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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

Agnes Yee, Legal & Compliance Recruiter of Space Executive

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Agnes Yee started Space Executive in Singapore, which is a hub for businesses in some of the world’s fastest growing economies.

What’s your story?
After graduation, I joined a design media company as a Business Development Executive, during the era when ‘reading a magazine online’ was unheard of. I believe that laid the foundation for being unfazed by rejections.

I fell into recruitment pre-GFC and rode the highs and lows in the early years. A decade later, I decided to set up my own recruitment company, partly because I could. I’m acutely aware of the face that being an Asian female in Singapore is sometimes a privilege, and that many women in the world are living a very different existence.
Thereafter, we joined Space Executive as part of a merger. I am currently the Partner of Space Executive, a recruitment company focused specialist disciplines, including Legal, Finance, Digital, Sales and Marketing and Change. We also run Space Ventures, a venture capital business, which invests in seed and pre-series A businesses.

What excites you most about your industry?
On a daily basis, we’re influencing how one spends a third of their day. It is interesting how the Internet has transformed the industry, and I’m excited to see how we can harness technology to bring us to the next phase of this business.

The VC is an extension of applying our skills and experience in reading people. We very much invest in the people as much as the idea. Being a native Singaporean, it’s been exhilarating watching Southeast Asia becoming a hotbed of ideas; and young entrepreneurs simply daring to dream.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I’m a born and bred Singaporean. I love that I speak both English and Mandarin, grew up playing with Indian friends and eating Malay food.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Singapore for the low barriers of entry to set up a business, but has to be China (and Hong Kong) for their hunger and constant innovation.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
青春不要留白 which translates to ‘Don’t waste your youth.’

Who inspires you?
Anyone who has gone against the grain.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
It wasn’t recent but reading the article on https://waitbutwhy.com/2015/12/the-tail-end.html never fails to blow my mind how little time we have left. Charting our lives in weeks, and realising I only have enough time left to enjoy 60 Christmas turkeys, read 300 books (all if I’m lucky); and mostly, I’m left with the last 5% of the time that I spend in-person with my parents.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I’m cognisant that every decision I made in life has brought me to where I am today, and I wouldn’t change one thing. But I’d really like to have had more time to travel.

How do you unwind?
Exercise and wine.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Trekking any mountain in Asia. It brings us back to the most basic. To overcome elements of nature and our own mind.

Everyone in business should read this book:
Start with Why, Simon Sinek

Shameless plug for your business:
Space Executive started in Singapore, a hub for businesses in some of the world’s fastest growing economies. We assist organisations in accessing a targeted and specialised, and often times transient talent pool.

Out of Singapore, we have recruited across 14 countries; and have embarked on our global expansion plans with offices in Hong Kong and London this year, and US, Japan and Europe in the following years.

Space Ventures provides funding, management and financial guidance to young businesses with original ideas. We have invested in peer to peer lending platforms, credit scoring, social media education, and other start-ups spanning diverse industries. We are always interested in hearing more about new ideas.

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

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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Chrystie Dao-Szabo, Founder of iPayMy

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Chrystie Dao-Szabo founded iPaymy for Business – a secure and easy to use
platform enabling SMEs to pay rent, salaries, invoices, and even corporate tax using the credit cards they already have in their wallet today.

What’s your story?
I’m Chrystie Dao-Szabo, and I’ve worked as an international banker for over 22 years. During that time, I travelled through Asia, Australia and Europe, and everywhere I saw how my clients struggled with managing their finances and keeping cash around.

I wanted to use my experience to help them, but I also knew the solution they needed didn’t exist yet. This pushed me to give up on my secure career, and instead look into the innovative world of FinTech for an answer.

This is how I founded iPaymy – at its launch, a platform to help consumers pay their monthly expenses using their credit cards. We’ve grown a lot since, and today, iPaymy for Business is a platform that allows business owners to use their credit cards to pay for rent, salaries, invoices and taxes, freeing up their cash for business-critical operations.

What excites you most about your industry?
What excites me most about FinTech is it’s culture of constant disruption, thanks to cool and innovative products and services coming out every day.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I was born in Vietnam, grew up in Australia and worked in Asia, Europe and Australia. Being raised by traditional Vietnamese parents meant that deep down I was still an Asian at heart, so I have a strong connection with the region.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Singapore of course. It’s easy to do business, English is the main language, and the infrastructures like public transportation are great. Also, the government supports local innovation in multiple ways, like giving grants for SMEs and FinTechs.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
Keep giving, and one day you will receive.

Who inspires you?
My parents. My father had a successful business in Vietnam just before the fall of Saigon in 1975. After the war, my father was sent to a re-education camp for three years, which meant my mum had to bring up two young kids – a 3-year-old, me and my 4-year old brother on her own.

In 1980, we all fled Vietnam on a boat and arrived in Sydney, Australia via refugee camps in Indonesia and Singapore. There, my parents had to start over with nothing to their names and only AUD 50 given to them by the Australian government.
They went on to build several businesses in Australia!

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
The number of young and smart people who have carved out successful careers by founding their own startups (or joining really cool ones). When I was starting out my career, doing any of these was not a viable option; it was either working for an accounting firm, an insurance company or a bank.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
If I were starting out my career now, I would choose the path of joining a startup as you get to learn so much about running a business and how to assemble a winning team.

How do you unwind?
I like travelling to a beach or a resort destination and just relaxing by the pool or beach. I also like to unwind after work with a glass of champagne or wine, and a bowl of truffle fries.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Thailand. I love the people and the spicy Thai food.

Everyone in business should read this book:
The E-Myth. It’s a book series that dismantles common myths about entrepreneurship in different industries.

Shameless plug for your business:
With iPaymy for Business, SMEs can pay rent, salaries, invoices, and even corporate tax using the credit cards they already have in their wallet today. SMEs love iPaymy because it works like a credit card, but pays like cash.

iPaymy’s secure and easy to use platform reliably delivers payments to vendors while freeing up cash and providing access to interest free credit. Forget the delays and aggravations that come with traditional SME financing options. Schedule recurring payments, manage invoices, set payment reminders, and monitor payment status all from one dashboard.

It’s never been easier for SMEs to meet monthly payment obligations while keeping cash available to fuel growth, bridge receivable gaps, and make immediate investment in the supplies, services, and expertise needed to drive a growing business forward.

How can people connect with you?
You can find me on LinkedIn or contact me by email.
My LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/chrystiedaoszabo/
My email: [email protected]

Twitter handle?
https://twitter.com/ceedeees

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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