Patrick Liew is CEO of Singapore’s number one real estate agency and cofounder of one of the largest e-learning companies in the world. Both businesses started growing exponentially when they adopted network marketing as their distribution system. Over the years, Patrick grew so convinced of the economic and transformative power of the business model that he now also uses its principles to operate his charity programs.

“The basis of every network marketing business is education,” says Patrick. “Unlike any other business, it empowers men and women from any socioeconomic background to grow and raise themselves out of lack and limitation.”

Coming from humble beginnings, Patrick always had a burning desire to take care of the economically and socially disadvantaged. He believes that, while greedy business practices have caused major societal problems, entrepreneurs also have the power to make things right.

Patrick is the recipient of numerous prestigious business awards, including the Entrepreneur of the Year for Social Contribution in Singapore in 2008 and the Asia Pacific Entrepreneurship Award in 2009. His dream is to be a frontrunner for an emerging generation of business leaders committed to eradicating poverty and restoring global balance.

Entrepreneurial Awakenings

Patrick started his career in business in the late eighties as Regional Director for the Gartner Group, a publicly-held research company providing technology-related insight to large corporations, government agencies and the investment community.

“We did high-level research, strategic advisory and business planning,” says Patrick. “I was working in the Asia Pacific region, which gave me the opportunity to look at many different companies in that area.”

Chinese by ethnicity, Patrick was born and bred in Singapore. Having traveled and lived in many countries, he considers himself a global citizen, comfortable in any culture from developing countries to the most advanced nations.

Although trained as an electrical engineer, Patrick chose the information technology industry because he believed it would change the global business landscape.

Receiving a token of appreciation from the President of Singapore.
Training the next generation of servant leaders.
Raising funds for the Muscular Dystrophy Association.
Presenting funds raised at a family carnival for Sumatra Earthquake relief.

“I saw it as a sunrise industry offering many

exciting business opportunities,” he says. “Working for the Gartner Group gave me a chance to travel and study many different business models. We did a lot of scenario forecasting, helping companies and governments to plan and navigate their way into the future.”

One night in 1992, while working late as the head of his company’s regional division, Patrick had a sudden realization.

“It suddenly dawned on me that I had reached an impasse,” he says. “At the top of my company, I was no longer growing professionally or personally. I realized that by holding on to my job, I would never be able to achieve true freedom, which in my mind includes financial, time and lifestyle freedom, as well as the freedom to contribute more thoughts, time and talents to society.”

Patrick decided to give up the security of his job to embark on the life of an entrepreneur. One day, as he was considering different business opportunities, his partner came to him and suggested, “Maybe we should take a look at the multilevel marketing model.”

Patrick was flabbergasted. In his mind, multilevel marketing (the common phrase at the time in Singapore) was not even a legal business. His partner challenged him, saying, “Since you believe in rational decision-making, why don’t you do some research and come to your own conclusion?”

Intent on proving his opinion, Patrick spent three months reading everything he could find that was anti–network marketing, from websites to books to testimonials from people who had suffered one way or another as a result of being involved in the business. The material he found was so overwhelmingly positive that at the end of those three months, he became a convert.

“I realized that there were companies and distributors who had done some bad things,” Patrick recalls, “but that the business model was essentially not wrong. In fact, I started seeing it as the most efficient and ethical way to reach out to consumers on a worldwide basis.”

Making History

From that day onward, Patrick became an advocate of network marketing; in fact, he was the first person to approach the Singaporean government about rewriting the law that banned network marketing businesses from operating in its territories.

In 1999, he wrote a long article to the national newspaper, extolling the virtues of network marketing and asking the authorities not to throw out the baby with the bathwater. Surprisingly, two weeks later, the government replied, saying that they agreed with his argument and would take a fresh look at the business model.

Patrick’s paper and subsequent conversations with politicians eventually changed the government’s opinion that network marketing was altogether wrong, and within a few years network marketing companies were allowed to operate in Singapore. Soon thereafter, the Chinese government started to consider liberalizing its laws and sent a team of investigators to study the new Singaporean regulations.

“Singapore is closely affiliated with the Chinese government,” says Patrick. “In 2004 I wrote another paper, which can be found on the Direct Selling Association of Singapore website, asking the Chinese authorities to legalize network marketing. Over the years I have worked with different government departments, appealing to them for legalizing network marketing in China.”

Since those early days when he was vehemently opposed to the business model, Patrick has made every effort to promote network marketing around the world. He also made an interesting personal decision: whatever business he would get involved in must adopt the compensation plan and all the other benefits of the network marketing model.

“Back in 1980 my family had started a real estate business,” says Patrick. “This may not seem like a long time ago, but Singapore itself is only forty-five years old, and having been around for thirty years makes us the oldest real estate company in the country.

