From a neighbourhood troublemaker to a map maker extraordinaire, Ho Chin Soon shares his journey in putting Ho Chin Soon Research on the Malaysian map.
Text by Mira Soyza
“Anybody can be a map maker” – those were the humble words uttered by the man famously known as the Master Map Maker, Ho Chin Soon. Anyone who has known him since his mini bus-hopping days and the small instant office at Jalan Bukit Bintang would beg to differ. It takes a special brand of person to leave a steady-income job and pursue a venture that was (then) almost unheard of and achieve everything he has today.
Ho has never had the privilege to further his studies, what more to pursue his education overseas— yet the man has achieved so much more than an emblem on a piece of paper could have given him. “My family was too poor to pay for my education. So I did my articleship at CH Williams, Talhar & Wong and the company paid for my tuition and external exams fee with the Royal Institution of Surveyors, UK. That was how I became a property valuer.”
After 12 years of devoting himself to the corporate world— working for several companies in Kuala Lumpur, Kota Kinabalu, Port Moresby and Singapore— Ho decided that it was time to start his own venture. With no prior experience to guide him, it was a tough uphill battle for the budding map maker. “I knew nothing about starting a business but had to learn fast on the fly. The biggest challenge was overcoming the psychological barriers that is in everyone’s mental makeup.”
Ho knew he had to build a presence in the market in order to be recognised—from making cold calls to dropping by property developers’ front doors—and he was relentless in his pursuit. The first map, he recalls was the hand-drawn ammonia print, ‘Chin Soon’s Golden Triangle’ and that iconic map marked the birth of one of the most respectable figures the Malaysian property industry has ever known.[ihc-hide-content ihc_mb_type=”show” ihc_mb_who=”1,2,3,4,5″ ihc_mb_template=”1″ ]
A FAMILY MAN
Despite all the fame and recognition, the Penang-born father of three had a very humble beginning. Growing up in the Municipal Rifle Range flats, Ho was a troublemaker as a young boy. He led a fulfilling childhood flying kites, playing marbles, cycling and such despite growing up in a rough neighbourhood. He recounted a story about his five-year-old self getting into a fight with a four-year-old girl who was bullying his younger brother— even as a child, Ho was very family-oriented. “Family is important to everyone, family is certainly important to me. It is human nature to seek the best for our family members,” says Ho.
Perhaps this was one of the factors that sparked the idea of starting his own business. Ho who was then working for a Singaporean company was travelling back and forth daily from Kuala Lumpur to Singapore. It wasn’t long before the distance and the stress of travelling started to take a toll on him. “The thought of moving my family to Singapore was not welcomed as my children were very young. Thus I toyed with the idea of starting a company to sell information. I thought, if the business fails I can always go back to work for a corporation.”
Ironically that was the exact same fear that drove him to success. “Once a man has tasted “freedom”, if he can help it, he would never want to go back to be a salary worker no matter how good the pay is.”
Nowadays, the once neighbourhood terror-turned-property expert is toning it down a little—jet-setting to Iran, Mexico, Europe and New Zealand which he describes as “absolutely breathtaking countries.” He adds, “There is still much to see and many more countries and cultures to experience. One day, God willing, my son, Ishmael and I will sit down to write a book on the travels we have had undertaken.”
Almost 3 decades later from its inception, the name ‘Ho Chin Soon Research’ has become a very respected brand within the real estate industry. Now under the wings of his second-born, Ishmael Ho, the empire has reached new heights within Malaysia. That begs the question of inheritance, if it was a plan from the start to leave behind such a legacy to his offspring.
Ho admits he didn’t start the business thinking about leaving behind a legacy, “no one does”. It was only natural to be more concerned about staying in business, keeping afloat and just surviving—at least in the initial years. The map maker describes his greatest achievement would be to have a successful succession plan in place and have it implemented without a glitch.
“Anybody who wants to continue with the business must be passionate about it,” explains Ho. “So many successful businesses go to waste or fall into the wrong hands due to their lack of successors. So I think of it as not leaving a legacy but the issue is that of a successor, succession planning if you want to call it that.”
A strong succession plan can mean the difference between continued success and possibly a decline of quality and uncertainty, much like the struggle of Microsoft and Vodafone. But Ho Chin Soon Research is one of the lucky few; Ishmael who was given a choice to practise law, join a property developer or join forces with his father chose to be the future leader of the company.
While successions are not always smooth, Ishmael slid into the leadership role with ease. “My son, Ishmael Ho is now my boss and at the end of the month, I have to wait for him to sign my pay cheque. If he isn’t around to sign the cheque, I have no salary,” quips Ho.
Witty and insightful, Ho is a brilliant speaker—he received a Best Property Speaker Award during the recent Swhengtee Expo in Kuala Lumpur. “As the Chairman, I still give the occasional talk during developers’ launches, write books and go for lunches and Teh Tarik. Life is good,” Ho reflects with the contented look of a life well lived.[/ihc-hide-content]