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Ven Chin, Co-Founder of GD Group Pte Ltd

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Ven Chin was determined to be financially free. Starting his own business would enable him this.

What’s your story?
I have wanted to start my own business since I was a teen. Perhaps, I was subconsciously influenced by my parents who owned a small retail business. I was also an avid reader and enjoyed reading management books on how companies like Starbucks and McDonalds made it big. Robert Kiyosaki’s book “Rich Dad Poor Dad”, made a huge impression on my young mind. It taught me the importance of financial freedom – the ability to lead the lifestyle I wanted with passive income. I was determined to own my own business and be financially free one day.

I did not have capital. I did not have a ‘rich dad’ who was willing to fund a business venture. All I had was my education and a strong resolve that I wanted to build a successful business

After spending some years in a consulting firm, it became clear to me that a good and viable starting point to start a business was in the food and beverage industry. The barriers to entry were considerably low for a beginner, I did not need a huge capital outlay to start a business in this industry. The cash flow output from F&B businesses was typically high, it was a scalable business, and most importantly, I felt that there was always a demand for good food.

I took the plunge and left a well-paying consultancy job (to my parents’ dismay and consternation) to work as a restaurant manager. The stint allowed me to gain vital hands-on experience in managing a restaurant. It also provided insights to the challenges that came with running a business. To cut a long story short, I spent a few years gaining experience from different roles in food and beverage companies before opening my first restaurant in 2010. It was no turning back from there.
 
What excites you most about your industry?
It’s limitless! People will always need to eat, and in Singapore, many people live to eat. The challenge to constantly innovate and find the next concept or food that will keep customers coming back keeps me on my toes.

Witnessing the growth of our outlets and brands in Singapore gives me lots of satisfaction. I cannot wait to see our outlets overseas!
 
What’s your connection to Asia?
I was born and educated in Malaysian but spent most of my working life in Singapore. So you can say that I have been born bred in the ‘food capitals’ of Asia. I have travelled and lived in many other countries but to me, the best cuisine in the world is still Singapore/Malaysian hawker food.

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Gurney Drive Signatures Logo
 
Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Hands down – Singapore. There is rule of law. The system is fair, transparent and the environment is pro-business. There are also lots of investors here.
 
What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
From my mum – She told me, “I have no money for you to start a business. Go and get the relevant experience and find the money yourself!”
 
Who inspires you?
Robert Kiyosaki! It was where I first learnt the concept of “passive income”. He made it sound easier than it is, but I do believe it is achievable.
 
What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
Meditation! It helps relieve my back pain and fatigue almost immediately.
 
If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
Nothing. Even through the tough times, I believed that whatever obstacles and unhappiness we faced during the start up period was an essential learning experience. I am a firm believer of the adage “What doesn’t kill you can only make you stronger.”
 
How do you unwind?
I am a simple man with simple pleasures. Listening to Acoustic and Jazz music, drinking a cup of coffee or tea whilst reading my favourite books.
 
Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
My all time favourite – Bangkok. The food and massages are great and so reasonably priced! I must confess that whenever I am there with my wife, we spoil ourselves with daily massages.
 
Everyone in business should read this book:
A Monk who sold his Ferrari. It really begs the question, what do you really want in life? I know it sounds rather like a mid-life crisis kind of question, but it reminds me to put things in perspective and to focus on what is truly important to me.
 
Shameless plug for your business:
GD Group started out with one focus – to make good food accessible to all. Accessibility in terms of price and, or value, in terms of location, and in terms of target segments (e.g. halal certification to reach out to the Muslim community.) Today, GD Group operates a total of 8 outlets and 4 different concepts. The different dining concepts aim to offer customers a spectrum of options catering to different budgets for different occasions. For example, Penang St. Buffet, is popular with customers who want to celebrate special occasions. Penang Culture & Gurney Drive Signatures cater to customers who prefer a la carte style dining. Whilst Mamak Culture, is a cafe concept serving popular Malaysian dishes like roti-canai and nasi briyani. The constant in all restaurant concepts is the same value proposition of authentic, quality food at affordable prices.

In five years, GD Group has come a long way from its early days of fifteen employees and one outlet. However, the company is not resting on its laurels. We are constantly looking forward to introducing more dining concepts and F&B solutions in Singapore and overseas.
 