“In 1995 I became the CEO of that company, which we ran in the conventional model, like most real estate firms across the world. In 2000, after network marketing became legal in Singapore, I proposed that we convert our firm into a network marketing business, allowing leaders to earn commissions for recruiting and training others. Although my idea was met initially with suspicion and distrust, it was eventually embraced, and we became one of the first real estate companies in the world to adopt a network marketing profit sharing system.

“We now had a more efficient way to manage and retain our agents, compensating them in a more equitable way and offering passive income to anyone who became successful in the business. As a result, we grew tremendously and today, we may very well be the only real estate firm in the world with eight thousand agents all operating under one roof.”

Promoting Education

Yet Patrick knew that the benefits of network marketing far exceed the sharing of revenue.

“It’s about training, coaching and empowering people,” he says. “I would not be a good leader if I could not recruit, train and manage a new generation of leaders who become even better than I. All of us are students and trainers at the same time. Our business is based on leaders who build leaders and trainers who build trainers.”

Education became such an important aspect of Patrick’s organization that in 1991 he decided to go into the seminar business. With a partner, he started another company that offers success resources and training programs, and it soon became the largest seminar organizer in Asia.

Despite their success, Patrick and his partner were dissatisfied with the fact that through live events they could reach only a limited number of people, depending on the place and the venue. In 1996, when the Internet started exploding and becoming commercialized, they saw another way to offer educational programs worldwide.

“The problem with most e-learning companies was they were text-based,” he says. “In order to learn online, you had to read a lot, something most people are not inclined to do. When video streaming technology became available, which was more advanced in Asia than in other parts of the world thanks to the Koreans and the Japanese, we created an audiovisual forum resembling very much what YouTube is today. People can log on to our system, watch a training, open another window to look at PowerPoint® slides or notes to supplement the learning experience, and exchange comments with other students who are watching the program at the same time.

“We have brought world-class speakers such as Tony Robbins, Robert Kiyosaki and Brian Tracy to the living rooms of students around the world. Our system allows them to learn at their own pace: if they understand the material, they can move on; if they don’t, they can repeat the program.”

Patrick’s e-learning company was not only the first in the world to function on a multimedia platform, today it has become the largest of its kind with over three million users. Patrick contributes its rapid success to the network marketing distribution system he adopted.

“People naturally promote our programs by word of mouth,” he says. “Because our product is technology-based, it’s easy to share. When users become distributors, they become coaches to others, helping them transition from conventional learning to a new way of learning online. Network marketing made the process of running the business very cost-effective.”

Today, Patrick’s e-learning company is active in fifty-eight countries and growing fast. One of the top accounting firms in the world, Deloitte & Touche, recently ranked it as the eleventh fastest growing technology company in the Asia/Pacific region.

Crisis Hits

In 2001, Patrick’s businesses were doing so well that he decided to leave the day-to-day operations to a professional management team so he could focus on his personal investments and charity work. Two years later, the S.A.R.S. epidemic hit and the Asian economy came to a grinding halt. Patrick recalls the events:

“In March 2003 I received a call from a colleague who told me, ‘You better come back, people are carrying things out of the office.’ I found out my management team had been headhunted by our competitors. Asia was in crisis, people were dying and everyone was scared. My real estate business had tanked, and since I privately owned both of my businesses there was a domino effect. We audited the company and realized it was virtually destroyed. In addition, my wife and I had made a lot of financial commitments that carried personal liabilities, so our personal credit was shot.

“The banks went into survival mode, recalling all our personal and business loans. We went through the darkest hours of our life, crying ourselves to sleep at night and walking around like zombies during the day, not knowing what to do.

“Whichever way we turned, we felt the walls were crashing in upon us. I tried to read books, attend seminars and consult with experts, but we could not find a way to dig ourselves out of the hole.

“At one point, in desperation, I looked up and pleaded, ‘Is there anybody up there who can tell me what to do? How can I get my life back?” Somehow, I felt a presence answering my prayer. The message I received was, ‘Touch lives,’ and over the following days this was echoed in many different ways and forms through various people I met.”

Patrick understood he had to go back to work and rebuild his relationships with those who were willing to stay with him. He promised he would become their friend, educate them, empower them, enable them, motivate them and inspire them to lead a meaningful, exciting and rewarding life.

A few days later, he looked up again and said, “Okay, I get it. I will build more than just a business. My life is not about personal gain, it’s about service and contribution.” The next message he received was, ‘That’s only part one. You also have to go back and tell your people three simple words: I love you.’”

Patrick had never heard anyone talk about love in the workplace.

“It was very hard for me to approach my business partners and say those words,” he says. “Asian men, especially, are not wired to be able to do this naturally. But I did it. I told everyone who had stayed with the company, ‘I love you, and if there’s a better way I can love you, teach me. Help me to love you in the way you want to be loved.’”

