[dropcap size=small]F[/dropcap]or the first time since the Life Power List was revamped in 2012, consolidating the lists for arts, entertainment and lifestyle into one, the top three positions belong to people who have never been listed.
And to make the rest of us wonder what we have done with our lives, the oldest among them is 30.
1 NATHAN HARTONO, 25, singer
Coming straight in at No. 1 for his first appearance on the Life Power List is singer Nathan Hartono. If this seems like overnight success, thanks to his runner-up finish in the popular televised competition Sing! China, well, it is not.
As Hartono posted on Facebook last month: “Nothing happens overnight. I’ve been at this for years.” He won the Teenage Icon talent contest at 14, released his debut album at 15 and made his acting debut in the stage musical, Spring Awakening, in 2012. It took a television singing contest, though, for him to break out in China – riveting audiences in Singapore every step of the way as he made it to the finals, held at the Beijing National Stadium, on Oct 7.
There were more than 47 million views on the Tencent and Youku video sites in the 24 hours after the finale of Sing! China, claims Star China International Media, the parent company of the show’s makers, Canxing Productions. In its former incarnation, before the Chinese producers lost the rights to the Dutch format, The Voice Of China was hailed as China’s most successful music variety programme. The first season in 2012 attracted more than 120 million television viewers and 400 million Internet users, according to the South China Morning Post. It still surprises Hartono how huge the reaction has been.
He is a contender for The Straits Times Singaporean of the Year 2016 award, alongside Olympic gold medallist swimmer Joseph Schooling, and his audition on the first episode of Sing! China was the fourth most-watched non-music video clip on YouTube in Singapore for this year. He says: “I expected a response, I didn’t expect it to be this crazy.”
The contest has opened up a whole new market for him. “If you asked me six months ago, ‘Would you pursue a career in China?’, I’d be like, ‘No, you’re crazy.’ It blows even my own mind that I’m at a point in my career where that is an option for me.”
All the attention and offers coming his way mean he now has the power to say no “because of the wealth of options and I can’t be in so many places at once”.
First, though, Hartono, who is single, is looking forward to some down time this Christmas. “I’m going to run away overseas for a vacation, spending it with family, just kind of relaxing, let my brain switch off for a bit.”
As for his priorities next year, he ticks them off saying: “Finish new music, release that music, tour that music. That’s pretty much the long and short of it.” He also plans to strike out in China while the iron is hot: “I’m going to be doing Chinese songs as well. It’ll be like my introduction to the Chinese market, properly, outside of the competition.”
Hartono is not about to let his swift ascent this past year go to his head though. Asked how he intends to wield his newfound power, he says with a chuckle: “I’m set in my ways. I’m not a very demanding person. I’m not very nitpicky. I don’t get particularly diva-ish, at least not yet. We’ll see how that goes in the next few years.”
2 KUOK MENG RU, 28, chief executive and co-founder of BandLab
At only 28, Kuok Meng Ru already has one of South-east Asia’s largest distributors of guitars and audio equipment (Swee Lee Music); a global cloud-based music app (BandLab); and a 49 per cent stake in iconic American pop culture magazine Rolling Stone under his belt.
These swift acquisitions and additions to his growing ecosystem of music-related businesses place him at No. 2 on this year’s Life Power List. The Cambridge-educated mathematics graduate is the son of palm oil tycoon Kuok Khoon Hong, who is one of Asia’s richest men.
The younger Kuok’s turning point in music stemmed from his boarding-school days in Britain – at age 11, his friends locked him in a room with seminal Radiohead album The Bends. They told him: “Listen to it and don’t come out till you like it.”
The businessman, who is also an amateur guitarist and singer, decided to start BandLab last year after facing challenges in making music in the current technological and social environment. Unlike other platforms which enable one to share the finished song, BandLab allows for collaboration on works in progress, by letting musicians seek feedback or like-minded artists to work with.
The media-shy blues music fan declined to comment on his debut on the list. Swee Lee Music, of which he is the managing director, was acquired back in 2012, the year after he graduated. He expanded it from a home-grown company with a 70-year history to one with 14 stores in the region, as well as an e-commerce platform. In an earlier interview with The Straits Times, he had said that since taking over, the company’s sales revenues have more than doubled.
BandLab, on the other hand, is BandLab Technologies’ flagship app and it was launched in November last year. The global cloud-based community for people to create, collaborate on and share music has already seen six-figure downloads. In July, BandLab also acquired Netherlands-based music composition app Composr, followed quickly by a takeover of San Francisco-based Mono, which produces bags, cases and sleeves for musicians, in September.
