The seeds of Barry Goh Ming Choon’s entrepreneurial drive were sown in the vegetable patch of his parents’ farm in Sitiawan, a small town more than 200km from the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur.
“My parents sold their produce to agents, who controlled the prices. Their income fluctuated a lot. Some days my father would come home in a good mood because he got a good price; on other days he would be sullen because prices had dropped drastically,” recalls the chairman of MCT Consortium, a property developer based in Kuala Lumpur.
His curiosity piqued, Goh did some sleuthing at the nearest wholesale market, almost two hours away. He was surprised to discover the price disparity between what his family was being paid and what the vegetables sold for at the market.
“I told my father to axe the middle man and go direct to the wholesalers but he was concerned we didn’t have the volume. So I decided to set up a stall at the local wet market during the school holidays and sell to the end consumer.”
The episode made Goh realise he wanted to go into business for himself. After spending some time in employment to gain experience and build his network of contacts, the electrical engineer started a trading company dealing with electronic components.
“I would cover over 200km a day in my trusty Datsun 120Y, which was the most fuel-efficient car in those days. I was the accountant, the storekeeper, the driver, the salesman,” he says with a laugh.
Then, in 1999, Goh decided to become a “concrete man”. Teaming up with his brother Danny and a good friend from his hometown, Tong Seech Wi, he started a construction firm.
“I like to explore opportunities,” he says. “Business is like a blank textbook but you must know how to fill in the blanks, to write the chapters of your story.”
The three partners began as contractors with particular strengths in design and build. But not content with waiting for jobs to come their way, they made the leap into property development in 2005 when a 3ha plot of land became available in the thriving Klang Valley suburb of UEP (United Estate Project) Subang Jaya, better known as USJ.
Goh went against the conventions of the time by building high-end condominiums.
“Back then, people only wanted to buy landed properties in USJ; condominiums generally didn’t do so well. But I wanted to do something that would exceed expectations,” he recalls. The gamble paid off, and established the fledging developer’s reputation in the market.
Today, MCT is an up-and-coming property player with a focus in USJ and Cyberjaya, a town neighboring the administrative capital of Putrajaya that aspires to be Malaysia’s version of Silicon Valley. The company has also ventured into Medini Iskandar, which is part of Iskandar Malaysia, the southern development corridor.
Its flagship development in USJ, called One City, is a mixed commercial development comprising office and retail spaces, commercial shops, a hotel and an urban park. The next phase will see the addition of corporate offices, hotels, small office units and a mall.
The company is also replicating this same formula in Cyberjaya and Medini. In addition, it will develop its first mixed township on a 160ha site with a lake. The combined ongoing gross development value of its projects stands at over RM7bil.
With such larger-scale projects in the pipeline, MCT recently sought a backdoor listing (acquiring an already-listed company) on Bursa Malaysia, the Malaysian stock exchange. This reverse takeover is meant to facilitate fundraising, but Goh says the exercise is also in line with aspirations to comply with good corporate governance and to pave the way for staff participation in the company through an employee share option scheme to be implemented later.
“The listing also prepares us for external expansion. It will give us a better profile, especially when we go overseas,” he adds. “I believe the next era is Asia. Just look at the number of foreign workers we employ here in different industries. When they return, they will bring back skills, money and growth to their countries. We need to be ready to move into these markets.”
He hints of such projects on the cards but refrains from releasing any information, except to say that the company will make the necessary announcements on the stock exchange when the time is right.
But while property may be his passion, Goh is too much of a consummate entrepreneur to do just one thing. He has also diversified into education, founding the Kingsley International Education Group.
“There is a Chinese proverb that says: ‘If you want one year of prosperity, grow grain. If you want 10 years of prosperity, grow trees. If you want 100 years of prosperity, grow people.’ For me, the education business is a long-term venture and also part CSR (corporate social responsibility).”
Tapping into the lucrative market for private education in Malaysia, Goh started the Kingsley International School, which uses a United Kingdom curriculum, and will also soon set up the country’s first skills-based college.
“We are looking for land to build the campus. People say the furthest you can go in vocational studies is a diploma. Well, this will be Malaysia’s first vocational studies college offering certificate, diploma, degree, masters and even PhD degrees,” he explains.
“We want to change the negative perception towards vocational education, that it is not as good as a university degree. The fact is, some people just learn better and faster by touching and doing rather than facing the books all day.”
Goh is also involved in mining. He owns Odenza Corp, a metal and mining company with interests in copper, iron ore and zinc mining in Raub, Pahang, and iron ore mining in Kunming in Yunnan province, China.
“Our aim is to bring together mining operators in different parts of the world and our own mining concessions under a single platform, and ultimately to list on the main board of the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. It hasn’t been easy but I believe this is a business with a lot of potential. The demand for minerals in China alone is huge.”
When not running his growing empire, Goh is actively involved in community service through various organisations.
He is particularly passionate about giving back to his alma mater, Tunku Abdul Rahman University College, and has spearheaded the setting up of its alumni association, which he heads as president.
“I spend about 20% of my time on community-related work. I feel as a businessman, you cannot avoid these duties,” he says.
Co-opted by the government to help in the national unity programme, he is also currently organising high-level dialogue sessions between the government and Chinese community leaders.
In spite of his position in the corporate world and community, the father of three considers himself, “a very simple man”. A self-made man, he says that his secrets to success are simply to work hard and happily, and to have the determination to succeed. “I don’t believe in luck,” he concludes. — China Daily Asia Weekly