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Conscious Business Leadership: Douglas Foo (Sakae Holdings) – Part 3/3

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(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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Callum Connects

Jace Koh, Founder of U Ventures

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Jace Koh believes cash flow is the lifeblood of your business. Understanding it will enhance your ability to run and manage your business.

What’s your story?
My name is Jace Koh and I am the Founder of U Ventures. I’ve always been inclined towards investment and entrepreneurship. I’ve played a hand in starting businesses across these industries – professional services, cloud integration, software and music. I believe that succeeding in business is tough, but that’s what makes the rewards even sweeter.

What excites you most about your industry?
Everything excites me. These are my beliefs:

  • Why is accounting important?
    The accounting department is the heart. Cash flow is like blood stream, it pumps blood to various parts of the body like cash flow is pumped to various departments and/or functions in a business. It is vital to the life and death of the business.
  • Is accounting boring?
    Accountants are artists too. They paint the numbers the way they want them to be.
  • What makes a good accountant?
    A good accountant can tell you a story about the business by looking at the numbers.
  • Why is budgeting and projection important?
    Accountants are like fortune tellers, they can predict the numbers and if you wish to understand your business and make informed decisions, feel free to speak to our friendly consultants to secure a meeting.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I was born and raised in Singapore, and here’s where I want to be.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Singapore is my favourite city. We have great legal systems in place, good security and people with integrity. Most importantly, we have a government that fosters a good environment for doing business. I recently went for a cultural exchange programme in Hong Kong to learn more about their startups. I found out that the Hong Kong government generally only supports local business owners in terms of grants. They’ve recently been more lenient and changed the eligibility to include all businesses that have at least 50% local shareholding. But comparing that to Singapore, the government only requires a 30% local shareholding to obtain government support. In the early days of starting a business, all the support you can get is precious. It’s great that we have a government that understands that.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
The best time ever to plant a tree was 10 years ago as the tree would have grown so big to provide you with shelter and all. When is the next best time to plant a tree? It is today. Because in 10 years time, the tree would have grown big enough to provide you shelter and all.

Who inspires you?
Jack Ma. His journey to success is one of the most inspiring as it proves that with determination and great foresight, even the poorest can turn their lives around. I personally relate to his story a lot, and this is my favourite quote from him, “If you don’t give up, you still have a chance. Giving up is the greatest failure.”

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
I’ve faced multiple rejections throughout my business journey, and recently came across a fact on Jack Ma about how he was once rejected for 32 different jobs. It resonated very deeply and taught me the importance of tenacity, especially during tough times.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
Nothing. I live a life with no regrets. Everything I do, regardless of whether it is right or wrong, happy or sad, and regardless of outcome, it’s a lesson with something to take away.

How do you unwind?
I love to pamper myself through retail therapy and going for spas. I also make a conscious effort to take time off work to have a break outside to unwind as well as to uncloud my mind. This moment of reflection from time to time helps me see more clearly on how I can improve myself.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Taiwan! Good food with no language barriers and the people are great!

Everyone in business should read this book:
I don’t really read books. Mostly, I learn from my daily life and interactions with hundreds of other business owners. To me, people tell the most interesting stories.

Shameless plug for your business:
We’re not just corporate secretaries, we’re “business doctors.”
U Ventures is a Xero certified advisory firm that goes beyond traditional accounting services to provide solutions for your business. You can reach us on our website: http://uventures.com.sg/

How can people connect with you?
Converse to connect. You can reach me via email at [email protected] or alternatively, on LinkedIn here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jacekoh/

This interview is part of the ‘Callum Connect’ series of more than 500 interviews

Callum Laing is an entrepreneur and investor based in Singapore. He has previously started,
built and sold half a dozen businesses and is now a Partner at Unity-Group Private Equity and Co-Founder of The Marketing Group PLC. He is the author two best selling books ‘Progressive Partnerships’ and ‘Agglomerate’.

