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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

Elizabeth Wu, Co-founder & COO of Trehaus

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Elizabeth Wu is making work-life integration a reality for working parents in her new family friendly coworking space.

What’s your story?
I co-founded a coworking space in Singapore that comes complete with a child-friendly facility. We’re the first of our kind here and we’ve been making work-life integration a reality for working parents since we opened.

What excites you most about your industry?
We are the first of our kind, and there’s no other coworking space like us. Sure, there are plenty of coworking spaces in Singapore, but we are the pioneers of championing ‘BYO-kid’ to work by creating a conducive workspace and enriching kids play, all under one roof.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I was born and bred in Singapore. I’m a local through and through.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Singapore, of course! It’s safe, well-regulated and has a diverse community. Barriers to entry for starting up a business is low, and generally there is good support for small to medium enterprises and startups, which is great.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
“Life is short. Do stuff that matters.” I think I decided to do “stuff that matters” a long time ago and that’s why I became an educator. When motherhood beckoned, I decided again, to do “stuff that matters” by staying home to be with my kids. Then, I began to desire a meaningful career while raising my kids. So, I decided to take the plunge into entrepreneurship, because I am governed by wanting to “do stuff that matters!”

Who inspires you?
So many people inspire me. My members at Trehaus inspire me with the things they do and the changes they make. But if I have to pick someone, it would be Elim Chew, founder of 77th Street; who is a seasoned entrepreneur. She started from humble beginnings, went through setbacks and never said never to new journeys in entrepreneurship. I love that she always looks for ways to give back to society and mentor the next generation with her wealth of wisdom and experiences.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
I learned the 5-by-5 rule recently: That is, ‘if it’s not going to matter in 5 years, don’t spend more than 5 minutes being upset by it.’ This helps me puts things in perspective, and I try to remember this every time the urge comes to dwell, to brood, to beat myself up or to sweat the small stuff.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I would definitely be more careful with the people I hired to build the team. I’ve learned that it is important to find and build an entrepreneurial team that will plough and work hard alongside the founders. Like Jack Ma once said, “Don’t hire the most qualified candidate. Hire the craziest.” I should have done that right from the start. It would save us so much time and heartache.

How do you unwind?
I take long walks to clear my or I go for a fruitful session of self care, like yoga or a massage.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
I really enjoy getting out of Singapore to the outskirts of Bangkok to live amongst the locals. My family of 5 used to do that each December; just taking off to live amongst the locals where street food is aplenty and warmth and hospitality is everywhere. I enjoy their slow pace of life and how simple things can be.

Everyone in business should read this book:
The Hard Thing About Hard Things, by Ben Horowitz

Shameless plug for your business:
Trehaus is Singapore’s first ever family-friendly coworking space that lets you build a career while prioritising family. If it takes a village to raise a child, then Trehaus is the modern village where you will find a robust community and supportive ecosystem that lets you be an involved parent – never missing a single milestone in your child’s early years – and at the same time do efficient and productive work. We’ve made magic happen in what we’ve created!

How can people connect with you?
[email protected]

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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Mark Winterton, General Manager of InterContinental Singapore Robertson Quay

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Mark Winterton has dedicated his life to achieving unparalleled and extraordinary guest experiences in the hospitality industry.

What’s your story?
I’m a seasoned hospitality professional with over twenty years international experience launching luxury brands, repositioning existing brands and driving innovation for some of the world’s most successful hotels.

As General Manager of InterContinental® Singapore Robertson Quay, I’m responsible for the strategic positioning of the property as the next generation of the InterContinental hotel brand and have been spearheading the hotel since its opening in October 2017, with the goal of achieving a unique and unrivalled market positioning as Singapore’s most luxurious residential hotel.

I started my career with InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG®) in 1995 and have since been dedicating myself towards achieving perfection. I find immense fulfillment in leading my team towards achieving extraordinary and unparalleled guest experiences.

