EtonHouse founder Gim Choo Ng shares the importance of passion, perseverance, people and professional development in her success.
Gim Choo Ng believes that people live their lives in chapters – when one chapter ends, a new one begins. It is how she describes her journey as the founder and managing director of EtonHouse International Education Group (EtonHouse), a global brand of international schools with more than 12,000 students globally across 12 countries including Singapore, China, Japan, India and Malaysia.
The first chapter of Gim Choo’s career saw her at EY as an auditor for eight years before moving on to be a partner at a mid-sized CPA firm. It was at EY that she was told by a client during a meeting that auditors were not cut out to be business owners. “I’ll prove you wrong,” Gim Choo shared. To her, auditors were best-placed to be entrepreneurs and businesspeople. After all, auditors have first-hand experience and knowledge of what makes businesses work.
Second chapter: the inspiration for EtonHouse
Ten years into her career as an auditor, Gim Choo’s husband had the opportunity to work in London. She made the decision to put her career on hold to join her husband and family in London and thus began her next chapter as a full-time housewife and mother to her two young children.
In London, she was surprised when her daughter, who used to refuse to attend kindergarten back in Singapore, greatly enjoyed going to school in London. Volunteering as a parent volunteer, Gim Choo realized that the education philosophies between London and Singapore were vastly different. The inquiry-based learning in the UK encouraged creativity and promotes critical thinking and problem-solving skills, while the majority of Singapore (and Asian) schools were focused on rote learning.
When the family returned to Singapore after 12 years in London, the entrepreneur in Gim Choo recognized the opportunity to set up a school in Singapore that incorporated the pedagogies she learned from her experience and research in London. However, she felt that the odds were stacked against her. She was already in her 40s, hadn’t worked in 12 years, and had no prior entrepreneurial experience. More than that, she was not trained in the field of education, and the naysayers among her family and friends echoed what her ex-client had told her – that auditors do not make good businesspeople.
Third chapter: building EtonHouse
Despite the odds, Gim Choo set out to prove to herself and others that she would succeed not only as a businessperson, but also as a pioneer in changing the landscape of early childhood education in Singapore.
Starting an inquiry-based curriculum school in 1990s Singapore where rote learning was common was not easy. She encountered several challenges such as the high start-up costs that came with hiring qualified teachers and curriculum teams, and parents who were resistant to the concept of an inquiry-based curriculum.
Yet, Gim Choo was not discouraged. Her persistence paid off and after a difficult first few years, EtonHouse gained a reputation for its innovative approach towards early childhood education. Since then, the group has expanded into multiple markets including China, India, Vietnam, Bahrain, Japan, Malaysia, Indonesia, Kazakhstan and Hong Kong. And in 2019, Gim Choo won the EY Entrepreneur Of The Year – Education 2019 Award in Singapore.
Next chapter: winning the Entrepreneur Of The Year – Education Award
When asked what drives her as an entrepreneur, Gim Choo espouses the “4Ps” as the key elements: Passion, Perseverance, People and Professional development.
She explained, “There will always be difficulties and challenges no matter what path you take. With passion, you have the perseverance to keep going and overcome challenges head-on.”
Her time at EY had also taught her the importance of professional development. The time and resource that EY spends on staff training to ensure the high-quality standards that it adheres to left a deep impression. That is why today she views professional development as a key pillar of her management philosophy, as she believes that hiring the right people and retaining them through professional development are critical factors in ensuring that your team can support you in your journey as an entrepreneur.
“As a former housewife from a Chinese-educated background, I never expected that one day I would win this honor,” Gim Choo shared upon receiving the award. “It is especially meaningful because I was once an auditor at EY. My experiences at EY gave me the necessary foundation to start my entrepreneur journey. I hope this inspires other women to do something extraordinary for the community.”