Monday 28 May 2012

Aid for the 'silent' needy: The Silent Foundation

The Silent Foundation helps those overlooked by traditional charities
By Judith Tan, The Straits Times, 27 May 2012

There is no question that Mr Teng Ngiek Lian is at the top of his game.

Before he founded Target Asset Management as a boutique fund manager in 1996, he led investment banks such as Morgan Grenfell and UBS Asset Management in Asia.

He has held top management positions elsewhere and sat on many boards in his 43 years in the financial world.

And through it all, he has not forgotten how his success has been entirely self-made.

The 62-year-old Terengganu native was educated in Malaysia, going to school in Dungun and Kuantan, Pahang, and then the School of Business Studies at the Tunku Abdul Rahman College in Kuala Lumpur.

His parents scrimped and saved to pay the school fees for their seven children. Money, for the household of a clog maker, was not plentiful.

To pay his own way through college, Mr Teng took clerical jobs at a mining company and sawmill.

Life would have been that much less of a struggle if someone had extended a helping hand to him, he reckoned.

So now, that is what he intends to do for someone else.

In 2010, he returned more than $2 billion to his investors and told them he was taking a break.

He set up The Silent Foundation to help the 'silent sufferers' with no voices, who are overlooked even by the traditional charity sector.

It helps both human and environmental and animal welfare causes, such as exploited foreign workers; those spurned because of mental disorders; and abused wildlife such as sun bears that are milked for their bile.

'There are some good causes with a voice which will always get attention and be able to raise money easily. And then there are those with no ability to shout for help. But the overlooked equally deserve assistance, and that's what The Silent Foundation will do,' he told The Sunday Times.

The idea for such a philanthropic endeavour started as a 'mid-life crisis', he said, and he could no longer ignore it when he turned 60.

'The Chinese have a saying, 'Even a good party must come to an end',' he said.

He decided the foundation needed his full attention and time. His wife, a 61-year-old housewife, was supportive.

Starting with $11 million, Mr Teng has committed $30 million in total to the foundation.

It will be allotting between one-third and half of its grants to environmental and animal causes, and the rest to overlooked social causes.

It plans to make grants of about $1 million a year for now.

Mr Teng hired environmental conservation graduate Tan En, 25, as the only full-time project manager to suss out which are the worthy causes they should be funding.

'The major part of our funding focuses on catalytic activities, which will help to initiate and gather public support,' Mr Tan said.

He reports directly to its three-member board, which is made up of Mr Teng; his elder son Mark, 35, a fund manager; and Ms Stacy Choong, executive director of the Wealth Advisory Group at JPMorgan's private bank.

Mr Teng has a younger son Matthew, 32, who is pursuing his studies overseas.

Mr Teng said with its modest resources, the foundation is likely to focus on helping non-profit groups with their outreach and education, and achieve a multiplier effect that way.

It has extended $160,000 to the Animal Concerns Research and Education Society, to help pay for its educational programmes for schoolchildren.

The foundation's first project, however, was to set up The Silent Environmental Bursary, tied to a new bachelor's degree programme in environmental studies at the National University of Singapore.

The bursary provides loans to students who need financial assistance. The foundation has committed $1 million, which the Government has matched with $1.5 million.

In philanthropic work as well as investments, Mr Teng draws from the example of American investment guru Warren Buffett.

'As a human being, he is a great human being. How many people would contribute by giving billions, not in his own name, but through the Bill Gates Foundation, because he believes they can do a better job?'

He said: 'As a boy growing up in Terengganu, I dared not venture to dream where I would be today. It's not all about my capability, but about opportunity, and assistance given by a lot of mentors.

'Looking at where we are today, I told my family, most of what we reasonably want, we already have. Those things we don't have, we don't really need. So giving away part of what I don't need is not difficult.'


Mr Teng Ngiek Lian was born in 1950 in Terengganu. He was the sixth of seven children of a wooden clog maker.

He completed his O levels in 1967, and started working at the age of 18 as a school clerk, then as an accounts clerk at a mining company and later a sawmill.

Determined to find a better life, he enrolled as a part-time student at the School of Business Studies at the Tunku Abdul Rahman College in Kuala Lumpur between 1971 and 1973.

He was then working as an accounts clerk at Hew & Company in Kuala Lumpur.

The college prepared him for external examinations in accountancy. He left the college in 1973 to join the Guthrie Group in Malaysia as a branch accountant and completed his professional examinations on his own.

Mr Teng came to Singapore in 1985 and became a citizen in 1992. He held many senior positions, including managing director of Morgan Grenfell Investment Management Asia, Singapore and also UBS Asset Management (East Asia), and WBL Corp's joint chief operating officer and chief financial officer.

He founded boutique fund manager Target Asset Management in 1996, and over the past 14 years the fund's performance proved the importance of value investing.

In 2010, he announced he was winding down its operations as he wanted to retire to pursue volunteer work. He set up The Silent Foundation that same year.

Mr Teng's wife is 61 and a housewife. His elder son, 35, is working with him as a fund manager, and is also a director of The Silent Foundation, while his other son, 32, is studying overseas.

No comments:

Post a Comment