Love in Action

From that point onward, Patrick and his team adopted love as the foundation for rebuilding the company.

“Love also became our competitive edge,” he says. “Somehow, mysterious synchronicities began happening. Doors opened, customers responded to us as they’d never done before. We felt we were no longer involved in short-term business transactions; instead, we were building long-term personal relationships.

“Employees and associates who had left the company came back, because the ambiance and culture had shifted. People found new meaning in their work and enjoyed a sense of camaraderie they’d never experienced before.”

Patrick also instituted what he calls his weekly e-love letter. Every Monday, he and his leaders send a love note to their teams with the sole purpose of expressing love and putting it into action.

“To me, love is an action verb,” says Patrick. “Every week, we come up with different ways to demonstrate our love. For instance, at one point, we converted a generous part of our office into a lounge. We bought comfortable chairs, a billiard table and board games, and we served drinks. Our office became a place to celebrate life, interact with one another and enjoy fellowship at the end of the day.”

Over the years, Patrick was able to acquire a new building and added a restaurant with al fresco dining area, a gymnasium, a karaoke lounge, a game center, a spa and a beauty salon. He also opened an on-site Montessori-style daycare and preschool and built an exhibit center documenting the company’s history and evolution.

“Our office became essentially a mini–country club,” he says. “We celebrate everyone’s birthday and organize many recreational and educational programs, ranging from movies and shopping outings to overseas trips and retreats. Our employee handbook entitles everyone to a free monthly haircut, massage and facial. Other perks include free manicures, pedicures, valet services and shuttles to train stations.”

Patrick wants every team member to know that he or she is cared for, not just as a colleague but as a human being.

“Our company philosophy is based on three concentric circles,” he explains. “Love must begin at home, so we take care of our staff and our associates. Next, we go out and touch our customers, bringing them in as part of our family. The third circle is about taking care of our communities.

“Within our organization, we currently have four charity arms. The first is a humanitarian arm, reaching out to developing countries and providing humanitarian services and training programs.

“Second, we have an education arm that supports our local schools, teaching children life skills so they are better equipped to succeed once they graduate.

“The third arm is our elderly outreach program which has adopted about fifty needy elderly folks. We invite them to the office, provide wellness and medical screening, organize educational programs and offer recreational activities.

“Finally, our fourth arm does crisis relief. This year, we raised money for earthquake relief in Haiti, collected resources for typhoon victims in the Philippines and we organized a carnival as a fundraiser for the Sumatra earthquake victims.”

Grooming the Next Generation

A true social entrepreneur, Patrick is acutely aware of his responsibility to leave behind a more balanced and sustainable world. In order to accomplish this goal, his primary commitment is to education.

“I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m a learning addict,” he says. “Learning is the competitive advantage in business and in life. Only through learning can I continue to reinvent myself, be relevant and add value to society.”

Patrick extends his love of learning to others through his business ventures, yet his greatest passion is to teach children the fundamentals of entrepreneurship.

“If we want to change the world, we must reach out to the next generation,” he says. “The academic curriculum of our schools does not prepare them for the future. That’s why we approach middle schools and high schools and offer to come in and teach subjects such as financial literacy, leadership, entrepreneurship, communication and relationship-building.

“So far, we have reached about 7,500 children in Singapore, but our goal is to launch programs all over the world.”

Because of his unique company culture, Patrick is able to run his educational programs in a low-cost, self-sustaining way. Teaching is provided on a volunteer basis by his staff and associates, who are experts at recruiting their friends. Suppliers, customers and like-minded business partners contribute time or resources.

“I used to joke that we probably run a bigger charity than a lot of non-profit organizations,” says Patrick. “The beauty is that we have only one full-time staffperson helping to run all these programs.”

Patrick and his team just completed a three-month educational program with a group of 17-year-olds. The first month, they were taught the fundamentals of how to run a business. The second month, they started an actual company, which included coming up with a marketable idea, creating a business plan, raising capital and selling shares to friends and relatives.

The students created an organizational structure and elected a CEO, a CFO, a chief information officer, a chief production officer and a chief administrative officer. They ran the business for about six weeks, then closed it down and distributed the profits to the shareholders.

Patrick’s guarantee to the school is that the business will be profitable or his company will pay for the shortfall.

“The feedback we got from the students was extremely positive,” he says. “They acquired practical skills and learned about teamwork and leadership. They grew a lot more confident in their ability to take charge of their lives, including starting a business once they graduate.

“They discovered that by uniting around a common cause, contributing their unique gifts, challenging each other to grow and sharing in the profits (just like we do in network marketing), success becomes inevitable. When we can teach our children to build successful businesses based on servant leadership, love and cooperation, we will have found the key to putting the world right side up and making it the home we desire.”