Verne Maree was lucky enough to catch up with Singapore-based entrepreneur MATT CHAPMAN at Parihoa, his stunning second home. Located on the west coast of New Zealand’s North Island, it’s a convenient 45 minutes from Auckland Airport – ideal for Matt’s busy lifestyle.
Born Australian, Matt Chapman first came to Singapore 17 years ago on a transfer with an international search company. He started his own company, ChapmanCG, nearly ten years ago, then progressively expanded into what he calls “a lot of fun, entrepreneurial things”. The latest of these is Bawah Private Island, scheduled to open in a few months’ time: just two hours from Singapore, it’s touted as the “new ultimate island escape in Southeast Asia”.
How did you come to start ChapmanCG ten years ago?
I’d previously done HR search for an international search firm, and now I wanted to create a company that focused solely on this space and served the whole of Asia. We naturally evolved into a global company as we followed the HR leaders who left Asia for other parts of the world.
I’m proud to say that ChapmanCG has grown from humble beginnings to become the largest HR search company in the world. Today, we employ over 100 people in 20 countries across Asia Pacific, Europe, the Middle East and the US. Last year, we did searches across 57 countries in the world.
Was it as easy as it sounds?
As with any business, the first year was the most dangerous time. To make things worse, we started the company in 2008, smack bang in the middle of the global economic crash – and my ex-partner and I had just taken a mortgage on our first condo! We had financial worries; we had to be very frugal. And when self-doubt set in at times, we had to learn to tune out the negativity and stay focused on the business.
Getting Down to Business
How do you manage to run your businesses effectively when you spend as much time here on the farm as you do in Singapore?
I can work just as well from anywhere. Everyone in the company works virtually – we own no offices, no desks and no chairs. I’d always disliked offices anyway, and I foresaw the world becoming increasingly connected.
How would you describe your own HR policy?
As a company that specialises in the global recruitment of HR leaders, we get to hear the ideas and strategies of some of the best HR people in the world, and we genuinely try to put our money where our mouth is.
When recruiting staff, we go for people who have a flexible approach and want to work. We take on mums, part-time workers and unskilled workers who are keen to learn. Physically disabled workers make up nearly a third of our employees. Some have hearing or visual impairment; others are motorcycle crash victims, or suffer from muscular disorders like polio, or muscular sclerosis.
By thinking outside the box in this way, you tend to attract loyal people, who work very hard but still manage to have very rich lives. It’s all about work-life balance. I believe that when people’s work and personal lives are in harmony, you not only get the most out of them, but you also retain them for much longer.
How did a head hunter like you branch into property development by acquiring an interest in Bawah Private Island?
For me, it’s about doing things with great people. I really enjoy talking to people who have a passion for a business idea; and their passion and confidence in what they are doing inspires me to join them and to learn from them.
What are the secrets of your success?
I am still learning as much every day as I did 10 years ago. I’m continually making mistakes, reflecting on them – that’s the important part – and learning from them. Instead of putting successful entrepreneurs on pedestals, the world should realise that they are also ordinary people who are just as vulnerable as everyone else. Also, I’ve discovered the importance of surrounding yourself with people who have the strengths that you don’t have.
Where is home?
Singapore is home for me. From the moment I first touched down, with my life in one suitcase, I knew it was going to be home. I took Singapore citizenship in 2012. Given my business and personal interests, it made sense: I’ve really had my whole career there. Most importantly, I’ve always truly believed in Singapore’s future, and that there’s no other place like it in the world.
Naturally, because of my farming and business interests here, coupled with the great lifestyle , New Zealand has become my second home. I sometimes challenge definitions of home – in the end, home is where the heart is.
As an extremely fit ultra-marathoner and self-described health fanatic, what’s your philosophy on nutrition and exercise?
I believe that health is the ultimate wealth, and that if you don’t look after your body, nothing else that you have or do matters. For me it’s not about being obsessive: it’s having a workable strategy around how you keep fit, what you eat, and how you stay mentally and physically balanced.
What are you looking forward to?
Five days at the end of May with Richard Branson on Neckers, his island in the Caribbean, as one of 20 entrepreneurs doing a self-development programme called “Change Makers, Rule Breakers”. Then, in November, I’m going to Patagonia for my seventh Racing the Planet – a multi-stage, self-supported ultramarathon totalling 250km.
When I was younger, entering these events was all about ego, pushing myself and winning. Nowadays, it’s more about seeing the places, and especially about finding inspiration in the people I meet there.
I’m continually trying to change myself for the better, to improve. And everyone, from Richard Branson to the aunty at the hawker stall, has something positive in them that inspires me to be a better person.
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