His father reared pigs. When his father had more pigs than he could find buyers for, he rented a stall to sell pork. That was back in 1985. From that one stall, he is now the CEO of a supermarket chain with 43 stores.
He is Mr Lim Hock Chee, the CEO and founder of Sheng Siong.
So, how did he go from a selling pork at one stall to being a multi-millionaire with an estimated net worth of $730 million?
At the learning journey, Mr Lim shared some of his thoughts on leadership, building and growing a successful company.
Here are some of the advice that we hearing from and observing Mr Lim.
Be deeply passionate about what you doMr Lim is deeply passionate about what he does. When he speaks about his business, his eyes light up. As he brought us around Sheng Siong’s mega-warehouse, there was a purposeful spring in his step. His passion also shows in how much he knows about every single aspect of his business.
From how the shelves in his warehouse are filled, to how goods get moved to the various supermarkets, from how much the LED lights of the warehouse cost, to how much his drivers are paid, he was able to answer all the questions about his business that we asked. He was also able to rattle off different statistics about his business – turnover, value of goods lost, staff strength, floor area of his warehouse, etc etc etc.
As we walked around, we noticed that he recognises many of his staff. We got a sense that this is a boss who doesn’t just stay in his office all day, but walks around his warehouse quite often. We also saw him looking around to see if anything was out of place. When we passed by a rubbish bin, he peered into it. He explained that some times staff would throw away things that can actually be recycled. To him, those things are money.
Mr Lim Hock Chee with Mr Ang Hin Kee. Photo from NTUC
His actions reflected what he later told us:
“As a boss, you never stop. You have to bao sua bao hai (literally “cover mountain cover sea” , i.e. do everything). And you have to follow through. Cannot give up halfway.”
Always think about how to improveOne reason MrLim insists on having such deep knowledge about everything that goes on in his company is because he is constantly thinking about how they can innovate, change, and be different. Only by knowing his company inside out can he know what areas need to be improved on and how.
He is constantly thinking about how things can be done better, faster, and at a lower cost. And his staff know that. That’s why many keep going to him with ideas about new technologies, systems, and ideas. Mr Lim would then find out as much as he can about those new technologies, systems and ideas. This reflects the intense curiosity that he has that more than makes up for his lack of formal education.
Keep making mistakesIn addition to his intense curiosity and desire for improvements, Mr Lim also has the courage to test things out and make mistakes. He told us this:
“The more you do, the more mistakes you make. The less you do, the less mistakes you make. If you don’t do anything, then you won’t make any mistakes. So if you don’t want to make any mistakes, then you don’t do anything. But if you want to do anything, you inevitably will make mistakes. So it’s OK if you make mistakes. It shows that you are doing something.”
He recounted the experience when he and his IT team were designing their self-checkout and payment system. After they had finally completed the first version, Mr Lim thought that they had a very good design. He prototyped it in one of his supermarkets. When he went down to see how it worked, he was initially quite proud of it. Until he heard what one of his customers said. The customer was so upset with the whole system that she thought the people who designed it were complete idiots.
Mr Lim said that he felt so ashamed of himself. But rather than let that stop him, he went back to work with his team to improve the system. They went through four iterations before coming up with the current version that is now rolled out in some of their bigger supermarkets. The current system, it seems, has received good feedback from customers.
Mr Lim Hock Chee giving us a tour of his warehouse. Photo from NTUC
Go for value for moneyIn the process of improving, Mr Lim focusses on value for money. At times, that means hunting for the cheaper option. For example, the LED lights of his warehouse are from China. They cost about SGD200 each. If Mr Lim had gotten something similar from Singapore, it would have cost about SGD900 each.
But no, in case you’re thinking Mr Lim is someone who would always cheap-source, stop right there. It’s really more about value-for-money and whether the products and services can meet his requirements too.
So, there are times when he chooses not to source for items from China, even though that would have been the way cheaper option.
One example he shared was the insulated containers that Sheng Shiong uses for the distribution of fresh meat and fish. He told us that if he were to buy from China, each would cost him only SGD1,000. But he chose to buy from a French company, where each container costs SGD1,800. The reason being that the one from the French company was more durable and able to keep the products fresher for longer. The Chinese technology is currently not sophisticated enough. So there, not everything is about how cheap.
Nurturing the right cultureMr Lim told us that improvements in productivity and profit margins go beyond just putting in place technology, machines, and systems. He said that the most important aspect is to change the mindset of the people in the company and nurturing the right culture. Without the right mindset and culture, the best technology or systems will still be useless.