The acquisition of a stake in Rolling Stone, which took place in late September, is especially significant. It is the first time the publication’s holding company, Wenner Media, has allowed outside investors. Started in 1967, the iconic magazine covers music and popularised “gonzo journalism”, which includes a writer’s first-person perspective in stories. It now has a global audience reach of 65 million, including its digital platforms and sizeable social media following. The magazine has approximately 12 million readers in the United States market and 12 international editions, including four in the Asia-Pacific region.
Among the plans for the Rolling Stone and BandLab partnership is a new Singapore subsidiary called Rolling Stone International, to boost its presence in Asia. It will allegedly focus on live events and marketing. With Kuok’s bold and visionary decisions, BandLab and its surrounding entities seem primed for bigger ventures. Ultimately, all signs point to the bachelor building a music empire.
3 WONG KAH CHUN, 30 conductor
A North American debut with the Los Angeles Philharmonic earlier this month caps a whirlwind year for conductor Wong Kah Chun, a new entrant to the Life Power List. This year, he had debut concerts that saw him criss-crossing the globe – from Denmark (with the Aarhus Symphony Orchestra) and Japan (with the Kansai Philharmonic Orchestra) to Singapore (with the Singapore Lyric Opera).
In June, he was asked to conduct three orchestras in China, stepping in for indisposed veteran Spanish conductor Jesus Lopez-Cobos at the 11th hour. Doors have been opening for Wong since he won the prestigious Gustav Mahler Conducting Competition for young conductors in Bamberg, Germany, in May. He beat contenders from countries such as Russia, Ukraine and Romania to become the competition’s first Asian winner. Previous winners have gone on to have successful careers. Its first winner, Venezuelan maestro Gustavo Dudamel, helms both the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra in Venezuela.
Wong’s engagement with the North American orchestra is part of a conducting fellowship under Dudamel’s care. The Singapore conductor’s schedule is booked up till 2020. In fact, his agents have had to turn down a number of offers. He says: “It’s been a life-changing year because of the win. More doors have opened than I can step foot in.” The win, which also came with a €20,000 (S$30,200) prize, helps to supplement his income, which used to be more erratic.
Before the win, Wong says he “lived from month to month and day to day”, watching his bank account dwindle as he travelled the globe to watch concerts for research, staying in youth hostels to save money. Now, he can afford to “think more in the long term”. In June, he turned down an opportunity to work with a German orchestra so that he could fulfil a pre-competition commitment to conduct the Singapore Lyric Opera’s Opera In The Park.
When he is not travelling, he splits his time among Berlin, Japan and Los Angeles. Despite his busy schedule, the bachelor made about 10 trips back this year. Last month, he was in Singapore to launch Project Infinitude, a four-month pilot project to give less-privileged children and special-needs communities access to music. It is part of a global music education initiative with the Mahler Foundation, which is founded by Marina Mahler, granddaughter of Austrian composer Gustav Mahler. Wong says: “It’s liberating to have some recognition for who I am as a conductor. At the same time, I want to work on things that matter to me. I am more conscious than ever about my contribution to the community.”
4 EDMUND WEE, 64 publisher, Epigram Books
For making inroads for Singapore literature at home and abroad, publisher Edmund Wee makes this year’s Life Power List again. The married father of two has been on the list five times – making him one of the list’s most regular faces since it started in 2005. He champions quality local literature through his imprint, Epigram Books, which he set up in 2011.
This year, he doubled the prize money for the Epigram Books Fiction Prize which, when it started last year, was already Singapore’s richest literary award. The prize money for this year was $40,000, which he says he acquired by “going around to beg everyone – school friends, army mates, old clients, my landlord”. It is the only prize in Singapore for unpublished English-language novels.
The $25,000 top prize went to first-time author Nuraliah Norasid, 30, for her manuscript The Gatekeeper, about a young girl with Medusa-like powers. The other three finalists – O Thiam Chin, Jeremy Tiang and Tham Cheng-E – got $5,000 each. Last year, finalists did not receive prize money. All four will have their manuscripts published next year by Epigram, which put out 52 titles this year.
Wee has also boldly gone where no other Singapore publisher has gone before – setting up an overseas arm for Epigram, in London. The new branch, which started last month, will give home-grown writers a shot at the prestigious Man Booker Prize, for which only books published in the United Kingdom are eligible. Wee, who took a six-figure bank loan for the London venture, says: “This could give Singapore literature a leg-up. We have a chance to expose the wealth of our literary scene to the rest of the world.”
