“Okay, let’s do it!” Kim yells as she emerges from the makeup area, wearing a soft-but-sultry smoky eye look by famed makeup artist Shaun Lee, a sleek bob that’s been freshly trimmed by celebrity hairstylist David Gan just minutes before, and the same Dior Chez Moi short-sleeved jacket and pants set that she had arrived in. Her mood is exuberant, and her rambunctious laughter fills the cosy photo studio as creative director Windy Aulia walks her through the wardrobe for the shoot.
Once in front of the lens, though, her demeanour switches in a split second: cool, composed and charismatic. Here’s where Kim’s not-so-distant past experience as a jet-setting style influencer comes through.
She strikes different poses effortlessly, giving the photographer a range of
shapes and expressions to work with. She nails the first shot in less than five minutes. As the crew gathers around the screen to review the pictures, the photographer comments that she looks very different from her previous magazine shoots. Perhaps it’s the new hair, he wonders out loud. “It’s the new me,” she replies excitedly.
We meet up at Illumia Therapeutics the following Monday for the interview. The same rambunctious laughter heard during the shoot echoes throughout the hallway of the medispa, a dead giveaway that Kim is in the vicinity.
We get down to business – literally – immediately after we sit down in a consultation room. She excitedly rattles off her upcoming plans: Both Illumia Therapeutics and Papilla Haircare will be opening a second branch at Nex in September, with four to five more branches in the works. Regional expansion plans are also in the pipeline for next year, with Kim exploring options in Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia.
“Of course, the Covid situation has slowed everything down, so I’m just going to focus on the Singapore market first. I don’t want to open too many branches – just a few solid ones so that I can do quality control,” she shares.
According to her team, Kim regularly tries the treatments herself, using those sessions to ensure that everything is up to her standard. And her bar is pretty high, considering that she has been an avid beauty treatment client prior to setting up her own business, and can pinpoint exactly what needs to be done to improve the customer experience and results. Kim’s business partner, Elizabeth Leong, lets on that she’s so astute to the point that she instinctively knows when a machine in the facility is going to break down.
“She’ll always be the first to tell. It’s really weird, she’ll alert me that it’s going to happen, and the machine will really break down the next day. It’s happened a few times,” says Elizabeth incredulously.
To Kim, the top priority is building a good brand name – one that is synonymous with trustworthiness and effectiveness. She candidly admits that she can be a micromanager in this aspect, and that is why she has to hold off on her regional expansion plans with the current travel restrictions: “I want to fly to those countries and be there to manage the quality, to make sure that the foundation is there.”
Besides her medispa and haircare centre, Kim has also launched a slew of clinics and products under her holding company, Kelhealth Group, over the past year and a half. There’s Illumia Medical, headed by Dr Ram Nath and Dr Ong Xiang Ning; Polaris Plastic Surgery, led by Dr Adrian Ooi; Orion Orthopaedic Surgery, led by Dr Mizan Marican; Papilla Scalpceuticals, a line of hair and scalp products formulated by Korean dermatologists; Illumia Skin, a medical-grade skincare range; and Slimfood, a low-calorie snack brand.
Her latest venture under Kelhealth is health foods brand Ssunsu (pronounced “sun-su”). Kim gushes about the efficacy of the hot-selling Beauty + Red Ginseng Jelly: “It’s made with real ginseng and it’s really good. You can feel your body getting warm if you take too much,” she warns.
Under the same brand, she’s exploring made-in-Korea supplements for immunity-boosting, digestion and natural weight loss. She’s also looking to revamp her skincare line, which will carry two ranges: one for the mass market, and another for the luxury market. The plan is to develop the products in Korea.
On the aggressive growth of her ventures, the spunky entrepreneur readily attributes it to her team. “I’m quite grateful to God, and I really need to thank my staff for working so hard with me. We have really good teamwork, which allowed us to grow a bit more quickly, despite the Covid situation,” she says. And yes, she’s aware of naysayers who maintain that it’s impossible for her to fail because of the backing of her father, business magnate Peter Lim.
“Yes, he gave me a certain amount to start with,” she states for the record, although she declines to reveal the number and her profits (“the numbers are good”). “But he also told me that if I run out, that’s it. I have to close (my businesses).” She wonders if that’s her father’s way of teaching her the ropes, which gives her the push to work even harder because she wants to make him proud.
