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SPOTLIGHT: JOHN LIM

Imparting values, changing lives

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MAKING it into the ranks of Singapore's wealthiest may be an event to celebrate for most wealth owners. But for John Lim, group chief executive of ARA, it was cause for concern.

"There is a lot of wealth generated and I feel I have no experience; the key is how to manage the wealth. Wealth management is not just about managing money. It's also about how to build character in the next generation and how to contribute to society.

"To pass millions of dollars in wealth to children is easy - just set up a trust. But how can I be part of the values for the next generation and how can the wealth benefit society as a whole?"

He adds: "My family office and charitable foundation are the key pillars in providing sustainable stewardship to future generations of my famly, our investments as well as the community."

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The JL Family Office was set up in 2011 with broadly two divisions. The investment side looks after family wealth which sits mainly in ARA shares, and there is also Straits Real Estate, a real estate investment company set up in 2013 with a capital commitment of up to S$950 million. The firm is 89.5 per cent owned by Straits Trading and the balance by the family office. Other investments are passive in nature, mainly in fixed income and dividend stocks. Mr Lim's son Andy Lim, 32, is the family office's executive director. A second son, Ken, is completing a business degree in Melbourne.

Philanthropy

The second division is the philanthropy endeavour, arguably the heart of the family office. This is centred on the Lim Hoon Foundation, named after Mr Lim's father.

Mr Lim says some may think he is arrogant to say that making money is no longer his objective. "Did I have a big plan for the family office? I take one step at a time to refine it. The basic things must be in place, like building blocks. When it comes to wealth management - hand to heart - actually making money is no more my objective. The wealth is self-generating. To make another million makes no difference to my wealth.

"But how can we make sure that younger generations are imparted the right values? That's my priority. Philanthropy becomes a platform to train my children. My own children were brought up in a housing board flat, they took the MRT and bus to school, flew economy to study and so on. But the third generation is brought up with a silver spoon. They live in a landed home and are chauffer driven. They think it's the norm, but it's not."

The Lim Hoon Foundation is a charitable trust set up in 2008, dedicated to the support of academic achievement among low income families. "For the lowest 30 per cent of Singaporeans, it is quite challenging especially for the sandwich class. The top 15 to 20 per cent get scholarships, and the bottom 5 to 10 per cent also. But for those in between it's hard to get help from anywhere. These people need encouragement and support. So we started in education because of my father's legacy. I feel we are beneficiaries of the meritocratic system implemented by Lee Kuan Yew. We should pay this back to help society.

"Education gives the best multiples of change in people's lives, not just for one person but the whole family. It also contributes to the growth of society big time."

Mr Lim's approach goes beyond writing a cheque. "When you give a cheque you don't know where the money goes and how they use it. I want to directly benefit the recipients."

The main vehicles are a S$4 million endowment in the Singapore Management University (SMU) to fund scholarships (inclusive of dollar-for-dollar match by the Singapore government); there is also the Community Education Awards in partnership with Jurong Spring Grassroots Organisations. The latter programme began five years ago and the foundation is renewing the partnership for another five years. There is also a similar Community Education Awards at Mountbatten CCC. More than 600 bursaries have been awarded under Jurong Spring and Mountbatten Community Education Awards.

The SMU endowment benefits "needy scholars who are not straight A students". "We look for average students, anyone who passes entry into university; we support them because they are financially very stretched. These are people who are more hungry and resilient." To date S$2 million has been committed, including the government's share of funding. This is set to double later this year.

Scholars are encouraged to come back and serve the community through activities, for instance, at old folks' homes, and expenses are paid by the foundation. "I want the scholars to commit the time. I hope the alumni will grow and become an organisation that can give back to society." Scholars may also return to support tuition services on weekends.

"Not all scholars will come back to serve. Some people say thanks, but no thanks. But some will return. As long as I get 10 to 20 per cent of people to help and contribute to society, it's good."

For university scholars there is also an internship programme at ARA, that now is expanded to include the prospect of a job at the firm, which normally does not hire fresh graduates. There is also an entrepreneurship fund. Students who want to start a business can go to the fund which is run by the foundation for seed money. "We try to do more. Signing a cheque is easy but to do something meaningful is challenging." W

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