The year comes to a bittersweet close for Wee, who last month put up for sale his personal collection of thousands of books to raise funds for localbooks.sg, a one-stop online store for Singapore titles. He raised $30,000 for the start-up, which was launched in July and of which he is director. It meant letting go of rare volumes that were precious to him, such as a Letterpress Shakespeare and a special edition of D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover with an embroidered cover. “Such beautiful books,” he sighs. “But I thought, ‘We need the money.’ I only wish I could have sold more.”
5 KWEK LENG BENG, 75, hotelier and executive chairman of conglomerate Hong Leong Group and property developer City Developments Limited
In a year when new hotels invaded the hospitality scene, billionaire hotelier Kwek Leng Beng differentiated himself by partnering well-known luxury brands and launching a new hotel targeted at millennials.
First, he appointed JW Marriott to take over the operations of The South Beach hotel. This makes it the first JW Marriot hotel in Singapore. The hotel, which is part of mixed-use development South Beach, opened last year and had been running for only nine months before the JW Marriott deal was signed. Before that, it was self-managed by the South Beach Consortium, made up of CDL and Malaysian property developer IOI Group. The consortium also developed South Beach, which was on the Life Power List last year for its architecture. Mr Kwek hopes to leverage on Marriott International’s loyalty programme, that had more than 56 million members, giving the hotel instant access to a large pool of guests.
He also inked a deal to build an Edition Hotel here, which will be completed in 2019. The luxury boutique hotel is part of a brand started by hospitality maverick Ian Schrager and is under Marriott International’s stable of hotels. Mr Kwek is delighted to be working with Mr Schrager for the first time, although they have known each other for about 20 years. He says: “We can work on a contemporary hotel that will be unexpected, refreshing and one of a kind.”
JW Marriott and Edition hotels are well-known for their stylish interiors and top-notch service. While he has scored a coup by bringing in these big brands, Mr Kwek also unveiled his new hotel, M Social, in June. Sexy, loud and Instagram-mable, the 293-room hotel in Robertson Quay appeals to millennials, a growing group of travellers. It is designed by superstar French designer Philippe Starck, who also did South Beach Hotel.
It has been a long year for the hospitality industry, Mr Kwek says. Brexit, for example, has made the business landscape “volatile”. But he adds: “Our main task is to look at costs. I’m also on the lookout for opportunities, especially during times like these, but it must be at the right price. There is no rush to acquire.”
6 CHUA FAMILY
In the same year that the inaugural Singapore edition of the Michelin Guide stirred up the food and beverage scene here, the Chua family made its mark in the industry by banking on partnerships with Michelin-starred establishments. They are television producer Robert Chua; his younger brother Harry Chua, who is chairman of investment company Hersing Corporation’s F&B arm Hersing Culinary; and Harry’s son Brian, vice-president of Hersing Corporation.
Many may be familiar with Hong Kong-based Robert Chua, 70, who is known for bringing in Michelin-starred dim sum chain Tim Ho Wan in 2013. Last month, he opened Kam’s Roast – the first overseas branch of one-Michelin-starred Kam’s Roast Goose in Hong Kong – at Pacific Plaza. In October, Mr Harry Chua, 69, announced his tie-up with chef Chan Hon Meng of one-Michelin-starred Liao Fan Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice & Noodle at Chinatown Complex Food Centre. Less than a month later, the 2,000 sq ft, air-conditioned Hawker Chan restaurant in Smith Street opened to much fanfare.
Making up the dynamic trio is Mr Brian Chua, 35, who wooed one-Michelin-starred Tokyo ramen shop Tsuta to open here. The 18-seat restaurant opened last month – also in Pacific Plaza – and draws long queues for its signature shoyu and shio ramen. The same mall also houses the eighth Singapore outlet of Tim Ho Wan.
For their shrewd Michelin-centric strategy, the Chuas – all of whom are extremely hands-on in the business – debut on the Life Power List at No. 6. Going with Michelin-starred brands makes diners pay attention, says Brian Chua, who does not rule out working with those that do not have stars.
In the new year, he will focus on opening another Tsuta in Singapore and will also take the name overseas, starting with Taiwan in the first half of next year. Another Hawker Chan outlet is also on the cards for the first quarter of next year and Harry Chua is eyeing global expansion as well.
