Friday, October 17, 2008

He's trying to raise $15,000 to meet Richard Branson, by Benson Ang - Singapore Press Holdings - 17th October 2008

But man tells people on Orchard Rd that money is for business school

You may have seen this man on Orchard Road on Tuesday, clad in singlet and pants, carrying a signboard and offering bookmarks and hugs.

The sign reads: 'Help Me Raise Funds to Enter a Business School and Get a Free Hug!'

Speak to him and you discover what he really wants is money to fly to Los Angeles to meet his idol, the flamboyant English billionaire Richard Branson, at a charity dinner.

The 24-year-old did not want to reveal his real name, explaining: 'I do not know how my family and my relatives will react to this.

'So if anything negative comes out, I can just say it's another person, for the time being.'

But he has already exposed his identity by agreeing to be photographed, we told him. His reply: 'Do you know how many people look like me? I'm quite surprised. Just today, I saw four people who looked like me.'

So he asked to be known by his alias, Casper White, instead.

Why is he raising money like this? He said: 'If you think I am crazy, you are not the first person to say so.'

He said he and two friends were trying to raise money for three plane tickets to Los Angeles, so that they could attend a charity dinner called Rock the Kasbah, organised by Mr Branson. (See report on facing page.)

Casper and his friends have until Sunday to raise $15,000, or $5,000 a person.

He declined to reveal how much money he had on his own.

Just finished NS

He said he graduated from Temasek Polytechnic with a diploma in Information Technology two years ago and finished his national service last month.

He became interested in business in August last year, and began to be inspired by Mr Branson, whom he calls his 'Kurt Cobain' (the late frontman of rock band Nirvana).

'The people (at the charity dinner) are all very experienced and wise businessmen who can sell ice to Eskimos, who can make millions just out of a few bucks.

'When we go there, and are surrounded by these businessmen, they will pass their knowledge to us, and we can be just as successful.'

Casper said he had some business projects in mind, but declined to reveal further details.

'First, I'm going to tell him (Mr Branson) the things I went through just to be there. Second, I want to tell him how much I respect him, his values, his principles.

'Third, I will ask for what opportunities he can offer to my homeland - Singapore - which I can take up and spread throughout the country.'

Casper has been asking people to buy bookmarks from him 'at a minimum of $2'. He bought the bookmarks for about 20 cents each that morning from a neighbourhood stationary shop.

He raised about $570 on Tuesday, and hugged six people. Yesterday, he managed to raise another $60.

What if he fails to raise enough money? 'I don't think of the negative. But in the worst-case scenario, we'll just donate all proceeds to Virgin Unite.'

Virgin Unite is the independent charity arm of Mr Branson's Virgin Group.

Was he being honest by saying on his sign that he wanted money to enrol in a business school? 'I'm not lying. When I go to Los Angeles, I will be meeting up with some very successful people, millionaires and billionaires. And they will pass down to me wisdom, information, teachings and principles, which I have to take in and apply, to be successful.

'Isn't that like school also?'

Do his parents approve? His mother, accounts assistant Azizah Latiff, 47, said: 'Initially, I told him that it's not such a good idea because the stock market was crashing. But he insisted that he wants to go, and is putting all his effort into it. I just hope it will become a reality.'

Said his father, Mr Shariff Ahmad, 58, who is unemployed: 'At first, I told him that it was crazy to do this. I think it's not easy. But I hope the best for him, lah.'

Casper, who lives in a five-room HDB flat in the East with his parents, said: 'They told me to get a job. But I don't want a job. The only way to be truly happy and secure is to have a business, or a business mindset.'

Did he consider other ways to raise money?

He said: 'We have two days to raise $15,000. If we want to work, the only job I can think of is called The Italian Job, meaning we go rob a bank, and steal the money.

Gaining experience

'We thought of borrowing (the money), but it's more of a hassle because of interest. We also want to gain the experience, and go through the challenge, to make us grow stronger, wiser and more mature.'

Casper claims his success rate is about one in 40 people approached, and that the highest amount he received was $100.

A police spokesman told The New Paper: 'Such sales are considered as illegal hawking if there is no prior approval from the National Environment Agency (NEA).

'The public is advised to lodge a complaint with the NEA should they encounter such street sales.

'The public may also call the police for assistance should they be harassed during the pitching of such sales.'

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