Carrying the Colours of Honour
Senior Vice President of Investor Relations at CapitaLand Limited,
Mr Harold Woo, reveals the colourful chapters that define his life
Issue: May 2012
Mr Harold Woo, Senior Vice President of Investor Relations (IR) at CapitaLand Limited, is an award-winning IR professional with a caring nature and strong loyalty to his heritage
You may have heard of the colloquial expression “Is this your grandfather’s road?” which is usually directed at inconsiderate Singapore road users for hogging the road. However, Mr Harold Woo, Senior Vice President of Investor Relations at CapitaLand Limited, can actually lay claim to the fact that there is a road in the eastern coast of Singapore that was named after his paternal grandfather, Woo Mon Chew.
The Purple embodiment of Family Pride and Honour
Few people would have noticed that the old silver book that is kept in Mr Woo’s office, entitled “Biographies of Prominent Chinese in Singapore”. Published in 1950, the book has a two-page feature on his grandfather, Mr Woo Mon Chew, and his contributions to public buildings, education and his country.
“It’s my heirloom,” said the younger Mr Woo, with obvious pride and honour in his voice.
Although he hardly knew his grandfather who passed away when he was only eight years old, what he read and heard about his grandfather’s achievements had greatly inspired him.
For all his contributions to public buildings and education in Singapore and Malaya, Mr Woo Mon Chew was honoured with a road named after him
Mr Woo Mon Chew was one of the leading contractors in Singapore and Malaya in the 1930s. He left China for Singapore when he was 19 and worked as an apprentice for five years before starting a construction business with his friends. The elder Mr Woo believed in hard work and even in his 60s, his working power was said to surpass that of a middle-aged person.
During the Japanese Occupation, Mr Woo’s successful construction business came to a halt overnight. All his business assets were seized by the Japanese Army and he lost over a million dollars. Nevertheless, the resilient Mr Woo quickly re-established his company after the war and even ventured into North Borneo. His construction legacy includes many government buildings in Singapore and the then Malaya such as the Johor Supreme Court Building, Hill Street Police Barracks, Kallang Airport, St Andrew’s School, Anglo-Chinese Junior School and the Changi Barracks. Despite his success, the elder Mr Woo never forgot the less fortunate in society. He contributed significantly to education in Singapore and Malaya.
“My grandfather was also a patriotic person. During the Sino-Japan war, he supported his country by buying S$20,000 worth of National Salvation Bonds. For his services to China, he was awarded a certificate of honour by the Generalissimo of China and was presented with two words by Dr Sun Yat-Sen – ‘Bo Ai’ which means ‘Universal Love’,” said Mr Woo, clearly in awe of his forefather.
No Silver Spoon
Growing up in a large household, Mr Woo had many fond memories and many stories to tell. “I had seven grandmothers: three married to my paternal grandfather and four to my maternal grandfather,” revealed Mr Woo, the fourth of seven children.
Mr Woo had many fond memories of his maternal grandfather’s bungalow (above) where he spent much of his childhood playing with his cousins
His maternal grandfather was a luxury watch dealer. “He was probably Singapore’s first authorised retailer for Rolex,” said Mr Woo, remembering his childhood days of playing and shooting black-and-white home movies with his cousins at his grandfather’s house along Gilstead Road. The three-storey bungalow still stands today although it does not belong to his family anymore.
In many ways, Mr Harold Woo is like his paternal grandfather: the middle child of seven children, intelligent, hardworking, compassionate, honourable and working in the real estate business. “I was quite surprised that I ended up working for a property developer,” quipped Mr Woo.
Despite his privileged background, Mr Woo knew that only passion and hard work could carry him through life. He was quietly confident and focused on what he wanted in life.
Striking Red with Strength and Passion
Armed with the determination to chart a path for himself, Mr Woo went to get his engineering degree from Aston University in Birmingham, United Kingdom, and a Masters in Management Science at the prestigious Imperial College in London. He returned to Singapore in 1981 to join Ong & Co, a local stockbroking firm, beginning his career in equities research.
