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BT EXCLUSIVE

From flying fighter jets to taking S'pore MMA to new heights

One Championship's new CFO talks about planned IPO, expanding into new markets, attracting major investments

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"When I joined One Championship, a lot of people thought that because I was a private equity guy, it must mean the company is going for a listing soon. The truth is we don't need money right now. We have enough money to run the business and execute our plans. Having said that, it's really a matter of when, not if we go for the IPO." - Teh Hua Fung, One Championship CFO.

Singapore

HE'S clocked hundreds of hours flying military fighter planes, represented his university on its basketball team, and even worked as a promoter at a Boston nightclub.

A Singapore Armed Forces overseas scholar, Teh Hua Fung held senior positions at both the air force and the Ministry of Trade and Industry.

He was part of the government's team that negotiated and secured the rights for the Republic to host the world's first Formula One night race back in 2008.

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Until last December, Mr Teh spent six-and-a-half years at global private equity firm TPG Capital, during which he was based at its San Francisco, Hong Kong and Singapore offices.

He made another career switch in January - this time to be the new chief financial officer (CFO) of Singapore-based mixed martial arts (MMA) organisation One Championship.

In Mr Teh's eyes, the chance to be involved in the sports and entertainment industry, and work alongside the company's charismatic CEO and chairman Chatri Sityodtong, was an opportunity that was tough to turn down.

As CFO, Mr Teh is responsible for the day-to-day accounting, budgeting and financial operations. He also oversees human resources, and leads key strategic and business development projects in Singapore and abroad.

"This is a substantive, meaty role that could really bring all my skill sets to bear," the 39-year-old Massachusetts Institute of Technology graduate tells The Business Times in an exclusive interview at One Championship's swanky new office at DUO. 

"I also believe this company has tremendous scale opportunity. Not many businesses these days attain massive scale, much less scale out of Singapore. We are doing both," he said.

One Championship has made the news in the last couple of years for attracting major investments.

Last July, it announced that it had secured equity investment led by venture capital firm Sequoia Capital India and Mission Holdings, bringing its total capital raised to some US$100 million.

Exactly 12 months before that, in July 2016, One Championship inked a deal worth "eight figures" with investment firm Heliconia Capital Management, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Temasek Holdings.

Mr Chatri and many other senior executives at One Championship have publicly declared that the company is on its way to becoming Asia's first multi-billion-dollar sports property.

Plans for an initial public offering are "on track", said Mr Teh. Mr Chatri had told BT at an event earlier this month that a listing could take place in the next three years, with Singapore, Hong Kong and New York the most likely places to do so.

"When I joined One Championship, a lot of people thought that because I was a private equity guy, it must mean the company is going for a listing soon," added Mr Teh.

"The truth is we don't need money right now. We have enough money to run the business and execute our plans.

"Having said that, it's really a matter of when, not if we go for the IPO. Our immediate priorities are to push ahead with our digital and mobile growth, geographical expansion and attract new sponsors and partners."

As far as 'live' events are concerned, One Championship's next big show is in Manila on April 20. It will stage two big fight nights in Singapore this year - May 18 and Nov 9 - at the Indoor Stadium.

There are ongoing discussions to make a long-awaited debut in markets such as South Korea, Japan and Australia, although nothing has been cast in stone as yet.

One Championship is also making an aggressive push into China in 2018. The company's official website shows that Beijing will host an event in June, while Shanghai will have three big shows (May, August and December).

"We've got a decent footprint in China. North Asia is a big growth area for us, and we've got a lot of North Asian fighters on our roster. We've got millions of fans in places like China and Japan, and we want to take our product to their doorstep," said Mr Teh.