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James Leung, Founder of Head Start Asia

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Born in Hong Kong and educated and raised in the UK – James is a keen golfer, and has since moving back to Hong Kong gained a real passion for whisky and Bordeaux wines. He started his career in IT as a web developer before transitioning to commercial management and finally into a career in recruitment. He completed a BSC in Mathematics and Management at Loughborough University and stayed on to complete a MSC in Information Technology there as well.

His recruitment career started in the UK where he managed a team recruiting aviation professionals (primarily pilots and cabin crew) for roles based internationally. He then moved to Hong Kong and joined a large UK listed international recruitment business within their property & construction team. With no contacts and industry knowledge, James had to rely on his recruitment experience and immerse himself in the industry and build his credibility in the market fast. He quickly built a team around him and has successfully managed the team to achieve some record breaking revenue targets.  After being promoted to Associate Director, James was also charged with leading the Technology team in Hong Kong. With a total of 10 recruitment consultants in his two teams, his role included leading, driving, recruiting, training and retaining the top recruitment talent in Hong Kong.

James founded Head Start Asia in the Autumn of 2016 to provide sales training and recruitment services for those looking to pursue a career in commercial sales.

In your own words what do you do?

I am the founder of Head Start Asia, sales training and recruitment experts in Hong Kong. We provide 1 or 2 day training courses to individuals looking for a chance to get an understand what working in sales is like, or for those to obtain some sales training in a field that they are already working in. We also provide sales consultation and training to businesses who want an external expert to either review their sales processes or provide bespoke training to their existing team. Because we come in contact with the top sales talent day in day out, we also provide sales recruitment services to clients in Hong Kong.

What led you to your current business?

In the back of my mind, I have always wanted to start my own business. Having had the experience in working for a start-up in the UK for their initial few years and a UK listed international recruitment business in Hong Kong, I have experienced and learnt a great deal on what can be achieved in both types of organisations.

Although I wanted to remain in a recruitment related field, I also knew that recruitment in Hong Kong was already a challenging market with many well-established businesses in place. I wanted my business to be scalable and to be able to provide a different service offering to clients in Hong Kong, rather than going head to head with the established recruitment firms.

One part of the job I enjoyed most was unlocking people’s potential through training, I enjoyed, running ad-hoc and formal training sessions within my previous business and took great satisfaction from seeing them grow on the back of it. In my previous role, I also met a lot of individuals who wanted to pursue a sales career but did not have the background to demonstrate their ability. That was how Head Start Asia was founded.

In Hong Kong and in many parts of Asia – the attitudes towards a sales person is very different to the UK. Training, development and mentoring is often overlooked – particularly in smaller businesses. Perhaps it is because that Hong Kong has gone through some spectacular growth over the past few decades and the role of a sales person has been more transactional than a role of an influencer. As the market in Hong Kong and Greater China changes, businesses who look inwardly to their sales teams to ensure they hire, train and retain the right people are those businesses who are most likely to succeed. This is where Head Start Asia comes in.

Could you walk us through your process of developing your business?

One of the hardest parts was coming up with the name and identity of the business. I wanted the business to be scalable and not just one country, skill set or industry specific. That is why I spent some time in coming up with the right name for my business.

Once I had the name and identity that I wanted the business to have, next was logo and website design. I used to be a web developer – so I managed to create a simple, informative website myself to keep costs down. For the logo design, I reached out to some family and friends to help out.

Although, I have ran many training sessions in my past businesses, I had to write and perfect our own bespoke training material for all the courses. This took much of my time at the beginning stages of setting up the business. I am pleased to say that the feedback from the course attendees have been great.

Currently, the business model requires me to get as many people through the training courses as possible and this is where all my time is focussed on. From SEO/SEM to traditional marketing avenues as well as collaborations and partnerships with other organisations.

Did you encounter any particular difficulties in the beginning?

