Like most of his peers born in the 1960s in Singapore, Mr G. Shanmugam, 56, did not have a chance to go to university.
He belongs to the 51 per cent in his cohort, aged between 50 and 59 this year, who did not have a post-secondary education, according to figures the Ministry of Finance released last week. But despite that, he had gone on to become a successful restaurateur, starting the Gayatri Restaurant, now long-known for the quality of its Indian cuisine.
The MOF report found that each generation in their 40s has done better than the generation before.
Mr Shanmugam believes his family's story illustrates the finding.
School was a bit of a luxury for the son of an immigrant father and Singaporean mother, and he used to juggle his studies with helping out at his father's textile shop in Little India. "I would have wanted to study more. But in my mind and in my father's mind, I should take over his business one day. Even if I did not want to, I would have to do it," he says. So after completing his O levels, Mr Shanmugam left school to work with his father full-time.
That was in the 1980s, and competition was intense in the textile business. Anxious to pull ahead, he allowed his customers in India to buy on credit. They eventually defaulted and he lost $2 million. "I didn't even have enough money to get fuel for my delivery vehicle," he says of the time he hit rock-bottom.
But he plugged on and started delivering cargo so he could make up for the loss.
When he finally had some "extra cash" in the 1990s, he decided the textile business was no longer viable and closed down the shop to start a restaurant with a friend.
Over the years, Gayatri Restaurant has become the crown jewel in Mr Shanmugam's food business, which also includes contract catering and central kitchens.
The successful business allowed him to get his children educated, he says. Unlike him, his three sons had gone on to get degrees and diplomas. His eldest son, 30, has a degree in finance from Switzerland, while his second son, 28, has a culinary diploma. His youngest son, 22, is studying law in Queensland.
But though they had opportunities that their father did not, the two older children have chosen to follow in his footsteps to join the family business. Asked if he had expected them to do so, he says: "I gave them the option, and they took it up. I would have sold the business if they didn't want to take over."
Mr Shanmugam says that while his children have a much more comfortable life than him when he first started out, they will have a harder time growing the business, as competition is tougher these days. "In the early days. there were at most 10 or 20 restaurants offering Indian food, but now there are more than 100. Everyone is giving you a run for your money," he says.
"They will find it much harder to hit their targets. But they also have more opportunities to do big business and make big money."
Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.
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