He once concurrently operated more than 30 business entities worldwide and has managed funds for his BLCG Global Group of Companies amounting to “reasonable mid-billions”, but he can’t state a more precise figure — “Let’s say five [billion], five is good enough,” he relents with a laugh. He is working towards eradicating cancer — but, due to the sensitive nature of the industry, he can’t reveal how a proposed treatment might work, who his partners are or where the treatment facility will be located.
Some details of what Dr Eric Lim has achieved, he isn’t at liberty to disclose in full, but the sheer volume of what we are able to piece together demonstrates his ambitions for myriad projects and ventures.
Lim is polite, meticulous, and well-prepared. When we finally meet for the interview, not only has he crafted his profile for us, he has also answered in detail the preliminary questions sent to him three days prior. In fact, he has printed out his replies, and from across the table he distributes copies of the 10-page document, already sorted and slotted into individual clear plastic pockets. “I found some typos in the morning, so I redid this and sent it back to you,” he says. “I made the latest copy for you as well, and I made the text very big so it’s easier to see — it’s font size 16.”
Those pages detail Lim’s accomplishments. The 53-year-old, who describes himself as a financial engineer and serial entrepreneur, has managed private equities, funds, investments, and family offices and trusts via companies such as project financing and investments company BLCG, fund management company GEMS Capital, and an issuer of instruments from top prime banks, Big Bang Capital (registered in England; no relation to a Singapore-based private equity firm of the same name). He has also spent the past 26 years in his family’s real estate development businesses in Singapore and abroad, with more than a decade in project financing for industries including infrastructure, IT, life sciences and green projects.
Even the geographical spread of Lim’s projects astounds: they cover Eswatini, formerly known as Swaziland; the Federated States of Micronesia, with a focus on Pohnpei, the largest and most populous of the islands; Hua Hin, Thailand; Vung Tau, Hai Phong, and the outskirts of Ho Chi Minh City, in Vietnam; and more. “There are a lot of things [related to the above] to talk about — we could go on for six months,” he quips.
The man with the golden touch
His finance career took him to Zurich, London, and Hong Kong, before he returned to Singapore almost two years ago. Now, Lim devotes his attention to projects in four industries: aquaculture, in Vietnam and Micronesia; agriculture, particularly avocado and soursop crops in the Micronesian island of Kosrae; water, bottled from waterfalls on Pohnpei in Micronesia; and gold refining, undertaken in Dubai and likely to be carried out later in Singapore. His role is focused on managing funds for these and other viable projects. He says: “My strength is being able to see [certain types of] products or services that can generate money.”
In addition to those projects, Lim has helped create entire townships, located in Vietnam and Kuwait, through his role in project financing. From February to August in 2011, he was involved in building a mixed-development project in Vietnam that included approximately 480,000 homes, an undertaking to the tune of $7.2 billion spread across 550 hectares. He also led a contingent of 20 CEOs from various nations, representing a range of industries, to Kuwait to share their expertise on city planning, development and infrastructure projects with the local authorities.
While selecting viable investments to attain decent returns on investment for his clients remains Lim’s priority as an investment manager, environmental concerns and CSR are part of his considerations too. His collaboration with a Norwegian entity to capture and store carbon and convert it into a mineral so as to lower the amount of CFCs, and a project to recover brine from desalination plants and convert it into usable minerals, such as calcium carbonate, are two projects he’s involved in that he says can help save the planet (though both sustainability projects have been temporarily halted due to Covid-19 travel and movement restrictions).
“I wish to do my small part as a global citizen,” he says. “There are 7.8 billion inhabitants on Earth. Everyone can live in a sustainable and comfortable manner, but we cannot have people who use and abuse the planet as they wish, while others work hard to care for it. We should all have the obligation to come together and be responsible for our planet, to be able to give our children a planet that is worth living in.”
To Lim, the most urgent message that humanity needs to hear is related to climate change. “Can I tell you a story? It won’t take long,” he coaxes, before reminding us of a story from the June/July 20 issue of A Magazine. In it, Panerai ambassador Mike Horn shared about his 2006 trip to the Arctic, which yielded one polar bear sighting every two to three days. On a return trip in 2019, however, he encountered only one polar bear after three months.
“That’s the impact of global warming, and we should pay attention and take care of our planet. There’s only one planet, so we should all be responsible global citizens,” he adds.
