Investing in care and compassion

Tan Chin Hwee with wife Michelle and daughter Kylie, who inspired the "Premmies Fund"

The premature birth of his daughter changed the focus and mindset of savvy finance professional Tan Chin Hwee CPA.

When Tan Chin Hwee’s eldest daughter Kylie was born at just 27 weeks and weighing 800 grams, she was so fragile she struggled to cry.

Watching their tiny daughter battle to survive was a life-changing experience for the CPA, a then high-flying finance professional in Singapore, and his wife Michelle.

As the founding partner of the Asian arm of US$162 billion hedge fund Apollo Global Management, Tan had spent more than a decade immersed in his work and the constant demands of the investment world. Now he was faced with a challenge of a very different kind.

"Kylie’s birth has taught us what life is really about."

“It was a worrisome time, as we would go to visit our daughter who was fighting for her life,” says Tan, now the Asia-Pacific chief executive of commodities giant Trafigura Group.

“On the other hand, it was a timely reminder that, as the financial markets collapsed around us during the global financial crisis, life is larger. Kylie’s birth has taught us what life is really about.”

Despite the danger their daughter was in, the Tans were lucky in one respect – money wasn’t a concern. But they saw other families – left with huge hospital bills they could not pay – who were not so lucky.

After a career of investing funds for clients, the father of three began investing in a new asset class: the next generation. In 2009, the Tans set up the “Premmies Fund” for the KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital, which is home to the largest neonatal intensive care unit in Singapore.

Every year, up to 30 of the families who have premature babies at the hospital struggle to pay the S$15,000-plus cost of keeping their vulnerable children in specialist care for many months. The Premmies Fund helps to cover in-hospital expenses, as well as the cost of special formula milk, breast pumps for mothers and a host of equipment and ancillary needs.

Tan’s social conscience evolved from his own modest upbringing. His father was a self-taught journalist and scriptwriter, who worked several jobs to support his family and placed a high value on his three children’s education. His mother left her job in a bookshop to raise her family and encouraged her children to follow their passions. 

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Tan excelled academically and won three scholarships to support his undergraduate accounting degree in Singapore and, later, his MBA from Yale University. 

He has authored a bestselling book, Asian Financial Statement Analysis: Detecting Financial Irregularities, and has won numerous accolades. These include being named as a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader in 2010; selected by Hedge Fund Journal as one of the top 40 emerging absolute-return investors globally; and singled out as the Best Asia Credit Hedge Fund Manager by Hong Kong-based publication The Asset.

In recent years, the keen triathlete and marathon runner has devoted a portion of his time to teaching and mentoring young professionals and doing pro bono advisory work for regulators to help level the private-public playing field. He also sits on a number of panels and boards. 

Today, eight-year-old Kylie Tan is a picture of health, and last year she was invited to sing at the launch of a fundraising book for the hospital that helped her survive her precarious start to life. 

“She is a lively and kind young lady, who is tasked in her class to look after special needs kids,” says her proud father. 

“Somehow her near-death experience may have made Kylie a more kind-hearted girl. We thank God for Kylie, who boomeranged to life. We named her Kylie as it means ‘boomerang’ in an Aboriginal language.”

Health leader

Founded in 1858 in Singapore, the KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital specialises in high-risk conditions in women and children. The 830-bed facility has 600 specialists and is a regional leader in obstetrics, gynaecology, paediatrics and neonatology.

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September 2016
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