WHEN Datuk Khor Chap Jen - CEO of mega property developer SP Setia - graduated from Universiti Malaya around 40 years ago, the neighbours in his hometown pooled money together to buy a congratulatory ad in the newspaper.
As a small-town family in Parit Buntar who were “not very well off”, graduating from university was a big deal. In fact, finishing secondary school was a challenge.
“I had 11 siblings living under one roof, so our house wasn’t a very conducive place to study,” said Khor, walking down memory lane on the main street in Parit Buntar, where his father used to be a shopkeeper.
But the school principal was very kind - he would let us come back to school every night to study, and the gardener would switch off the lights after us.”
Despite not having very much in terms of wealth, Khor and his siblings grew up in a community that looked out for each other.
He still has fond memories of a multi-cultural background, where he and his friends took the half-hour walk to and from school each day - frequently detouring to swim in the river - and visiting each others’ homes during festivals.
“Back then, things were simple. We didn’t see colour. During festive seasons, we would ‘attack’ our friends’ houses, asking for kuih and duit raya.”
It’s that warm sense of community he experienced growing up that is inspiring Khor’s latest mission - to bring kindness back into Malaysian culture through the #StandTogether National Kindness Week campaign.
WATCH: Datuk Khor Chap Jen supports #StandTogether National Kindness Week
It started in 2017, when SP Setia Foundation chairman Tan Sri Dr Wan Mohd Zahid Mohd Noordin showed Khor and his management team a horrific video of a young student being bullied.
“When we saw that bullying and ragging had reached this extreme level, where it includes both physical and mental torture, we knew we had to do something.
“We reached out to (Star Media Group special advisor) Datuk Seri Wong Chun Wai, who then assigned the R.AGE team to work with us on a campaign, and that’s how we came up with this idea,” he said.
That idea was the #StandTogether movement, an annual celebration of kindness in schools on the first week of April, where students would be empowered to end bullying and hate by practising love and kindness.
In just two years, the movement has gone nationwide. Nearly 9,000 people signed up to support the campaign this year, and hundreds of schools have organised student-led “Kindness Projects”.
The campaign will culminate in The Kindness Concert this Saturday (May 4) at the Setia City Convention Centre 2, where thousands of Malaysians will be turning up to stand against hate and celebrate kindness.
WATCH: Lisa Surihani invites you to the #StandTogeher Kindness Concert!
“The success of the campaign has been really tremendous, but we cannot rest on our laurels. We need to keep the momentum going because schools are aware (of the importance of kindness), but parents and companies aren’t there yet,” said Khor.
As the CEO of one of Malaysia’s largest property developers, the soft-spoken leader also hopes to break the misconception that you have to be “ruthless” to survive at the top of the corporate ladder.
“A CEO is only as good as his team, and how you cultivate your team says a lot about you,” said Khor.
“My idea of being a CEO is to make sure that my whole team is standing together with me. Not because they fear me - but because everybody feels that they are part of the team. You don’t have to be ruthless (to be a leader), it’s a myth.”
To help spread the word about the #StandTogether movement, Khor personally made a trip to his alma mater SMK Methodist Parit Buntar to speak with students, who he believes play a crucial role in building kinder communities.
He took time to give a speech at the morning assembly, and participated in a more intimate forum session to impart some of his experiences to selected students.
Later, sitting outside one of his old classrooms, Khor opened up about the benefits of leading with kindness and the team ethos behind the success of SP Setia.
“Some people think that it’s a tough, dog-eat-dog world out there, but I believe that people working together to solve problems is the best way.
“When people feel kind towards one another, they will do things to help because they want to. Fear only makes people work because they have to, and the results won’t be as good,” said Khor.
This philosophy is part of what is now known as “Team Setia”, a company-wide code of conduct that revolves around family values and cooperation.
WATCH: SP Setia Foundation chairman Tan Sri Dr Wan Mohd Zahid supports kindness
“It has worked very well for Setia, and I want to see this culture overflow into schools because that’s where our future leaders are.”
Reflecting on his years of experience, he shared a valuable piece of advice: humility and kindness is always the right path.
“Be humble and kind to those around you: it has a way of coming back, multiplied,” he said.
“Ruthlessness is never the way - kindness is.”
After the school visit, Khor took a detour (with a pit stop along the way for Parit Buntar’s famous beef noodles) to show us his family home, the very same building he and his family of 13 used to live.
His emotional connection to this old building is the reason he never takes for granted his role now in building homes and communities for people. He still finds great satisfaction seeing the faces of excitement on families who are about to purchase their dream homes.
“As a small-town boy in a small school, I never dreamed I would be who I am today,” he added.
“In my position now, I feel like I can contribute to society as a whole through the #StandTogether campaign.
“And coming back to school to tell the pupils: ‘Hey, I was one of you. Don't limit yourself’, hopefully has an impact on them. I hope they become ambitious and emerge to do better things.”
WATCH: End hate through kindness at the Kindness Concert on May 4!
*Join thousands of Malaysians as they stand together to uplift a nation at the #StandTogether Kindness Concert this May 4 at Setia City Convention Centre 2. For more information, go to fb.com/KindnessConcertMY.