The savvy businessman is already grooming the next generation. His elder daughter Cynthia, 44, has joined the company to take charge of one of its brands, while his younger daughter Chloe, 24, is already on board to learn the operational ropes. Both Chua brothers work independently of each other, to ensure there is “no conflict of interest” among the brands.
Robert Chua says: “I may have brought in Tim Ho Wan, but it is my brother who made it successful. There is also no conflict between Kam’s Roast and Hawker Chan (both of which sell soya sauce chicken and roast meats), as everything is done separately and professionally. Now, we focus on sorting out teething problems and make sure the food and service are up to standard.”
7 MUKESH JETHANAND VALIRAM, 36, executive director of The Valiram Group
Luxury fashion retailer The Valiram Group did not miss a beat this year despite the flagging economy. It launched its Victoria’s Secret flagship store at Mandarin Gallery in Orchard Road last month, shortly after opening its Michael Kors flagship in the same mall in September, the American brand’s first such store in South-east Asia. Both stores, occupying a total of 19,000 sq ft, have given Orchard Road a much-needed retail lift in time for Christmas.
Mukesh Jethanand Valiram, the youngest of three brothers of the Valiram family – his grandfather Utumal Valiram founded the Malaysian business in Kuala Lumpur in 1935 – played an integral role in the negotiations to bring the brands here. The married father of one describes sales at the new Victoria’s Secret store here as “phenomenal” – about 30 per cent higher than the group’s projections.
The Michael Kors flagship is also performing above expectations.
Ever the optimist, Valiram, who is making his debut on the Life Power List, is unfazed by the retail slump. “It’s important to recognise that consumerism is not going away. It’s about being an agile retailer,” says the Malaysian, who is based in Singapore.
He says the group, which expanded the number of Tumi and Kate Spade stores here this year, is”aggressively growing” at a rate of 35 per cent a year. Tumi is a US-based manufacturer of travel suitcases and bags, while Kate Spade is an American fashion design house. The Valiram Group has stores in nine territories, including Russia and Australia, and is operating 200 brands, including American fashion label Tory Burch and high-end tea brand TWG Tea.
This year, the group received the Industry Excellence Award at the Asean Business Awards Malaysia, which recognises businesses that have impacted the growth of the Malaysian economy and its image in Asean. Next year, the company will reintroduce Italian shoe brand Giuseppe Zanotti – popular with celebrities such as singers Taylor Swift and Gwen Stefani – to Singapore.
8 BOO JUNFENG, 33, film-maker
Five years passed between Boo Junfeng’s first feature film, Sandcastle (2010), and his second, Apprentice, which was released this year to acclaim.
In that time, he went from working with first-time actors to handling veterans and from filming at a few locations in Singapore to working in large prison sets in Australia.
He hopes his next film will not take as long to make. “I am looking at the issue of faith, but it’s very preliminary right now,” says the bachelor. Apprentice, a film about prisoner executions, was selected for the Certain Regard section at the Cannes Film Festival this year. At the Busan International Film Festival, it netted Boo the Rising Director Award and garnered the Netpac award at Taipei’s Golden Horse Film Festival. The Netpac, or Network for the Promotion of Asian Cinema, award is the only one at the festival given to a non-Chinese-language film.
It was also picked as Singapore’s entry in the Best Foreign Language Film category at the Academy Awards.
Boo likes to explore the places where the personal and the political meet. Sandcastle, which in 2010 put him on the Life Power List for the first time, is a poetic look at a teen coming to terms with his father’s role as a student agitator. In Apprentice, a young prison guard learns the business of death from an older colleague. Stories like these take a lot of crafting to get right and Boo thinks he has some way to go. “To me, film-making requires a lot of life experience. The film-makers I look up to are of a certain age. I’m far from where I’d like to be.”
9 CHARLES WONG, 42, co-founder of shoe and accessory brand Charles & Keith
The big break for Singapore household name Charles & Keith came in September, when Game Of Thrones star Maisie Williams was spotted carrying the brand’s wristlet at the Emmy Awards. Within a week of the 19-year-old British actress’ red carpet appearance, all three colours of the triangular-shaped bag – black, bronze and burgundy – were sold out online and at the retailer’s 29 stores here.
In an e-mail interview with The Straits Times in September, Charles Wong, who is making his debut on the Life Power List, said he was “definitely thankful for the positive reaction that has been garnered”. He founded the brand with his younger brother Keith, 40, in 1996. It started as a small shoe shop at Amara Shopping Centre.
Their first overseas store opened in Indonesia two years later. The company now has more than 500 stores worldwide.
The brothers declined to be interviewed for the Power List.
