Self-made billionaire

SINGAPORE (EDGEPROP) - Chairman of Worldwide Hotels Choo Chong Ngen had dropped out of school at the age of 14. “I didn’t like to study,” he concedes. “I was very playful and always cutting classes.” However, the hotel tycoon has always been very entrepreneurial. He grew up in a kampong in Hougang, which in the early days was mainly forested area with several pig farms before it was developed into Singapore’s biggest HDB housing estate with 51,000 housing units.
At the age of 10, he started selling icecream for five cents to passers-by. “My father didn’t give me any pocket money, so I [sold] ice-cream to earn money for myself,” says Choo. He went on to become a fishmonger, and then sold textiles. By the age of 21, he had saved enough to purchase his first investment property – a strata-titled shop unit in Katong Shopping Centre.
Worldwide Hotels chairman Choo Chong Ngen’s first business was selling ice-cream at the age of 10 (Pictures: Samuel Isaac Chua/EdgeProp Singapore)
The next decade saw him amass more strata-titled shop units in Katong Shopping Centre, City Plaza, Sultan Plaza and Lucky Plaza.
“He has sold most of the shop units, although we still own six units in Sultan Plaza,” says his daughter, Carolyn Choo, Worldwide Hotels’ managing director and CEO. “But since going into hotels, he has expanded his portfolio to more than 100 investment properties.”
Choo’s hotel portfolio was recently valued at $3 billion. Choo had also developed six apartment projects in Singapore – both within and outside of Geylang – before focusing on hotels for the past 25 years.
His early years as a hotel owner and operator were “very difficult”, he says. His first hotel was at Geylang Lorong 16. “I had to run around and tackle all the issues myself,” says Choo in Mandarin. He is still very hands-on today. After attending board meetings most mornings, Choo will visit his hotels, resolve issues and inspect his properties to see if anything needs upgrading. “My father is personally involved in the design of the hotels,” says Carolyn. “He likes to talk to the staff and get customer feedback.”
Carolyn, Choo’s only daughter, is managing director and CEO of Worldwide Hotels Group