Dear Valuable Partners,
This marks my maiden letter to you.
I hope to earn my right as your Chairman and steward of your funds so that I can continue writing to you for many years to come.
Mrs. Lim, my English teacher from Yusof Ishak Secondary School, would be proud to know that her former student who failed his English so badly back then, is now addressing many through a Public Company that is listed on the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX).
As this is my first letter to you, I would like to let you have a better understanding of myself and how I run this company.
You will then decide whether this business is aligned with your values and investment objectives going forward.
It is also important to note that my letter is written with utmost frankness as I don’t know a better way to express myself to you.
WHY THIS BUSINESS AND THE VISION
I had my first taste of financial hardship in 1985 when I was nine and a half years old. My father got his fingers burnt badly doing contra and margin trading in the stock market during the Pan Electric Crisis. The family’s financial situation spiralled downwards quickly and we were burdened with heavy debts.
I started working at the age of 13 to help clear the debts with my elder brother. Later on, I witnessed more financial disasters that people got themselves into because of financial ignorance.
As fate would have it, I was offered a place for a Diploma in Banking and Finance (my first love was bio-science but I was rejected due to partial colour blindness). I went on and graduated with a Degree in Business Management followed by a corporate stint in the Financial Information industry.
It was in year 2000 when I discovered my role model in investing, Warren Buffett. It felt like love at first sight once I understood the underlying meaning of his famous quote, “Price is what you pay, value is what you get”. Later on, I gained finer distinctions that “Value” Investing is to evolve oneself to be a better being with sustainable values.
I was compounding very well with my own money. Then in 2006, I met my good friend and business partner, Clive Tan, who is also my alter ego and a savvy value investor himself. We formed a mastermind group to study our favourite subject which most major business schools did not teach – Value Investing. Although our characters and temperaments differ greatly, we share the same life values and eye for good wives, companies and cars.
In 2008, the Subprime Crisis caused many people to lose their hard earned money. But what upset me most was witnessing various financial institutions misalign their clients’ interests, enriching their own corporate pockets instead of taking good care of their investors.
That was what triggered the start of this business. My late grandmother always reminded me to be grateful and never bite the hand that feeds you.
While setting up the business, we also noticed the lack of good financial programmes that are based on in-depth fundamentals and practical approaches. That was when Clive, our good friend Sean Lim and I decided to share with the public what we thought was common sense in investing, which in actual fact was not common for many people.
8 Investment and the Millionaire Investor ProgramTM was born during one of the worst financial crises with zero capital and no angel funding, venture capital or investment bankers. But we are rich in our vision – to Empower Growth and Inspire 100 million lives through education, investment and business.
Fast forward to Dec 2014 when we brought the company to listing in ASX. Clive and I see little changes in our lifestyles after listing the company, except that both of us, with our own money, changed our cars from one three-pointed logo to another from the same car dealer, to celebrate and mark a new milestone in our lives. (Even Warren Buffett has a private jet named “Indefensible” which was later renamed “Indispensable”). In fact, I still kick myself for not buying Jardine Cycle & Carriage shares when I established my first purchase relationship with them in 2009; I missed out on a five bagger!
I still live in a public apartment in Singapore because both my wife and I wanted our two young daughters to grow up knowing how most Singaporeans live daily. It is important to instil simple living habits from young because bad life habits can be a chain too heavy to break once formed in life. I am more than happy to eat our local delights at a local hawker centre. I have also made it known to my wife that our wealth has little to do with our children because I don’t believe in giving too much money to our children. If they are capable, they won’t need your money. If they are not, giving them too much will harm them.
History has shown that many descendants of rich and powerful families did not manage their inheritance well, especially after the second generation. William K. Vanderbilt, one of the grandsons of the once great Vanderbilt family in the US, said it best, “Inherited wealth is a real handicap to happiness. It is as certain a death to ambition as cocaine is to morality.” I see the same frugal traits and values in Clive and our wives.
In a nutshell, we have no pressure to make quick money to meet our personal or family lifestyle demands. This is important as it allows us to be focused on creating long-term sustainable value by making sound capital allocation decision. It also empowers us to ensure our interests are totally aligned with yours even when we encounter potential conflict of interest.
We have only 26 full-time staff in our Singapore headquarters. We also have head count from other acquired businesses, but they do not report directly to us. We believe in decentralised management, just like how Warren Buffett runs Berkshire Hathaway.
We are blessed with good business managers with integrity, street-smart intelligence and energy. Many have become our family friends because we only want to be partners with people we like, respect and admire.
I tell all our strategic partners, our phone lines are always open if they need any support, and integrity is the key to long-term success. In fact, most business unit managers own significant shares in 8I Holdings relative to their own net worth to ensure their long-term alignment with you.
It is All About The Long Term
8IH is built upon the fundamental understanding and belief that the company will outlive the founders based on meritocracy. Therefore, you as a valuable partner can seek comfort to know that only the most able capital stewards and operating managers can steer and operate this ship for many years ahead with integrity, capability and high energy.
As this business is all about the long term, we will always be refining our business model and continue to focus on recurring revenue and cash flow. We are prepared to contend with business challenges and headwinds in the next few years. As such, we are prepared for possible disruption of business earnings before we see a stronger earning and cash flow stream.
As management, we believe this to be the most pragmatic approach and we hope that you will continue to support us. Many times, it is not a race but a marathon, and we thank those that stayed firm and believe in a bright future with us.
I would like to take this opportunity to express my sincere appreciation to Clive, all board and team members, partners, business associates, shareholders and programme graduates for your dedication, support and commitment. I consider myself blessed that I get to do what I love with a group of people whom I deeply respect and admire.
After all these years, going to work after my morning exercise still invigorates me every single day. Thank you for letting me and my team serve you.
Thank you so much for your continuous support and I look forward to grow with you!
CHEE KUAN TAT, KEN