“My company is my number one priority right now,” she says determinedly, adding that she knows there’s no running away from the “billionaire heiress” label that people have associated her with. “Well, I am my father’s daughter,” she says with a small chuckle. “But of course, I want to try and make it by myself. I have a goal in life and somewhere I want to be.”
Her earnest efforts and workaholic nature have not gone unnoticed – it’s come to a point where Peter is texting his elder daughter reminders to take care of herself.
Kim Lim 3.0
Prior to the pandemic, Kim was known for her lavish, star-studded parties – be it for herself or her now four-year-old son Kyden (who had a much-talked-about funfair-themed 99th-day bash). This year, the festivities are a lot more toned down, partly due to the pandemic, and partly due to what she’s jokingly termed “Kim 3.0”.
She is, in her own words, “consumed by work” – it’s not unusual for her to be in meetings till 3am, and she has pulled all-nighters at Illumia Therapeutics’ Wheelock outlet. She describes her sleep schedule as “flexible”, adjusted according to business needs.
For her milestone 30th birthday on July 23, Kim kept it simple with a family dinner. “And maybe take photos with all my cakes,” she says at the time of this interview, her eyes lighting up. Cakes bring her joy and she orders them whenever there’s a reason for celebration (her favourite cake shop is Creme Maison). Oh, and her preferred flavours are strawberry, raspberry and blueberry.
“The new me is focused on my work, building my company and sustaining it well,” she says. Does she miss the fun she had as a carefree 20something socialite? “No leh,” she says flatly. “I do miss the travelling part, but my life is much better now. I used to drink a lot, now I only drink one to two glasses of wine. I’m past that phase.”
As anyone who has known (or followed) Kim over the years can attest, she’s definitely been through a lot of personal growth over the past couple of years. “I’ve just become more responsible, I guess, because I’ve got so many people to take care of,” she reflects.
By people, she means her 50-strong staff at Kelhealth and, of course, her son. “He’s made me the person I am today because I have to buck up in order to take care of him. I want him to have a good life.” She pauses, then playfully adds: “OK lah, him and his kids. For two generations, maximum!”
Her mental health
Kim readily shares that she’s also learning to prioritise her mental health – she’s been seeing a psychiatrist since the start of the year (she’s diagnosed with borderline personality disorder). Interestingly, it was her staff who booked the first appointment for her, after seeing her experience a panic attack at work.
There’s something to be said about the empathic and supportive environment that Kim has fostered at her company. “I’ve always put everything else before myself, so sometimes, I really tire myself out. I need to work on myself and learn to love myself more.” She elaborates that she’s getting better at organising her thoughts and dealing with her triggers.
And for anyone who might be going through a mental health crisis, Kim has the following words of assurance: “It’s okay to see someone if you need help. Your mental health is very important. It really makes a huge difference once you start to recognise the problems and try to work on them.”
One thing that has remained constant for Kim, though, is her philanthropic work. She notes that, since young, she has been made aware of her privileged position and the importance of giving back. “I try to do whatever I can, whenever it’s needed,” she says.
As such, she still makes it a point to get involved despite her busy work schedule, and has even set up a voluntary organisation under Kelhealth. Last year, it distributed hand sanitisers, wet wipes and Dettol soap to the elderly, and food to medical staff at hospitals and dormitories.
This year, she’s concentrating her efforts on healthcare workers stationed at the various vaccination centres and swab sites, bringing them treats to fuel and cheer them on. She expresses some disappointment in the way that healthcare workers have been discriminated against throughout the course of the pandemic, pointing out: “They’re risking their lives and their families to go to work, to protect us.”
Her love life
The conversation shifts to her relationship status when I ask what’s been annoying her recently in a round of rapid-fire questions. She ponders for a bit, and with a weak smile, replies: “Relationship problems, haha!”
She coolly lets on that her love life is a little rocky at the moment, but takes some time to consider her next words. “I’m still figuring it out,” she says carefully, adding that she’s not looking to rush into anything, and her focus right now is on her work and family.
That said, Kim’s well-meaning friends and associates would like us to put it out there that yes, Kim Lim is newly single. But just how available – only she can tell.