3 Lessons Learnt From The Ever Zany Billionaire Entrepreneur.
3 Lessons Learnt From The Ever Zany Billionaire Entrepreneur
Lesson #1: Hiring & Managing Employees
When it comes to hiring, personality is so important. And sometimes having one or two people to be “a little bit off the wall” thrown into the mix would be highly beneficial.
He also believes in giving employees second chances. There was once an employee who was caught stealing records from one of his stores and he gave him a second chance. This employee turned out to be most loyal in the end and discovered Virgin’s most successful bands like Boy George, Culture Club and Genesis.
Lesson #2: Screw it, Just Do It!
Set yourself a seemingly impossible task and then strive to get there. If you just tumble along day after day, it may be good but not much fun. Set yourself new challenges to try and overcome.
Lesson #3: Life is More Fun When You Say, “Yes!” Than If You Say,”No.”
Richard has a big fear of saying no and regretting it later. He’s never regretted saying yes even when there are times he’s fallen flat on his face. Cue the bet he lost with Air Asia boss Tony Fernandez and had to dress up as a stewardess on Air Asia’s charity flight.
Taking 11,000 child prostitutes off the streets of the U.S.
As a continuation from my previous post How To Break The Ceiling & Touch The Sky, One of the amazing women Mr. Anthony Rose has interviewed for his book Break The Ceiling Touch The Sky is Dr. Lois Lee. She has helped to take 11,000 child prostitutes off the streets of the U.S. Watch the video to find out how she did it.
This book has also evolved into an international summit of the same name. Its speakers feature senior executives from multinational corporations like Coca Cola, Walmart, Burberry, Kellogg, Spotify and so on. With opportunities to network with them and other business people, and a chance to learn from the best on how to be the best, it promises to be an amazing event!
Break The Ceiling Touch The Sky Summit details:
Venue: Shangri-La Hotel Singapore
Date: 29 August 2016, Monday
Time: 8.30am to 6pm
Ticket price: from $429.
To register, click here. By the way, I have 1 more ticket at my table going for $389. If you’re interested please send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Besides what’s in the news, little is known of the people behind Phoon Huat. This is a peek into what it was like for me growing up with the business and the stories that I’ve heard.
My grandfather, Wong Chen Keng, came to Singapore in 1940 when he was 4 years old from Hainan Island to join his father, Wong Tai Fuang. He travelled with his mother and older brother by Chinese junk boat.
In those days, the conditions on the boat were far from sanitary and disease spread quickly. My grandfather fell seriously ill and nearly died.
But as good fortune would have it, my grandfather survived.
Phoon Huat would have been a very different company if he didn’t for he was the one who developed Redman flavoured concentrates that gained popularity in the 60s and 70s.
When I was in kindergarten, we had a Redman factory in Aljunied. My grandmother used to pick my sisters and I up from school and bring us there for the afternoon. As we ate lunch my grandmother packed, we would watch the factory churn out glass bottles containing concentrate in psychedelic colours. Pink, orange, red, green, yellow vials of concentrate would twirl around with timed precision as they were filled, labelled and capped by machine. The aroma of syrupy sweetness always hung in the air. I remember sitting at the supervisor’s desk, watching the finished bottles of concentrate arriving in a circular space at the end of the production line. 2 factory workers would then pack the bottles into boxes of 10, smear industrial glue on the flaps and close the boxes. Sometimes when the circular space got too full too fast, or if the factory worker who was packing was careless, glass bottles breaking were not uncommon. We did try to pack these boxes because we wanted to help but the glass bottles were quite heavy, and we were quite short and couldn’t quite reach the boxes comfortably.
If we were sleepy, we would nap on the boxes that were already packed and waiting to be shipped out. Of course, as kids, we sometimes got up to mischief when we had nothing to do or we were tired of our Carebears sticker book. More than once, one of us would push the emergency button and all machinery would come to an abrupt halt. I don’t remember being scolded for it but the factory workers were none too pleased.