A new store at Waterway Point shopping mall in Punggol opened in January. On Dec 1, the group’s Facebook page chalked up one million followers. The brand also hit the international fashion scene in a big way this year, snagging famous British fashion photographer Glen Luchford – coveted by brands including Italian luxury label Gucci – for its Fall/Winter 2016 campaign.
Charles & Keith also attracted the attention of popular influencers such as Japanese model Ai Ishimoto and Norwegian freelance fashion writer and stylist Tine Andrea, who have shared photos of themselves wearing the brand’s shoes and accessories on their social media accounts. Last year, The Business Times reported that the company won the Singapore Productivity Awards for excellence in retail and that it aims to reach $1 billion in sales by 2020.
10 ALEX CHEW, 31, AND MR RAJ DATWANI, 34, executive producers of Ultra Singapore
This pair of first-time entrants on the Life Power List have had a stellar year in two fields: event management, and food and beverage. They produced the mega dance music festival Ultra Singapore, a spin-off of the Miami-based festival, to great success. Despite torrential rain on the first day and a Zika threat in the region, 45,000 partygoers from 67 countries attended the festival at Bayfront Avenue in September.
The pair also own The Kitchen At Bacchanalia at 39 Hong Kong Street. The restaurant earned a Michelin star this year. Chew, a newlywed, grew up in Thailand and read business at the Singapore Management University. He says: “It’s hard to believe that Bacchanalia originated as a boozy afternoon pop-up brunch and now the restaurant is among the first few in Singapore to be awarded the coveted Michelin star.” New York-born and United States-educated Datwani has a background in international business and real estate. The bachelor moved to Singapore in 2010.
The cogs are in motion for the next Ultra Singapore, which will be held in June.
Acknowledging the stiff competition in the market for music festivals, Chew says it will be a case of “survival of the fittest”. He adds: “The team is already moving full steam ahead for this year’s festival and partygoers can expect it to get only bigger and better.”
11 GENTLE BONES, aka Joel Tan, 22, singer-songwriter
When Gentle Bones sold out two nights at the Esplanade Concert Hall in June, it was a milestone in the home-grown English music scene – the first time a solo artist with indie roots achieved such a feat.Filling up one of Singapore’s most prestigious music venues in his first headline show proved that the audience for home-grown indie artists is growing and earns Gentle Bones a place on the Life Power List.
The past couple of years saw him building up his fan base on social media and via music- and video-streaming services. The gigs showed that his fans were willing to buy tickets and sing their hearts out to his songs at his live shows. The 22-year-old bachelor’s second EP, Geniuses & Thieves, released a week before the Esplanade dates, went to No. 1 on the local iTunes charts.
And to think that just half a year earlier, he and his crew were facing one of the lowest points of his music career – they were stranded for 100 days in Jakarta after a promoter for his show there failed to secure the proper permits. Tan says he “never dared imagine” the response that he received for the shows in Singapore. “It’s served as a real validation to not just myself, but also my team and friends who have poured a great amount of care and work into building Gentle Bones with me,” he says.
He also picked up awards for Top Local English Pop Song – for “Until We Die” – and Young Songwriter of the Year at the Composers and Authors Society of Singapore Awards in September. “I am grateful to the local music scene for being of great influence to me and the people who support the music for keeping our collective dream going.”
Next year will be a busy one for him. He is currently working on securing live shows around the region and is planning to head back to the studio soon to prepare new releases. “I really want to take time next year to attempt to create something unique.”
12 FAZAL BAHARDEEN, 53, founder and chief executive of CrescentRating, a rating and accreditation service for Muslim-friendly travel
Recognising a gap in the hospitality industry and to help Muslim travellers identify which hotels and restaurants cater to their needs, Fazal Bahardeen started CrescentRating – a website that rates hotels and restaurants – in 2008. This was followed, in 2010, by an annual ranking of Muslim-friendly destinations around the world.
The first of its kind, it attracted the attention of MasterCard and together they launched the MasterCard-CrescentRating Global Muslim Travel Index in 2014, an annual analysis and summary of the booming Muslim travel market, which is projected to be worth US$220 billion (S$319 billion) by 2020.
From being a one-man show in 2008, CrescentRating is now the go-to source of information on Muslim travel for governments, travel agencies and tourism boards around the world.
Fazal, who is married and has three children, also oversees HalalTrip, a community platform where Muslim travellers get inspired, book trips and post original content; and Muslim Travel Warehouse, a platform connecting travel agents with Muslim-friendly operators.
