From a sick boy at the back of a jalopy to a trailblazing property legend, Dato’ Alan Tong’s journey to the top proves perseverance and trust can take you places.
“There was a man who came to Malaysia with barely anything in his pockets at the age of 16. He took on any job he could find and, due to hard work and frugality, he managed to save up and build his own empire. He was my biggest inspiration,” reminisces Dato’ Alan Tong Kok Mau, Group Chairman of Bukit Kiara Properties (BKP).
The man was his late father, Tong Ngoh, and the story of how he brought their family out of hardships set an indelible impression on his son. He was an emigrant from the Fujian district who embarked on a long journey by boat to Malaysia to rebuild his life during a time of economic depression in China. Despite his inability to speak the local dialects, the man became a taxi driver and obtained a licence to carry passengers on a second class route from Kuala Lumpur to Kuala Selangor.
With the help of a contractor friend, he soon moved on to something more innovative to maximise profit; they stripped off the back portion of an old lorry, installed some benches and converted the pieced-together shell into a bus. It wasn’t a luxurious ride but it quickly gained popularity among the locals.
That eventually led to him actually owning his own bus company. Soon enough, he was frequently making trips to Kuala Lumpur for business dealings with his sub-contractor as he ventured into bigger stuff. “I would sit at the back of his very old jalopy on the drive to town and I would get motion sickness to the point of throwing up every single time and yet everytime he asked me to tag along, I answered with a ‘yes’. I would join them for lunch and listen in as they discuss business,” he adds.
“The funny thing is that neither of them spoke the same dialect, so it was as if I was listening to a chicken and a duck talking because the contractor only spoke in Cantonese while my father only spoke in Hokkien. You’ll hear a mix of broken Bahasa Malaysia mixed with their respective dialects. How they eventually understand each other and came away without
misunderstanding, I don’t know. But I later on realised that it all boils down to trust.”