From delivery boy to CEO of Singapore's largest real estate company
Ismail Gafoor says it's key to not worship money or be blinded by it
From delivering newspapers as a boy to becoming the chief executive of Singapore's largest real estate company, life has been full of surprises for Mr Ismail Gafoor.
He had no choice but to help his father, Mr Abdul Gafoor, who came to Singapore from India penniless in 1945 at 17 and ventured into various small businesses, including distributing newspapers.
It meant, from the age of seven, getting up at 4.30am, delivering newspapers to around 300 households, going to school, returning home in the evening and doing his homework and then helping in his father's neighbourhood shop in Lengkok Bahru.
This continued until he turned 18 and was enlisted.
His father had hoped his third son would return after national service to run the shop and newspaper distribution business.
But Mr Ismail had other ideas when he found out he could make $1 million within a short time if he were to sell properties.
But he did not tell his father about his plan, nor did he inform him that he had decided to sign up as an army regular.
"The army gave me relief from the daily grind under my father," said Mr Ismail, now 56, with a smile.
He eventually told his father that he would be with the army for another six years at least. His father was disappointed but did not stand in his way.
Army life was comfortable, but Mr Ismail was not sure if he would progress further in his career with only an O-level certificate.
In 1995, at the age of 32, he quit. Mr Ismail briefly dabbled in insurance before starting a real estate business with his wife on Jan 1, 1996.
Called Nooris Consultants, the name coined from his and his wife's names, it soon made a mark.
But Mr Ismail realised he was only king of the Malay-Muslim property market with about 250 agents and about $10 million in annual revenue.
He formed a partnership with the founders of Prulink Realty in 1999 called First Class Consultants.
Subsequently, along with three other companies, he formed PropNex on July 15, 2000.
In 2004, he became the sole proprietor of PropNex.
From 1,000 agents, the company currently has more than 8,400 agents, and it has branched out to Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam.
PropNex also has a market capitalisation of around $200 million.
Mr Ismail said: "My philosophy is not to worship money or be blinded by it.
"If you do either, it can ruin your core values.
"Success is not measured by money. It is measured by how happy you are."