This year has been another outstanding one for the company. It hosted the inaugural Halal In Travel – Asia Summit 2016 at ITB Asia, the leading trade show for the Asian travel market, to discuss developments in halal travel. According to Fazal, it still has a long way to go as countries educate themselves on Muslim needs.
Next year, his goal is to grow the number of HalalTrip visitors from 500,000 to one million visitors a month by the middle of next year and build its community platform.
“I want to make it even easier for Muslim travellers to explore any part of the world and I hope more and more destinations will make this happen,” says Fazal, who is making his debut on the Life Power List.
13 DARRELL ANG, 37, conductor and artistic director of the Sichuan Symphony Orchestra
Grammy nominee Darrell Ang is a powerhouse in the world of classical music. He is making his debut on the Life Power List for his stellar achievements this year.
The former music director of France’s Orchestre Symphonique de Bretagne counts engagements at the Mariinsky Theatre in Russia and Canada’s Vancouver Symphony Orchestra as recent highlights. His first CD recording – Humen 1839, in which he led the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra – was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Orchestral Performance last year.
Ang, who lost to Latvian conductor Andris Nelsons, is said to be the second Singaporean to get a Grammy nomination. It was this recording that inspired the management of the Sichuan Symphony Orchestra in China to name him the orchestra’s artistic director early last week. The Paris-based conductor is also recognised for his leadership of the Singapore International Festival of Music. The festival comprised classical music and vocal concerts by both renowned international musicians, such as the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, and Singapore talents, such as Chinese chamber music ensemble Ding Yi Music Company. The second edition took place in October.
Ang, who helms the festival with Singaporean violinist Loh Jun Hong, had to fly back here multiple times this year for meetings. At times, the bachelor stayed for only two days before flying back out. He says: “The festival is important to me. It’s about putting our local talent out there and have foreign musicians collaborating with them. It’s important for an exchange to take place so that they can then be given the world stage.”
14 CHRISTINA ONG, in her 60s, founder of Club 21
The local fashion doyenne, best known as the founder and managing director of luxury multi-label brand Club 21, makes it onto the Life Power List this year for the opening of Como Dempsey. The lifestyle enclave, located at Tanglin Village, made headlines this year when it was revealed that it would not only house a restaurant by renowned French restaurateur Jean-Georges Vongerichten, but would also be the site of legendary fashion concept store Dover Street Market. The premium fashion retailer, founded by Comme des Garcons’ Rei Kawakubo, is expected to open its doors some time next year.
One-Michelin-starred Peranakan restaurant Candlenut and Japanese restaurant Ippoh Tempura Bar by Ginza Ippoh have already opened their doors at Como Dempsey. This is not the first time Mrs Ong has made it to the list for her contributions to the retail and fashion industry. She was No. 2 in 2007 when Club 21 celebrated its 35th anniversary. That same year, she was also appointed chairman of the National Parks Board – a position she still holds.
In 2014, the billionaire businesswoman was back on the power list at No. 4 for putting Como Hotels and Resorts on the global map with new hotels in Miami, the Maldives and Phuket. Ong is married to property magnate Ong Beng Seng, 70. They have two children. According to Forbes, they have an estimated net worth of US$2 billion (S$2.9 billion). The notoriously media-shy Ong declined to comment on her inclusion in this year’s list.
15 DENNIS TAY AND AMANDA ENG, both 31. He is the founder of Naiise and she is its marketing director
Singapore-designed products, such as ang ku kueh-shaped cushions and shirts, and notebooks emblazoned with Singlish phrases, have been massively popular in the last few years. This phenomenon owes much to Naiise, a three-year-old multi-label store that stocks goods by local designers.
Consumers are lapping up the Singapore-themed goods. That is why Naiise, which started online, expanded this year despite a sluggish retail scene. It is also why its founders are making their debut on the Life Power List. In May, it opened its flagship store, an 8,500 sq ft space in the basement of The Cathay in Handy Road, and a 5,500 sq ft Wonderland-themed pop-up store in Suntec City mall. It currently has five permanent stores and two pop-ups. It also launched Friends of Naiise, a membership programme that comes with exclusive perks; and I Eat Design, Naiise’s first food-meets-design festival.
Not bad for a business that started in its founder’s bedroom.
In 2013, Mr Tay put in $3,000 of his own money to get Naiise going. He later roped in Eng to be its marketing director. The pair, who got married last year, welcomed their first child this year.
