Toh Soon Huat: Mindful Compassion , Bountiful Universal love
Toh Soon Huat: Mindful Compassion , Bountiful Universal love
From a poor childhood with nothing to a CEO who started business and successfully listing the company, or from a top management executive to a volunteer chairman of a charitable organization without salary but devoted plentiful money and time, Mr Toh Soon Huat’s life is filled with dramatic events. Regardless of how his title changes, the only thing that is constant is his faith in pursuit of excellence, his perseverance and compassion.
Growing with poverty
The childhood of Toh Soon Huat was extremely difficult. “My family was very poor during my childhood. Twelve children were raised by my father who was a driver and my mother was a housewife. You can imagine how it was like. When friends bought ice-cream, you could do nothing but envy them. One could never really understand how it feels like being poor if one has never experience poverty.”
“Two of my sisters among our 12 siblings were adopted. I could not understand this and kept asking my mother why adopting others’ kids when we were already struggling to make a living. My mother told me that it was a blessing to have them been sent to us, thus we should cherish and fulfill our responsibility to raise them.” Unexpectedly, his mother’s words influenced the whole life of Toh Soon Huat.
Old saying says that poor children gain maturity earlier. Toh Soon Huat helped parents in housework from very young. He also studied very hard and got admitted to a good secondary school on his own efforts. “That school is very strict in admission, only accepting top students. I was very glad to be admitted. However, seeing parents struggling with household expenses, I felt obligated to help my parents to relieve their burden as I am a grown up . I felt that I should not spend their money anymore. That is why I voluntarily quitted school at age of 15.”
Starting business in difficulties
After quitting school, Toh Soon Huat started to earn money with many part time jobs . “The minimum age of having a job in factories was 18 years old. I had to take part time jobs, such as picking up eggs in farm, cleaning work in cinemas, or moving bricks at construction sites, which were all manual labor. All that I earned was given to my mother for raising the family.” Toh Soon Huat, entering the society at his juvenile age, had experienced the worldly problems during his part time jobs.
Toh Soon Huat started his tough journey of running his business by chance. “It was only 21 years oldt. A friend of mine asked me to sell furniture with him, each investing $30,000. We rented a furniture store of 70 sq m. We worked day and night, doing every function from sales/delivery to financing/admin as we could not afford to hire any staff. My friend claimed that he was very familiar with furniture industry went he is actually not; and could not get goods anyway. I knew little about furniture and had no experience. My investment of $30,000 was lost within 6 months. My friend refused to invest his share of $30,000 when mine was lost. I begged him but he refused to continue.”
The loss of $30,000 even before earning any money and coupled with the betrayal by a friend struck Toh Soon Huat. He often teared during night and thought of closing his business. “I got to know some vendors and clients during the business. They thought I was a good person and they encouraged me to continue and start again. I thought it was right to start over again from where I fell. This was why I continued my furniture business though I never expect it grow bigger and bigger.”
Toh Soon Huat established Novena Furniture Holdings and expanded it to Malaysia, China and nearby countries . The company owned 24 furniture exhibition rooms at its peak period and was listed in SGX, becoming a popular household brand in Singapore furniture industry. Toh Soon Huat himself was also conferred various awards and honors. He was awarded “Singapore Best Entrepreneur of the Year”, “Outstanding ASME Entrepreneur” by 12th Rotary Club, “Singapore Youth Award (Enterprises)”, the 5th “Global Golden Trophy Entrepreneur Award of the Year (Overseas)” and many other honors. In 1999 and 2002, he was respectively conferred Honorary Doctor of Philosophy in Business Administration by University of Southern California and Honorary Doctor of Philosophy in Business Administration by Honolulu University.
Quitting business and Joining Sian Chay
Toh Soon Huat made an astonishing decision when his business was moving into top gear.
On 12th May 2008, Sichuan was struck by the disastrous earthquake, measuring at 8.2. Numerous houses collapsed and tens of thousand people lost their home or even lives. Toh Soon Huat cannot stay calm. He mobilised several friends to organsie a fundraising TV show “Love beyond borders” in only four days and raised S$10.27 million. He not only urged Singaporeans to actively donate, but personally went to Sichuan and stayed on to assist in building 7 China-Singapore Friendship primary schools and one stone bridge at Maping, Shuangbai Village, getting numerous kids to go back to school.
Toh Soon Huat rarely talks about these kind deeds he had done. To him, he just did what he thought should have done because he believed that goodwill is regardless of nationality or race. Indeed experience is a treasure. The experience of helping Sichuan after earthquake helped Toh Soon Huat find new meaning of life. “I suddenly realized that business success is just to yourself. If you can step out and help more people to gain happiness, your life will then be more enriching and meaningful.”
Toh Soon Huat sold all his shares in the company and established the Novena Foundation, starting to devote himself in philanthropy. It was then when Sian Chay Medical Institution, founded since 1901, was on the brink of collapse due to weak operations. Toh took over “Sian Chay Medical Institution which is a charity organization with over a century’s history. I really cannot bear to see it shutting down. Many people thought it was foolish to sell my company and do something which is tiring but not profitable. But to me, Sian Chay is a TCM charity organization for helping the poor and benefiting the poor. Life is so unpredictable. If we can bring benefits to more people , why not start doing it?”
“Maybe it’s due to my mother’s influence, I feel that it’s my life commitment to help more people.” Toh Soon Huat sold his listed company, sold two of his three cars . He devoted himself solely to charity cause, with all his money, time and energy. He is a pro bono Chairman of the charity organization. Besides, he often entertains donors with his own money or buy coffee for staff and friends, not to mention daily expenses for work.
Compassion and Universal Love
Sian Chay rejuvenated after Toh Soon Huat came on board. He introduced some corporate management and operations and developed core values for Sian Chay, which are Forgiveness, Universal Love, Compassion, Gratitude and Blessing. He actively promotes the beliefs of “Nation Progresses, Family Prospers; Family Harmony, Successful Endeavours. Forward with the Nation, Bonding with the People.” Step by step, he groomed the management team and TCM staff. Since 2012 till now, Sian Chay has developed into a network of 15 branches, from only 4 employees to 120 full-time TCM physicians, tuina therapists and staff. It serves around 1,200 patients daily and supported 4 wellness centres providing various physical and mental wellness activities to 10,000 residents.
“The gratitude and public consciousness shall make the world more peaceful and in harmony”, a favourite quote of Toh which he keeps reminding himself. He publicise this quote on his name cards and his books, and shares with friends frequently. In his mind, there is not only needy people to help, but more in the world. He is committed to bring more love and compassion to the world. He published two books, “Gratitude” and “A Better Journey”, where he shared his thoughts and views on business, life and charity. Every word in the books is his heartfelt voice, “Choose Sian Chay out of compassion, choose to accept out of release, choose to shoulder the responsibility out of karma, choose to contribute out of gratitude, choose universal love out of life.”
Just like the song “A little bit of love from everyone will change the world into a beautiful one.” Toh Soon Huat has benefited and in return is benefiting more needy people with his life of wisdom, loving heart, compassion and perseverance.