men and women in green, the question is not whether he breaks even - it is whether the box office will break some new record.


Gunning for unusual interiors


Mr Matthew Shang (right) and Mr Paul Semple. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

16 MR MATTHEW SHANG AND MR PAUL SEMPLE, BOTH 42, PRINCIPALS AT MULTIDISCIPLINARY INTERNATIONAL DESIGN PRACTICE HASSELL

In the 14 years that this pair of veteran interior designers have called Singapore home, they have developed a portfolio of stunning interiors in luxury developments.

This marks the Australia-born duo's debut on the Life Power List.

They are behind the decor of some of Singapore's most stylish spots, including Regent Singapore's Manhattan bar and Tea Lounge, retail bottle shop The Proof Flat and the Atlas Grand Lobby & Bar at Parkview Square.

They are currently working on several hospitality commissions in Australia as well as a flagship store for luxury watch retailer The Hour Glass in Melbourne's central business district - a project in collaboration with Hassell's Melbourne office.

In the pipeline are also projects in Bali and Sri Lanka.

Mr Shang and Mr Semple worked in design-related fields in Australia and Singapore before setting up their own firm, Distillery, here. They ran it for about eight years before merging it in 2015 with Hassell.

Hassell began in 1938 in Australia and has about 10 studios worldwide in places including Britain, China and the United States.

On their progress, Mr Shang says: "You are only as good as your last project. We are constantly trying to push and challenge the briefs we receive, so that the project can be the very best it can be - not only in terms of how it looks, but how it feels and operates."


Structurally stunning


Oasia Hotel Downtown. PHOTO: ST FILE

17 ARCHITECTURE FIRM WOHA

Much lauded and often considered to be Singapore's best architecture firm, Woha's main difficulty may be in trying to top its own achievements.

But even by the high standards of this firm, 2017 has been a fruitful year. It designed an award-winning retirement village, picked up the Building of the Year award for another development and launched a new design brand.

Oasia Hotel Downtown, a mixed-use development comprising a hotel and office spaces, is one of its crown jewels of the year.

The 27-storey building with a red bower structure that has more than 20 species of creepers growing across its entire 200m-high facade, swept up at least seven awards this year locally and abroad. Its prizes included Building of the Year at this year's Singapore Institute of Architects Architectural Design Awards.

Another highlight was the Kampung Admiralty project, an 11-storey complex that boasts a "vertical kampung" design. It integrates residential units with shops, childcare and eldercare centres, and medical facilities.

Oasia Hotel Downtown (above). PHOTOS: LIANHE ZAOBAO FILE, ST FILE
Billed as Singapore's first retirement community, this project received the Outstanding Award - the highest accolade - at the Skyrise Greenery Awards last month. The awards were launched by the National Parks Board in 2008 to recognise excellence in landscape architecture here.

Mr Wong Mun Summ, 55, one of Woha's founding directors, says: "We always try to push ourselves and, this year, with the completion of Kampung Admiralty, we're really happy with how the collaboration among four ministries and seven stakeholders turned out."

September saw the firm launch a new design brand, Wohabeing, which has six homeware collections. The products were unveiled that month at the prestigious interior design fair Maison&Objet in Paris.

Woha was also named 2017 Maison&Objet Designer of the Year Asia.

Next year, the firm will be working on two major projects here: the Punggol Digital District and one lot of the new campus of the Singapore Institute of Technology.

Mr Wong says: "Those are exciting to us because we are able to implement some of the strategies we have been developing in terms of environmental and social sustainability on a larger scale."


Toast to unique spirits


Mr Spencer Forhart (left) and Mr Paul Gabie. PHOTO: ST FILE

18 MR SPENCER FORHART, 48, AND MR PAUL GABIE, 39, CO-FOUNDERS OF PROOF & CO

This boutique outfit is only five years old, but it has grown to be a formidable force in Singapore's drinks scene, contributing to some of the best bars in town as well as cornering the market on sought-after spirits.

The company has a spirits distribution arm and a consultancy and runs an eatery and a bar.

It is best known for starting the cult speakeasy bar 28 HongKong Street. In January this year, it opened the American diner Crackerjack and adjoining "pocket bar" Junior in Tanjong Pagar.

It ventured into retail late last year, opening a spirits shop called The Proof Flat on Hongkong Street, which sells a selection of spirits by independent brands.

It also acts as consultants to clients such as Regent Hotel Singapore's Manhattan bar and grand lobby bar Atlas in Parkview Square.

Want proof of Proof & Co's magic touch? This year, Manhattan was once again named the Best Bar in Asia, coming in at No. 7 on the 2017 World's 50 Best Bars list.

Atlas, which opened only at the beginning of this year, entered the list at a strong No. 15 - making it the highest new entry.

Proof & Co is helmed by co-founders Gabie, a Canadian, and Forhart, an American.

This is their first time on the Life Power List.

The company hopes to expand its distribution business in the region. Earlier this year, it entered a joint venture with premium wine merchant Sarment to break into the China market, as well as invested significantly in Australia's Neat Spirits, one of the fastest growing craft spirit distributors Down Under.

Now, it is in the midst of consolidating all its business units under one umbrella called The Proof Collective.

"We will also unveil one particularly exciting new project. We can't share any more quite yet, but if you love fine drinking in Singapore, stay tuned," says Mr Gabie.


Hollywood in actor's sight


PHOTO: HENRY GOLDING/ INSTAGRAM

19 HENRY GOLDING, 30, ACTOR

International moviegoers may not be familiar with Golding's name now, but that could be a very different story this time next year.

The Singapore-based British hunk, who used to host television documentaries, has scored not just one, but two, lead acting roles in major Hollywood films.

The first aseligible bachelor Nick Young in Crazy Rich Asians, the highly anticipated adaptation of Kevin Kwan's best-selling 2013 novel. The other asBlake Lively's husband in the upcoming thriller A Simple Favor, which also stars Anna Kendrick. It is directed by Paul Feig (Bridesmaids, 2011).

For potentially becoming the next big thing in Hollywood, he makes his debut at No. 19 on the Life Power List.

In an interview with The Straits Times in September, he admitted that he has been "warned" about how his life could change "dramatically" very soon.

Golding, who is married to Italian-Taiwanese yoga instructor Liv Lo, 31, added: "But it's really strange. Coming from such a grounded area in broadcast, where I did travel shows and told human stories in documentaries, it's going to be very strange for me to do the Hollywood thing.

"I can't quite fathom how it's going to be yet, but I'm excited for this new chapter in my life."


Singing her way to international fame


PHOTO: RED ROOF RECORDS

20 JOANNA DONG, 36, SINGER

With her poised performances and jazzy takes on Mandopop, singer Joanna Dong won over viewers and music veterans to emerge third in the hugely popular reality television show, Sing! China.

It catapulted her, and jazz, into the limelight - and proved that Nathan Hartono's second-place finish the year before was no fluke for Singapore.

She says: "I'm very, very worried that at some point, I might just look back and this whole thing was a mirage. It's definitely a milestone event, not just for my career, but also my whole life."

This is the first time Dong, who is married, has appeared on the Life Power List.

Before appearing on Sing China!, she juggled several jobs, including singing at corporate events, hosting television infotainment shows and acting on stage and in film.

She put out a new single with home-grown label Red Roof Records last Friday, a bossa nova makeover of Wakin Chau's I Truly Give My Love To You, and wants to test the market with more releases.

"The competition is quite an exceptional platform and we're not sure when we release music outside of the competition structure, if it works for the listeners."

By her own admission, she is "not a great songwriter".

"I can sing and dance, do musical theatre and some hosting, but rather than put out mediocre work for the sake of being able to slap on a singer-songwriter label, I'd rather leave that work to the people who are talented. I see myself more as a storyteller."

So will her mentor, Mandopop superstar Jay Chou, be penning a number for her? Dong says: "That would be a dream come true, but I feel like this year, I've gotten so much that I dare not even ask for more - that would be way too greedy."


Correction note: An earlier version of this article mentioned the size of 1880, the private members' club at the Quayside, as 20,000 sq ft and that it opened last Friday. This has been corrected.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 03, 2017, with the headline 'The 2017 Life Power List'. Print Edition | Subscribe