Continuous learning pays off for La Putri CEO

Goh Shuet Li says it allowed her to switch from law to helming couture jeweller

Former lawyer Goh Shuet Li believes in continuous learning, which is a useful skill given how she has successfully switched from one career to another.

Ms Goh, now chief executive of couture jeweller La Putri, told The Sunday Times: "I have been able to do this only because I opened myself to learn and keep learning.

"And it is not just about the subject matter, but about people and working with people. I don't believe there is ever one successful person alone. That person can be successful only if he or she has a good team behind him or her."

La Putri was founded in 1973 by Ms Goh's mother, Madam Wan Ming Chin, who died in 2000.

Ms Goh, 55, says the jewellery business is not a walk in the park as the product cycle can be short and sharp. She also noted that jewellery is the last thing people buy at the top of an economic cycle.

"That's usually when they have profits in hand and the feel-good factor is at a peak; and the first thing they pull back from when times are bad. Hence profits have to be squirrelled away to help the business though the trough periods."

And quality precious gems and metals do not come cheap.

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    Q What has been your biggest investing mistake?

    A Stock punts based on rumours. Profits and losses were easy come, easy go. So, even though I incurred losses, it was easy to jump right back in as it often flipped over and became a profit again. Lesson learnt - it's a zero-sum game, if you are lucky. I should have saved all those profits that I had made.

    Q And your best investment?

    A My home. We were lucky to have had that opportunity to buy when we did, in the 1990s. It wasn't because I was smarter than anyone else. It was based on my needs at that time - just married, looking to start a family and so on. And we were lucky that the cycle was in our favour.

    I bought my 3,500 sq ft apartment in the Tanglin area in 1995 and it has appreciated.

    Lorna Tan

La Putri was one of the first contemporary jewellers of its kind in South-east Asia, and the scant competition allowed the company to build itself into a profitable and highly sought-after jeweller in a short period.

La Putri has two boutiques, in Kuala Lumpur and Singapore, and a total staff strength of 12.

Ms Goh graduated with a law degree with honours from King's College London in 1984 and worked as an advocate and solicitor until 1988.

She then spent 13 years working in the stock market, initially as an analyst before becoming an assistant director in institutional equity sales. Another change came in 2000 when she became La Putri's CEO.

Ms Goh is married to Mr Huang Yuan Chiang, 60, who is self-employed in the food and beverage sector. They have a 22-year-old daughterand two sons, who are 19 and 17.

Q What's the next stage of growth for your business?

A The retail sector is having a pretty rough tsunami right now. Digital disruption, shift in consumer trends and, specific to the fine-jewellery sector, a diminishing supply of quality precious gems.

To meet these challenges, we have been and will continue our work in digital marketing and communications. We have plans to bring in new technology to La Putri's bespoke design and customer-service capabilities.

We have a wish list of ideas, and I am in discussions with various service providers to see if they can make our wishes come true.

Q What's in your portfolio?

A Prior to La Putri, I was in institutional equity sales (stockbroking) for 13 years. It's no surprise, therefore, that with the exception of the home I live in and my business La Putri, practically all of my investments are equity-related. The portfolio ranges from Singapore blue chips, which have been rather unexciting but steady, to the volatile tech stocks, both US and China.

As I still have family responsibilities, it is important to have that balance between steady but growing returns and returns that are more dynamic.

Q What are your immediate investment plans?

A I don't intend to change anything too much in the immediate future. I see the positive technology trends as still intact. Though the easy money may be done.

Q How did you get interested in investing?

A From as early as I can remember, at the end of each day, my father would listen to the radio for an update on prices of shares listed on the Malaysian stock exchange. My siblings and I would help him to record the daily closing prices in his little booklet.

So stock investing has always been there. My father has also always been into properties and buying tracts of land, but unfortunately I have not participated in this much. In Singapore it just involves too much capital.

Q Describe your investing strategy.

A Erratic! As I don't actually have much time now to read up on stock reports and so on, I either go for very steady plays based on more macro trends, so I would go for long-term trends, or take a quick gamble on a very short-term idea.

With the longer-term ideas, I don't have to think too much and concern myself with monitoring the progress. With the short-term punts, they are just that - punts! Not necessarily a good idea, though.

Q What else is in your financial plan?

A After the shock of a good friend of mine passing away very suddenly, I finally got down to getting my will done. There was a sense of relief once I'd done it. I should have done it earlier and saved myself the unnecessary worry.

Q How are you planning for retirement?

A I don't think I will completely retire as such. It is more likely that I will shift my focus to other businesses. My aim is to remain active, but not be physically tied down to any one place.

In today's mobile world it is absolutely possible. As for income, it would be nice to have some. As I have been working and earning an income for more than 30 years now, it is difficult to let go of that financial security blanket.

Q Moneywise, what were your growing-up years like?

A I grew up in a middle-class family in Kuala Lumpur. We were always comfortable. My two siblings and I are blessed that our parents were quite liberal for that time, and gave us the opportunities to study abroad from a fairly young age. This taught us to be independent and self-reliant from early on. And, contrary to what some parents were saying to our parents, all three of us did come back to Malaysia/Singapore. I strongly advocate for parents to encourage their children to study abroad. It is not just about the academic experience. It is a life experience.

Q Home is now...

A My apartment in the Tanglin area. We are surrounded by greenery, and have resident hornbills. Yet, Orchard Road is just a 15-minute walk away.

Q I drive...

A A taupe-coloured, mid-sized Lexus. Perfect for my cross-border drives to Malaysia.