Eye on the Prize
Architect and businessman Ong Tze Boon opens up about duty, commitment, legacy and how he sees the future of design shaping up.
It is 4:30 in the afternoon and Ong Tze Boon is late for our interview by an hour and a half.
When he finally greets us at the reception area of his award-winning design and architecture company Ong&Ong Group, he is all smiles but does not apologise for his tardiness. “Come in!” he exclaims, turning on the charm as he ushers us into his 11th-storey office at the SLF Building in Thomson Road.
Just as we begin, the group executive chairman has a special request. “Can we do (the interview) a little bit more free-flow, because now it’s so... staccato?” he asks smoothly with a smile and a slight American accent.
It’s clear the man is intent on having things go his way. And it works. What follows is nearly four hours of mostly illuminating reflections on his life and career. Ong, who turns 45 this year, is gregarious, sometimes irreverent and always frank. Often peppering his comments with colloquial phrases in Singlish and Mandarin, he talks animatedly about what the future holds for his firm.
He also speaks candidly of growing up as the younger son of one of Singapore’s most popular politicians and its first Elected President, the late Ong Teng Cheong. The near despair when his parents died, both of cancer, three years apart from each other. And taking on the immense responsibility at age 30 of helming Ong&Ong, then solely an architectural firm started by his parents, both trained architects, in 1972.
Today, business is booming for the group. Last year, it pulled in $58 million in revenue, with a profit of $12 million. Since its inception, it has completed more than 1,000 built projects and now has over 900 staff in its 11 offices across the Asia-Pacific, including Vietnam, China, the US and India. Its success is in part due to a “360-degree solutions” design strategy that’s been in place for more than 10 years, says Ong. It offers multi-disciplinary design services that go beyond architecture to include interior design, engineering and project management.
Find the full article in the March issue of The Peak.