When Roland Ong speaks about his passion for Leica cameras, he tenderly brings out an ordinary, worn-out camera. The leather is frayed, bearing the signs of countless hours of practice.
“My mum bought me this camera,” he says. Back then, Ong was considered a lacklustre secondary-school student, and his future weighed on his mother’s mind. “Maybe she felt if I couldn’t study, I could get a skill,” he says.
A month from his preliminary examinations, Ong’s mother was diagnosed with cancer. Wanting to do something for her, he decided to “work a little harder”. His determination helped turn his grades around, from Fs and Cs to several As in just a month.
Ong recalls how his mother’s gift set him on his journey, accompanying him from humble beginnings doing cleaning and delivery jobs, to surviving the dot.com crash of the 1990s, to becoming CEO of IAH Games, one of South-east Asia’s top publishers of electronic games today.
“If you have a hobby and you cultivate it with passion, that intensity will help you later in life. Photography is very suitable for me. To do something well, you need to be technically perfect first. Your creativity stems from that.”
This intensity, and interest in technology, can be witnessed in Ong’s vast collection of around 1,000 Leica cameras. Meticulously sourced over a period of 15 years from all over the world, his dream is to own a Leica that marks every key point in the brand’s technological history.
“I went for the completeness in the hierarchy and history of Leica.” His collection includes rare pieces like the Leica Elmax and the Leica M4-2 half-frame prototype camera. Says Ong: “To fill a collection or achieve something, the common trait is perseverance. Some of the products I got were very difficult to bid for.”
“To fill a collection or achieve something, the common trait is perseverance.”
– Roland Ong
It was this attitude that helped Ong beat the competition to represent World Of Warcraft in China as a distributor in 2003. Two years later, it became China’s largest-grossing title, making Ong his largest fortune, just 19 days shy of his 40th birthday. We ask Ong what he thinks his late mother would say about his achievements.
“She’ll be surprised, because I, myself, am surprised,” he says with a laugh. But perhaps it is Ong’s colourful journey that would be the most fitting gift to her legacy. “My experiences gave me a complete life. I truly enjoyed the journey.”