(Haha, a case of wise men think alike? This was what the Labour Chief had said about the 4Ms! Apart from Men, Machine, Method, Minister Chan Chun Sing had said that Mindset is, really, the prerequisite for innovation and changes.)
That’s why Mr Lim takes various approaches to nurture the right culture. This includes going the extra mile in taking care of the welfare of his staff. Amongst other things, Sheng Siong provides one free meal a day for all of its staff. Mr Lim also tries to make it easier for his staff to do their job. As Mr Lim puts it:
“If you don’t take care of your staff, then they may end up being taken care of by other people!”
In other words, if you don’t have the right culture where you take care of your staff properly, the best of your staff may leave you for your competitors!
Lead by exampleBut the best way to change mindsets and nurture the right culture, according to Mr Lim, is to lead by example. That is why Mr Lim expects more of himself than he does his staff. Despite his wealth, he still lives a very simple life. A life that he seems to dedicate almost entirely to his business, to serving his customers, and to taking care of his staff.
So. If you want to be a multi-millionaire, be prepared to work really hard, set the right example, build the right culture, keep trying new things, make lots of mistakes, go for value for money, and keep thinking how you can innovate and improve.
Credits to Unscrambled.sg for this article
Organised by NTUC’s U SME (small and medium-sized enterprises) – an initiative that was set up by the Labour Movement to help support SMEs and enable them to address challenges so that they can in turn, take better care of workers; this session saw attendees who were invited by U SME, Food Innovation & Resource Centre (FIRC) as well as the Singapore Bakery and Confectionary Trade Association (SBCTA). U SME staff were on hand to share with attendees on how the Lean Enterprise Development Scheme would help SMEs be more manpower-lean through transformational change in their industry while former Bakerzin owner, Daniel Tay, shared his experiences of being a foodtrepreneur.
Daniel Tay founded patisserie-cafe chain Bakerzin in 1998 and left in 2013 to start another company, Foodgnostic, which specialises in wholesale baked goods. Another venture that Daniel has embarked on is reviving “Old Seng Choon”, a bakery for traditional pastries and a tribute to his father’s well-loved Seng Choon Confectionary that closed in 1996. With more than 20 years of experience under his belt, Daniel gave candid advice to fellow entrepreneurs.
It was a really enlightening session and here are the interesting nuggets of advice that we’ve distilled for you:
Daniel Tay on the importance of transformation:
He gave several examples of companies that weren’t able to “future-proof” their business such as Kodak, Nokia and Borders that ultimately led to their downfall. Daniel stressed the importance of not dismissing new developments or technology in the industry.
“Even if you have a successful business, even if you have a brand that is 50 years old, if you don’t evolve with the times, sooner or later, this brand will just go under.”
Daniel Tay on the Singapore brand:
He believes that the “Singapore brand” is itself a unique selling proposition and there are many positive connotations that are associated with “being made in Singapore”. He encourages entrepreneurs to leverage on Singapore’s good reputation to produce and export products globally. He also mentioned that although it would cost more, there is always automation (such as the Lean Enterprise Development Scheme) that would help significantly reduce production costs.
“It’s a little bit more expensive… but the brand equity that you will have is very strong.”
Daniel Tay on marketing tips:
First – you need a strong brand, one that does not bore people easily.
Second- you must have a good storyline.
Third – you have to have a good PR company, one that helps to sell you.
“Marketing need to spend money… a lot of money”
Daniel Tay on lessons he learnt from business failures:
Daniel shared how in one of his first business forays, he pumped in over a million dollars in setting up a factory and within a year it closed down due to under-capitalisation, inexperience of running a business and being “a bit too proud”. He recalls thinking that he would be rich overnight once he had the factory and did not plan adequately. Since then, he has a lot more experience under his belt through setting up of Bakerzin and Foodnogstic.
“Failure is sometimes pretty good…”
Ending thoughts on the event:
Daniel shared his thoughts on galvanizing members of the bakery industry in Singapore with the end goal of putting Singapore on the world map for baked goods... starting from one good product and with the help of automation. All we can say is... this man is certainly worth his dough. ;)
Source: Credits to AspirantSG for this article.
One of the most remarkable lessons our Asian heritage gave us, is the importance of a family unit. The Asian family puts at the forefront principals such as respect, care and life long protection. To an Asian family, to protect and look after family members is an honourable charge. A responsibility not taken lightly.
This is the difference between us and the hire & fire attitude of Western companies.