What excites you most about your industry?
The hospitality industry boasts an extremely dynamic landscape, and we are always seeing new hotels opening alongside the entry of burgeoning brands. This growth has, over time developed positive competition and generated positive driving forces that have elevated the overall standard of the industry in Singapore. The industry has a dynamic landscape. There are many opportunities to bring the right people together and create amazing teams to launch or reposition hotels. The process of creating teams, inspiring individuals and then working together to bring a project to life is where I find the excitement lies.

What’s your connection to Asia?
The lure of Asia has always been very strong for foreign economies and companies, with great accessibility to new opportunities, customers, consumers and clients. My first foray into Asia was back in 2007, when I launched Crowne Plaza Changi Airport in Singapore. Following that, I was also based in Bangkok for a couple of years for the rebranding of Crowne Plaza Bangkok Lumpini Park. Over my years in Asia, I have had the opportunity to truly immerse myself in new cultures, establish new connections with key counterparts and friends; and these have further solidified my interest in and strengthened my connection to Asia.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Definitely Singapore. Commonly known as the gateway to Asia, we’ve been blessed with a stable government, a sound political economy and a comprehensive infrastructure for reliable business operations. With tremendous efforts put in by the Singapore Tourism Board towards elevating the city as an attractive venue for visitors, the growth of Singapore as a key MICE destination, coupled with a cosmopolitan pool of talent, Singapore remains my favourite city in Asia for business.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
“You can never be 100% ready for a new role.” I believe that there will always be room for growth and learning on the job. As long as a person is 80% ready for a new role, the opportunity should be extended. I am a strong believer in the development of people and the grooming of talent, and this piece of advice has allowed me to take more chances on people I’ve worked with and developed over the years.

Who inspires you?
Simon Sinek, a speaker with TED Talk.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
I don’t think I can pinpoint just one lesson learnt recently, as learning is an ongoing process. No matter how small a piece of knowledge may seem, it should be valued. Everyday is a journey of learning and development.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
Nothing at all. I don’t believe in regrets and everything that has happened thus far, has had a part to play in who I am and where I stand today.

How do you unwind?
Spending time with friends over relaxed conversations and wine or working my green fingers in my balcony garden.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Bali. It’s one destination where I’ve always returned to, simply because it offers me the same level of comfort and familiarity each time I return. It’s where I can feel most relaxed, yet still be able to enjoy the vibrant dining scene.

Everyone in business should read this book:
Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott.

Shameless plug for your business:
Officially opened on 12 October 2017, InterContinental Singapore Robertson Quay is the first international luxury hotel brand situated at Robertson Quay. Set amidst a dynamic, sophisticated neighbourhood along the Singapore River, known for its dining options and arts houses, the luxury residential-inspired hotel has been carefully curated by world-­class designers, architects and culinary purveyors. Located minutes away from the CBD, the hotel still maintains a stylish but laid back, relaxed feel in the leafy, upscale neighbourhood of Robertson Quay. The hotel offers 225 luxurious studios and suites, including an expansive Penthouse, which has unparalleled views of both the Singapore River and vibrant city via floor-­to-­ceiling windows.

The residential-­inspired property combines elements from Robertson Quay’s industrial and intriguing past with sleek contemporary finishes whilst seamlessly blending into the residential surrounds. Light-­filled room interiors have been designed to magnify the familiar comforts of home where guests may enjoy bespoke amenities such as a specially designed in-­room cocktail kit.

Established as part of a holistic dining and lifestyle destination, the hotel boasts a wide range of restaurant and bar concepts. Flagship restaurant Publico, representing the central core of Italian culture, is a multi-­concept dining destination comprising a variety of Italian experiences under one roof – a neighbourhood deli and bar and a ristorante with adjoining terrazzo by the river. Other highlights throughout the hotel include New York institution Wolfgang’s Steakhouse by Wolfgang Zwiener, and a bar and dining concept from the team behind Izy Sushi. Over 40 other dining options await at the hotel doorstep, in The Quayside precinct.

How can people connect with you?
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/markwinterton1/

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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