Eurokars' Charmain Kwee on Driving the Family Legacy

By Grace Ma
Photography by Zulfadli bin Rahman, assisted by Tracey Nguyen
Styling by CK Koo
Grooming by Nikki Fu using YSL Beauty
01 Mar 2024

Eurokars’ group executive director Charmain Kwee is steering the family business to new heights in the automotive industry.

Being a “daddy’s girl” is not a description that Charmain Kwee takes kindly to. But ask the group executive director of Eurokars Group what her principles are, and the answer is swift and sure: Integrity and compassion, values that were deeply ingrained in her since childhood by her father Karsono Kwee, the Group’s founder and executive chairman.

The elder Kwee started Eurokars in 1985, scoring a coup when he beat bigger industry players to secure the Porsche distributorship in Singapore. Eurokars is now Singapore’s largest privately held automotive dealership with luxury and premium brands, such as Rolls-Royce Motor Cars, MINI, BMW, Mazda, McLaren, MG, and Pagani in its Singapore stable, as well as in Indonesia, Australia, and China.

Having an influential father made Kwee wary about revealing her background throughout her education journey. After graduating from the Yong Pung How School of Law at Singapore Management University, she chose to train with a mid-sized firm instead of applying for a contract with the larger firms. She shares: “I’ve always tried to shy away and step out of my dad’s shadow. I needed the assurance for myself that whatever achievements I had was because I worked hard and not because of my background.”

But when it came to the crunch, familial bonds still won. In 2021, Kwee was a legal associate working on commercial, family, and criminal cases when Eurokars and Porsche Asia Pacific were in talks to form a joint venture. She would come home to find her father sleepless from worry about how the new development would affect the brand he personally loved and had built up with sweat and tears. Although she loved her work in law, she decided to quit to help her father. She says: “I didn’t feel good to be working for other people while the man who fed and nurtured me was going through a tough time and I couldn’t be there to help.” 

It was meant to be a temporary arrangement, but Kwee eventually decided to stay on. Since her appointment as the Group’s executive director in January 2022, it has been a continuous drive to learn the ropes of the car trade. Right after the Eurokars-Porsche joint venture, she was involved in the successful pitching for and appointment of Eurokars as the second full-fledged dealer in Singapore for BMW Group in May 2022.

Outfit by Tod's

Eurokars has since gone full throttle with expansion plans. In December 2023, it moved into its new $106-million headquarters at 11 Kung Chong Road, which also houses the largest Rolls-Royce Motor Cars Showroom in the Asia-Pacific region with a brand-new visual identity and a capaciously sleek BMW Eurokars Experience Centre boasting the first-ever Retail.Next Concept in Singapore.

A new BMW Eurokars Flagship Centre showcasing the entire BMW fleet from luxury sedans to sports and electric models will be ready by the second half of this year. The multistory building will also include an integrated service center for the MINI brand. The Eurokars Supersports showroom for McLaren will be expanded and renovated to house a Pagani showroom. In February, a third BMW Eurokars Authorised Service Centre will open at the Eurokars Aftersales Centre located in Tanjong Penjuru.

The sheer pace of these developments must have rubbed off Kwee, who speaks rapidly with confidence, albeit with an unassuming air.  When asked about the biggest lesson she has learnt in the last two years, she says: “The world is actually a very simple place. If you can understand the root of where people are coming from, you become more empathetic and compassionate and know what they’re really looking for. In that sense, there is no problem that cannot be solved.”

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Following her father around in the car showrooms and being involved in charity projects with her mother from a young age has also instilled the importance of integrity and compassion in Kwee. She often saw her father quickly fulfilling his promises to his customers and how well respected he was in social and professional circles for being a man of his word.  She says: “I’ve learned that being honorable and principled are the only things that keep you grounded while circumstances and environments change.”

She describes her leadership style as straightforward, saying candidly: “I don’t believe in beating around the bush, but am upfront about what I can do. If I have a strong belief and can back up what I can offer, I don’t have to worry.” The years in law practice has also taught her to stay level-headed and objective when business meetings become “a whirlwind of emotions”. She feels she can still be more empathetic and learn her father’s “more elegant way of getting things across”.

Working in the male-dominated automobile industry has never been an issue for Kwee. “The showroom floor may be mostly male, but the Group’s chief executive officer, general counsel, and chief financial officer are all female, so I never felt I was a minority. Sure, there are male chauvinists, but we don’t have to buy into negative talk when we know what we stand for,” she says resolutely. For young women thinking of joining a completely different industry like she did, Kwee encourages them not to see it as a disadvantage, but an opportunity to bring more to the table with different strengths and perspectives. 

Outfit by Boss Women

Kwee currently oversees all brands and operations in Singapore while sharing oversight of the China and Australia markets with her elder brother. Her mission is to position Eurokars as a convenient and comfortable one-stop luxury ecosystem for car buyers from the point of purchase to after-sales service. Sensing a trend towards asset-light ownership, she is particularly focusing on growing the company’s leasing arm.

She has also set up a sustainability working committee to research more resource-efficient modes of operation and to coordinate efforts on corporate social responsibility projects. The vulnerable and marginalized are close to her heart and Eurokars has been a keen supporter of charities like Food from the Heart and The Straits Times School Pocket Money Fund. Personally, she volunteers for free legal clinics whenever she has the time.

(Related: 5 individuals who are primed for passion)

Passion may be the fuel for surviving in tough times, but Kwee believes the real key is knowing the purpose behind every decision. She says: “My heart must align with what I’m doing, that this is really what I want. The basis for my commitment is the people under our care and the principals who have entrusted us with their brands. I want to make it work; I want to make it grow.”