AS a schoolboy, Jonathan Phua worked part-time as an office boy at engineering and real estate firm TEE International (TEE).
Now, as TEE prepares to spin off its property arm, Mr Phua, 38, is poised to become the boss of the new publicly listed company.
TEE's property development unit TEE Land is helmed by Mr Phua, the nephew of TEE chief executive Phua Chian Kin, 53.
In February, TEE announced that it would inject $16 million of its property assets into TEE Land, and it aims to list it separately on the Singapore Exchange by the second quarter of this year.
Mr Jonathan Phua oversees 19 projects in Singapore and across South-east Asia. The unit's stake in these residential, commercial and industrial properties has a gross development value of about $684 million.
He joined TEE's business development unit in 1997. The accountancy diploma holder rose steadily through the ranks to become the managing director of the property arm under his uncle's mentorship.
In 2009 and 2010, he was a key player in a team which clinched two contracts for electrical fittings and facilities management works at Marina Bay Sands and Asia Square Tower 1, worth $280 million.
That year, he struck a three-year deal with his uncle to take TEE's real estate business to new heights.
With little time to prove his mettle, Mr Jonathan Phua, risk-averse and prudent, started on small-scale projects before moving on to joint ventures with reputable developers such as Kim Seng Heng Holdings and Heeton Holdings.
Despite the onslaught of property cooling measures in Singapore, he said he is optimistic that TEE Land can take advantage of the pockets of opportunities in the market.
His winning formula, he said, is to provide quality housing with a unique and tasteful concept that is still affordable. Focusing on a niche market has protected TEE Land from feeling the full effects of a slow take-up rate for investment properties.
Most of its local residential projects are in the East Coast area - from one-bedroom apartments costing about $550,000 to cluster terraces for over $3 million.
He credited his uncle and senior project managers for his success and said the most valuable lesson he has learnt in the business over 16 years is the virtue of patience. "Don't rush into deals. If you don't take a step back and look at the problem from a wider perspective, your decision may be biased," said Mr Jonathan Phua.
Last April, TEE's growth journey met with a hiccup when both chief executive Phua Chian Kin and independent and non-executive chairman Bertie Cheng were investigated by the Commercial Affairs Department over the possible contravention of market rigging provisions under the Securities and Futures Act.
The CAD has made no public statement on the outcome of the probe.
The group has since bounced back from that and is now in the advance stage of preparing for the possible IPO of TEE Land.
Looking back on his achievements, Mr Jonathan Phua appears to have been destined to enter the property development business.
"I enjoyed playing with Playmobil toys since I was young and would build castles, fire stations, farms and towns," he said.
He still speaks of township planning like a bright-eyed six-year-old.
He said: "I love the thrill and excitement of completing a project from start to finish. But the greatest fulfilment and reward comes when buyers appreciate and recognise the work of my team."