(This is one in a series of articles and interviews about conscious business leadership, which is about leaders creating and promoting workplaces of understanding, honesty, and compassion, for the betterment of their employees, their community, their organization and world.)

How do you grow a company from a single sushi restaurant in 1997 to a public company comprising a restaurant enterprise running over 200 outlets across multiple countries and brands, a charitable non-profit organization, and a financial services arm? Good leadership likely plays a role in it.

Here is Part Three of the conversation I had in August with Douglas Foo, the founder and Chairman of Sakae Holdings (http://www.sakaeholdings.com/), and the recipient of too-numerous-to-list business and philanthropic accolades and awards, including the Public Service Star Award in Singapore and the Eisenhower Fellowship in the U.S.A. in 2013.


You decided to move from CEO to Chairman of Sakae Holdings, and the Sakae Holdings also has very different lines, you know, of business units. Why?

If you continue to be the CEO, you will continue to be in the operational mode. Our dream is to build 30,000 stores. Somebody has to be developing the next blueprint, the plans, looking out at the risks, looking out at the global demographics, the global dynamics, which will actually impact our journey.

And you need to get prepared soon. And that’s why, almost like 10 years ago, we started this journey of making sure that we find the CEO, because that’s succession planning.

We started early for contingency, and then, next, very quickly, we started to do the succession planning.

Right, do you find grooming in-house better? Because you went for training first right? So, you groom someone in-house?

Yes. We’ve tried bringing people in as well. But we have also the challenge that people come from different background, different culture. They take time to actually blend in. So, we take time to see as well.

So, we went through those journeys. But finally, we decided, and that’s why I relinquished the CEO title and took on the Chairman.

So, what’s the difference everyday now, from the last time you’re CEO and now? What do you do or think differently now?

Well, as a CEO, you will be involved in, probably, the current year, the next year, kind of the projections and activities. As a Chairman for the company, you’re looking at the vision, you’re looking at whether you have the pieces in place to make that happen.

And that’s why we have the real estate in place, because the real estate is important, and we continue to develop there, and we continue to expand and grow there.

The global resources is important as well because you have a great global brand, Sakae Sushi, and you’re not able to tell people where the fish come from, where did they buy the fish fry, what did the fish eat every day, because there are fish feed, and there are fish feed, if you know what I mean. So, we want to work with the farms that has the same value system as ours. Because after farming the fish, will you feed it to your children? Will you feed it to your family?

So, will you consider this like an ecosystem? You kind of started looking around like an ecosystem of which fish farm to partner with and to align more with, which transports to align more with. That’s what you started doing. And then, in fact, you started buying into their company as well, grooming them as well, growing them as well?

We do strategic partnership, but right now, we are intending to take a step deeper to cement those partnership because the world dynamics are changing as well. So, initially, we tried not to get into the non-core. We are very clearly on where is our core. But, while you are focusing on your core, you need to understand that there could be risks involved while you are not totally involved in those areas that you are non-core.

So, that’s why we made a decision to get involved a bit closer, but not trying to run that. That’s not our business. But we want to work closely, as strategic partners, and maybe even small share holdings.

Right, because you want to “influence” the level of your next product through your global resources.

That’s right, that’s right. And also, being able to have control of the kind of quality, and also the quantity that comes through.

Sakae_Logo

You know, after listening to you, there’s only one thing in my mind, right? You keep saying this big vision “30,000”, “30,000”. What if our people are not, or the companies I know, they are not so comfortable with the big vision? Why can you be so comfortable with it?

Well, when McDonald’s first started, how many stores did they have? One. When Starbucks started, how many cafés did they have? One. All of us, whether organizations or people, we came to the world as babies. One. And we grow. Me, myself, and I. It’s all that format. And then, we grow along the journey. And then, along the way, you learn.

So, the important part is to be able to open your mind completely. Because once you have a certain pre-set mind, you can’t see different parts. Whereas if you have a very open mindset, you are just absorbing, and you’re morphing and you’re changing all the time. And today’s world requires that.

Are you very intuitive? Or do you sit, and insight comes in? How do you open your mind so that you know this is good and this is not so good?

Well, everybody will have different opinions and everybody have different ideas. So, I’m very open to that. I just listen, and well, everybody has got some inputs. And those could be very useful when you start to put them together.
And once you open your mind, the next thing is to open your heart, because your heart will have a certain feel and direction of where you intend to go. And then, that is they way you want to live your life. Because when you follow your heart, you will feel happy, because you are passionate about it. You’re doing something that you like.

So, you’re telling me that all you need to do is to open your mind and heart, and you’ll be successful?

And then, you’ll live your dreams!

So, it’s possible for everybody, not just Douglas Foo!

No, I think I’m just a small little guy. Just very typical Singaporean who has gone on from primary school to secondary school. The normal route.

I guess, but you believe that the 30,000 is possible. And actually, to be very fair, I also think we are at the time in Asia, to “colonize” the rest of the world. It’s time backwards. And like you’ve said, the global funding, with the training, with our own new unique branding. So, like an Asian food brand.

Yes.

International?

Yeah, because we got a lot of good skills, and good knowledge, and domain type of things that is happening for the longest time. But we have not actually gone out to the world to deliver all those experiences and promise.

And it’s time, isn’t it, Douglas?

Yeah. You just need to open your mind.

Yes. Thank you so much.

Thank you.


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