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Going for broke: The Master’s way

This article first appeared in The News Straits Times in the 1970s.

While most mathematics teachers in the 1950s shield away from teaching stocks and shares, Kok Ah Too approached the subject with much relish, instilling in his students the fundamental knowledge of keeping tabs on price movements.

Popularly known as the “Master”, Mr Kok, a headmaster turned stockbroker who will be 76 in October, recalled with much delight the lessons he gave his students on how and where to look for good stocks.

“Most teachers did not want to teach stocks and shares because they themselves could not understand the market. But I made it a point to teach this subject because I could understand it and I found it interesting. I used to make my students cut clippings on share prices found in the Malay Mail.

“At the end of the year, we would list out the counters which made profits and whose prices had moved up.”

He left his cushy job as headmaster in 1960 to join Malayan Traders, where he is now a senior partner, as a stockbroker.

Speaking about his career switch, Mr Kok said: “You reach a stage of your life where you feel you have reached the limit and have to turn elsewhere for more challenges. It was also during that time that I realized I would be needing more money to support my children’s education.”

Mr Kok looked around and saw potential in the stock market. “During my teaching days, I used to tell my students how some shares appreciate as much as 20 per cent over a year. That was much more than the four per cent you could get by depositing your money in the bank.

“Even if you need to borrow at four per cent to buy your shares, should a share’s price move up by 20 per cent, you could still make 16 per cent after paying off the bank. It was then that I decided there was money to be made in the stock market.”

When he joined Malayan Traders, the stock broking industry was still in its infancy but he has since been witness to the evolution of the industry.

He said during the Korean War the most active counters were in tin and rubber because of the demand for the two commodities but after Stalin died and the Russians no longer supported the war, the market crashed as there was no longer demand for both the commodities.

Mr Kok formed the core of pioneers who fought hard to get the message across that the country needed to have its own exchange.

He recalled that it was fortunate there was a politician who saw the need to nurture the growth of the industry and provided us with a room at one of the old Government buildings near the clock tower”.

It was a historic moment for the brokers and investors as that was the first time a board was put up and prices listed.

On what a broker should be, Mr Kok said: “Brokers should serve the public instead of himself. Those who cheat the public deserved to be punished.”

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