March 1, 2009

me & my money

A millionaire with simple needs

Seksun's ex-chairman Felix Ong avoids expensive restaurants and karaoke bars

By Lorna Tan, Finance Correspondent

Mr Felix Ong, with his wife Shirley Soh, taking a spin in their sports car. He now heads Enporis Greenz, a shell company, and scouts for companies to buy into. -- ST PHOTO: CAROLINE CHIA

Mr Felix Ong was earning about $3,000 a month as head of human resources in a Taiwanese-owned plywood factory in Kranji.

He made an extra $2,000 on the side as a TV actor and compere at weddings and corporate events.

But his life took a turn in 1982, when he was asked by his sister and brother-in-law to take over a struggling electronics component company called Seksun. His brother-in-law had founded the firm a year earlier.

In just two decades, as chairman of the company, he turned it into a multimillion-dollar regional outfit. It was listed in 1994.

In January last year, Seksun sold all its assets and business undertakings for $295.1 million to Supernova (Cayman). Mr Ong, now 62, collected a substantial eight-figure sum from the sale.

One of the first things he did was to ensure that his wealth would be preserved, to be enjoyed by generations to come.

In March last year, he set up a trust which invests in a variety of instruments such as fixed deposits and bonds.

Mr Ong now heads Enporis Greenz, a Singapore Exchange-listed shell company, and he scouts for companies to buy into. This month, he is setting up a food catering business called Felix The Cook.

He is also a part-time actor in Mandarin TV shows and films, and is famous for producing company calendars which feature himself in various dramatic poses such as a Formula One driver and a triad boss.

He is married to human resource manager Shirley Soh, 54, and they have a son, Kelvin, 30, and a daughter, Lynn, 25.

Q: What are your money habits?

The importance of thrift was ingrained in me when I was young. There is no difference now just because I have received a big sum of money.

I don't believe in wasting money. I carry only at the most $1,000 in cash at any one time. I try to avoid expensive restaurants and karaoke bars.

Even though I love singing and good food, I prefer to do it at home and cook for customers, friends and staff.

Q: What financial planning have you done for yourself?

At my age, I have to be conservative. Currently, 30 per cent of my funds are in trust funds for my family. Another 15 per cent are in investment properties and 20 per cent are in fixed income which are mainly bonds issued by local banks and blue-chip companies.

Cash is king, so I have 25 per cent in cash.

I set aside 10 per cent of my funds as my 'play' money which I use for entertainment and charity- driven concerts.

I'm aiming for a minimum of $1million passive income per annum from my portfolio. I have five insurance policies which have a total sum assured of $3 million.

Q: What properties do you own?

I have six properties, including one each for my two children and three for my wife to collect rent.

Last year, I bought a 900 sq ft two-bedroom condo at The Sail for $1.9 million. It is being rented out for $5,000 a month.

Last year, I also bought a 1,800sq ft four-bedroom condo in River Valley Road for $3.2 million, and a three-bedroom 1,200 sq ft condo in Hougang for $1.2 million. Both condos are being built.

Two other condos in Yio Chu Kang, which I bought in 2006, are for my children.

The sixth property is my home.

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

I am the second eldest child in a family of 12. My father was a rubber factory storekeeper and my mother a housewife.

We lived in a house with a zinc roof in Plantation Avenue, now known as Serangoon Avenue. It housed my family and 11 relatives, including my grandparents.

Life was simple but there was enough to get by.

Sharing clothes and schoolbooks among siblings was common. There was no TV set. I learnt to treasure hard-earned money. Now that I have a better life, I appreciate what I have.

When I was 18 and studying at Thomson Pre-University, I started earning money by writing articles and short stories for newspapers like Ming Pau and women's magazines. I was paid $5 for every 1,000 words.

I started my career as a civil servant in the Ministry of Interior and Defence when I was 21. I joined the plywood factory in Kranji the following year, and stayed for 10 years till 1982.

Q: What is your retirement plan?

There is no retirement for me. I was financially free many years ago but remained active to bring Seksun to its full potential.

Looking back, it was tough in the initial years at Seksun. My wife, who was an account executive there, and I worked gruelling hours, sometimes from 7am to 2am, begging creditors to give Seksun more time to pay its debts. The stress took a toll on her.

She miscarried during her first pregnancy.

It took me three years to overhaul Seksun and secure several key customers, which helped set the firm on the path to recovery.

Now I am still active as I consider myself young at heart. I will continue to raise funds for charity by doing what I love most, which is singing and acting.

I believe that once you retire or keep away from work, you may die early.

Q: Home is now...?

It's a bungalow in the Thomson area. I bought it for less than $1 million 20 years ago. It has a land area of 7,000 sq ft and a built-up area of 4,500 sq ft. It's under renovation now.

Q: I drive...?

I have a total of six cars.

The car I'm chauffeured in is a green BMW L7 limousine. I have a white Mercedes SL 500 sports car. The family car is a white MPV Mitsubishi 2.4 and my wife drives a maroon Mercedes 300L. My son drives a black BMW 320 and my daughter-in-law uses a green Peugeot 126 convertible.

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Best and worst bets

Q: Your worst investment is...

In recent months my portfolio, while conservative, was affected by the global downturn. I am down over $1 million even though I invested in good companies and blue chips.

Q: Your best investment is...

My family and my company.

My wife and children made sacrifices and provided emotional support through the years. This is more important than money.

My other best investment was in Seksun. In 1982, I pumped in an initial $100,000 as a loan to the company.

Three years later, I pumped in another $250,000 to buy out a few shareholders. Seksun was worth around $625,000 when I took over in 1982 but was valued at nearly $300 million when it was sold. In 22 years, the value of Seksun rose 472 times.