Even greater than the challenges mentioned above, in many ways the actual decision of quitting my previous job was the hardest part of this whole journey so far. I am a very loyal person and having been at my old job for close to 5 years, I had built two great teams and had some very talented colleagues that I worked along-side with too. Leaving them and moving on was tough. Also, the move meant risk and uncertainty but deep down I knew it was the push out of the comfort zone I needed.

I am very fortunate to have a very supportive wife, family and network of friends which has helped immensely.

What is your long term plan?

Right from the outset, the goal is to create a scalable and sustainable business in Asia. The long-term plan is to achieve this through regional growth into other cities and countries in Asia as well as recruitment into other disciplines outside of sales. In the future, perhaps we will even look at an outsourced sales service if the market is ready for it.

How and when is still to be decided but the mission is very clear in my mind and everything I set up and do now, is taking me one step closer to this goal.

Could you share with us some industry insights?

There will continue to be enormous growth both In Hong Kong and in Asia over the coming years and businesses will need talented sales people to capitalise. As with any developing market, hiring and retaining talent is tough and I believe that sales training will make a significant impact in the shape and performances of sales teams across businesses of any industry. At present, it is not a common practice and this is the mindset we need to change. The most talented and naturally gifted, professional athletes at the top of their game train many hours a week and it is a constant battle to improve and compete in their field. Very rarely do we see any sales training given in the work place, but why? Businesses should imagine what if the right training and direction was given to your sales teams and what results can be achieved.

The potential in Asia is still just emerging and we want to help hire, train, grow and retain the best sales people of the future for this exciting period in Asia.

What are some important lessons you’ve learnt about entrepreneurship?

Where to spend your time and budget is a constant battle that you need to face every day. Asking yourself “Is this the most important thing I need to be doing right now?” and if the decision is “Yes” then making sure you stick to it.

Allocating your time is similar to how you should spend your budget, these two areas are the hardest I have found so far.

In an environment with limited time and resources initially – prioritisation is critical.

Any tips for achieving success?

Make sure you have a solid business idea and a passion for it before you start. Once you started your business, stay disciplined, trust your gut and believe in yourself. Everything else will come.

Connect

Website: www.headstartasia.com

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/head-start-asia

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/headstartasia

Twitter: https://twitter.com/head_asia

Callum Connects

Jasmine Tan, Director of Stone Amperor

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Jasmine saves her clients time and effort when doing kitchen fit outs with her biz Stone Amperor.

What’s your story?
I started working in the industry in 2003. I was in a marble and granite supplier company for 5 years. Even though I left the company, I still had customers calling me for my services. I referred them back to my previous company but they refused to because they loved the fast response service that I offered. I realised that customers do look at prices, however most of them prefer quality over quantity. Thus I have decided to establish a sole proprietor company also known as 78 Degrees which later rebranded as Stone Amperor in 2014.

What excites you most about your industry?
The kitchen countertop industry is a very confusing market. There are many brands, materials and prices to choose from. What excites me the most is my ability to help clients choose the best materials and brands within their budgets, whilst saving them time and effort.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I have been in Asia all my life and I love Asia. No matter where you go there is no place like home.


Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
I love Singapore. This is because Singapore has always been a stable country and it is great for doing business. However as it is a small country, it can be really competitive. I believe that if just do your best and give your best to your customers, you can overcome this.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
“Take actions. Learn and improve continuously. An idea without action is just a dream.” This was really good advice that I received from my partner.

Who inspires you?
A very down to earth billionaire from Malaysia, Robert Kuok

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
Property is the foundation of every business.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
Own instead of renting property for my business.

How do you unwind?
I enjoy going shopping, watching movies and hanging out with friends. I am quite a simple being.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
I love going to Taiwan as I love the culture there. Everyone is so polite and the weather is great.

