SINGAPORE — Born in Kuala Lumpur Malaysia in 1950, Exhibitor of the Year Choo Meileen’s heritage says much about the person she is today.

Her grandfather Loke Yew came to Singapore as a penniless 13-year-old from southern China. Having managed to finally save up $99, he sought his fortune in the tin mines of Malaya — upon his death in 1917, he was one of the country’s richest men.

But it is Choo’s grandmother Cheng Kim who set the precedent for strong women in the family.

“In 1936, our late grandmother, Mrs. Loke Yew, who was then a young widow, purchased the land to construct Singapore’s first 16-story skyscraper. It was a momentous decision for a time when many women were still unschooled and mere housewives. She certainly set the example for the women in the Loke family to follow. The Cathay Building and its attendant cinema were, respectively, the first skyscraper and air-conditioned cinema in Singapore,” according to Choo.

Choo’s own career within the Cathay Organisation started in 1976 as assistant film distribution manager, becoming chairman and CEO in 1985. She successfully listed the Cathay Organisation Group of Cos. on the Singapore Stock Exchange in 1998. The group not only manages cineplexes and distributes films, but develops and manages properties such as hotels and residences. Her ambitions are to make a feature film about the Chinese “coolies” in Cuba and to write a novel — if and when she eventually retires. Choo is also an avid and passionate custodian of her family’s archives and history.

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