Connect with Callum here:
twitter.com/laingcallum
linkedin.com/in/callumlaing
Download free copies of his books here: www.callumlaing.com

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Callum Connects

Ray Ferguson, Founder of Caber Partners

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Ray Ferguson left the banking world and returned to Asia to explore exciting fintech opportunities.

What’s your story?
I am the Founder of Caber Partners, a Singapore based MAS Licensed Fund Manager and Financial Advisor investing and working with companies focused exclusively on the intersection of finance and technology. I work specifically in the areas of payments, insurance, wealth management, alternative lending and blockchain.

I am also Chairman of Singapore Life which was founded last year. It is the first new local life company in Singapore. Concurrently, I chair Youtap a business which is creating a cashless e-money processing backbone providing real-time interoperable settlements of all consumer e-money payments to the merchants, e-money providers, retail and FMCG distribution groups, and banks across emerging markets.

My 30 year journey as a banker had its main leg with Standard Chartered Bank, where I held multiple country chief executive and regional leadership roles across four continents. I spent 6 years as Regional CEO, South East Asia and Chief Executive, Singapore. After Standard Chartered, I moved to Bank ABC, Bahrain and assumed the role of Group Chief Banking Officer where I took care of the group’s banking businesses worldwide.
Last year, I decided to step down after 3 years from my role with Bank ABC to return to Asia to pursue interesting and exciting opportunities that fintech disruption was providing.

What excites you most about your industry?
The sheer pace of technological innovation in the financial sector, and how it is up-ending the traditional models and traditional players. There are huge implications and benefits for efficiency, transparency and importantly financial inclusion which will drive growth in emerging markets.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I have lived in and worked in Asia for more than 30 years. I first came to Singapore in 1994 and today I am a proud Singapore citizen, and to me Singapore is home.

Its an invigorating environment. Asia is in the middle of an historic transformation. If it continues to follow its recent trajectory, by 2050 its per capita income could rise sixfold in purchasing power parity (PPP) terms to reach Europe’s levels today. It would make some 3 billion additional Asians affluent by current standards. By nearly doubling its share of global gross domestic product (GDP) to 52 percent by 2050, Asia would regain the dominant economic position it held some 300 years ago, before the industrial revolution. This is a big deal and I’m excited to be part of it!

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Definitely Singapore! Singapore is known for being a business-friendly country and it was crowned the best country in World Bank’s “Ease of Doing Business List” and ranks as the top 3 in the World Economic Forum’s “Global Competitive Index.” Singapore is an attractive hub, for both businesses and has a great community to live in.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
Listen intently and you will know what you don’t know.

Who inspires you?
Nelson Mandela

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
That the global mobile wallet market was valued at approximately USD 594 billion in 2016 and is expected to reach approximately USD 3,100 billion by 2022, growing at a CAGR of around 32% between 2017 and 2022.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I would have learnt to code.

How do you unwind?
Exercise, golf and sailing large catamarans.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Phuket. Easy to reach, Thai people and service, breadth of choice of locations/accomodation and great sailing weather.

Everyone in business should read this book:
Good to Great – Jim Collins. It’s about how companies transition from being good companies to great companies, and how and why most companies fail to make the transition.

Shameless plug for your business:
Caber Partners team is uniquely connected with our networks and experience in fintech markets, investing and banking and business growth solutions throughout Asia and across the emerging world.

How can people connect with you?
Come connect with me through my LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/rayfergusonscb

Twitter handle?
Rayferguson888

This interview is part of the ‘Callum Connect’ series of more than 500 interviews

Callum Laing is an entrepreneur and investor based in Singapore. He has previously started,
built and sold half a dozen businesses and is now a Partner at Unity-Group Private Equity and Co-Founder of The Marketing Group PLC. He is the author two best selling books ‘Progressive Partnerships’ and ‘Agglomerate’.

Connect with Callum here:
twitter.com/laingcallum
linkedin.com/in/callumlaing
Download free copies of his books here: www.callumlaing.com

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