Wong Kim Hoh
The Sunday Times
Tuesday, Aug 13, 2013
SINGAPORE – Four years ago, a friend asked Mr Mark Phooi to invest in a moneylending company.
It charged borrowers 20 per cent interest monthly on loans and was extremely lucrative. In less than a year, he not only recouped the $1.1 million he put in but also made a profit of about $500,000.
However, his conscience got the better of him and he exited the venture not long after.
“Ninety-seven per cent of the borrowers were desperate gamblers, and poor. I’d rather make money from the rich,” he says. His friend still runs the company. The flamboyant, spiffily dressed 51-year-old left school with only two O-level passes but struck a big pot of gold after starting a design business which spawned a string of companies and the First Media Design School in KeongSaik Road.
Today, the entrepreneur owns several properties and three cars, including a Bentley cabriolet.
His immaculately furnished four-storey Bukit Timah home – which looks like a giant tree house – is worlds removed from the dingy two-bedroom Everton Park rental flat he grew up in.
“I didn’t get a bed of my own until I was 14. I slept on a piece of plywood in the kitchen as a kid,” says the fourth of five children of illiterate labourers.
His late father was a stevedore at the port; his mother, now 80, loaded detergent boxes into shipping containers in Jurong. Both were inveterate gamblers. When they lost, which was often, MrPhooi and one of his sisters were made to borrow money or rice from neighbours. “I developed a thick skin very young,” he says.
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