One of Nanz Chong-Komo’s most distinct features is her big, dazzling smile. The other is her height. The woman is tall. She’s a lighthouse on legs. It is impossible to miss her.
Chong-Komo shared her story, one that’s been written about in countless newspapers and magazines, about how she came back from rock bottom after her ONE.99 retail chain went bust in 2003. The magnetic business woman and former model said “everything happens for a reason.”
Born in Hong Kong to a jewel trader father (her mother is Singaporean), Chong-Komo moved to Singapore during her primary
school years. She had watched her parents work hard all their lives as business people, and grew up with their work ethics and business savvy.
“I always wanted to work hard and give my parents a good life,” she said. “I had never wanted to be famous or conquer the world.”
Chong-Komo made it big as a model, entering into the glamour industry at the age of 16. Her first dream was to marry a millionaire by the age of 28. Her early modeling days were spent partying at Zouk, during the crazy ‘80s. “I was enjoying the high life, working hard, getting famous, and growing my finances,” she said.
Although she was having a ball, Chong-Komo felt she could not be modeling forever and decided to open a 200-square-foot fashion boutique in 1992, called Klis. It sold beautifully-tailored office apparel for women.
The strong merchandising, coupled with Chong-Komo’s dedication to hard work and personalized service paid off—the business boomed and was sold for a profit of S$84,000 after 11 months. She was 24 years old then.
In 1997, Chong-Komo founded ONE.99shop, a trend-setting retail chain pegged on the concept of a “single-price store.” “I thought people needed something that’s value for money. In the ‘90s, one-price shopping was very in.”
This “value-for-money” concept took off in a big way in Singapore. ONE.99Shop grew to 12 outlets in three years, with a tripling of sales over this same period, from S$3.5 million to more than S$12 million.
Her chain eventually grew to 14 stores in 2000, making an annual turnover of S$14 million. Featured in the news every other week, and in 2000, married to a dashing Japanese – American banker (who is taller than her), it seemed Chong-Komo lived a fairytale.
But it was in that same year, in 2000, that her outlook on life suddenly began to change.
“People I hired were telling me about the Bible day in and day out,” she recalled. “This guy I hired talked so much about Pastor Kong, I sometimes had to tell him to stop.”
Unlike many who turn to God in their darkest moments, it was during the height of her success that Chong-Komo found God and became a faithful churchgoing believer.
People who inspired her to make church a key part of her lifestyle included the late Dr. Diana Young, the first woman President of the Association for Small and Medium Enterprises, who talked about Jesus everyday, said Chong-Komo.
Never a half-hearted person, Chong-Komo plunged straight into her new life as a Christian with the same verve and aplomb that she dedicated to her business.
“I never thought twice, even with my busy schedule,” she said. “I really got involved in cell group and even sent everybody home— one to Ang Mo Kio, one to Clementi, one to Causeway Point. ”
In 2003, along with many other businesses in Asia, ONE.99Shop was wiped out by the economic downturn triggered by the SARS crisis. Once touted as a high-flying business guru, Chong-Komo suddenly found herself a high-profile bankrupt.
“God probably already knew that I was going to be bankrupt,” she said. “I didn’t.” Crediting her resilience and quick recovery to her faith, Chong-Komo likened having God during difficult times to “walking through fire and not getting burned.”
“I was cushioned by the sermons, week after week, by Pastor Kong,” she said. “So I could get up and run again.”
Romans 8:28 is her personal life mantra: all things work together for the good of those who love God and are called to His purpose. “Every step of the way, out of bankruptcy till now, every bad thing that happened prepared me for today,” she said.
It was her early failures that contributed to her present success.
Armed with an arsenal of tough lessons, she hit the motivational speaking circuit throughout Asia, where she shared what she had learned from the fallout of ONE.99Shop. In 2006, she compiled all that she learned into One Business, 99 Lessons, a bestselling book that acts as a case study for entrepreneurs. The book has sold over 17,000 copies to date.
Not wanting to let her experience go to waste, Chong-Komo felt that by sharing what she had learned, others could steer clear of some of the spots she ended up in.
|PHOTO: Jeffery Tan|
Now, after spending six years producing three healthy children, and volunteering as District Councillor for Northeast CDC, she has decided to combine her business acumen with a woman’s touch, launching Nanzinc.com (www.nanzinc.com), an online self-help site for women.
A partnership between herself and the editor for her book, Theresa Tan, the website, which also offers an “online talk show,” is like an Asian version of the Oprah Winfrey Show, but much more interactive to suit increasingly net-savvy women in today’s fast-paced digital world.
Chong-Komo hopes that the site’s content inspire women and spur them to take on business, motherhood and other challenges with a renewed mindset.
“So we’re spreading a positive message that life can be good, at any stage of a woman’s life.” So far, the six-month-old venture is doing well, with advertising sales and sponsorships amounting to a quarter of a million dollars.
Chong-Komo said that apart from reaching out to women, the site has also won some male fans who drop by to understand more about the opposite sex.
The “online talk show” hosted by Chong-Komo—whose last major hosting gig was for the Seoul Olympics in 1988 for Hong Kong’s ATV network—features real people whom she personally knows and who are role models, such as retail business guru, Elim Chew, who used to be Chong- Komo’s hairdresser at Far East Plaza, before she quit the hairstyling business and opened the very successful 77th Street chain of stores.
Recognizing that expectations of Asian women are different from their Western counterparts, Chong-Komo hopes to address some of these delicate issues that are inherent in Asian culture, such as overbearing mother-in-laws and the glass ceiling that women in the region hit after becoming mothers.
Asked what the ideal Asian woman should be, Chong-Komo says that while she should invest in personal development, the ideal Asian woman should also be self-accepting, loving oneself and caring for others.
“We should be gentle-spirited. Don’t be too fast to react to people, have an ear that listens. And know that money is not everything.”
Log on to Nanz Chong-Komo’s website at www.Nanzinc.com.