Profile of French Alumni n°3 : Chia Yew Boon, CEO and Founder of Catalyst Advisors
Read profile n°1 : Léon GE, Operations Specialist, Google.
Read profile n°2 : WANG Zihan, Fonder, VivaLing.
Read profile n°4 : Yvonne Guo, Doctoral student
Read profile n°5 : Tang Hwa Kwee, Journalist
Read profile n°6 : Lim Kah Bin, Programme manager of the French Double Degree Programme at National University of Singapore (NUS)
Read profile n°7 : Zhiheng PNG, Ministry of Finance
Read profile n°8 : Zainudin Nordin, former Member of Parliament and President of the Football Association of Singapore
In order to celebrate the launch of the France Alumni in Singapore platform on 14 January, the Embassy of France invites you to discover each week the profile of a Singaporean student, who has studied in France, regarding his/her journey, career and relationship with France. This week, we meet Chia Yew Boon, CEO and Founder of Catalyst Advisors.
Please introduce yourself in a few words
My name is Chia Yew Boon. I was born in Singapore but I did a large part of my studies in France (6 years) ! Today, my work consists of helping companies to find financing solutions for their projects. I travel between Singapore and London and have two daughters.
You did your studies in France in the 70s and 80s, one can say you are a pioneer ! At that time, there were few exchange programmes, double degrees : you therefore did your whole course in France. Why this choice ?
At the risk of disappointing you, France was not my first choice ! In the final year of high school, a friend spoke to me about overseas courses. I put together a dossier requesting for Britain, Australia, New Zealand. When they proposed France to me, I was disappointed, and also about the studies which would last 6 years versus 3 in the English speaking countries. However, my father convinced me to leave, saying that it would be a positive thing to learn a new language. He told me : "When you are 40, you will not regret to have taken time to do your studies". AndI have not regretted, he was right. Upon arriving, I did a year of French lessons, then two years of preparatory classes, before enrolling in the École Nationale Supérieure de Chimie in Strasbourg.
I enjoyed myself a lot in France, it was a discovery. I travelled alot. I learnt a lot, especially to appreciate French cuisine, wine, music, jazz. A discovery in the studies but also in thr culture, the lifestyle. I was also able to discover Europe, through my travels.
How has studies in France instead of in Singapore influenced you?
It is an opening of the mindset. That helps me a lot in my work. I am in the world of business and finance. It is a competitive world. After having done my studies in France, speaking the language enabled me to stand out. I travelled regularly to China for my business, and again recently, people commented that I dressed in a French style ! I have thus immersed myself in French fashion ! The Chinese like Europe and France very much, therefore when they learnt that I speak French, that made me rise higher in their eyes. In addition, with my European partners, it brings us closer immediately.
On a personal level, France enabled me to discover numerous cultural facets. I like music. At home, I have more than 3800 albums, especially jazz and classical music. France has contributed to the development of music in other countries. That fascinates me. France is a cultural leader. At this moment, I like Richard Galliano, I have shared with the Ambassador my hope that he would come for a concert in Singapore !
Can you tell us about your professional career ?
My first job was at a government agency, the EDB, where one of the main aims was to attract foreign companies into Singapore. I worked in Singapore for the first year, then 3 years in Stockholm where I was Director for the nordic countries. It was great because I was very young but I had the opportunity to meet with the top management of companies. I returned to Singapore where I worked at the head office for several months before switching to finance. I started at the bottom of the ladder, as an analyst but after several years, I was responsible for 70 analysts in 10 teams across the region (Indonesia, Pakistan, China etc.). The financial crisis in 1997 arrived. It was time for change. I returned to the public sector, to GIC Special Investments, the private equity and venture capital branch of the GIC sovereign fund until 2005. It is one of the largest sovereign funds in the world. From 2002-2005, I helped the Investment Committee to analyse in detail and evaluate numerous projects, of which the total accumulated investment amounted to more than 2,5 billion dollars. From 2005 to 2007, I was CEO of EasyCall, a company listed on the Singapore and Sydney stock exchanges and specialising in higher education in China and Australia.
During these experiences, I travelled alot to Europe, Asia and the United States. I met remarkable people and learnt alot. I was always in learning mode, until now. I met a French friend who put together Atfis, a consulting firm based in Paris with which I work with until today. I am, by the way, the sole non-French associate.
Today, I am a deal-maker, a financial intermediary between those who have a business to decelop and those who have capital to invest in an outfit which I have founded, Catalyst Advisors. You know, in Singapore, there is money. Our value add is thus not only to propose financing but also to provide guidance, knowledge, synergies. It is necessary to have the entrepreneurial mindset, it is risky business : there are no fixed fees, especially in Asia where we are remunerated in "success fees". With France, we do many mergers and acquisitions. My colleagues identify a project, and I find an investor in Asia, very often in China. What I do currently is what I prefer most in my whole career. It is like back in the old days when I learnt and played different instruments, guitar, drums, violin and now i have become the conductor of the orchestra.
Finally, I am also Consulting Director of Technovator, a company listed on the Hong Kong stock exchange and specialising in energy efficiant technologies. We are a branch of Tsinghua Tongfang, the conglomerate listed on the Shanghai stock exchange of which the majority shareholder is the prestigious Chinese university Tsinghua.
To conclude, the anecdotes, which memories link to France ?
At that time, I hitchhiked a lot. I recall the kindness of the people, far from clichés about the French. I remembered shared meals, invitations to stay, rest and even dine at the best restaurants in town.
Finally, can you tell us about your commitment in the alumni community and your expectations of the future platform ?
In the 80s, I was Vice President of the alumni association. After I have gradually gave way. Our network is special, it is important to help each other, for business of course, but not only that.