A RANDOM question that popped into his mind during a motorcycle ride 20 years ago has brought Ng Chong Kiat, managing director of CK East Group, to where he is today.

“What is my dream?” That question got Ng thinking about what he really wanted in his life. The then 19-year-old SPM leaver from Muar, Johor, was a supervisor with a construction company in Kuala Lumpur, but he realised he wanted to become an entrepreneur — an ambition prompted in large part by his family’s poor financial circumstances.

As he mulled over how he could achieve his dream, he realised he could be an entrepreneur in any industry. He didn’t like his job but construction was the only industry he was familiar with, so he decided to stay put. Having a clear goal changed his life completely.

“Back then, I did not like to study, although I had a lot of friends who did. But I liked networking with different people,” Ng says. “My SPM results were very bad. I started working with a construction company in Kuala Lumpur that was owned by a relative of my friend.”

He hated the job. The working enviroment was dirty and he had to work under the sun, he says. What was worse was that the workers under his supervision were all older and were very rude to him.

“My mother taught me that we have to work responsibly. And because of my family circumstances, I persevered, even though I did not like the job. It was there that I learned how to deal with different kinds of people,” Ng says.

As it turned out, staying with the construction company was a golden opportunity to achieve his dream. The manager of his department was not in the office most of the time, and that gave Ng the opportunity to learn about the business from the inside out.

For the sake of his longer-term goal, he even turned down the lure of a RM1,000 a month pay rise from a competitor.

Ng slowly expanded his area of expertise. He got involved in business development — dealing with developers, tendering for business, closing deals and budgeting — and eventually rose through the ranks to become a partner.

After seven years, he left the company and in 2004, established a sole proprietorship.

Carpe diem

When he started his own business, his networking efforts started to pay dividends. He had the opportunity to do construction work for Platinum Victory Sdn Bhd, whose founders also hailed from Muar. The managing director Gan Yu Chai and his business partner Alex Tan knew each other before they got involved in property development and construction.

“Platinum Victory gave me many opportunities to do infrastructure work,” Ng says. “I only had experience in doing earthworks, but I also tendered for other infrastructure work for the company’s shoplot [in Setapak] and they trusted me with the project. I got my friends to help me with the work and I learned from there. Opportunity is there; it is a question of whether we can grab it. I am grateful that I had these opportunities.”

A few years later, Ng was asked to build a show unit for Platinum Victory for a project in Setapak. It was the first time he had been involved in constructing a building. He asked a friend from his home town, Tan Aik Huat, an engineer, to draw up a building plan for the show unit.

Ng then began to get contracts from other developers and has since worked with the Hong Leong Group, Glomac Bhd and CP Group.

In 2008, he came across an opportunity to take over a bungalow project, called Anjung Melati, on a piece of freehold Malay reserve land in Taman Melati, Kuala Lumpur.

“I invited Tan to join my company so we could develop the project together,” he says. “He is my good friend and joined me although the package I offered then was not as attractive as what he was getting at his previous company.”

Tan, who has a Bachelor of Engineering (Civil) from Universiti Teknologi Malaysia, is now a director at CK East.

Anjung Melati did not come without its problems. The previous developer had priced the initial selling prices of the bungalows so low that the project could be considered loss-making.

Apart from that, as the project was started during an economic recession, it was difficult to get bank financing, Ng says.

“Many buyers gave up their bookings because they were doubtful about the low selling prices. I came in to settle everything and two buyers decided to support us. We talked to them and they were willing to pay more for the property. We changed the house designs and buyers started coming.”

The project was completed in 2010 and all 29 bungalows have since been sold at between RM1.2 million and RM1.4 millon.

After that, CK East moved on to develop East Utama — a gated and guarded community with 18 three-storey terraced homes — in Kampung Sungai Kayu Ara, Petaling Jaya Utara. Completed in 2013, 80% of the units have been sold. They are priced from RM1.03 million to RM1.8 million.

“We have won awards for this project. It is unique because we created an elevated level for common facilities that is only accessible to residents from their houses. The facilities podium has a garden where children can run around safely,” Ng says.