The culture of giving is not strange, or new, at ERA Singapore, one of the country’s largest real estate agencies. Its staff — including the more than 6,200 agents currently employed — have for many years now, raised funds for Community Chest and also the Singapore Association for the Deaf. So it came as no big surprise when in 2017 — to commemorate the ERA Singapore’s 35th anniversary — the company’s management decided to make a corporate gift of S$150,000 to the National University of Singapore (NUS) towards setting up the ERA Student Foundation Bursary.
For NUS alumnus and ERA Singapore Chief Executive Mr Jack Chua, the contribution was a no-brainer. “At ERA, we truly believe in education and training,” says the 58-year-old. “We want to encourage and support more students to embark on a tertiary education, and help especially those without the financial means, who might otherwise have to cut short their educational journey.”
The father of two — a daughter, 19 and a son, 18 — can personally relate to the scenario he just painted. Having come from a humble family who experienced their fair share of hard knocks, Mr Chua lets in that he might not have been able to afford his university education had he not scored a scholarship given by the Public Works Department (PWD) — a department formerly under the Ministry of National Development. “I was really lucky to have received that scholarship. That’s the main reason I studied very hard I think,” he quips.
A STURDY FOUNDATION
And studied he did as an NUS student — even forgoing sleep to cram for his very last examination paper during his fourth and final year, recalls Mr Chua, who holds an Honours Degree in Building and a Master’s Degree in Project Management. Mr Chua’s education at NUS, by his own admission, had been instrumental to his career success. “The knowledge I acquired in school was especially important in the kind of specialised job I took up when I entered the workforce,” he says. “The learning process provided me with the foundation I needed, and trained me in my analytical and research skills.”
Bonded for six years to PWD upon graduation, Mr Chua counted quantity survey and building maintenance for all the government buildings in Singapore as some of his main tasks at the department, before he joined ERA Singapore in 1990. Then, the company was small to say the least, with just 30 agents under its belt. Suffice to say, Mr Chua has seen the organisation grow exponentially to what it is today. “Once we reached a certain level of stable profitability, I knew it was time that we, as a whole company, give back to the society,” says Mr Chua.
The spirit of corporate social responsibility runs high at ERA Singapore. Every year, on top of their contributions to the Community Chest and the Singapore Association for the Deaf, staff and agents are also encouraged to donate to the Canossaville Children and Community Services. The non-profit organisation houses girls from at-risk families, and provides student care to children who are hearing-impaired or suffer from dyslexia. The company’s management matches a dollar for every dollar raised by its staff, thus boosting the combined donation towards ERA’s various beneficiaries. Staff are also encouraged to offer their time and partake in activities organised for beneficiaries such as house visits, flag days and festival celebrations.
IN GOOD COMPANY
Mr Chua is still very much in touch with several of his course mates, many of whom, like him, are in project and facilities management. “The school is small — there weren’t many of us so we were quite united then and our paths still cross these days because we are in similar industries,” he lets in. One exception was Dr Amy Khor, who went on to become Singapore’s Senior Minister of State in the Ministry of Health and Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources.
Their friendship, which started at NUS, has culminated in a meaningful partnership. ERA Singapore, by Dr Khor’s request, is also a regular corporate sponsor for needy residents living in Hong Kah constituency where Dr Khor serves as Member of Parliament. “She asked, and I said yes, because why not?” says Mr Chua, with a chuckle. As a corporate sponsor, ERA staff would, for example, sponsor and give out goodie bags filled with festive treats and distribute ang paos (red packets) during Chinese New Year to low-income or vulnerable residents.
Such deep ties and the invaluable knowledge he gained at NUS made Mr Chua want to give back to his alma mater. To him, the contribution to NUS made “perfect sense”. “Hopefully, the recipients of the bursary would be moved to pay it forward as well when they are in a position to do so later on in their lives,” says Mr Chua. To current students, his advice is simple: study hard. “There is no limit to acquiring knowledge, so don’t feel constrained by a particular scope,” he urges. And to fresh graduates making their foray into the working world, Mr Chua offers these words of wisdom: “Be ambitious, but not overly ambitious. Takes incremental steps to get to where you want to be — nothing happens miraculously.”
This story was first published on TheAlumNUS.