To understand the philosophy behind this, we spoke with Melissa Tan, the General Manager behind Wah & Hua Pte Ltd. The waste management company was built from scratch in the 80s, even before the words “startup” and “recycling” were even a thing. Armed with an old garbage truck and determination, the founder of the company collected discarded material. Working 18 hour days and 7 day weeks, Wah & Hua Pte Ltd took shape and over the years became one of Singapore’s more established names in the waste management business.
The most important piece of the Wah & Hua business fabric, are the people. Yet people are also the trickiest component of any business. People are difficult to manage, are emotionally volatile and be unwilling to cooperate with you.
Let’s take for example, skills upgrading and implementation of technology. These moves require a receptive attitude to change and innovation within a company. Some workers, especially older workers, are not receptive to new technology. If faced with having to adapt, some would rather leave the job.
“10 years ago when the government implement workplace safety, there would be a lot of resistance from the staff”, said Melissa. They would refuse (or “forget”) to wear their safety helmets and boots, getting co-operation is a challenge. The order of the day was tough love. “I introduced a system of fines. If we catch you twice, we’ll take pictures for proof. On the third strike you’ll be fined $10!”
The money is then accumulated and at the end of the year, we have a party with money. Everyone benefits. “I told them they could scold me all they want, at the end of the day they’re the ones benefiting from a safe environment”.
Following national policies implemented to limit foreign manpower, Wah & Hua is also facing hiring issues.
“It is not a sexy industry”, admits Melissa. “There is a stigma that this is an unglamorous job. From drivers to office administrators, manpower for all positions are not easy to find.” The company had tried targeting people of various demographics and skill sets. Old, young, male, female. They’ve tried newspaper recruitment, ex-convicts, hiring from special needs schools, handicap associations…all have turned out negative.
There also isn’t technology yet that will help them reduce manpower costs substantially. The company still needs good old drivers to load, unload and transport the large amounts of waste from all over the island each day. The sorting of rubbish still requires human effort.
“We just have to pay well”, shrugged Melissa. That they do cheerfully;because of their family-approach to managing staff, the company doesn’t pinch pennies when it comes to salaries and welfare. The average salaries of all the staff is about $2k and unless they’re taking on non-compulsory over time, they follow office hour timings. Hardworking drivers whom are motivated to start earlier and end later can earn up to $4k a month.
Salaries alone aren’t enough to attract people to work with them. Wah & Hua is fortunate to have built a strong brand from a 30 year corporate history. Many of the staff are attracted to the strength of its name and their commitment to workers, hence staff turnover rates are very low.
“I don’t see myself as a ‘boss’, or ‘the bosses daughter’. Whatever my workers are doing, I join them and talk to them”
“I believe communication is an integral component of corporate success, so i talk a lot!”
The company assures staff that it isn’t just about work and that the organisation is committed to carving out career progression for them; including sending them for training and self improvement courses.
“We may have over a hundred workers, but bear in mind that each worker feeds an average of 4 mouths back home”,
“Do you see what keeps us going? It is the worker and their families that drives us to perform so that rewards can be shared with everyone”.
Now that is how an Asian corporation embodies the spirit of family and care. We are not merely commodities to be hired and fired to the selfish benefit of a corporation. We are family, we take care of each other and we help each other improve.
“I want to tell you story of one of our drivers, Mr. Yeo”
Mr. Yeo was one who had worked with Wah & Hua for a very long time. Several years ago, the man suffered a stroke. He was fearful. His physical condition was not good, the doctor even wrote to the traffic police to have his driving licence revoked his driving licence. He was fearful. As the sole breadwinner of the house and with children still in primary school, Mr. Yeo had much reason to worry.
“We put his heart to rest – we assured him that when he recovered, he doesn’t need to be a driver. The company maintained his salary and let him chose what he would like to do. He is now redeployed as a security guard!”
Wah & Hua puts the workers at the heart of all they do. It is the knowledge that workers and their families rely on the company for survival that keeps the company growing and breaking new grounds.
“We are all equals in this company. If we are faced with problems, we’ll talk it through. It is this philosophy that keeps us in business year after year, decade after decade”, says the feisty boss.
Source: Refer here for original article by Five Stars And A Moon.
“In retail, there is GST. Greet, Smile and say Thank you. We must really give customers and our people a reason to smile. That underlines our HR philosophy. We must get our fundamentals for our people right so that our guys can serve our customers well.”
That is the mantra peppered throughout the conversation with Mr Low Cheong Kee, the founder and Managing Director of Home- