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Thierry Tea, Founder & CEO of PhilJets Group

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Thierry Tea has had a successful and dynamic corporate and entrepreneurial career. From aviation to e-commerce, he is focusing on his latest start-up, WeCube.

What’s your story?
I was formerly a corporate senior executive, entrepreneur and I am now an investor across 4 Asian countries.

I was experiencing dynamic progress in my corporate career with the Airbus Group, but decided to leave my position as CEO of Airbus Helicopters Philippines and Head of Airbus Group Philippines to start my entrepreneurial life. I created Starline Global Industries in Singapore, an investment holding house that has then established PhilJets Group in the Philippines and Agama Investments in Cambodia. While PhilJets has become a leading aviation company operating aircraft management, fractional ownership, timesharing, maintenance services, training services, charter flights and recently launching GrabHeli with GrabTaxi; Agama Investments has invested in agribusiness with Parfum d’Indochine producing vanilla as well as in human resource services with Saint Blanquat & Associates and in retail with Jewelmer Joaillerie’s dealership in Cambodia. From corporate executive, I am now entrepreneur and investor with stakes in 11 companies after 3 years in the startup world. Our latest project is the launch of WeCube, our incubator which will start-up in the Philippines.

What excites you most about your industry?
While aviation is an industry I was passionate about, I decided to broaden my interests and business landscape and learn more about other Industries such as agribusiness, retail, HR services, private equity and finance and now IT and e-commerce. I believe in innovation. The only permanent thing is change, so we should always be learning. I am happy to meet and great business leaders and exchange knowledge and experience. It is an honor to have been able to partner with some of them. Nothing is impossible.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I was raised by Cambodian Chinese parents who went from wealthy entrepreneurs in Cambodia to poor refugees and then middle class in the Chinatown of Paris. ‘Work hard at school, be good, family is important,’ these are the Asian values I grew up with. My first trip to Asia was at 17, to Taiwan and Hong Kong. Then, I studied in Singapore and did an internship in Hong Kong before completing another one in Shanghai. I wanted to be working in Asia and started with Airbus Helicopters in 2004 in Singapore and then the Philippines. I have now been based in Manila for 11 years and in the last two years, I’ve had many trips to Phnom Penh.

Heli&jets IMG_0532 TT PhilJets

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Singapore for its ease of doing business and winning mindset. Phnom Penh for its amazing vibrant energy and entrepreneurial spirit everywhere in the city. Manila for its new wave of start-up growth.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
There are a few. My partner Dominique Ky of TK Orient advised me, “if you are more daring, you will get anything you want.” My friend Adrien Choux, founder of the Chinese Timekeeper, told me to start my entrepreneur journey a few years ago. Jeremy Harbour of the Harbour Club said “everything measured, improve.” My wife who tells me, “now is the time to develop the business because later, we will be older and will need to enjoy it more!”

Who inspires you?
My wife Lynda, who left her corporate career in Singapore to take over her family’s rice trading business in Gabon, Africa and then decided to take a leave to give birth to our daughter Julia.

My parents, who taught me the right values in life. They know what it is to be rich, to lose everything, but who worked hard and sacrificed a lot to give me and my brother the opportunity of a better future.

Our passionate team and colleagues who give their best everyday to satisfy our clients. Without them, nothing would be possible.

As business figure, Jack Ma has shown the world what an Asian entrepreneur can do. I also admire Asian tycoons that I have had the chance to know, such as Pung Keav Se of Canadian Integrated Group (Cambodia), Ramon Ang of San Miguel Corporation (Philippines), Michael Kadoorie of the Peninsula Hotels Chain (Hong Kong).

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
That our generation is endangering the planet at a rate higher than any previous generations. Unfortunately, there are very little remedies, since human nature puts its survival first. While Starline Global Industries and Agama Investments will contribute by putting up schools in remote areas of Cambodia to improve education, I hope the next generation will be more conscious and more caring towards the environment. We have to think of what we leave behind in this world.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
One year ago, I told myself, “If I leave this world tomorrow, my only regret is not having had a child.” This changed 4 months ago. I am having the life I wanted and I enjoy it 150%. Maybe starting entrepreneurship and a family earlier would be one wish. I would have loved my grand-parents to have met my daughter.

