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5 business and life lessons from Andy Lim, CEO of JL Family Office

Second-generation businessman Andy Lim is charting a new path for JL Family Office.

Andy Lim, the CEO of the JL Family Office originally had no intention of getting involved in the family business. “I enjoyed my practice as a commercial real estate lawyer. I enjoyed the rigours of law and was involved in a lot of negotiations and contracts. I loved that every day I would be doing deals,” says Lim, who holds a law degree from the University of Liverpool and spent four years at Allen & Gledhill till 2014.

Along the way, his father John Lim would occasionally seek his advice on various opportunities. “They were not entirely to do with this business, and he didn’t have time to look at them so he would pass them to me. Through that, I slowly started to learn.” In 2014, when The Straits Trading Company approached the Lims about a joint venture, John Lim asked his son to consider taking a full-time role in the JL Family Office. Andy decided to take the plunge.

Since then, the younger Lim has been steering the company against the grain of what traditional family offices typically do. The 35-year-old shares 5 business and life lessons he has learned from his time at the helm.

Andy Lim is wearing a white cotton shirt and navy blue sill suit from BOSS

Andy Lim is wearing a white cotton shirt and navy blue sill suit from BOSS

1. Diversify and adapt to the world you live in

“A common misconception is that family offices are about passive income – you sit there and manage your trust. That is not entirely accurate. The main goals are to try to grow the family’s ecosystem and wealth, and to see what we can do to give back to society.”

Lim been “edging the family office away from its core business of real estate”. The latest investment he’s made, which was recently approved by the Monetary Authority of Singapore, was in the start-up Minterest. It’s a marketplace for small businesses to obtain crowdfunding from accredited investors. This deal would mark the family office’s first foray into fintech, he says.

“This is our way of pushing our core business into the digital age while not totally eliminating our core competency, which is fund management in real estate. I think it is only natural for families to expose themselves to different sectors,” he says. He is already sniffing around for his next big venture, which he reveals could be in the health sector. More specifically, Lim is looking into wellness retreats.

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2. Don’t expect immediate success

Lim recently picked up long-distance running in August 2019, a sport that complements his golf games. To him, these two activities demonstrates the importance of consistent hard work.

“Our lives are so busy that it’s sometimes hard to switch off. I find that when I run, I do get meditative. That’s when you focus on your next step and sort of zone out. When I first started, I couldn’t even complete 5km in 30 minutes; now I can run 10km in under an hour,” he says. Up next is a half-marathon and then a full marathon by the end of the year.

As for golf, “You work at it but in the long run, your gains are limited. This keeps you humble. Eighty percent of the time, it’s going to be bad shots. You’re always chasing the good shot. It forces you to slow down and not expect immediate success.”

3. Look for partners who know more than you

The depth of experience that can only be garnered over years of practice is something Lim values in his business partners. “Steve Jobs created a world where people are very good in the art of the pitch, but they forget that he was actually a computer scientist and no slouch. The guy had a certain level of technical skills as well,” he points out.

With the Minterest investment, Lim says what sealed that deal was the cofounders’ vast experience as former credit bankers. “We look for partners with a skill set, ability and market edge whom we can work with and help push to another level.”

Andy Lim is wearing an olive green jacket with trousers and a crew neck sweater from Z Zegna.

Andy Lim is wearing an olive green jacket with trousers and a crew neck sweater from Z Zegna.

4. Give quietly back to society

Lim is the executive director of Lim Hoon Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the family office, which gives bursaries and scholarships to underprivileged students (primary to tertiary levels). This includes a $4 million endowment with Singapore Management University (including a dollar-to-dollar match by the government) to award up to 12 bond-free scholarships annually.

Lim also often attends their scholarship events, hosts fireside chats and sometimes offers them the option to apply for internships with ARA’s portfolio companies. “I’m always telling them: ‘Don’t be in a rush to go out there and start a business idea. Take some time to gain a certain level of skills. Then work in a multinational company for a few years to learn what the big boys do. You’re also making contacts at the same time. These are the things that build up over the years’.”

As the scholarships come with no strings attached, Lim personally tries to inspire them to pay it forward in meaningful ways. “Help your juniors or when you do well, make sure you give back,” he says. “The dream is that this group grows larger, so it can become an ecosystem where the older alumni can help the younger ones.”

(Related: How banks are attracting children of wealthy clients)

5. Stay true to your vision no matter what others say

Lim is happy to discuss the people who have played a pivotal role in his and his father’s careers. On a sideboard in the ARA boardroom are five framed photographs of his father with key stakeholders such as Victor Li, chairman and co-managing director of CK Hutchison Holdings, and whose father, Li Ka-Shing, partnered John Lim to start ARA. Others include Justin Chiu, board chairman of ARA, and Chew Gek Khim, executive chairman of The Straits Trading Company.

The latter left a deep impression on him. “When she has a conviction about a certain decision, she’s always been able to say, ‘Let’s do it’,” he observes, noting this is unusual in most multigenerational family businesses.

This is a lesson he has taken to heart. “Second-generation business leaders like myself always get judged, no matter what we do. [We just need to] do our best, make balanced decisions and not be concerned about being judged. ”

Even more essential to Lim is the responsibility he carries as a steward of his family’s wealth. “When my kids or theirs want to get involved, we hope this office will serve as a guide to how the family prefers to deal with other people, businesses and society. With a family office, there is a base philosophy and they can see their legacy.”