Besides Redman concentrates, grandfather also successfully reverse engineered the recipe for the ever-so-popular Konnyaku jelly that Phoon Huat has sold in little blue packets since the 90s. As kids, we were always happy to be guinea pigs for him to test out the different versions of the Konnyaku jelly on. “Too chewy like chewing gum!” “Not chewy enough, it’s like agar agar*!” “Not sweet enough!” “Why no flavour?” He took our feedback seriously and would tweak the recipe accordingly. Every week, when we visited the grandparents for our weekly family lunches, we would have a different batch of Konnyaku jelly to try until he got the recipe right.
Other than these experiences, I remember Redman lorries delivering boxes and boxes of stock to our house for repacking. My grandmother would work tirelessly and we’d help too.
Growing up in a business family, I was given the privilege to watch first hand what it took to build successful businesses. I inevitably learned many business lessons by just sitting through family dinners. I had the front row seat to watching our family go through the highs of achieving great success and the lows of terrible heartbreak. Such is the nature of business. Such is the nature of life.
The heartbreaks were one of the reasons why I chose to become a lawyer. I thought I could insulate myself from disappointment and tragedy, take home a stable income and live a relatively comfortable life.
But it also meant not becoming who I was meant to be.
For someone who effortlessly sold 2 lipsticks to her principal while in kindergarten and who wanted to make cassette tapes of her father’s music (yeah, he wrote songs too) to sell when she found out he wrote songs, I would be denying a very natural and important part of me.
This family business has shaped me more than I know.
*Agar agar is a local term that refers to a gelatinous dessert with a more crunchy (as opposed to a more chewy) texture.
(By the way, congratulations to Phoon Huat and to everyone who has contributed to its success, especially our customers!)
While the details of this investment is confidential, I will provide some other morsels of information.
#1: Who started Phoon Huat and Who runs it now?
Wong Tai Fuang. He was an immigrant from Hainan Island, China. My granduncle, Wong Chen Liong, runs it now.
#2: Why did Wong Tai Fuang choose to start a baking supplies company?
After the war, many Hainanese cooks and bakers who worked for the British started their own businesses (coffeeshops, steakhouses, cakes, cookies). My great grandfather thought it would be a good idea to supply to these business owners. At that time, it was common for the different dialect groups to trade within their own circle.
#3: What does “Phoon Huat” mean?
Phoon means to “work hard and put in effort” (in Hainanese) to become prosperous (huat). The Chinese characters are “奋” (as in “奋斗”, to strive) and “财” (as in 发财, to prosper).
And no, there is nobody in my family called “Phoon Huat”. (If I had a dollar for every time someone asked me this…)
#4: How has Phoon Huat grown since 1947 when it first started out?
When Phoon Huat first started on Middle Road, there were only a handful of products that were imported from England: non-refrigerated margarine, dried fruits, baking powder, food colouring and flavouring, and baking cases. These items were all imported from England since Singapore was formerly a British colony.
Today we have 12 outlets and the company stocks 3,000 products from at least 30 countries, including marzipan from Norway, butter from France (delicious – I only ever use this butter in all my bakes) and vanilla beans from Madagascar.
#5:Part of Singapore’s History
Phoon Huat made it to the Singapore National Library Board’s Living The Singapore Story. It’s a commemorative book for Singapore’s 50th year of independence (SG50) and it features Phoon Huat since it has grown together with Singapore.
Part of the highest & truest expression of myself.
I have grown up with music.
And I’m not talking about the occasional piano lesson here and a ballet lesson there.
I’m talking about intense immersion in music.
My mother was a piano teacher. I started learning at 3 years old. My dad plays the guitar insanely well (Hotel California? Peanuts.).
I play the piano, drums and a bit of guitar. I also learned the violin when I was very little. I went for ballet lessons, tap dancing lessons and even Chinese dancing lessons.
I composed music, wrote songs, and sang.
When I used to go to church, I was a worship leader. I choreographed hip hop dances too. A friend of mine remarked before that if I didn’t have music in my life it would be like chopping off my right arm.
When I stopped going to church, the music stopped too because I associated it very much with a religion that I could not relate to anymore. This was an extremely agonising decision since it meant changing an enormous part of my life and routine.