Tay says Naiise has stuck to its original ethos of supporting local design even as it grows. Every week, the store puts out 20 to 30 new designs, and represents 632 Singapore labels to date. And next year looks to be promising. Mr Eng plans to take Naiise overseas, setting up a shop in Kuala Lumpur and starting a website dedicated to London. The British capital might be a surprise choice to expand into, but he says Naiise gets a sizeable number of orders from there. The new challenge is to stock Singapore-designed products that have an international appeal. Tay says: “A lot of Singapore designers started producing products with a nostalgia factor. These work in Singapore, but to make it overseas, the products need to evolve.”
16 MICHELLE CHONG, 39, film-maker and actress
With the help of a mainland Chinese accent, an explosive wig and garish leopard prints, Michelle Chong struts onto the Life Power List at No. 16 with Lulu The Movie – which she produced, wrote, directed and starred in.
In its opening weekend last month, it was up against blockbuster fantasy film Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them and the Disney animated flick Moana. While it came in at No. 3, its per-screen average was higher than Moana’s. The movie has made $1.96 million since its release on Nov 24.
While “extremely happy” with the numbers, Chong adds: “Every movie is a risk and there’s no right formula, so nothing is ever for certain. I don’t think we can ever expect any kind of box office because there are so many things that are not within our control.”
The character of Lulu, a brassy karaoke hostess from northern China, was created by Chong for Mediacorp’s news satire television show, The Noose. She credits the trailer for some of the success as it intrigued viewers by showing that the movie was very different from the style and format of The Noose. The film-maker, who is single, was previously on the Life Power List in 2012, coming in at No. 19 for the success of her debut film, the comedy Already Famous. It made $1.4 million at the box office, while her second film, 3 Peas In A Pod (2013), earned $500,000.
She plans to start a YouTube channel next year, a platform to showcase exciting original characters as well as artists from her Left Profile agency, Pornsak Prajakwit and Lee Teng.
17 KOK HENG LEUN, 50, Arts NMP
Nominated Member of Parliament Kok Heng Leun has made arts and culture a part of Parliamentary discussion. He makes it to the Life Power List for his effectiveness as a spokesman for the arts and civil society. The married father of two was last on the Arts Power List in 2005. That year, the artistic director of Drama Box led the theatre troupe out of the red and into full-time operations after a two-year hiatus. Kok has spoken in Parliament on issues ranging from urban planning to the constitutional changes to the elected Presidency.
Last month, during debate over works affecting the landmark Ellison Building at the junction of Bukit Timah and Selegie roads, erected in 1924, he asked the authorities to consider making cultural impact assessments mandatory for development projects.
In October, he backed a motion to conserve key areas of Dakota Crescent. Built in 1958, the housing estate is up for redevelopment, but some residents suggest that the buildings be used by arts groups and social enterprises, or as rental flats.
He is also part of Ubin Fun, a network of agencies and stakeholders studying how to make Pulau Ubin a sustainable community.
He holds meetings for arts groups to discuss matters that affect them, such as proposed changes to the Singapore Copyright Act. Via the Arts NMP Facebook page, he and his team call for feedback on new Bills, which he brings up in Parliament. He says he is happy to have started some conversations between the authorities and civil society. “This engagement is not about immediate change. It takes time. Consultation creates doors for you to disagree strongly and your disagreement is a matter of record.”
18 LOH LIK PENG, 44, founder of Unlisted Collection, a restaurant and hotel group
Hotelier-restaurateur Loh Lik Peng was last on the Life Power List in 2013 at No. 3.
This year, he is picked for the success of his newest hotel, The Old Clare Hotel in Sydney, Australia, as well as several of his award-winning restaurants.
The Old Clare Hotel, which opened in Sydney’s Chippendale neighbourhood in September last year, won the 2016 Australian Hotel Guide Awards’ Boutique Hotel of the Year; was nominated for Australia’s leading Boutique hotel and Australia’s Leading New Hotel at the World Travel Awards this year; and won awards for best Hotel Interior Design, Hotel Bar and Hotel Restaurant at the Hotel Management Awards 2016 in Sydney this year, where Loh was also awarded Asia-Pacific Hotelier of the Year.
The 62-room hotel – a refurbishment of two run-down heritage buildings, The Clare Hotel pub and Carlton & United Breweries Administration Building – is his first foray in the hospitality scene Down Under. Its bar, rooftop swimming pool and award-winning restaurants Kensington Street Social by Jason Atherton of Michelin-starred Pollen Street Social and Automata by Clayton Wells, one of Australia’s hottest chefs, have become the social heart and highlight of the neighbourhood.
