Wednesday March 13, 2013
Long, hard climb to the top
CHUA Yew Beng lives a lifestyle that belies his age. At 75, Chua is still actively involved in running his extensive distribution business (dealing in consumer goods) and travels abroad for holidays several times a year.
A successful businessman, Chua lives by the simple motto: “Success comes to those who work hard.” And it was sheer hard work that helped Chua rise from his humble beginnings to where he is today.
Chua was born in Tendong, a small rural village without electricity, in Kelantan. His father was a rubber trader, and his mother, a housewife. He was the eldest of four children.
Chua remembers his mother’s advice to this day, for her words motivated him to excel in whatever he does.
“She told me: ‘Be trustworthy. Don’t be greedy. Work hard and money will come. Dig a well and you will always have water’. Those days when I was poor, people looked down on me. They referred to me as a country bumpkin.” Those hurtful remarks drove Chua to work hard to prove himself.
When he was a young boy, his mother and some villagers built a makeshift school and hired a teacher to teach about 20 children in the village.
”It was our first Chinese school but it closed down after two years,” said Chua.
When his father’s business failed, the family moved to Pasir Mas, some 7km away from Tendong. When he was eight years old, his family moved back to Tendong because his father failed again in his business venture.
“Penniless, he found odd jobs at a sawmill. My maternal elder uncle pitied us and took my sister and me to live with him. For two years, we travelled 4km daily by bus from Gunung to Jelawat district to study in a Chinese school.
“The school had over 20 pupils and one teacher, who was also the headmaster and office boy.
“During exams, I would get first or second place,” he said with a poker face, before breaking out into laughter. “There were only two of us in class.”
“I had my primary education in four schools. Then I stopped. We were too poor.”
At 13, his father got him a job as office boy with a rubber exporter in Kota Baru.
On his first day at work, Chua walked 1km from his house, crossed the Kelantan River on a sampan and travelled another 13km by bus to the office.
His salary was RM35 per month and food and lodging were provided. He slept in the storeroom on a foldable canvas bed.
After two-and-a-half years, he worked for a printing company next door.
“It was not for the extra RM5 but for better prospects. I thought I could learn more instead of being an office boy, running errands – going to the bank, post office and coffeeshop,” Chua reminisced.
A few years later, his two younger brothers came to stay with him so that they could attend school in Kota Baru. There was no school in their village.
One of the brothers assisted Chua in his business after his Form 5 education. Later he set up his own retail and bakery business, and is a successful businessman in Kuala Terengganu today.
The youngest brother, a top student, studied until Form Six, worked as a temporary teacher and headed off to Engand to further his education. Today, he is a chartered accountant, and is the managing partner of an accounting firm in Kelantan.
Chua’s first foray into business was home-based. He rented a wooden house for RM40 a month – back in 1964 – and converted the front portion into a sundry shop. It was a year after his father had passed away, and his mother ran the sundry business. After work, Chua helped to look after the shop.
Two years later, he rented a shoplot nearby in Kota Baru. When Kelantan was hit by the 1967 big floods, his shop was submerged in 30cm of water.
“It was hard to get food supplies. Many shops raised their prices but I did not. The shelves in my sundry shop were almost cleared out. My customers appreciated the fact that I was not an opportunist, and after the floods, I enjoyed very good business.”
In 1973, Chua opened the first mini market in Kota Baru.
In the1980s, Chua ventured into the retail and wholesale line. In 2000, he expanded his business to include frozen food, beer and stout.
Chua’s healthy attitude and zest for life have kept him going. The proud grandfather of nine shows no signs of slowing down.
His humble beginnings enable him to relate easily to the needs of the community. Chua plays an active role in several associations such as the Hokkien Huay Kuan Kelantan (honorary president), World Federation of Jin Jiang Clans (honorary president) and Federation of Chin Kang Association of Malaysia (vice-president).
He is also honorary chairman of Chung Hwa High School and deputy chairman of SRJK (C) Peir Chih, both in Kelantan.
His achievements were recognised by a Chinese vernacular press and included in the book, Malaysian Outstanding Chinese Entrepreneurs, published by Nanyang Siang Pau in 2005. – By Majorie Chiew
At 75, Chua Yew Beng is raring for more travels