GEORGE TOWN: HUNZA Properties Bhd group founder and executive adviser Datuk Seri Khor Teng Tong was awarded “The Lifetime Achievement Award for Property Development” at the 9th World Chinese Economic Summit 2017 in Hong Kong recently.
The award not only recognises those who demonstrated a lifetime commitment to “make a difference” locally, but also those who provided outstanding contributions to regional and global communities.
It honours them for their immense dedication, selfless service and innovative leadership.
Khor started his property business with a mere RM500,000 investment on a piece of land in Seberang Prai, and had since turned it into a giant of the northern region.
Since April 27, 1998, Hunza Properties Bhd, its name derived from the scenic Hunza Valley in northern Pakistan, has built a mega portfolio that spans from integrated townships to commercial lots, and medium to high-end properties.
Its projects have delivered about 15,000 property units.
Among its masterpieces are the Infinity Beachfront Super Condominiums, which won the 2011 FIABCI Malaysia Property Award Residential (High-Rise) Category, and the iconic Gurney Paragon in Gurney Drive.
Others include Alila, Mekarsari, Gurney Paragon Residences, Marina Bay Condominiums, Greenlane Heights, Bandar Putra Bertam, Mutiara Seputeh and Bayu Development Kedah.
In 2000, Hunza was listed on the Main Board of Bursa Malaysia Securities Bhd. But in 2016, it underwent a restructuring exercise to become a private company again.
This year, Hunza will commence work on three new projects, notably phase two of Mekarsari and TreeO.
For Khor, 76, he firmly believes in uncompromising quality and commitment in doing things RIGHT, which spells out the core values of Hunza — Reliability, Integrity, Greatness, Human development and Teamwork.
It was one of the main points he stressed at the start of this exclusive interview with the New Straits Times at his impressive office in Hunza Tower here recently.
“For me, what is important is that we must do the right thing and not resort to unethical means. This has always been my guiding principle,” said Khor.
Honoured to be recognised with such prestigious award, he said he owed it all to “my big Hunza family”.
“I must thank my management team and staff for contributing tirelessly to the success of this company and also to society.
“It is because of each and every one of the 200 staff I have here that I am recognised and given such prestigious honour.”
Khor’s success did not come easy as he was not born with a silver spoon. Rather, his humble beginnings as the son of a fisherman in Kuala Kurau, Perak, had motivated him to achieve great success.
He recalled how his family of 13, which included his parents and 10 siblings, would sometimes struggle to earn RM1 for a whole month.
“We were very poor then. We were the only Chinese family in the fishing village.
“We did not have the opportunity to obtain a proper education. In fact, I only finished my Year Six studies when I was 15 years old.
“I told myself that I would never allow my next generation to live such life and be deprived of a good education. I vowed to free myself from poverty,” he said.
After finishing school, Khor ventured into the seafood business by collecting and selling marine products in nearby Taiping and neighbouring Penang. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, when he was in his 20s, he built his first factory and started exporting frozen seafood to Western countries.
“I was able to provide jobs to thousands of people from many poor villages. As such, until now, I feel I have done a good thing and I am still very proud of being able to help the less fortunate,” he said, adding that that period of his life had always been something special.
So, how did he end up in the property business?
Khor remembered how he had to quit the seafood industry at its peak because his children’s education was the utmost priority.
“At that time, my factory was in Bagan Serai and there was no place to obtain a good education. So, I moved the whole family to Penang in 1979 (at that time, he was 36 years old).
“But I still travelled back to Perak daily to manage my factory.
“I then looked for a new business to venture in and ended up going into property. I bought my first piece of land on the mainland.
“The property line was not an easy industry then, and I faced a lot of challenges and difficulties. It was not as straightforward as my seafood business.
“However, I took one step at a time to build a solid foundation and the rest, as they say, is history.”
Khor said there is no such thing as an “overnight success”, likening the phrase to building a house without piling or foundation.
He added that to be in the commercial limelight, one must sacrifice everything and solely concentrate on the business.
These days, he is no longer in charge of Hunza after passing the baton to his children. He just plays an advisory role and sometimes attends meetings.
After all the success he achieved, what truly makes him happy?
This, Khor said, was more on having successfully helped nearly 1,400 squatter families in his projects for the past two decades by giving them a house each.
“In fact, we started the ‘one house for one house’ compensation initiative in Penang. We have helped a lot of people, particularly the hardcore poor, to put a roof over their heads and make a difference in their lives.
“The most recent project is in Sungai Nibong Kecil, Bayan Baru, where we spent RM100 million building one whole block of homes to resettle more than 800 squatters.
“That, indeed, makes me happy,” said Khor, who never forgot the hardship that he himself went through in his younger days.
Khor also contributes to Chinese schools, providing funds to build new classrooms and buildings.
He provides continuous training to all his staff at Hunza. The company is also one of the first in the country to offer a retirement gratuity to employees who have clocked in more than 10 years.
“I always believe in giving back to society, something which I have done in the past four decades, and will continue to do so.”
These days, Khor spends four hours daily to exercise, swim, play golf and practise qigong.
For him, learning is a lifelong process that never stops. He reads everyday, particularly Chinese and English articles.
The philanthropic father of seven, and also grandfather of seven, ended the interview by vowing to do more for the poor, especially in education, which is one thing he holds dear to his heart.
For more info, go to www.hunzagroup.com