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Saturday June 23, 2007

Kiara – Alan Tong Kok Mau & NK Tong


IT is only natural that one generation leaves something for the next. Often, this is in the form of wealth. But besides wealth, Bukit Kiara Properties Sdn Bhd non-executive chairman Datuk Alan Tong Kok Mau, 71 has also passed on values which his father instilled in him years ago, and around which his life resonates with until today.  

A couple of years ago, Bukit Kiara Properties held a retreat for some 15 managers from the company. The objective - to brainstorm on the direction of the company and its core values. They came up with 150, which they divided into four core areas – caring, integrity, quality and innovation. 

Says managing director NK Tong: “Each of these is a reflection of our chairman, my dad. He resonates with these values. When I was young, the caring part came through in the way he took care of the family and the extended family.”  

Tong senior is the seventh in a family of 13 children. NK says he was always there extending his help. “That applies for his father, my grandfather, as well. My grandfather was a taxi driver and my grandmother kept the taxi clean. Even in those days, they put an emphasis on details. Which is what Bukit Kiara Properties is striving for today. My granddad drove with white gloves. In those days, those who wanted to impress their dates would hire the open-top taxis. Later, he owned a bus company.” 

After coming over from China in the first quarter of the 20th century, NK’s grandfather never went home although he wanted to. He was always thinking about making enough money to send his children for overseas education. Tong Sr had the benefit of five years in Australia, two years of high school and three years of varsity. And he wanted his two children to have the same.  

“In everything he did, he thought only of the children, not himself. 

Datuk Alan Tong Kok Mau(left) and his son
“When my dad took to politics in the 1980s, the company took a backseat. This took a toll on the company. He struggled with finances. My sister and I were in England. I went over when I was 12. There were times when he could have just brought us back. But he did not. We know the deep sacrifice he took,” says NK. 

Tong Sr also constantly advised his children to stay away from gambling, smoking and other vices. He learned from history and he wanted them to do the same. It was unnecessary for them to go through the pain. He would make observations from society and take the good from the bad and impart these values to them in the form of stories and in the way he lived. 

NK says both his father and mother were disciplined in their own way. They are consistent and they discipline with love.  

“Love is also a discipline. It has to be consistent and unconditional,” says NK. When he left for England at 12, he was very independent. Likewise, his younger sister. Not by design, it was just that way.  

“My father did not pressure us to succeed. He only asked that we do our best. He also did not try to steer us in a particular career path, he only told me not to do architecture. He thought I will not be a good architect, but I’m one of those who like a reasonable challenge. I am comfortable with planning. Architecture is still the main component. If I have to do it again, I’ll still do it.”  

NK entered the job market in 1989, at 21, before pursuing his MBA in the United States.  

“My dad did not spoil us. I came back and started at the bottom. I had to work extra hard to show that I was not in a privileged position. I put in longer hours and did more things.  

“Both of us take a long-term view. He believes in being slow and steady. We are concerned about sustainability and quality of finish, not how much it costs but how long it will last or how it will age.” 

Today, in the age of the broadband, values taught by his father are even more relevant than before. Values are timeless no matter what the situation may be but what is important is their application, says NK.  

On his working relationship with his father, NK says they have a unique relationship and a deep mutual respect for each other. 

“I feel the obligation to protect and uphold his reputation. By giving me a free hand, I feel greater respect and responsibility towards him and the shareholders. A lot of people are surprised at how much he allows me to drive the business.” – By THEAN LEE CHENG 

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