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Datuk Dr Kelvin Tan: Man of the hour

For Datuk Dr Kelvin Tan, life is meaningless if one does not know how to love oneself.

THE watch that graces the wrist of TSH Resources chairman Datuk Dr Kelvin Tan is set in a platinum case. It is a unique piece by Ulysse Nardin called the Freak, possibly so because of its radical movement. It has neither hands, dial nor crown. To wind, the case is turned counter clockwise.

It is a fascinating piece to behold for all its parts can be seen moving in total transparency. Considering how minute the mechanism has to be, it is amazing to know that to stabilise the main spring, there is a ball bearing containing exactly 196 balls. It acts to minimise friction and provides enough power to last the watch seven days.

Available in a limited edition of 99 pieces, the Freak is perhaps a reflection of Tan’s personality – unique, self-made and full of amazing ideas.

It is the mark of a man who made the bold move to uproot to Tawau, Sabah, in 1986 to start a business in cocoa trading before venturing into palm oil. It speaks of someone who went into business and had to set up everything from scratch. It tells of an individual’s refusal to stick to convention, who researched the process of tissue culture, resulting in substantially higher oil yields in his company’s plantations.

A native of Bagan Datoh, Perak, and the fourth of seven siblings, Tan’s first watch was a self-funded RM300 Citizen Quartz, bought during his teen years. A self-made individual from the very start, Tan made his money by running errands for relatives who always had something for him to fetch, carry or send.

Earnings then were lucrative by Bagan Datoh standards as Tan recalled making as much as RM50 to RM60 per month as the family “despatch boy” — which explains how the schooling teen could also afford himself a 70cc Honda Cub before he bought the Citizen.

“My life philosophy is this: it is not about price, as long as I like something and if I can afford it, I will buy it,” says Tan.

In Tan’s books, there is nothing like the acquisition of beautiful things or engaging in fun activities as a form of motivation and reward.

“Life is otherwise meaningless if one does not know how to please or love oneself,” he affirms.

For this purpose, it is important to know what is nearest to the heart’s desire.

First in Tan’s list is his affection for his mother.

“You know, it can get very depressing when one experiences many setbacks and challenges in business. I’d call my mother on the phone and she’d comfort me. She never spoke about strategies. Her advice was simple: ‘Don’t be afraid, don’t forget to pray, never lose your self-esteem or sense of discipline and do unto others what you want others to do unto you’. Every time I called, she would repeat these same words,” recalls Tan.

Naturally, both have a close relationship and enjoy nothing more than going for holidays together. To date, mother and son have pinned almost every country on the world map except that of the North American region, as the distance is too daunting for her.

Nowadays, the gift of health is the one Tan cherishes the most.

“Eight years ago, I ate what I liked and did little exercise. My blood pressure went up … I didn’t know how to destress, was easily agitated and generally not a very happy person,” he recalls.

Life changed when he decided to embrace wellness. He practises yoga and chi kung religiously. Diet-wise, he has not given in to cholesterol-laden temptations like Hokkien noodles and has eschewed meat dishes for the past eight years.

Now in his 50s, Tan sports a six-pack. Tests have revealed that biologically he is in his 30s, and life has certainly taken a more positive outlook.

“Today, my view of life is very different from eight years ago. I have learned to have fun, to experience excitement, to rediscover its fascinating aspects,” says Tan who has since flown in a hot air balloon, loves surfing, skiing and has been presented with an honorary doctorate for his contribution to the field of agro-forestry by University Malaysia Sabah.

One way Tan has chosen to express his new-found self is through fashion, like making a pinstripe suit look cool by pairing it with skinny cut trousers. Then there is his watch collection, namely the Freak and the Carrousel-Tourbillon design.

And being the filial son, Tan has not forgotten his mother. On her wrist is her son’s gift of the Ulysse Nardin Caprice. Upon its dial, set with diamonds is the image of a tiger, in tribute of her unconditional devotion.