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Rolex pips an MBA in the corporate world
EDDIE Sung had gone to an American university in Texas to do a master's degree in business, but it wasn't what he learnt in the classroom that was really useful in helping him climb the corporate ladder later back in Singapore; it was the hobby he picked up from rich friends he hung out with outside class that helped.
That hobby was watch collecting - buying Rolex watches in particular. Every milestone in his career is marked by one. These timepieces had also served to smoothen his career progression.
Now retired from the corporate world and indulging in his passion as a rockstar photographer, the former management consultant recalls fondly the days when all he needed to stand tall at work and walk confidently into a business meeting was to strap on his trusty Rolex GMT-Master II.
"I was young then but the Rolex on my wrist tells people that I am someone important. It suggests that I'm a serious guy, someone of substance," he says.
Mr Sung, who turned 62 this year, remembers that often, when meeting clients for the first time, his Rolex timepiece had served as an ice-breaker. "It's a talking point and clients were impressed because Rolex watches were (already) hot then."
According to him, even some of the rock stars that he rubs shoulder with today - and they include members of The Beach Boys and Blondie - have paid compliments to his Rolex timepieces.
Mr Sung was first introduced to Rolex watches when he was still a school boy. Then 15, studying at Saint Andrew's Secondary School, he was drawn to a stainless steel timepiece with a red and blue bezel on the wrist of another school boy.
"It was beautiful and I love beautiful things. It made him looked so cool," he says.
Mr Sung later learnt that the watch was a Rolex GMT-Master II, popularly known as "The Pepsi". It was nicknamed after the Pepsi Cola carbonated soft drink, because the Pepsi logo also has the same red and blue colours as the bezel of the GMT-Master II.
With the new knowledge, Mr Sung started to take notice of the watch his father had been wearing. "It was a Rolex and I didn't know until then he was wearing one" he says.
So later, when his father - at the time an engineer at the Public Utilities Board - switched to a Seiko timepiece, Mr Sung asked if he could borrow the Rolex, since he wasn't wearing it. His father then gave it to him with this advice: "It's about time you take time seriously."
The watch was a Rolex Oyster Perpetual Datejust in stainless steel.
"I wore it during National Service (NS), which impressed my encik and commanders," Mr Sung recounts with a chuckle. "They probably thought I was an Ah Sia (Hokkien for rich) kid and went a bit easy on me."
The timepiece was kept at home when he subsequently left for study in the United States - first for a basic university degree in Hawaii then the MBA course in Texas. It was in Texas where his interest in watches deepened and expanded to other hot brands; it was also where his itch to buy watches started.
Thanks to the oil boom in Texas then, many of Mr Sung's fellow MBA students came from rich American families and were forever talking about or showing off their their Rolex, Patek Philippe or Audemars Piguet timepieces.
"This was the 'aspiring generation'," he says. "They're not only into watches but also expensive cars, shoes and suits."
Some of their luxury tastes, especially for watches, rubbed off on him - and one of the first things he did after he started work as a consultant back in Singapore was to save enough money to buy a Rolex watch.
Mr Sung would have wanted a full solid gold Rolex dress watch - the Rolex Oyster Perpetual Datejust - but that had to wait; it was too expensive. He first saw the watch gleaming on the wrist of his boss, who was then hosting a lunch to welcome him to the firm. It was just the two of them and all the time, during the meal, Mr Sung couldn't take his eyes off the watch.
"I promised myself that one day, when I am made partner of the firm, I would buy a gold Rolex," Mr Sung recounts. "The next morning, I went to see my Rolex retailer and told him that. He said when the day comes, he would sell me the watch at cost!"
Meanwhile Mr Sung had to settle for a Rolex GMT-Master II as his first purchase, which still cost - at roughly S$2,500 after discount - the equivalent of about three times the average starting monthly pay of a university graduate in those days.
But it wasn't long after - three years - that he was promoted to partner of the firm and got his gold Rolex timepiece for a cool S$12,000. Mr Sung also bought a smaller gold Rolex Datejust for his wife.
"I wear it (the gold Rolex) on special and formal occasions," he says. "It's a watch for bragging. The GMT-Master II is my work watch."
Two years later, Mr Sung, who had become rainmaker for his firm, bought another Rolex work watch, the Explorer II. This was joined two years later by a two-tone gold and steel Rolex GMT-Master II.
He quit working at the age of 44. "I'd made enough money. Those were the golden days of management consulting," Mr Sung explains. "And there was also the 9/11 shock and my daughter was just born. These events made me realise that life's too short and there's more to life than work. I wanted to pursue my passion, especially in rock music and photography."
Mr Sung had also already started dabbling in the real estate business. He bought three properties at rock-bottom prices after the 9/11 attack. Subsequently he sold one of them for a profit of S$1 million. To celebrate the windfall, he splurged S$15,000 on a white-gold Rolex Cosmograph Daytona at a bargain price ("My retailer was moving to Thailand to start a boat business, so he sold it to me at a very low price.")
"I would like to have a Rolex Submariner as my last purchase," he says. "Somehow I never wanted one till now. Don't ask me why."
But you can ask him which is his favourite among the Rolex watches he owns.
"I have to say it's the first Rolex watch, the one which my late father gave me," he says. "Every time when I put it on, I would think of him. A cool dad, very supportive - even though he had whacked and thrown me out of the house for being too playful!"