Everyone in business should read this book:
Sun Tzu, Art of war

Shameless plug for your business:
Perfect top, Perfect price, Perfect life from Stone Amperor

How can people connect with you?
Email me at [email protected]

Twitter handle?
@StoneAmperor

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

Dextre Teh, Founder of Rebirth Academy

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Dextre Teh is a consultant and marketing guru, helping F&B businesses to tighten their operations and grow their businesses.

What’s your story?
I help frustrated F&B business owners stuck in day to day operation transform from a glorified operator into a real business owner. I’m a 27 year old Singaporean second generation restaurant owner and a F&B business consultant. Entering the industry at 13 years old, I have always been obsessed with operations and systemisation. At the age of 25, I joined the insurance industry and earned a six figure yearly income. However, I left the high pay behind because it was not my passion and returned to the F&B industry. Now I help other F&B companies to tighten operations and grow their businesses with my consulting and marketing services.

What excites you most about your industry?
The food. I’m a big lover of food and even have a YouTube show on food in development. But that aside, it is really about impacting people through food. Creating moments and memories for people, be it a dating couple or families or friends. Providing that refuge from the daily grind of life. So in educating my consulting clients and training their staff to provide a better experience for their customers, I aim to shift the industry in the direction of creating memories instead of just selling food.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I was born and bred in Singapore. I love the culture, the food and travelling in Asia.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Singapore hands down. The environment here is built for businesses to thrive. The government is pro business and the infrastructure is built around supporting business growth. Not to mention the numerous amount of grants available in helping people start and even grow business. If I’m not mistaken, the Singaporean government is the only government in the world that offers grants to home grown businesses for overseas expansion.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
Learning to do things you do not intend to master is a BIG mistake in business. Focus on what you are good at and pay others to do the rest.

Many business owners including myself are so overwhelmed by the 10,000 things that they feel they need to do everyday. We try to do everything ourselves because we think it saves us money. The only thing that, that does for us is overload our schedules and give us mediocre results. Instead we should focus on what we do best and bring in support for the rest.

Who inspires you?
Christopher M Duncan.

At 29, Chris has built multiple 7 figure businesses. He opened me to the possibility of building a business on the thing that I loved and gave me a blueprint of how to do it. He also showed me that being young doesn’t mean you cannot do great things.

Imran Mohammad and Fazil Musa
They are my mentors and inspire me every single day to pursue my dreams, to focus on celebrating life and enjoying the process of getting to where I want to be.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
Time is always more expensive than money. Money, you can earn over and over again but time, once you spend it, will never come back.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I am a firm believer that your experiences shape who you are. I am grateful for every single moment of my life be it the highs or the lows, the successes and the failures because all these experiences have led me to become the person I am and brought me to the place that I’m at so I will probably do things the same way as everything was perfect in its time.

How do you unwind?
Chilling out in a live music bar with a drink in hand, listening to my favourite live band, 53A. Other than that I’m big on retail therapy, buying cool and geeky stuff.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Bangkok. It feels like a home away from home where the cost of living is relatively low, the food is good and the people are friendly.

Everyone in business should read this book:
Everything you know about business is wrong by Alastair Dryburgh. It is a book that challenges commonly accepted business “truths” and inspires you to go against the grain, think different, take risks and stand your ground in the face of the challenges that will come your way as a business owner.

Shameless plug for your business:
I’m the creator of the world’s first Chilli Crab Challenge. It gained viral celebrity earlier this year with 3 major newspaper features and more than a dozen blog and online publications featuring it in the span of two weeks. In the span of the two weeks, the campaign reached well over a million people in exposure without a single cent spent in ads.

Now I help F&B companies to tighten operations, increase profits and grow their businesses with my consulting and marketing services. Chilli Crab Challenge (https://www.chillicrab.com/nationalday)

How can people connect with you?
You can connect with me on Facebook (www.facebook.com/djtehkh) or visit www.rebirthacademy.sg for more information or book a 10 minute call with me @ www.tinyurl.com/dexclar

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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