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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

Benjamin Kwan, Co-Founder of TravelClef

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Making music to create a life for his family, Benjamin Kwan, started an online tuition portal and his music business grew from there.

What’s your story?
I am Benjamin and I’m the Co-Founder of TravelClef Group Pte Ltd, a travelling music school that conducts music classes in companies as well as team building with music programmes. We also run an online educational platform which matches private students to freelance music teachers. We also manufacture our own instruments. I started this company in 2011 when I was still a freshman at NUS, majoring in Mechanical Engineering.

I was born to a lower income family, my father drove a taxi and was the sole breadwinner to a family of 7. I have always dreamed of becoming rich so that I could lessen the burden placed on my father and give my family a good life.

After working really hard in my first semester at NUS, my results didn’t reflect the hard work and effort I put in. At the same time, I was left with just $42 in my bank account and it suddenly dawned on me that if I were to graduate with mediocre results, I would probably end up with a mediocre salary as well. I knew I had to do something to gain control of my future.

During that summer break, I read a book “Internet Riches” by Scott Fox and I knew that the only way I could ever start my own business with my last $42 would be to start an online business. That was how our online tuition portal started and after taking 4 days to learn Photoshop and website building on my own, I started the business.

What excites you most about your industry?
Music itself is a constant form of excitement to me as I have always been an avid lover of music. As one of the world’s first travelling music schools, we are always very eager and excited to find innovative ways to a very traditional business model of a music teaching.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I was born and raised in Singapore and I love the fact that despite our diversity in culture, there’s always a common language that we share, music.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Hands down, SINGAPORE! Although we are currently in talks to expand to other regions within Asia, Singapore is the best place for business. I have had friends asking me if they should consider venturing into entrepreneurship in Singapore, my answer is always a big fat YES! There’s a low barrier of entry, and most importantly, the government is very supportive of entrepreneurship.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
I have been blessed by many people and mentors who constantly give me great advice but right now, I would say the best piece of advice that I received would be from Dr Patrick Liew who said, “Work on the business, not in it.” This advice is constantly ringing in my head as I work towards scaling the business.

Who inspires you?
My dad. My dad has always been my inspiration in life, for the amount of sacrifices that he has made for the family and the love he has for us. He was the umbrella for all the storms that my family faced and we were always safe in his shelter. Although my dad passed away after a brief fight with colorectal cancer, the lessons that he imparted to me were very valuable as I build my own family and business.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
You can not buy time, but you can spend money to save time! With this realisation, I was willing to allow myself to spend some money, in order to save more time. Like taking Grab/Uber to shuttle around instead of spending time travelling on public transport. While I spend more money on travelling, I save a lot more time! This doesn’t mean that I spend lavishly and extravagantly, I am still generally prudent with my money.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I would have taken more time to spend with my family and especially my father. While it is important to focus our time to build our businesses, we should always try our best to allocate family time. Because as an entrepreneur, there is no such thing as “after I finish my work,” because our work is never finished. If our work finishes, the business is also finished. But our time with our family is always limited and no matter how much money and how many successes we achieve, we can never use it to trade back the time we have with our family.

How do you unwind?
I am a very simple man. I enjoy TV time with my wife and a simple dinner with my family and friends.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Batam, it’s close to Singapore and there’s really nothing much to do except for massages and a relaxing resort life. If I travel to other countries for shopping or sightseeing, I am constantly thinking of business and how I can possibly expand to the country I am visiting. But while relaxing at the beach or at a massage, I tend to allow myself to drift into emptiness and just clear my mind of any thoughts.

Everyone in business should read this book:
Work The System, by Sam Carpenter. This book teaches entrepreneurs the importance of creating systems and how to leverage on systems to improve productivity and create more time.

Shameless plug for your business:
If you are looking for a team building programme that your colleagues will enjoy and your bosses will be happy with, you have to consider our programmes at TravelClef! While our programmes are guaranteed fun and engaging, it is also equipped with many team building deliverables and organizational skills.

How can people connect with you?
My email is [email protected] and I am very active on Facebook as well!
https://www.facebook.com/benjamin.christian.kwan

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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Nadia Al Sheikh, Founder & CEO of Flenco & Deal’n

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Nadia Al Sheikh has created a business module which incorporates philanthropy and business to empower others, and herself, she’s called her business Deal’n.

What’s your story?
My story is mirrored in my work. Flenco and our Singaporean eco skin care brand, “Flen” combines Dead Sea minerals from the lowest point of earth with Chinese medicine, which represents the wisdom and mystics of the east and these things represent my journey. I’m a single mother rediscovering my identity at a low point in life. Throughout my journey, determination, flexibility and assertiveness are the pillars of innovation. Thus Deal’n was born after years of groundwork in volunteering with various NGO’s and pursuing my masters degree. Transforming a vision, into a module that incorporates philanthropy and business, with tools to empower others and empower myself!

What excites you most about your industry?
The endless opportunities for improvement, innovation, creativity, free thinking which is mastered through interaction with other players in the market and customers creating a virtual place for brainstorming and the exchange of ideas. An evolving industry that challenges each and every person to use their skills, talents, expertise and utilise all their abilities to claim a slice of the pie.

What’s your connection to Asia?
Asia and specifically Singapore are my second home. It’s my spiritual and business safe haven that provides fair opportunities for everyone to succeed. If I was back in the Middle East as a single mother, I’m pretty sure my struggle would have been much longer and more difficult, however, it wouldn’t have stopped me from achieving my dreams. Singapore specifically empowered me professionally and Asia spiritually in redefining who I am as a person and understanding myself better.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Singapore, although it’s a very tough and competitive market for entrepreneurs to start a business, it provides them with support and motivation through grants, competitions and subsidising the cost of exhibiting or promotional events to promote their business.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
Success is measured by achieving your own personal goals and dreams and not what others think you should achieve.

Who inspires you?
Those who go unnoticed. From senior citizens, cleaning tables at food courts regardless of their wealth of knowledge and experience to single mothers, who are fighting everyday to overcome the social stigma and manage taking care of their children while earning an income. The amazing people who give their lives to start an NGO to empower others asking for nothing in return except the success of their beneficiaries, the humble members of our community that work in silence changing lives not for the spotlight but for their belief in making the world a better place.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
To step onto the balcony! In order to evaluate situations and understand people’s motivations from different perspectives and even to understand ourselves better we all need to step onto the balcony and become observers rather than participants. It gives you the power to see life through a variety of lenses.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I’d be wiser with my decisions, evaluate situations from different perspectives and believe in myself and my capabilities. That all came with experience and the ups and downs throughout my journey so I guess, to be who I am today I would have accepted the rough times and embraced them because they were my best teachers. So I wouldn’t undo the past but I am changing my future.

How do you unwind?
Meditation, exercising, listening to music, reading a book and a walk in the botanical gardens.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Maldives, I love the peace and harmony in the simplicity of what it offers; beautiful beaches and wonderful people.

Everyone in business should read this book:
The Wisdom Of Crowds by James Surowiecki

Shameless plug for your business:
Deal’n provides opportunities for all members of the community to utilize their skills, talents, expertise, capabilities and abilities in various ways, aiming at empowering all users to become productive members of their community. Using the services of other users for all to grow and benefit, interact with each other through the Deal’n community, thus enhancing their self esteem, level of confidence and as a result, a more empathetic and happier community!

How can people connect with you?
Through my FB page Nadousheh, my email [email protected]

Twitter handle?
@nadiaalsheikh

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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