By SGN | 8 Nov 2022
2020 was probably not the best time for relocating, yet that was the year when Alice uprooted her family and moved from Hong Kong to Singapore.
Arriving in the middle of the pandemic meant having to serve a 14-day quarantine and – due to stringent COVID measures – not having as many opportunities to explore the city or connect with the wider community. But as restrictions were gradually lifted, Alice started to enjoy her new life in Singapore.
“I love the greenery here. I go to the Botanic Gardens and walk 45 minutes every single day,” she says. “I used to experience mild chronic health issues. Since coming to Singapore, my health has improved tremendously.”
While Singapore and Hong Kong are both bustling business hubs, the cities are vastly different in many respects. Alice says it helps that her parents were originally from Surabaya, Indonesia. “I speak fluent Hokkien, and a bit of Bahasa, so I find Singapore very culturally familiar.”
Comparing her current lifestyle to what she’s used to in Hong Kong, she adds, “The pace of life is a bit slower, but honestly speaking – what’s the rush?”
Easing into their new lives
The decision to relocate was not made lightly. Alice says one key criterion for her new home city was the availability of quality healthcare, an aspect of Singapore that she is very impressed by.
Another important consideration was the education of her two children. She likes that the local school they’ve attended, Anglo-Chinese School (International), offers a blend of Western and Eastern education.
“Above all,” she says, “I think effective governance is very important in today’s world, when there is so much conflict and volatility. I appreciate the stability that Singapore has offered to me and my family. We feel safe here.”
In Singapore, Alice’s children love the convenience of swimming in their apartment complex, the freedom to go to malls or to the movies – even at night – and the opportunity to make a cosmopolitan array of new friends. “My son also loves the drive-through at McDonald’s, because we don’t have that in Hong Kong,” she adds with a chuckle.
The kindness of Singaporeans
Knowing that Singapore’s value system is very similar to her own has helped Alice settle comfortably into her new environment. “Singaporeans value honesty, trustworthiness, and treasure family very much,” she says. “The culture is very practical and down to earth. These are characteristics that can take people much further than they think.”
When she arrived mid-pandemic, Alice was struck by how civic-minded the general public was. “It was really a challenging period, but I witnessed how Singapore residents rallied together to make the city work. I can’t imagine any place else that would be so cooperative. I was truly impressed. Now, when I cross the road, my kids are telling me, ‘Mum, you have to wait for the green light!’”
After moving into their new home, Alice was surprised by the warmth of her neighbours. “They have been so friendly to me. When they buy fish balls from Whampoa market, they’ll give a bag of twenty to me. When they go to buy croissants, they’ll give me four.”
She was also deeply moved one night when she took her daughter – who had developed appendicitis – to a pediatric gastroenterologist at the private hospital Mount Elizabeth.
“Because I was dressed really informally, and I was a new immigrant with no insurance,” Alice recalls, “she said she wouldn’t charge me and insisted on referring my daughter to a public hospital for surgery. That kindness really touched my heart. It made me decide that I wanted to become a Singaporean.”
A vibrant business community
Professionally, Alice keeps busy with several global roles. She is Founder and CEO of Universal (Hong Kong) Technologies, a distributor specialising in testing and analytical instruments; Owner of CFR Engines Group, a global manufacturer of fuel testing machinery; and Founder of Paeonia Ventures, the investment arm of her family office in Singapore, set up in 2021.
“My business interests span the globe, and Singapore is a well-established international hub for me to manage them,” Alice remarks. Her new base of operations has also allowed her to enter the South and Southeast Asia markets and invest in major venture funds like General Atlantic, India Quotient, Alpha JWC Ventures and AC Ventures. More importantly, she has become actively involved in Singapore’s tech ecosystem, investing in local funds and companies such as Insignia Venture Partners, ION Mobility, Bifrost, and EndoPil.
“There is also good talent here,” Alice adds, “and I’m proud to share that all members of Paeonia Ventures are Singaporean.”
The family office has served as a wellspring of philanthropy, including donations to the NUS Medicine International Council (NIC) and KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital. At the height of COVID, Alice sponsored 100,000 masks, and earlier this year, she invited Nobel laureate Didier Queloz – a recipient of her philanthropy – to the Nanyang Technological University for a public lecture.
An alumna of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, Alice now serves as the Chair of Wharton’s Executive Board for Asia. In this role, she helps grow the school’s community across the region, conducting fireside chats and guest lectures in executive education. “I also support visiting Wharton faculty by offering my views on Asia and lending them my networks,” she says.
She is excited to serve as the Honorary Co-Chair of the upcoming Wharton Global Forum, along with RGE Founder and Chairman Sukanto Tanoto. Held in March 2023 in Singapore, the event will feature prominent leaders – such as Singapore’s Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong and former United States ambassador Jon Huntsman Jr – discussing the biggest issues confronting the business world today.
Singapore, a crossroads of the world
Business opportunities aside, Singapore has been a great place for Alice to connect and reconnect with industry friends.
“Singapore is absolutely a crossroads of Asia, and now of the world, because of lockdowns in other cities,” she notes. “I’m always meeting people from all over and I’ve reconnected with so many Wharton alumni.”
When asked for her advice to others relocating to Singapore, Alice paints two scenarios.
“If you’re on short-term employment and here for a couple of years, enjoy the best of Singapore – the people, the food, the culture,” she says, encouraging such residents to also explore the region, since many destinations are just a short flight away.
“If you’re like me,” she continues, “someone who wishes to become a Singaporean and live here for the rest of your life, get involved with the local community and look for ways to give back. Connect with locals to gain a holistic appreciation of the country. A lot of people only like the passport, but there’s so much more to explore and love about Singapore.”
Interested to work in Singapore or start a business here?
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Based in Singapore since 2020, Alice is Founder and CEO of Universal (Hong Kong) Technology, Owner of CFR Group of Companies, Founder of Paeonia Ventures, and Chair of Wharton’s Executive Board for Asia.
Connect with her at email@example.com.