Adapted from article by Tracy Sua in The Sunday Times October 29, 2006.
Mr Lim Tow Yong, and his brother started the Emporium Group in the 1960s, and the company grew from a turnover of $10 million in its first year to $300 million at its peak in 1984.
Alas, the recession in 1980s hit the company hard. Saddled with debts of more than $100 million, Emporium was bought over by a Hong Kong company and Lim Tow Yong was declared a bankrupt at age 72.
He struggled to move on. As a 72 year old bankrupt with millions to pay in debts, it was not difficult to fathom why. However just as he had given much hope of overcoming his bankrupt at his age, 800 of his previous employees threw a dinner party to cheer him out.
“I was so touched by what they did. They didn’t have to do it, as i hadn’t been their boss for 10 years, but they did,” he said.
“It touched my heart, and i have never forgotten it. I’ve thought about it everyday for the last years and I told myself I must work harder and one day pay them back”
To remind himself, he framed pictures taken from the dinner and looked at it every single day.
After getting discharged from bankruptcy in 1999, he began to work his way back. He went to Malaysia and Brunei, and started stores that partner local retailers. Slowly but surely, he began to grow the business. It was tough – at times, Lim Tow Yong had to carry supplies himself on his aged body.
He succeeded. Before selling the business, his stores had a tidy turnover of $100 million a year. In 2005, he sold 17 stores and supermarkets in Sabah, Malaysia for 10 million ringgit.
The comeback was complete. Now for the celebration. Lim Tow Yong had not forgotten about that day where his employees threw a dinner party for him to cheer him on. It was that dinner that changed everything.
So, 10 years after his previous employees threw a dinner party for him, it was his turn. He placed advertisements in newspapers, and about 1,500 people responded. In the end, the dinner cost him about $300,000.
Mr Lim said, “I think about that dinner every night and every day. It touched me. It is the relationship, the bonding, and the strong sentiments that make me want to give back to them.”
“That dinner is the thing that brought back some financial fortune for me.”
When asked if he would retire now that he made his fortune, he replied, “Retirement is not a word in my vocabulary.” Lim Tow Yong , the 82 year old comeback millionaire, is an incredibly resilient man worthy of our admiration and respect.
full newspaper clip below.