But I maintained the belief in spirituality and a Higher Power that doesn’t necessarily have to be a deity.
I’ve since realised (even though it took me some years) that even apart from religion, music centres me. It relaxes me and helps me find my groove, so to speak. When I need inspiration in a hurry, the quickest way to get there is by listening to something I find creative or that I like. When I need to get into The Zone, there’s always my Fight Song Of The Day. When I need some comfort, there is always Debussy’s positively hypnotic Claire de Lune.
There is just something about music that I connect deeply with and I cannot deny if I want to be able to fully embrace and express who I am. Maybe because of my upbringing. Maybe because that’s just the way I’m put together.
But I know that when I include music in my processes, I am able to do my best work in business and with my family because it is inextricably linked to my highest and truest expression of myself.
5 Lessons From a Billionaire Boss – CEO of Far East Organization.
5 Lessons From A Billionaire Boss, CEO of Property Developer Far East Organization
This week, I had the rare opportunity to attend a business breakfast with Billionaire and CEO of property developer Far East Organization, Mr. Philip Ng. According to Forbes, Philip and his brother, Robert, top Singapore’s rich list with a combined wealth of $11.5 Billion (as of Jan 2015).
He talked about his Christian faith and how it has impacted the way he conducts his business. Though I am not Christian, it was still a real privilege to listen and learn and it was like having a business mentor advising us on what to do and what not to do.
Other than his sharing, Philip also answered some questions from the floor and these are the 5 lessons I learned:
#1: Be Smart & Shrewd For What Is Right
Philip shared about The Parable of The Shrewd Manager, which can be a very confusing parable. (Google it and you will be even more confused!)
In summary, there was a dishonest manager who was looking at losing his job. He then went to his boss’ debtors and discounted what they owed his boss, so that even after he lost his job he would still be welcomed by other people around him i.e. he would still be able to find a job and/or favour with these other people. His boss commended him, this dishonest manager, because he had acted shrewdly and used his creativity and wits to survive. (Yes, I know. Confusing, right?)
In the Bible, Jesus points out that what the shrewd manager did was clearly wrong, even though the boss of this shrewd manager commended him.
In essence, the point of the parable was that we must be clear about what is right and what is wrong, even though the world may not be. Do what is right and apply your creativity in the light to really live.
#2: Integrity Is Important
Secondly, with regard to the master commending the dishonest manager for doing something dishonest and illegal, the learning point here was just because something is “the done thing to do” in business, it does not necessarily make it right.
Integrity is important and your anchor will determine your value system.
#3 If You Want To Be At The Top, You Have To Do More Than What Everyone Else Is Willing To Do
Philip mentioned that he used to work a 6-day week plus Sunday for half a day (7am to 1pm) for site visits. While he admitted that he did work his employees very hard, it was also obvious he worked extremely hard as well.
When I was a lawyer, we represented Far East Organization in some financing deals. I do remember their in-house counsel mentioning they had to work a lot, probably even more than some lawyers in private practice.
To Philip, it was important to work all day on Saturday because there would be no meetings and no phone calls to take, so it would be the best time to review what they had and what they needed to do.
I so understand this point but in relation to working late at night or early in the morning, whether it is the weekend or not. There are no kids to bother me and I have time to think, review and strategise.
#4 Management 101: Empathy
However, when Philip became Christian, he realised that he needed to be more empathetic towards his employees in regards to their need to have time with their families. He also felt he could have done better in considering the human aspect in management.
So now he has made changes to that effect, for example, he no longer has anymore Sunday site visits because he feels it’s the right thing to do.
#5 Don’t Be In A Hurry To Succeed
This really struck a chord in me and it was like someone was using a loud hailer to drive this home in me.
Philip mentioned that many of us are in too much of a hurry to succeed and we pursue very single-mindedly the material things, pushing aside the things that really matter. He would have also liked to spend more quality time with his 6 children.
If someone as successful as Philip can say that we should be mindful of the things that really matter and not be too in a hurry to succeed, then perhaps we should listen.