Far East Organization’s Philip Ng on learning to be a servant CEO

In celebration of our 54th National Day, Salt&Light brings you interviews with leaders who put Singapore on the map, not only as captains of industry, but as pillars of faith.

Courier Online // August 6, 2019, 4:13 pm


Far East Organization CEO Philip Ng (centre), at an Alpha Singapore meeting at the Changi Business Park in July 2019. Photo courtesy of Alpha Singapore.

Mr Philip Ng, the Chief Executive Officer of Far East Organization, shares his thoughts on material wealth, anxieties and God’s grace:

Some may know me as a property developer, but I am really a servant of the most high God whom I know through my Lord Jesus Christ.

“Believe so that you may understand and not understand so that you may believe.”

Property development is, for me, just a way of making a living.

Before I came to faith, I had always wanted to know God, perhaps in an intellectual way. I did not realise that knowing God involved a relationship. So I searched, as there was always something missing in me.

When I went for the Alpha Course in 2000, I got to know Jesus.

Coming to faith was a struggle until one of my friends in the Alpha Course told me: “Believe so that you may understand and not understand so that you may believe.”

I dwelled on that and I believed. Then I knew that life only had meaning in God and through God.

Where are your treasures?

Fourteen years into my journey of transformation, I have learned much from Jesus. Let me make reference to this wonderful truth in Matthew 6:20–24:

But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also … No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.

These are stirring words.

I am in business and business is about money. But money and possessions can possess us.

How then do I serve God as a business person? The way to do this is to realise that I am a steward; money has been entrusted by the Lord to me to be managed responsibly.

At the end of the day, we take nothing with us.

“As believers, and being part of this kingdom, we must trade in the currency of love.”

I saw this when my father passed away. He had built up the family business, literally with his bare hands. When it came to the end of his life, he left everything behind.

As the Chinese saying goes: “You cannot take it with you, your coffin will be empty.”

As a steward, I do not, therefore, have to contend with building treasures on earth, where moth and rust do destroy.

If you have much, you will worry because you do not know what can happen; markets can go awry, property and stocks and share prices can change suddenly.

So you see the wisdom of Jesus telling us to store our treasures in heaven.

As a businessman, one of the things I guard against is covetousness.

A friend once remarked to me that, in this world, we trade in the currency of Mammon – of money – which is a pagan god.

But, as believers, knowing that the kingdom of God has come, and being part of this kingdom, we must trade in the currency of love.

How do we make that conversion from the currency of money to that of love? Jesus will teach us how.

Do anxieties mark your life?

In Matthew 6:25–34, Jesus addresses our anxieties and cares of life:

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?

Is that not the truth?
And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labour or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendour was dressed like one of these … Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (Matthew 6:28–34)

Jesus’ words are very comforting to me because I do worry.

“The world and its problems can be explained when you read the Bible.”

The last time I looked, I think my business is quite secure. But who can tell? And all businesses have debt. I do not have personal debt, but I have corporate debts. While I think our companies are safe, I have my share of worries.

When I went through the Alpha Course and read the Bible, I found that, personally, the most stirring, piercing statement that Jesus made is in John 14:6: “I am the way and the truth and the life.”

This life is not just about the after-life, but our earthly one.

When we come to see Jesus and accept Him as our Lord and Saviour, our life begins anew. We have a new life and we are renewed as people.

 It is, for me, also a journey of transformation.

As I look to the Lord to be the way, the truth and the life, I know that the world is full of deception.

The world and its problems can be explained when you read the Bible.

They cannot be explained by philosophy, by the prattling of the minds of men or by economics.

Economics, for instance, does not tell you about super-greed and evil, which is why there is such exploitation in the world.

Experiencing the grace of God

My life has changed because of the Lord.

I do morning devotions, I pray because there is much I do not understand.

I pray for discernment, for guidance. God makes sense of all situations. He made sense of what I went through with my father just before he passed away.

My father was not a pagan worshipper but he did not have time for God; he was too busy running his business. He did not object when he knew that I had come to Christ. In fact, he always talked to me about meeting his Maker one day.

“I pray for discernment, for guidance. God makes sense of all situations.”

But God had a lot of time for my father in the last days of his life during his hospitalisation after a fall at home.

A pastor came to the hospital practically every day with my aunt, and spoke to him in his native dialect Heng Hwa, reading to him Psalm 23.

The doctors had told the family that my father, who was in a coma, was brain dead. They said that he was not going to come out of the coma.

But they were wrong.

On the eighth day in the hospital, a Catholic priest came and spoke to him about Jesus. The priest asked: “Do you believe that Jesus is your Saviour?” And he turned his head twice.

He was not brain dead!

Later the doctors acknowledged that he could have turned his head only if he was not brain dead, and they changed the diagnosis.

On the ninth and tenth days, his vital signs improved and he was able to breathe spontaneously.

God gave my father an eleventh-hour opportunity to affirm Jesus Christ. Ten days compressed, the hospital became a church, and the church was with my father.

My brother, Robert, was baptised in the hospital on the tenth day because he realised that something had happened; it was the grace of God.

For 60 years my mother was a devotee of another religion. But when my father was hospitalised, she stopped. She welcomed the prayers from the clergy and from the Christian community that was in the hospital.

How do you make sense of this? Only God can. My mother is now baptised and worships at a Methodist church.

“When we do business, we want to do good business and to do good in business.”

I have aspirations, like everybody else, to serve the Lord and to share His Gospel. I count myself so blessed to have this journey of transformation.

I know this transformation must always start with oneself. The self must die with the Lord, and be resurrected anew. It now behoves me to be a light for my family and my organisation.

I tell my people in the organisation that, when we do business, we want to do good business and to do good in business. That is my call to them.

But we welcome and certainly include those from other faiths. We hope that our message of love can truly find a place in their hearts.

What is the difference between the time that I did not know Christ and now?

Situations are the same, in a sense; there continues to be turmoil in the world. We continue to be faced with problems and are vulnerable to temptations.

What has changed is that there is one certainty: My certainty of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.

“Singaporeans need to learn to live with mess!”: 2017 Singaporean of the Year Dr Goh Wei Leong

This article was first published by the Courier Online, and is republished with permission.

About the author

Courier Online

Courier Online is an online magazine published by the Diocese of Singapore.