An idealist, meet Ch’ng Huck Theng.
It’s not very often that you find a person who is both a talented businessman as well as a talented artist. It’s rarer still to find an artist whose entry into business is a one-and-a-half century enterprise. Like an odd Venn diagram, I did not expect to see these two aspects converge.
But here I am, writing a piece about Ch’ng Huck Theng.
An artist and sculptor, Ch’ng’s works have been auctioned in Malaysia and Singapore, and have also been presented as national gifts to China, London, and Melbourne by the government. The gift to China had the honour of being presented by the Prime Minister himself.
And what’s his 1.5-century business?
“I’m one of the two main people of Ghee Hiang, probably the oldest Malaysian biscuit and sesame oil establishment. This year we are celebrating 161 years in business.”
And like the TV infomercials of old, there’s more! Aside from businessman and artist, you can add “curator of culture” into his CV, as he is the chairman of ATAP (Association of Tourism Attractions Penang); the President of Penang Art Society, the oldest art society in Malaysia; the President of Penang Antique Collectors Association; and was the youngest to sit in the Board of Trustees of the National Art Gallery, Malaysia.
“Life is like a piece of art. You come out naked, it’s like a piece of blank canvas. Then you start crying, crawling, walking, go through kindergarten, all the way up.”
Aside from these numerous hats, Ch’ng also established CHTNetwork in 2008, a professional network that focuses on lifestyle branding, publications and prestigious events, and is home to the biennial CHT Awards. According to Ch’ng, it was a platform where he could leverage on his various connections that he built over the years.
“I have all these friends from various industries – from the arts, to seafood, to sesame oil, to publications, to philanthropists, education, the medical line… so what I did was – I established CHTNetwork, with the motto ‘All Good Things in Life Meet’.”
Quite the opportunistic entrepreneur, if I do say so myself.
I’m sure the question that’s in everybody’s mind is – why? Why such a diverse presence, with hands in both business, art, and events? Wouldn’t that tire someone out?
“I think I’m blessed because all the things I’m doing now is what I am – what I’m passionate about… I believed if as long as we have breath and the time to do it, we should do. Because life is very fragile.”
So, take life by the horns. Got it.
In fact, he relates his childhood experience, which perhaps shapes his can-do attitude.
“My father always told me, if you don’t ask, it’s a 100% no. If you ask, there’s a 50% chance of a yes. If you ask politely, the chance could go better. If you ask it and justify it, it would be a very good chance of a yes.“
He continues, “Life is so short, but it is so challenging and it is so exciting. You have to decide whether you want to make a mark when you are alive; that is important. What you want to make of yourself, what you want to leave down for your generations to come – that’s a decision only you can make,” he continues.
Knowing is Half the Battle
Delve a bit deeper, look past the business and the art, and you’ll find one of his passions: knowledge. Or more specifically, the transfer of knowledge.
He emphasises on its importance. “One thing I really believe is the importance of knowledge transfer and sharing of experience where the writers, the bloggers, the people with pens and the people with passion come together. That is important, because if we don’t share, people don’t understand. When they don’t understand, they cannot comprehend, they cannot accept, and they cannot respect.”
To Ch’ng, regardless of your vocation – whether it be artist, businessman, writer, photographer, cameraman or any of the cornucopia of jobs out there – sharing of knowledge and experience is a form of education; an imperative to challenge and provoke, that people will gain a deeper understanding of things.
“When the conversation grows, so does the understanding… Being an artist, you share through your work. Being a businessman, you share through your knowledge or maybe, you share sometimes through CSR sponsorship and that kind of thing… I never turn down a sharing session.”
Through this exchange of ideas, opinions and thoughts, Ch’ng hopes that something beautiful will blossom.
“By reaching out, you make more friends. By making more friends, you shake more hands, you reduce conflict, and you create understanding. That’s how unity grows; that’s how respect grows.”
Ch’ng believes that through this enlightenment and exchange of ideas, people could start to understand one another, and not just stop at “tolerating” one another – a term he is not so keen on using.
“The usual terms thrown around are, ‘understand, respect, tolerate.’ Actually, that shouldn’t be the case! It should be understand, respect, accept. Do not tolerate. Let’s not tolerate already. It’s not about good or bad, it’s about accepting the fact that we are together, and that all of us play an important role.”
Something tells me that he’s really bought into the cause – a refreshing sight, considering the pessimistic undertones lately. That thought process also applies to his foray into art, as he genuinely believes that art can play a major part in nation-building.
“Arts and culture are important, not only for me, but for our country. Arts and culture are the soul of a country where it unites the people. It is non-sensitive, and is something that people will come together and embrace. And it’s unique in a way that it can’t be duplicated in another country.”
That said, idealism doesn’t play well with empty pockets, and this is where Ch’ng opines that one should also be able to sustain one’s self financially – being practical.
“It’s all about supply, demand and product. You have to create the inflow and outflow of cash… because you need to sustain your family, you need to sustain your workers, you need to sustain the country.”
However, just because you need to earn that paycheck does not mean you do so with a chip on your shoulder. Put your heart into it.
“Don’t do it because you need to do it. You have to do it from the heart, then it will sustain itself. Drive the dream. Reach it, and be happy with it.”