Back home, Loh’s modern Australian barbecue restaurant Burnt Ends in Teck Lim Road debuted on Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants 2016 at No. 30 and his two new restaurants, Cheek by Jowl and Salted and Hung, have received rave reviews. But it is the success of The Old Clare which stands out as his proudest achievement this year, says Loh. “Being able to succeed in a place like Sydney, one of the lifestyle capitals of the world, is very gratifying.”
19 LAURETTA ALABONS, 46, AND ROSS KNUDSON, 52, owners of LAMC Productions
It has been a solid year for live entertainment in Singapore. And for consistently adding to the rich diversity of gigs here, show promoter LAMC, run by married couple Lauretta Alabons and Ross Knudson, makes it to the Life Power List. While they are not behind the biggest shows in town, the gigs they have brought in this year reached out to a wide spectrum of audiences.
Rockers caught German veterans Scorpions at the Suntec Singapore Convention & Exhibition Centre, indie music fans saw British icon Morrissey at the Marina Barrage and fans of edgy comedy were tickled by American comedienne Margaret Cho at the Kallang Theatre. The comedy shows are handled by LAMC’s sister company, LA Comedy Live. This is the second time the company is on the Life Power List – it was also ranked in 2009.
Alabons says: “We’re all about being inclusive when it comes to putting on shows. We love to look out into the audience and see a diverse crowd that crosses all boundaries.” Knudson adds: “We don’t just sit and wait for the bigger acts. We cater to the niche markets too, that’s our bread and butter. We’re blue collar, we’re down in the trenches too.”
Next year is shaping up to be an even bigger year for the 17-year-old company. Among the shows lined up are British indie-folk singer Passenger at The Star Theatre on Jan 13; British metalcore upstarts Bring Me The Horizon at D’Marquee, Downtown East, on Feb 2; and a highly anticipated show by American hard rock band Guns N’ Roses at the Changi Exhibition Centre on Feb 25.
On the comedy front, LAMC is dipping its toes in political humour by putting on the Goodbye Obama, Hello Trump Comedy Tour at Kallang Theatre on Jan 18. It features American comedians Reggie Brown as outgoing United States president Barack Obama and Anthony Atamanuik as US President-elect Donald Trump. Knudson says: “When we first started, going to a concert or a show wasn’t really a part of people’s lifestyle. Now I think it is part of the culture.”
20 MS CAROLYN KAN, 44, jewellery designer
Making her first appearance on the Life Power List is Singaporean designer Carolyn Kan, founder of jewellery label Carrie K and the one responsible for the creation of local design collective, Keepers.
Carrie K has, in its eighth year, gone from strength to strength. Besides launching collections in New York, Kan also collaborated with entertainment conglomerate Disney for a collection inspired by the film, Alice Through The Looking Glass (2016). The label also bagged awards for Designer of the Year at the Singapore Fashion Awards and Best Accessory Designer at the styleXstyle Trailblazers Awards. Kan received a special recognition award at the recent Singapore Tourism Awards by the Singapore Tourism Board.
Kan, a former managing director of an advertising agency, launched Carrie K in 2009. She is married to Chiew Huan Chong, 49, who is head of production at Carrie K. They have no children. Home-grown design collective Keepers, which Kan started in 2011, also found a permanent home this year at the National Design Centre. It previously occupied a pop-up space in Orchard Green, at the junction of Cairnhill and Orchard roads, for 16 months until January this year. The shop carries local labels such as chocolatier Demochoco, stationery brand The Paper Bunny and scarf label Binary Style.
The friendly designer, who is also known to advise and mentor younger Singapore designers and creatives looking to start their own business, has not given much thought to her accomplishments this year. “I’ve so many projects going on, you don’t always stop to think about what we have done as a team.” On making it to the Life Power List this year, she says: “I was like, ‘What? Really?’ It is such an honour to be on the list with such amazing luminaries.”
This story first appeared in The Straits Times.
- Alex Chew
- Brian Chua
- Carrie K
- Charles Wong
- Christina Ong
- Darrell Ang
- Dennis Tay Amanda Eng
- Fazal Bahardeen
- Gentle Bones
- Harry Chua
- Kok Heng Leun
- Kuok Meng Ru
- Kwek Leng Beng
- LAMC Productions
- Lauretta Alabons
- Loh Lik Peng
- Michelle Chong
- Mukesh Jethanand Valiram
- Nathan Hartono
- Raj Datwani
- Robert Chua
- Wong Kah Chun