Race Wong may be petite in proportions, but you feel her presence immediately as she strides into the room: Purposefully, yet elegant and almost cat-like with her delicate gait. Her long tresses are worn in a dishevelled knot, revealing an elegant neck and dazzling pebble-sized diamond solitaires on her earlobes.
With hardly a trace of make-up, Wong looks youthful in person. But her all-black (her favourite colour) ensemble of shift dress, boucle jacket, necklace, and spindly stilettos conveys that she is a businesswoman in charge. She is soft-spoken, and, boy, is she very sharp. Case in point: When our video crew discusses how best to mask the microphone, she chips in with a few excellent suggestions.
Race Wong, after all, was a singer and actress who made up the noughties Cantopop duo 2R with her elder sister Rosanne. Besides a string of music accolades, she also garnered nominations from the Hong Kong Film Awards and the Golden Horse Awards, a rare feat for Singaporean artistes.
These days, the new wife and mother is better known as an entrepreneur. With younger sister Rhonda, she co-founded Anthill Corporation, which comprises Anthill Realtors (an investor-focused property agency), Anthill Global (development projects in Melbourne), and Ohmyhome (a mobile app and online portal that connects home owners and facilitate transactions).
One can be forgiven to assume that, with her entertainment pedigree, Wong will be guarded. Far from it. The 35-year-young mother of nine-month-old Cara banters easily, offers her views quickly, and shares openly about setting up her companies and coping as a mummypreneur.
Her entertainment career
Her entertainment career lasted from 2002 to 2009; she chose to retire while on a high, unlike most who change jobs only at the fag end of their careers. But Race Wong was different — she wanted to do things on her own terms. This was all the more admirable, considering it was just before the advent of social media. Suddenly, everyone could be a “star”.
“At 25 years old, just before I decided to retire, I realised there were very few actresses who could sustain their careers as they aged. I wanted a long-lasting career that I could do well into my fifties,” she confides.
Working in the Hong Kong entertainment scene allowed her to learn a lot about life, Wong adds, and helped her mature in terms of her expectations. After having seen and tasted life as an artiste, her life goals had evolved. It was time to do something different.
“I consider myself very lucky. In my teens, my goal was to have an album. Then I landed several high-profile commercials with Aaron Kwok and Stephen Chow. After that, the film roles kept coming in. But it wasn’t what I wanted to still be doing in my forties,” she adds.
“The Hong Kong press can be brutal, and the media scrutiny and constant need for affirmation is unhealthy. As a celebrity, the focus becomes very inward. I want to do something that would benefit more people.”
Race Wong, who is the middle of three daughters, moved from Malaysia to Singapore when she was five years old (she became Singaporean in 2006). She is close to her siblings. Elder sister Rosanne is married and continues to live in Hong Kong. Her relationship with younger sister Rhonda has deepened now that they work together and see each other more often.
She spent 11 years in Singapore before pursuing further studies in Australia. Her father, who invested in real estate, owned several retail units along Orchard Road. Every Sunday, she helped out at his shops.
“My dad made us work for our pocket money. He is fierce, but he is also fair. Though my parents objected to my becoming an entertainer, they didn’t stop me either. My dad said he didn’t want me to blame him for not allowing me to pursue my dreams. So he laid down several conditions — finish my studies in Australia, and no sexy, nude and kissing scenes! Yes, that meant I had to pass on some juicy roles,” Wong reminisces with a laugh.
Life after entertainment world
After breaking away from the world of entertainment, she returned to the starting point and furthered her education. In 2013, she completed a Master of Business Administration degree (with a major in Marketing) at the University of Newcastle in Australia. She juggled her studies with preparations for her Piano Grade 6 exams. According to Race Wong, the certificate was something she needed to achieve, so she could feel better about herself. While studying, she embarked on an unexpected career move into finance with the role of marketing manager in Maybank Kim Eng Securities (Hong Kong). She was also licensed with the Securities and Futures Commission Hong Kong to conduct equities trading.
At Maybank Kim Eng, Race Wong assisted in the integration of the company’s online and offline trading experience, such as the opening of Kim Eng Hong Kong’s first retail store, launch of its online trading platform, and IPO road shows. All this inspired her to conceptualise Ohmyhome in early 2015.
“I like to read books about different industries. One day I came across Bold: How to Go Big, Create Wealth and Impact the World, written by Peter H Diamandis and Steven Kotler. It’s about new technologies in the world. As I read it, I began to feel as if I was living in the Stone Age — things are moving rapidly in our world. I thought I needed to propel our bricks-and-mortar real estate business into a tech firm. That’s how Ohmyhome came about. The app targets the HDB market; about 82 percent of Singaporeans live in HDB homes hence the largest sector of our housing market,” she says.
“The initial idea was to create an investor platform but as the project went along, I realised we needed to serve the people who really required the help. It is the mass market sector in our country that needs the most transparent information. I am constantly with the wealthy, who are surrounded by agents who can advise them. On the other hand, those who live in HDB don’t transact often. So they will be in need of more information, guaranteed service and better rates.”
Upfront costs for a HDB property can take a couple with a young child many years to save, Race Wong points out. She calls this “appalling”, and she wants to help. That’s why she also considers this app a social enterprise. “Our business model benefits them. We help them save money and expedite transactions. We have actually done a few pro bono cases.”
Through consumer feedback and chats, app functions are tweaked and updated accordingly. “At this point, the goal is to raise funds and expand the app the other countries. Our vision is for people who use this app to post, search and buy what they can. In time to come, as regulations get tweaked, I hope contracts can be signed and payments transacted online,” she explains.
As COO, she manages Ohmyhome’s day-to-day activities, including its business operations, marketing, customer relations, tech and design teams. She also ensures that the DIY portal and its complementary agent service operate smoothly. At the parent company Anthill Corporation, she oversees marketing and communications as well as works with corporate clients on commercial investments.
Wong says she works fast and constantly seeks to improve. These are also traits she expects from her staff. Unlike freelancers, her agents are in the office when they have no appointments. There’s also a stringent process that guides these agents on when to contact clients and how regularly to update them.
While tech is a crucial element in most of her businesses, Race Wong admits she isn’t that digitally savvy but is constantly learning. Having taken the opportunity to ask her about investing in Bitcoin, she replies: “I didn’t study Bitcoin. From my experience as a stockbroker, I don’t just invest; I need to know. It’s crazy, what with the wild fluctuations now. That said, those who have invested in Bitcoin must have made a lot of money! It can be a good thing, but it has also been used for not-so-good things. So for now, I won’t invest in it.”
Life outside work
With such a busy workload, how does she make time for baby Cara? “Time is the most precious commodity for me so I don’t like spending too much time on dressing up. Before going to work, I bring her to my mum’s, which is very close to my office. Then I pop back in again for lunch, return to work, and pick her up on the way home,” Wong says.
Staying fit is also among her priorities — even after giving birth, Race Wong has stayed reed-skinny. “Even my ex-colleagues in the entertainment industry bugged me about my slimming ‘secret’. I do yoga but only once a week. It’s a very-intense, one-hour ‘hardcore’ session with Maria Lourdes Chan, who trained Japanese superstar Ayumi Hamasaki, with focus on the core. I supplement it with yoga stretches.”
Race Wong’s husband, David Loh, who goes to the gym three days a week, found the class with Maria tough. The couple met while she was working at Maybank Kim Eng and married in 2016. He is also in the business of real estate but concentrates on asset management (“Mine’s more intermediary and transactional,” she offers).
Besides yoga, she is conscientious about eating well. She drinks only water and steers clear of alcohol, even though her hubby appreciates wine. In any case, this multifaceted multitasker has no need for any stimulant; her adrenaline is on a constant high from her to-do lists, which is true of her astrological sign, Virgo. Those born under this sign are known to be picky and critical, but such attention to detail stems from their desire to help others.
“I read a book about how Virgos need to find a new mountain to scale once they completed one. The good thing is, I am very brave,” says Wong. “If someone else can do it, I can do it too. So when I want to do something, I just do it.”