Grad Transforms Family Business, Evolves Local Gem and Jewelry Network

Yichen Ng, known as "YC" to friends and colleagues, has grown his family
Yihchen Ng, known as "Y.C." to friends and colleagues, has grown his family's business and helped build an active, vibrant GIA Alumni chapter in Malaysia. Photo courtesy of Yihchen Ng
Yihchen Ng’s childhood home in Seremban, Malaysia is only an hour from his residence in Kuala Lumpur, the nation’s bustling capital city.

But his path to a major metropolitan area was not direct – Ng’s professional and educational journey wound through many countries and schools before bringing him home.

Ng, known as “Y.C.” to friends and colleagues, is the group executive director of Tomei Consolidated Bhd., and the executive director and CEO of Malaysia’s Oasis College. 

His grandfather, a goldsmith in China, immigrated to Malaysia with his wife in the 1930s, but passed away before he was able to pass those skills to the couple’s sons. Ng’s father began his own education, and opened Tomei after finishing his collegiate work.

Ng, who completed grade school in Kuala Lumpur, high school in Singapore and attended grade 13 in Canada’s Columbia College and freshman year with Michigan Technological University, finally settled in after transferring to Iowa State University, where he majored in marketing and graduated with a B.B.A. in 1988.

He returned home and joined Tomei, where he dreamed of evolving the family company. “Those were the days of a predominantly gold jewelry industry,” he says, “when gold accounted for 90 percent of the sales revenue. Even though our business was primarily gold jewelry, I saw the potential of diamonds and gems in the future of Malaysia.”

Friends in the industry recommended that Ng pursue studies at GIA if he wanted to get serious about growth in the jewelry business; he says it was a “natural choice” and completed the Institute’s rigorous Graduate Gemologist correspondence course in 1990, in just a year.

“It was tough, especially when it came to grading and gem identification,” he says. “It was difficult to master, definitely an eye-opening and challenging experience.”

And without a local person to guide him – Ng knew of no other GGs in Kuala Lumpur at the time – or the benefit of today’s Web-based curriculum, he was largely on his own.

His diligence showed positive returns. After he earned his GG, he began to buy loose gemstones and build the first stages of Tomei’s gem and jewelry manufacturing business. He has worked in and overseen nearly every aspect of the company’s growing operations and introduced CAD and 3D prototyping in 2004.

Ng completed his MBA in finance from the U.K.’s University of Hull in 1995 and primarily focuses on corporate issues and sales. He also serves as treasurer for the Federation of Goldsmiths and Jewelers’ Associations of Malaysia (FGJAM), which has “constant dialogue sessions” with several government agencies, including the police and central bank, on security issues and new rulings.

In 2010, Ng also took over as CEO and executive director of Malaysia’s burgeoning Oasis College, which offers the first jewelry design course approved by the country’s Ministry of Higher Education. The program requires students to spend months of hands-on training in industrial manufacturing and retail environments.

But as much as Ng embraces new technologies and ventures, he believes a solid foundation is critical.

“A GIA education is a must,” he says. “It’s the ticket to the gem industry, a template and guiding tool to explore further. You gain a knowledge about gems that is mapped out systematically, and are trained with equipment for identification. This sets a firm foundation.”

Ng advises students enrolling at GIA to cover the basics: get their eyesight checked, mentally prepare for “intensive practical training,” and brush up on English if it’s not their first language. He also encourages them to join a local Alumni Association chapter and follow GIA publications to advance professional knowledge and understand new technologies after they graduate.

His own early experience taught him about the importance of that professional network, and in 2010, Ng was hand-selected by Tawfic Farah, GIA’s late vice president of international operations, to launch the GIA Alumni Association chapter in Malaysia.

Ng, who resides in Kuala Lumpur with his wife and three children, has served as president of the chapter ever since. He’s energized about the chapters’ growth and leadership, and how it can help the regional gem and jewelry business.

 “One of the main reasons for establishing a local chapter was to provide a good network for alumni – be it for academic or business support, or just friendship,” he says. “And since GIA is very active in engaging the global alumni communities, it helps local chapters connect and relate with other chapters effectively.”