How do you unwind?
I used to find having a foot massage or reading a good book were ways to relax, but these have been overtaken by spending time with my 4 month old daughter Julia. It is the best way to clear my mind. Life is magical and children are wonderful in the way they learn and grow. Of course, spending quality time with my wife is also a great way to unwind.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Singapore and Siem Reap are both great places. I love the mix of culture in Singapore. As I am Asian, Chinese and European. Singapore offers the Chinese desserts that we love and also the modern Asian style that suits me. Siem Reap in Cambodia is full of history and culture.

Everyone in business should read this book:
The Art of War of Sun Tzu is a must. ‘It’s not how good you are but how good you want to be,’ by Paul Arden. The 2 others are Bernard Arnault’s (LVMH Group) biography ‘The Exterminator Angel’ and ‘Alibaba’s World.’

Shameless plug for your business:
Starline Global Industries is looking at investment opportunities and connecting businesses between Asia and Europe.

PhilJets is the leading boutique aviation solution in the Philippines, managing USD 20 million in assets, fractional ownership, timesharing, charter flights and also offering consultancy, maintenance services, aircraft sales and training services. PhilJets launched the GrabHeli app together with GrabTaxi.
Our new venture, WeCube is the newest incubator in the Philippines, launching the ComeOn Ground co-working space.

Agama Investments engages in creating value and developing long term sustainable activities in Cambodia, whilst also contributing to develop the image and exposure of the country in the business world.

How can people connect with you?
I can be reached on linkedin, facebook, twitter. Or through any one of our websites www.starlineglobalindustries.com and www.philjets.com

Twitter handle?
@thierrytea

This interview was part of the Callum Connect’s column found on The Asian Entrepreneur:

CallumConnectsCallum Laing invests and buys small businesses in a range of industries around Asia.  He has previously started, built and sold half a dozen businesses and is the founder & owner of Fitness-Buffet a company delivering employee wellness solutions in 12 countries.  He is a Director of, amongst others, Key Person of Influence.  A 40 week training program for business owners and executives.

Take the ‘Key Person of Influence’ scorecard <http://www.keypersonofinfluence.com/scorecard/>

Connect with Callum here:
twitter.com/laingcallum
linkedin.com/in/callumlaing
Get his free ‘Asia Snapshot’ report from www.callumlaing.com

Callum Connects

Benedict Heng, Founder of Mr. Farmer

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Benedict Heng is bringing back the ‘kampong’ days of having the Ho Liao (good ingredients) for Ho Jiak (good tasting) food.

What’s your story?
I’m Ben from Mr. Farmer. Mr. Farmer is an online grocer dedicated to supplying the freshest produce to our customers. We believe in sustainable and ethical farming. Since a young age, I have always been an avid food lover (especially meats), developing a strong interest in all things delicious. That is why I ventured into the F&B industry, working as a junior cook for 3 years.

Midway through my career, I made a move to the finance industry to pursue monetary rewards. I dove into high-risk investments and I made lots of money from these investments. However, the good fortune did not last long and all these came crashing down when I suffered a tremendous loss. This coincided with the time that I had just started my own family and it was a huge blow to me both materially and mentally. It was this crash that made me realize that this life wasn’t for me. I went on a hiatus and eventually, it was only through the strong support from my family that I managed to tide over this tough episode.

I went back to help the family business and this was how Mr Farmer came about. My family has been in the food industry for many decades and one thing they noticed from years of experience is that sustainable farming practices are not as developed as in Europe. This is why through Mr Farmer, we hope that we can provide the best quality products to families out there who want the best ingredients for their loved ones.

What excites you most about your industry?
Delicious and wholesome food excites me. I believe food is a critical component of life and it brings people together. The opportunity to serve the community with fresh produce for a healthy life, that brings me joy.

I feel that there is still so much more we can do to improve the quality of food and bring it to the masses. One of the key components of ensuring greater quality of food is to support ethical and sustainable farming. Due to commercialization and urbanization, most farming practices these days are no longer the way they were in the old “kampong” times. Shortcuts are taken, standards are compromised, all in the name of profit. At Mr. Farmer, profit is important too but we want to focus on the concept of One Welfare – sustainable farming directly impacts our health. Our vision is to bring back the ‘kampong’ days of having the Ho Liao (good ingredients) for Ho Jiak (good tasting) food.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I was born and raised in Singapore. I call Singapore my home as it’s where my family and close friends are. I also travel frequently to Malaysia and APAC for work.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
It’s definitely Singapore. There is just so much this tiny city can offer! Singapore has been globally recognized for its top-notch business environment providing its residents with developed infrastructure, political stability and excellent connectivity. These factors have given us an outstanding support system for businesses to strive.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
Surround yourself with people that inspire you, challenge you to rise higher, make you better and, keep them in your life.

