Me & My Money

Getting down to business with $200m retirement goal

Lawyer shows his entrepreneurial acuity, be it in real estate, F&B or telecoms infrastructure

Mr Malcolm Tan, 43, with his wife Sharon Loh, 38, and two-year-old son Zendyll at Museo restaurant, one of his many businesses. His retirement plan involves working towards a personal net worth of $200 million, to be funded by capital gains from his
Mr Malcolm Tan, 43, with his wife Sharon Loh, 38, and two-year-old son Zendyll at Museo restaurant, one of his many businesses. His retirement plan involves working towards a personal net worth of $200 million, to be funded by capital gains from his companies.ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

Lawyer-turned-entrepreneur Malcolm Tan realised early in his legal career that he needed to venture into business if he was going to fulfil his lofty target of retiring with $200 million.

The law graduate from the National University of Singapore took the plunge and is now busy with various operations.

These range from Our Space co-working space to crowdfunder, and businesses in food and beverage (Wine Bonanza and Museo), real estate, telecoms infrastructure (Phoenix Telecommunications), construction and initial coin or token offering (ICO/ITO) advisory.

He still practises law at Keystone Law Corporation.

In September, he set up Gravitas Holdings to house his businesses, in which he has invested about $3 million.

"I look out primarily for bargains and hidden gems where the founders are looking to exit for various reasons and are willing to let go of their business assets at bargain prices," says Mr Tan, 43.

"I then come in with my team and key partners and turn around the businesses or grow them through better management, more synergy with my existing businesses and increase the profitability.

"I then look for new buyers to buy these businesses at higher multiples - in essence, classic private equity plays."

  • Worst and best bets

  • Q What has been your biggest investing mistake?

    A I lost $200,000 back in 2012. My business partner then had a difference of opinion with me and did not follow my advice, which was to sue the debtors. Subsequently, that partner promised to return my investments but he eventually went bankrupt in 2015, so I couldn't get my money back.

    However, there was a silver lining in this, as the exposure from that investment allowed me to build up my portfolio and profile, and to leverage and successfully seal larger and prestigious deals.

    So it was not a loss if viewed in totality.

    Q What is your best investment decision?

    A A real estate-based business that I acquired in 2016 managed to yield returns of over 100 per cent within less than a year.

    With the productivity and technology tweaks made to this investment, we managed to streamline processes and reduce wastage and costs, so as to optimise operations and maximise profits.

    This was a great investment since it was mostly hands-free and high-yielding.

    Lorna Tan

However, he does not plan to divest every business he owns.

One that he plans to keep and nurture is the corporate advisory firm that advises firms planning to do ICO/ITO. An ICO or an ITO is like an initial public offering on the share market in that it serves as a means by which funds are raised for new cryptocurrency ventures.

Mr Tan hopes that it will one day become a "unicorn", that is, a start-up with an estimated valuation of more than $1 billion.

"We are at the forefront of the ICO/ITO wave and have the potential to be an industry giant. In fact, we are already running our own ITO as we speak, and I am also already advising a handful of new ICOs from Vietnam, Costa Rica and Greece," he adds.

Gravitas' first ITO will be publicly launched next month .

Mr Tan recently wrote and self-published a book, How To ICO/ITO - Legal And Regulatory Framework In Singapore.

He is married to Ms Sharon Loh, 38, a part-time assistant director at the Ministry of National Development. They have a two-year old son, Zendyll.

Q Moneywise, how were your growing-up years?

A My mother, who is an insurance agent with NTUC Income, was instrumental in imparting her financial values to me. Her values are to save and reduce cost, and she tried to instil a saving mentality in me and my sister.

She opened a savings account for me very early and encouraged me to deposit money regularly.

This definitely worked for my younger sister, as she treats money in the same way as my mother, but I actually went to the other extreme.

My values about money are to create more and increase my earning capacity, instead of saving more.

So I come from a wealth expansion and growth, instead of a savings, mentality.

Q How did you get interested in investing?

A I recall reading books related to business and investments which belonged to my father, who was a mechanical engineering lecturer.

He is now retired. That started me thinking about my own financial goals, and my aspiration to be a multimillionaire grew.

When I was 30, I read Rich Dad Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki.

I did some arbitrary calculations and aspired to achieve at least $200 million in net worth.

Working backwards from what I was earning as a lawyer at the time, I realised that I would never hit that target as a salaried employee or even as a small business owner.

I therefore took the step of venturing into business.

Q Describe your investing strategy.

A My primary focus is in business growth, so most of the profits are put back into growing my various businesses and re-investing to expand them aggressively, since they are totally within my control.

Passive investments such as long-term insurance policies and equities are minimal. My investments are mostly in active businesses with some degree of control.

I also have an in-house trader who manages the reserve funds from my businesses, and this generates about 40 to 50 per cent annually. Using the funds in this managed account, he trades mainly equities and foreign exchange.

Q What's in your investment portfolio?

A My investment portfolio - which is worth $50 million - comprises my various businesses, as well as some equities under a managed account. My portfolio also includes property investments in the commercial sector which have done well.

I intend to be fully involved in the fastest-growing real estate space with a joint venture with Our Space, a new global co-working space player based in Dubai and Britain. We have a goal of opening 25 premium quality co-working offices in Asia.

I did invest a bit in gold around 2009 and made some money.

I bought a four-room Housing Board flat in Hougang for about $300,000 in 2011. It has appreciated by about $150,000. I'm renting it out for about $2,000 a month. I'm planning to buy an executive condominium after I sell this flat.

Q What are your immediate investment plans?

A My immediate focus is to open up five new co-working space outlets in Singapore, and to combine the offerings from both my IT company with these offerings to create more value for customers and entrepreneurs.

Other than business investment opportunities that crop up, I will be putting spare funds into the managed account where my in-house trader can look for high-yield, fixed income opportunities.

Q What does money mean to you?

A Traditionally, money has been more a measure of success.

Interestingly, I am now engaged in ICO/ITO advisory work and am launching our own ITO as well.

ICO/ITO launches create a new digital currency that the investors buy and can then trade in or keep for long-term value or utility, based on the particular digital currency characteristics and offering.

With this new arena opening up, money has now taken on a very different meaning for me.

Value creation and wealth creation resonate more with me now, rather than the previous chasing of money as a measure.

Q What is your retirement plan?

A I am working towards a personal net worth of $200 million.

This will be funded by capital gains from companies I've founded and invested in.

My passive investments involve putting more funds into the managed investment account while active income will come from the firms and businesses that I'm managing and operating.

I want to take care of my family for life and be risk-free. I plan to have a legacy plan which includes setting up a trust to be structured under the care of professionals.

The challenge is to earn enough from passive and active investments in order to start these portfolios.

Q Home is now...

A A rented three-bedroom 1,200 sq ft condominium in Yishun facing the reservoir, so it has a nice view.

Q I drive.....

A A silver grey BMW X5.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 17, 2017, with the headline 'Getting down to business with $200m retirement goal'. Print Edition | Subscribe