“Research was the way to pick up knowledge about the stock market and the companies. But my ultimate goal was to get into institutional sales,” said Mr Woo, who believed in doing his groundwork and was confidence he would excel in sales. Indeed, four years later, he was headhunted by prominent UK broker, James Capel, who was also the broker for the Queen of England then.
As the Associate Director at James Capel based in Singapore, he spent much of his time talking to investment professionals and institutions in Hong Kong and London about promising stocks in Singapore and Malaysia. In 1990, he joined Vickers Ballas & Co Pte Ltd and later became its Global Head of Institutional Sales. There, Mr Woo volunteered to set up the brokerage’s first sales office in London.
“I was confident I could do it. I had a few strong clients in London and I wanted to be closer to them. My wife was very supportive. We moved there to set up the office when our daughter was only nine-month old. We stayed in London for three years and my son was born there too,” he recalled.
Mr Woo and his wife, Molly, with their nine-month-old daughter, Eugenia, at Hyde Park in London
But after 19 years in the stock broking industry, Mr Woo admitted he felt burned out. As fate would have it, in 2003, he was referred to CapitaLand Group’s President and CEO, Mr Liew Mun Leong, who was looking for someone to handle the company’s IR needs. It was a role he fitted into comfortably as he had, by this time, successfully built up an extensive network of analysts, dealers, bankers and institutional clients in Singapore and globally. His local network and stock broking experience were especially useful. “I guess I had a sense of how investors might respond and may have helped to connect with investors with what the company is doing,” he added.
In the nine years in CapitaLand, he has won the award for best investor relations professional at the IR Magazine South East Asia Awards 2009 and 2011. In 2011, CapitaLand also won awards for best investor relations by a CFO and best investor relations by a real estate company. Mr Woo is also the current President of Investor Relations Professionals Association of Singapore.
Blue Power of Integrity
In his nearly two decades in institutional sales and securities trading, Mr Woo has seen his fair share of twists and turns in the industry. “When I started out as a stock broker, the market was not a very sophisticated one. There were a lot of syndicates and I saw how the syndicates manipulate the stocks. That was when the Pan-Electric crisis happened,” he let on. Pan-Electric Industries was a Singapore-based company that collapsed in 1985 due to unsettled forward contracts, forcing the stock exchanges of both Singapore and Malaysia, for the first and only time, to shut down for three days.
He has also witnessed his peers take advantage of their positions in the marketplace. “If I was opportunistic, I would be a lot richer than I am today. But when I think about the temptation, I think about my grandfather. I can’t let him down. I will not do anything to tarnish the [family] name,” said a visibly emotional Mr Woo.
Mr Woo and his wife Molly at the Colosseum in Rome, Italy with their son, Meldon, and daughter, Eugenia
True Blue: Love, Loyalty and Family Man
It is evident from that statement that family is at the core of his being. Truly a private family man, Mr Woo spends much of his weekends ferrying his 15-year-old son, Meldon, who plays tennis for Anglo-Chinese School, to his training sessions. His daughter Eugenia, 18, is in her second year in university studying Law and Ancient Classics in Auckland, New Zealand.
Shy and reserved when asked to talk about his wife, Molly, Mr Woo lets in that he met her through her second sister while he was in Birmingham. “We met at a party and then we started visiting each other. She was then studying in a boarding school in Wales,” he added. After 31 years of marriage, Mr Woo still enjoys simple moments with his wife, often being her chauffeur over the weekends. With a daughter in New Zealand, the couple also tries to spend time with their son. Besides his tennis achievements, Mr Woo points out that Meldon connects well with people. “Meldon has a caring streak in him. He is especially close to my mother-in-law whom he cares for very much,” said Mr Woo.
For those who know Mr Woo well, they would agree that Meldon takes after his dad in this respect. Many of Mr Woo’s clients and contacts, whom he has faithfully kept in touch with over the years, have become friends. Such is the effect of Mr Woo’s friendly, loyal and caring nature.
While Mr Woo family heritage and life may be more colourful than yours or mine, the person he is today and what he has achieved thus far is characteristic of someone who is absolutely passionate about his work, fiercely loyal to his heritage, family and friends and sincerely caring in spite of his privileged past.