Who inspires you?
I draw inspiration from my uncle, who is the head of both the family and business. He takes care of our family matters at home and manages hundreds of employees at work. Handling both the family and business side of things can be tricky, but he has shown me that success can be sustainable and done with a conscience. His guiding philosophy of handling business and family is simply, to have a big heart.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
Even just one day of separation from the day the meat is slaughtered, makes a world of difference to its flavour.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I have come to learn that awareness is the beginning of everything. If I had my time again, I would have probably spent more time figuring out who I truly am and with that self-awareness, begun to lead my life with more purpose and meaning.

How do you unwind?
I like to spend my free time sipping white coffee at my favourite coffee place. I enjoy taking in the surrounding sights and letting my mind wander freely. It allows me to unwind and gain clarity at the same time. It also helps me organize my thoughts to prepare for the week ahead.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
It would be Bangkok as the people there are genuinely friendly and hospitable. They say people are what defines the city and I couldn’t agree more with this. I also enjoy the ‘laid back’ vibe of Bangkok. Not to mention Bangkok has all the good food and awesome shopping choices too!

Everyone in business should read this book:
“Spin selling” by Neil Reckham. It’s an amazing book that teaches you a process designed to help you successfully sell your products and services to business buyers.

Shameless plug for your business:
We at Mr. Farmer have the best tasting meats in Singapore, do a blind test and you will know why it’s Michelin chefs’ preferred choice. Not only are we very confident about the taste, we are also proud to say that all our products are chemical, hormone and antibiotic free. We also focus a lot on supporting ethical and sustainable farming practices believing in the ‘One Welfare’ concept. Do check us out if you enjoy good quality food like us!

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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Zac Chua, Founder & CEO of The Kettle Gourmet

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Zac Chua’s popcorn business validated itself straight away and fast tracked him to the startup world. Zac now employs 11 people and shifts 500 bags of popcorn daily.

What’s your story?
It’s a crazy one. It was an accidental startup. If you think about it, no university graduate would ever dream of becoming a popcorn seller. We crashed our first tech event to validate our idea and it took off from there. I bought a logo for $7 from a designers marketplace, printed some cheap name cards, and built a 1 page landing page. Sales started pouring in and eventually, we were serving B2B clients (corporate pantries) and we have never looked back. Today we move about 500 bags daily, we have 11 employees and we are growing. Talk about a validation that worked in our favour.

What excites you most about your industry?
It’s food! Everybody loves food! In Singapore the F&B scene is brutally competitive and it spurs me on to fight and compete for market share and to prove to myself that I can do it. It keeps me going and I won’t stop until we become the market leader.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I was born in Singapore, and have traveled to most of Southeast Asia.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Singapore! Even though Singapore has a high cost of living, the Government is actually very supportive of startups. They provide grants for us to tap into, and the technological infrastructure makes it possible for us to compete on a global scale. I believe if you can succeed in your business in Singapore, you can succeed in most of Southeast Asia.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
You only need to be right once, and the rest is history.

Who inspires you?
My father, who was a VC. In fact he was the one who gave me the best piece of advice which I shared above. Having one successful exit, he showed me that it’s okay to fail a million times – all it takes is just one time for you to win in business and in life.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
The power of compounding.

  • Mary and John are the same age.
  • Mary saves $2k annually from the age of 19-25 – so she puts $14k into her portfolio
  • John saves $2k annually from the age of 26-65 – so he puts $80k into his portfolio, but 7 years after Mary.
  • If both are able to generate 10% per annum, who would have more at age 65?
  • John of course! But how much more?
  • Mary will have $944,641 whilst John will have $973,704
  • Think about it! Mary puts in only $14k but John delays for 7 years and puts in $80k.

CRAZY RIGHT!?!?

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
Nothing, my mistakes taught me how to become a better me. But if I really must choose, I’d say take more time to find the right business partner.

How do you unwind?
Poker, Mahjong and Dota 2.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Vietnam! Things are cheap, people are warm and friendly, and their coffee fills up my life. I would love to retire there if possible.

Everyone in business should read this book:
The richest man in Babylon

Shameless plug for your business:
We don’t need a plug. Just try our competitors and you’ll understand why!

How can people connect with you?
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/chuazongyou
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/zacchua

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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