Inspiring Story of an Undertaker’s Son

On September 15, philanthropist Koon Yew Yin donated RM50 million to the Penang State Government for building student hostels, to  help students studying in Penang, especially students from poor families, in their access to tertiary education.

Many people including journalists and BMF Radio have asked him a lot of questions.  They are curious because they have not come across something like this before.

Here are his answers: 

I was born on the 6th Jan 1933. My father started a coffin shop at No. 8 Jalan Ipoh, KL about 100 years ago. When father retired about 30 years ago, my eldest brother inherited the coffin shop. As he got older, he found difficulty to compete with the modern undertakers and was  forced to close the old shop about 2 years ago and my younger brother continued the coffin business with a smaller shop in Kepong, KL.

As I have 11 siblings, I always needed some things since I was a boy. I remember always feeling hungry when I was young. One can imagine how 12 children rushed for food during meal time.This is why I want to help the poor. Besides my Rm 50 million donation to Penang Government to build student hostels, I have to date, given about 300 scholarships to help students from poorer backgrounds to complete their tertiary education.

As a young boy; in 1957; I attended St John’s Institution, KL where I completed a 4 years Civil Engineering Diploma in Technical College (now known as UTM) under PWD [now known as JKR) scholarship. I subsequently qualified as a Chartered Civil Engineer by self-study in 1962.

In 1967, together with 3 partners, I founded Mudajaya Construction Sdn. Bhd. and Gamuda Sdn. Bhd. In early 1980, IGB Construction Sdn. Bhd., Jurutama Construction Sdn. Bhd. and Mudajaya Construction Sdn. Bhd. grouped together and listed as a public company under the name of IJM Corporation Bhd. In about 1975 I sold Gamuda Sdn Bhd to Dato Lin Yun Ling and his partners.

In 1983 I had a serious heart angina. At the time heart bypass operations could only be done in Mayo Clinic or Harley Street London and the casualty rate was frighteningly high. Before my heart surgery in London, I passed all my assets to my wife and children.

After my heart operation, I retired from being an executive director in Mudajaya / IJM Corporation Bhd and I started to learn how to make money from the stock market. In 1983-4 the Hong Kong stock market crashed because China wanted to take back H.K. Almost all the Hong Kong investors were afraid of the arrival of the Communists and they sold their holdings as quickly as possible.

One of the most important investment lessons I learned was to be a contrarian investor, buy when everybody is afraid to buy and sell when everybody wants to buy. I started with only Rm 200,000 cash and within a few years, I bought 46% of Kaiser Stock and Shares Ltd., a stock broking company in HK.

After having read several investment books by famous Gurus such as Benjamin Graham, Warren Buffet, Peter Lynch, etc. together with my 32 years of experience, I wish to share my knowledge with people who are interested in investment. I believe in teaching people to make money. It is like teaching people how to fish instead of giving them some fish.

Q: Why do you write regularly on national issues?

A: In 1970 when the new economic policy was introduced, the GDP per capita of Singapore, Taiwan and South Korea were the same as ours. They became developed nations despite the fact they did not have natural resources like us. They did not even have timber to build houses.

Over 40 years later, we are still not a developed nation due to bad management and corruption of the BN Government. I will continue to write to point out all the bad things of the Government until voters can vote the BN Government out of Putrajaya.

In 2009, I published a book called ‘Malaysia: Road Map for achieving vision 2020’ to show how Malaysia can become a developed nation it deserves to be. Unfortunately, we have not achieved a developed nation status due to the bad management and corruption of the BN Government. It is most unlikely we can achieve Vision 2020.

I have given all my children the best education that money can buy and I think they can find a good living without my money. As such, I want to help poor students complete their tertiary education.  I personally believe that with a good education, they can earn enough to help their own families and other poor people. As I pointed out earlier, I have already given out over 300 scholarships to really poor students to complete their tertiary education. All my scholarship recipients are not required to pay me back the money I have spent on them.  Instead, all they have to do is to promise me that they must not forget that I helped them when they were poor and they will have to help other poor people when they have money to spare. I sincerely believe some of them will continue to do charity after I die and if they practice the same system or philosophy I do, there will be more and more people contributing to charity.

Q: What are other charities or projects have you supported in a big way in the past?

A: About 10 years ago I paid for the construction of a large extension to the Salvation Army building in Ipoh. I also donated Rm 350,000 towards the renovation of Ipoh Wesley Private School.

Q: Is it true that UTAR snubbed a RM30 million donation you wanted to give them back in 2009, also for hostels and  why did you choose Penang as the state to undertake this and not any other state? Is there a particular reason?

A: 6 years ago, I offered to donate Rm 30 million to UTAR for building student hostels under the same terms and conditions as I offered to Penang. However, the MCA leaders who controlled UTAR, owned all the land outside the university campus rejected my offer because they did not want me to jeopardise their lucrative property development business. They are greedy and just want to take advantage of the poor students.

As a result of the bad publicity, MCA lost almost all their seats in the last general election.  Subsequently, I invested all the Rm 30 million in the stock market and I managed to make some profit. I chose to donate to Penang because the record shows that DAP is managing Penang very well and I want to support DAP.

Q: How long is the construction process expected to take place, and how many students are you aiming to help with this donation?

A: The Chief Minister has assigned the 3 top officials to assist my architect in designing and planning for the project. These are, Jagdeep Singh Deo, who is in charge of the State Town and Country Planning, YB Lim Hock Seng who is in charge of public utilities and Ar. Yew Tung Seang, Director of Building. The project is going ahead in top gear.

Our initial design can accommodate about 2,200 students. In fact, the Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng said that the Government is willing to top up the project if my Rm 50 million is not enough.

Preference will be given to poor students irrespective of race and religion, bearing in mind that about 80% of the 18,000 USM students are Malays. Currently USM can only provide accommodation for 1st year students.

Everyone is trying to make money every day. Unfortunately, many people do not know how to use their money wisely. They must realise that our ultimate aim in life is happiness. They will  find great happiness if they can create happiness. If they give away some of their money to help poor people  who will be happy and they will also be happy.

I have written in my will that after I die, all my remaining assets will be donated to help poor people to make them happy.

In conclusion, I wish to point out that it is not necessary to study overseas to achieve success in life and also that we cannot take our money along when we die. I hope this article will inspire some readers to follow my footsteps in doing charity. You can tell your friends to read this inspiring story of an undertaker’s son.

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