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Evicted And Struggling, Datuk Seri Khor Teng Tong, Founder Of Hunza Properties Recalls How Poverty Shaped His Perspective on Success

Hunza Properties is a prominent real estate business in Penang. Since 1998, they have developed numerous properties such as Gurney Paragon Mall, which won the award for Best Retail Development in Malaysia 2018-2019, Greenlane Heights and the upcoming Penang International Commercial City (PICC) on a 43-acre land, to be completed by 2026.

Although successful, many don’t actually know the man behind Hunza Properties and how it was established. Dato Seri Khor Teng Tong is now 80 years old and he has an inspiring story to tell. 

Starting From Nothing

It’s probably hard to imagine that a successful tycoon like Khor lived an impoverished life growing up. So poor that his family was forced by landowners to vacate their home, despite knowing their state of poverty. 

Photo for illustration purposes only. Source: winfredk

Two times, I remember the landowners chasing us out, in the kampung, then the fishing village. I was about eight or nine. In my mind and heart, I was thinking, we are so poor and they’re still chasing us. My mother died when I was five and my father sacrificed a lot for us. – Datuk Seri Khor Teng Tong, Founder of Hunza Properties[1]

Khor was raised by a single father. He was a fisherman, whose parental sacrifice knew no end. But looking after 11 children without any help and getting by with only enough to feed everyone on a day-to-day basis, was a burden too much to carry for a long time.  

Considering himself fortunate, Khor received formal education until Standard Six. Determined to lift his family out of poverty, Khor wasted no time and threw himself into work. 

When I was 13, I read a book by Sun Yat Sen where he said, ‘China is so poor. How do I find a way to turn the country around so the people can have a better life?’ I kept that in my mind and the most important thing for me was how to turn my family around. –  Datuk Seri Khor Teng Tong, Founder of Hunza Properties[1]

Commercial Journey Of 60 Years

After selling marine products in local towns, Khor started Syarikat Soon Seng Fisheries when he was 16. Soon after, he started to export frozen seafood and opened Soon Seng Frozen Foods Sdn Bhd, providing 3,000 job opportunities in Perak[2]. 

Assuming that he was a learned businessman, on the contrary, Khor ventured into every business clueless and without prior business knowledge. 

I knew nothing.  I didn’t know about foreign exchange. English also I could not speak.  – Datuk Seri Khor Teng Tong, Founder of Hunza Properties[1]

Source: Options

Determined to succeed, he was committed to learning about food processing, freezers, marketing, shipping materials – everything there was to know about running a food export business. Every night after work in Perak, Khor would drive to Penang island to visit suppliers, in hopes to close a sales deal[2].

I was young and daring. I could do things fast and would drive my car to every corner to find whatever I needed. – Datuk Seri Khor Teng Tong, Founder of Hunza Properties[1]

His perseverance paid off, as these companies conducted their businesses both locally and internationally. 

When Khor made the official move to Penang in 1979 for the sake of his children’s education, he longed to work closer to home. This was when his interest in property development piqued. The then 36-year-old family man had to learn from the ground up. Although he faced a rough start, the entrepreneurial spirit in him never gave up[2].  

Source: Options

To be honest, we did not build good houses for people when we started. We faced lots of difficulties. It was only after we came to Penang island in the 1980s and knew more about the business that we began building quality houses. – Datuk Seri Khor Teng Tong, Founder of Hunza Properties[1]

Giving Back To Those In Need

Over the decades, Khor has built a legacy with Hunza Properties. To date, Khor has built over 10,000 units of houses, shophouses, condominiums, medium-cost apartments, and low-cost flats in his career as a property developer. He has also bagged an award at the World Chinese Economic Summit 2017, honouring those who have contributed significantly in their respective work sectors. Collectively, Hunza Properties received numerous awards over the years, which is a testament to its success. 

Source: The Star

Through the years of development, he’s never turned a blind eye to the poor communities. 

I thought back to when I was poor — it was exactly the same – Datuk Seri  Khor Teng Tong, Founder of Hunza Properties[1]

For the 500 families who had to relocate due to the PICC project, they received a free unit each, along with discounts if a second unit was needed.

We gave them one free unit for every house. If a large family wanted a second unit, we offered them discounts. –  Datuk Seri Khor Teng Tong, Founder of Hunza Properties[1]

 Now retired and proud of what he’s built, Khor remains the group executive adviser.

Being able to do something to help makes me feel happy – Datuk Seri Khor Teng Tong, Founder of Hunza Properties[1]

After decades of hard work and building a life for his family, he’s making up for lost time and makes it a point to chat over meals with his grandchildren. Khor is living proof that it’s possible to break the cycle of poverty and that personal success can also benefit those who are less privileged.

Explore Our Sources

  1. Options. (2021). Hunza Properties’ Datuk Seri Khor Teng Tong lifts  family out of poverty by transitioning from selling seafood to developing property. Link.
  2. The Star. (2018). Recognised achievement. Link.

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