To Thailand, with love
It’s expected, then, that an investment manager with a heart for social and environmental causes would go beyond CSR and support charitable endeavours in his personal capacity. While working with a company involved in water treatment engineering and services in the early 2000s, he and the team created a proprietary water filtration system that they developed into a water treatment business in the region. In 2003, they donated one modular water treatment plant each to Wat Pathum Thani and Wat Ku, two temples located north of Bangkok. Subsequently, they donated these plants to other Thai temples and villages in other provinces, and even to the Dusit Palace and Chakri Palace.
“We found a sense of joy whenever we visited the locations that had received our water treatment plants,” Lim recounts. “You could see the genuine smiles of gratitude from both the monks and the villagers, who had consumed clean and safe drinking water. This warms my heart, knowing that we could contribute in some way, by providing filtered water to more than 130 locations these past 18 years.”
Their foothold in Thailand proved fortuitous. In the aftermath of the Boxing Day Tsunami in 2004, clean drinking water was in high demand at the local hospitals and medical centres. Lim was one of the teams that brought in those water treatment plants and had them mounted onto the back of pickup trucks to create a mobile fleet that could be deployed.
And he didn’t stop there: His heart went out to the young local children who had lost their parents to the natural disaster, and he personally put together funds to sponsor nine of them, till this day. With friends, he also makes regular contributions to an orphanage in Chiang Mai.
For now, BLCG’s projects occupy the bulk of Lim’s time, but from next year, barring a Covid-19 resurgence, he expects to focus on a new medical venture related to treatment for cancer, and will oversee the opening of the first location in 2021. “I want to [work on treating cancer] because five of my friends have passed away from cancer, four of them just last year, and I was shocked,” he confides. According to the World Health Organisation, cancer accounted for an estimated 9.6 million deaths in 2018. “It would bring me joy to see more cancer patients’ lives extended in a gracious and comfortable manner,” Lim adds.
In the meantime, Lim has busied himself with researching sailing, a hobby of his, and keeping an eye out for a decent 60-foot monohull yacht for sale. “I told my father, I’ve done everything in my life except sail around the world,” he says. “Just a quarter of the world will do. I’ll head to Micronesia. This is how I can balance my work and life; otherwise, it will be very mundane.”
Given Lim’s stellar achievements in the finance industry, one might presume he got his start in a prestigious business school. But Lim is a medically trained doctor, albeit one that never did practice. “I enjoyed biology when I was in school and I got a distinction in it,” he explains. “I told myself, as human beings, we have to know about us, about [different body parts and organs] and learn how they function.”
But a number of Lim’s family are in business — his mother, Tan Chooi Gek, was among the inaugural batch of ERA realtors in Singapore and a whiz at sales; an uncle, a former director at the now defunct OUB, opened his eyes to the world of banking and finance; a cousin, Ben Lim, has run GEMS Capital for 21 years. And their influence sparked his interest in the business realm. “I enjoy designing and creating good investments for clients, and I’m extremely pleased whenever my team and I attain higher returns than that in the original investment proposal,” he says. “With more revenue generated from our investments, we can do more humanitarian projects.”
Beyond influencing Lim’s career choice, his family instilled in him values that he upholds to this day. “[Since I was] young, my mother and elder brother have told me, ‘Nothing else matters; only excellence counts’,” he elaborates. “This may have turned me into the near-perfectionist I am today.”
His father is a medalled senior civil servant who earned the Sword of Honour from both the police force and the army. Lim calls him a role model, a classic gentleman, and a James Bond-like character, saying: “He never spoilt us. He taught us the value of money, integrity, responsibility, virtue, and hard work.”
Lim took those lessons to heart when, in his early 20s, he started helping his uncles and aunts with their business ventures — a large wooden-pallet manufacturer and supplier, and DataSafe Records Management, a document storage company — handling everything from business development to marketing and customer relationship management.
“I worked really hard because I enjoyed working. I just had so much energy. I told myself, Shenton Way has 72 buildings, and I will see every single company on every floor in these 72 buildings within two weeks,” Lim says of his motivation and drive.
“I enjoy the ticking, seeing that the work keeps going on and things are moving and progressing. Materialising projects and making [any entity or company I manage among] the top three in the country or the region or the world — that’s what I want to see. If not, I’m not satisfied.”
This feature first appeared as the cover story in the October 2020 issue of A Magazine.