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JULY 04, 2002

Two roads, one end

And one attitude: never say die. It won businessman Kent Tey and child-cancer specialist Allen Yeoh the Youth Awards

By Jane Lee

TWO 37-year-old men from different sides of the educational tracks are being held up as national role models for youth here.

The two are children's cancer specialist Allen Yeoh, who went to top schools St Joseph's Institution and Hwa Chong Junior College, and entrepreneur Kent Tey, who studied at the then Vocational and Industrial Training Board.

They are among four individuals and two teams to receive the Singapore Youth Awards, the country's highest recognition for achievements before the age of 35.

Deputy Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong will present the awards at the Istana on Sunday.

Mr Tey was 23 years old and had just O levels when he set up a company - in 1988 after his national service - that later became Keracker Holdings, selling corporate gifts.

He said: 'I didn't have much of a choice... There weren't many jobs around.'

The father of three children, aged eight, six and two, added: 'It was, and still is, my first job.'

The $10,000 he sank into his two-person venture was all gone in just two months. So, he went knocking on the doors of companies. 'I was determined to continue,' he said. 'So I combed every factory in Jurong by myself.'

Two years later, he made a small profit. In 2000, he found himself looking at a turnover of $42 million, more than a tenfold jump from 1998's $3.4 million.

Last year, the outfit, which now also offers promotion and advertising services, was ranked No 22 here in a list of the top small-and medium-sized enterprises for its financial performance.

Said Mr Tey: 'You won't die from hard work. That's how we managed to survive.'

The same never-say-die attitude also saw Dr Yeoh through punishing 15-hour days in his search for a way to assess the recovery rate of children with leukaemia. It took him three years.

His research enables doctors to treat youngsters with lower chances of recovery more intensively.

The assistant professor at the National University of Singapore (NUS) received a merit award for this from the American Society of Haematology last December.

Dr Yeoh, who did his medical degree at NUS, said of being a doctor: 'It's something I'd wanted to do since I was in Primary 3.'

Leukaemia, he added, is a very challenging field, where new frontiers are being created all the time.

A consultant paediatrician at the National University Hospital, he proceeds to the laboratory after work, often finishing at around 10 pm.

His long hours, quipped the second of three boys of a businessman and a housewife, could be why he is still single.

He said: 'My greatest reward is to see the children get better.'

Winning youth

FOUR individuals and two teams won the Singapore Youth Awards, the country's highest recognition for youth achievements:

ARTS AND CULTURE: Professional string quartet T'ang Quartet, for bringing classical music to the heartland and schools.

COMMUNITY AND YOUTH SERVICES: The 12-year-old National University of Singapore Students' Union Volunteer Action Committee, which organises ongoing and ad hoc projects for the disadvantaged, the sick and the disabled, despite its members being bogged down in studies.

ENTREPRENEURSHIP: Mr Kent Tey, managing director of Keracker Holdings, which provides promotion and advertising services. Last year, it was ranked No 22 on a list of the top small-and medium-sized enterprises.

SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY: Dr Patrick Tan, senior scientist at Defence Medical Research Institute and National Cancer Centre, and winner of the Young Scientist Award last year for his work on cancer; Dr Allen Yeoh, specialist in child leukaemia at the National University Hospital, whose research won him a merit award from the American Society of Haematology last year.

SPORTS AND ADVENTURE: Adventurer Khoo Swee Chiow, the first Asian and fourth person in the world to complete the Adventure Grand Slam, climbing the highest peaks on the seven continents and trekking to the North and South poles.

Copyright @ 2002 Singapore Press Holdings. All rights reserved.