Follow Hougang and Tiong Bahru: Zainudin
He has faced much criticism over having his hands in two football clubs that have posted big profits from jackpot operations, with some in the local fraternity stopping just short of accusing Bill Ng of lining his own pockets.
Ng – chairman of the S.League's Hougang United and National Football League (NFL) side Tiong Bahru FC – has rubbished such talk, and Football Association of Singapore (FAS) president Zainudin Nordin has gone a step further.
He believes that Tiong Bahru have contributed to Singapore football, while Hougang present a model that other S.League clubs should follow.
"Bill took about six years to turn Tiong Bahru around, and then it became an engine to help Tanjong Pagar United (when the club rejoined the S.League in 2011).
"That knowledge was then transferred to Hougang and they became a self-funding club that can operate without subsidies. At the end of the season, there are donations from them to the FAS' football development fund," Zainudin told The New Paper recently.
FAS president Zainudin Nordin.
In 2014, Hougang made a profit of more than $2 million. Most S.League clubs operate on an annual budget of between $1.2 million and $1.5 million, and depend on around $800,000 in annual subsidies from the Tote Board.
Hougang's accounts show that they can survive on their own.
Tiong Bahru's 2013 audited accounts show a $4.8 million gross surplus.
In an interview with TNP last year, Ng said that in the preceding years, the club had donated some $700,000 to the FAS football development fund.
"Tiong Bahru regularly donate to the development fund and they are one of the better-managed clubs in the NFL," insisted Zai.
"Why are people jealous despite the ups and downs, they have shown good governance, management and an innovative way of attracting club members," asked Zainudin.
Some in the fraternity have suggested that Ng's leadership of Tiong Bahru and Hougang was solely directed at making money, and the 54-year-old Ng did not flinch at the suggestion.
"Making money is not a dirty word because that is how we are able to sustain ourselves.
"The perpetual and mistaken notion is that as chairman, I'll get to line my pocket whenever there are profits," said Ng.
"Everyone in the footballing management fraternity knows this is not so. On the contrary, I have extended countless interest-free loans to my club from my own pocket without taking back a single dollar of interest."
"I run my own successful financial advisory and equity firm. Hence, frankly, I can do without the accompanying unfair and uninformed insinuations from certain quarters of the public.
"But, as a public face of my clubs, that's the way it is and I take it in my stride," added Ng who believes he is performing "national service" through his clubs.
Tiong Bahru's 2013 accounts showed that they paid out $1.26 million in salaries and bonuses, with 2012 numbers set at $1.54 million. These have raised red flags in some quarters, but Ng insists that he has nothing to hide.
"Benchmark us against the industry and then decide if our staff are under or overpaid. I can reveal this with pride: My best managers get six to eight-month bonuses a year easily. But those bonuses are well-earned, well-deserved.
"They've met their KPIs at their work, and are rewarded accordingly," said Ng, who revealed that his jackpot operations are open 365 days a year, 18 hours a day, on two-staff shifts.
"My belief is that (clubs') reliance on subsidies - while well-intentioned - can be bad.
"It becomes a crutch, saps away the energy and distracts (clubs) from the focus of becoming self-reliant.
"Because (we) are now in the black, we are in the position to return our profits back to FAS.
"In return, FAS can then channel these financial resources to better use elsewhere.
"As I have said, my involvement in Singapore football is to contribute and give back. And if we have a chance to share our financial bounty to improve the game and its infrastructure here in Singapore, I will do it," he added.
"We started some years ago and my team and I are pleased to say we will continue to build a better platform for Singapore football."
BY THE NUMBERS
$2m Hougang United made a profit of more than $2 million in 2014. Most S.League clubs operate on an annual budget of between $1.2 million and $1.5 million, and depend on around $800,000 in annual subsidies from the Tote board.
'I'm here to serve'
'SIMPLE AND FRUGAL' PHILOSOPHY: Hougang United and Tiong Bahru FC chairman Bill Ng insists that there is no secret formula to making his clubs financially viable and that it is all about prudent management. TNP FILE PHOTO
Q: Some have pointed to the mooted merger (in 2014) between Hougang and Woodlands Wellington as a move by you to gain control of another jackpot operation. How exactly did you become involved in that?
Bill Ng: This is certainly a fairy tale! I am not as powerful as those uninformed critics make me out to be. I answer to the S.League management and Football Association of Singapore (FAS).
S.League clubs are registered societies under the jurisdiction of the FAS. With the (then) merger; we were just the appointed administrators.
Woodlands Wellington were running a deep deficit for several years and financially unsustainable. The potential merger then was initiated, supported and sanctioned by the FAS.
Q: How has all the negative talk affected your work and family life?
Granted my family does occasionally get affected when there are the occasional published unfair comments about me.
But, after so many years at the helm, you can say they are, most times, immune. I'd like to think that they are proud of me doing this, just as much as they'd perhaps prefer me choosing a quiet happy life with them.
Q: You have said in the past that you would gladly give up the running of Tiong Bahru FC (TBFC) to the FAS. Why is that?
I initially got involved in local football through TBFC in 2005. They were then deeply in the red. I managed to turn it around financially in a few years.
The club are now financially healthy and sustainable. Capitalising on my expertise in financial management and in areas like the restructuring of distressed companies, I thought my involvement would at the very least provide a sustainable model for other clubs to follow.
If there is a proven successor to take over the job at TBFC that FAS endorses, let me know, I'll gladly hand over the reins.
Q: What would you say your role is in the football fraternity here, and what do you bring to the table?
I have vast experience in turning around poor organisations and companies, working with limited resources and constraints and getting institutions back on their feet with sustainable business practices.
I'm here to serve with my talent, experience and skill sets. Given my passion for the game, I think I can contribute my skills in management and in the overall financial structure and that in turn, will help to raise the standard of the game, giving both players and fans something they can be proud of.
Q: Some clubs have gone into financial trouble in the past, while Hougang continue to be self-sufficient. What is your secret to financial viability even as other clubs struggle to stay afloat?
There is no secret formula, silver bullet or magic wand. It is about prudent financial management. We spend less than we earn. Period.
Then when you have excess funds, you channel to where you think resources would provide the best returns for the club.
So this "simple and frugal" philosophy flows down the line; from our procurement of supplies to our team and expenses in running our vital jackpot operations. Our full-time staff are paid well. Most have been with us for many years.
Q: What has been the most satisfying achievement in your work in football so far? Do you think there are more such days ahead?
To financially turn Hougang around after some five years is extremely rewarding. Beyond that, it is also working with a group of like-minded individuals who share my passion for the game and want to bring Singapore football to greater heights.
I get tremendous satisfaction when I see players and officials develop and grow under my charge.
At the same time, it keeps my mind young. Though I can hold on to certain beliefs, I do not claim to have all the answers.
If any of my officials can convince me that another way is better, my mind is always open. Contrary to what the public thinks, there is no autocracy in Hougang.
Because (we) are now in the black, we are in the position to return our profits back to FAS.
— Bill Ng, whose NFL club Tiong Bahru FC have, as of last year, donated about $700,000 to the Football Association of SIngapore’s football development fund