How can people connect with you?
Website: www.GDGroup.com.sg
Facebook: www.Facebook.com/VenChee
Email: [email protected]

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

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Callum 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

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Denise Morris Kipnis, Founder & Principal of ChangeFlow Consulting

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Denise Mossis Kipnis’ curiosity in people and the world, lead her to set up ChangeFlow Consulting.

What’s your story?
I’m driven by curiosity. Having been the only one in a room who looks like me for most of my life, I developed a curiosity about who stays, who leaves and who thrives in minority/majority situations including when and how connection and collaboration happen. I was a systems thinker long before I knew what that was, always asking why and so what; and seeing the pieces, the whole, and the places in between. So helping people and organisations move through the complexity of transformation feels natural to me.

What excites you most about your industry?
I see change and inclusion as two sides of the same thing; I don’t practice one without the other. Some people see change as death, as loss, as exhausting. And it can be. But I see in the work I do as an opportunity for something new or hidden to emerge. When an organisation understands that it is first a group of people, who themselves represent and belong to groups of people, and it begins to tackle what it would mean to understand and learn from all that talent, all that diversity, to have them all working for and not against the organisation, to truly unleash all that their people have to offer; that’s magic.

What’s your connection to Asia?
Change and inclusion are personal values as well as professional strengths. For me, living and working outside of the States was a bold experiment to see whether any of the stuff I’d learned about change and inclusion would work outside of the US. My husband and I targeted Asia specifically: it would be the greatest contrast, culturally speaking, for me; and a unique career springboard for him.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Although I’ve practiced in other cities, I am biased towards Singapore. In some ways it’s what Los Angeles is to the rest of the United States, a microcosm of sorts. The regional/global nature of it means that so many different nationalities and cultures are represented. As a result of this mix, you never know what you might get. In some situations, cultural dynamics are obvious, sometimes subdued. The variability is compelling.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
“Never ask anyone to do anything you wouldn’t do yourself.” Michael Rouan.

Who inspires you?
Often it’s a “what” not a “who.” I can get inspiration from a passage in a book or a situation in a movie, as well as a turn of a phrase or watching people interact. I often make the biggest connections between the various threads I’m working on when I’m sitting in someone else’s event.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
I’m honestly not blown away by much. Instead, I’m struck how circular things can be: ideas often come back around with a slightly different twist and I watch the way it shakes things loose for people. I recently sat through a workshop on Self as Instrument, and despite being thoroughly versed already, I learned something. In preparing for a panel on design thinking, I unearthed a new language to describe things.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
You’ve caught me at a good time. I’m sitting in appreciation and gratitude for all my experiences, because I wouldn’t be who I was today if all that has happened, didn’t. And yet one thing comes to mind: It wasn’t until I redesigned my website two years ago (shout out to Brew Creative!) that I realised I hadn’t made explicit agreements with my past clients as to what I could share publicly about our engagement, or whether I could use their logos in my promotional materials. In my business, confidentiality is so important, and yet I need to be able to talk about the work as reputation and experience leads to the next success, and so on. It turned out a lot of the contacts I had known had left the organisations where the work was done, so they couldn’t help at that point. So the practice I’m carrying forward is to get those agreements up front, and to make sure my relationships in client systems are broad as well as deep.

How do you unwind?
Science fiction, puzzles, wine.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Home. I don’t travel to relax, I travel to learn and explore.

Everyone in business should read this book:
Built to Change, by Ed Lawler and Chris Worley. To my knowledge, it’s the first pivot from advising organisations away from stability and toward dynamism, from strategic planning to strategizing as an action verb; to blow up the traditions and rigidity that impede organisations from developing change capability.

Shameless plug for your business:
We’re taught that there are two kinds of people: those who see forests, and those who see trees. There is a third type, my type, and we see the ecosystem. Worms, climate, birds, the spaces in between. This is the perspective organisations need to be successful in solving complex problems and thriving in change.
ChangeFlow uniquely blends four disciplines (two of which are multi-disciplinary in themselves): organisation development, culture and inclusion, change management and project management.

How can people connect with you?
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ChangeFlowConsulting/
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/dmorriskipnis/
LinkedIn Company page: https://www.linkedin.com/company/4862954/
Email: [email protected]
Website: http://www.changeflowconsulting.com

Twitter handle?
@ChangeFlow

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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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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