Ex-tour agency boss turned stall assistant down but not out
His stature may have dimmed after his fall from transport tycoon to coffee stall assistant, but the fire in his belly has not.
When asked about his future plans, Mr Ken Lim Cheng Chuan pledged to return to where he was before, and he has a glint of sheer grit in his eyes.
He said: "I am just waiting for my chance to go back to what I once was."
He was once the boss and managing director of Five Star Tours with as many as eight branches in Singapore. It was doing so well that it sponsored the S-League hometown club Geylang United.
Mr Lim reportedly sank $300,000 into the club in early 2010.
Now, he is a bankrupt, is working at a relative's drinks store in a hawker centre in Chinatown and is earning just enough to get by, but he still has that steely determination to succeed.
Mr Lim. 55, told The New Paper last Thursday at the stall where he works from 8am till after 10pm: "As a person, I cannot give up even after all that I have been through. I just have to pick myself up and try again."
He then abruptly left the table to take a customer's order before returning.
"There are ups and downs in life and this is just one of the low points in my life," said Mr Lim, who has given up his private apartment for an HDB flat.
The man who started working at a biscuit factory at 13 is not a stranger to the curve balls that life occasionally throws.
At 20, he started his first business, selling ornamental fish. A storm washed that all away and he lost a lot of money.
In 1985, his father started running an office for a Malaysian tour bus company here and that was how he learnt the ropes. He set up Five Star with his four brothers in 1990.
But 2010 saw the start of his troubles.
He was quoted in Lianhe Wanbao as saying that his business was badly affected by the introduction of Resorts World Sentosa and Marina Bay Sands integrated resorts, which drew customers away from the company's tour bus services to Genting Highlands in Malaysia. It apparently led to a 70 per cent loss of customers.
Despite this, he continued to expand the business in Malaysia, deepening his financial troubles.
When the company went belly up in January this year, he stayed to the bitter end, trying to do everything by the book.
Mr Lim said he was declared bankrupt last month and is still trying to settle his financial affairs.
His hard-working nature is still apparent in his current job. He was busy serving customers and restocking cans of soft drinks at the coffee shop.
Whenever there was a rare lull in the constant orders from customers, he would tend to his other duties of making coffee or washing dirty cups.
He was finally persuaded by another worker to sit down for a short interview after I had waited for about an hour at the hawker centre.
"I could use this five minutes to sell a few more cups of coffee," he protested.
Mr Lim, whose wife and children sometimes help out at the stall, said he is grateful for support from former partners in the business, some of whom have visited him at the hawker centre to express their support.
One of his friends even bought $200 worth of beer from the stall, he said.
Before concluding the interview with TNP, a determined Mr Lim, who claimed that his wife and children have adjusted well to his changed circumstances, said: "I will bide my time now and save every single cent I earn.
"When the opportunity presents itself, I will grab it and return to where I once was."
As a person, I cannot give up even after all that I have been through. I just have to pick myself up and try again.
- Mr Ken Lim Cheng Chuan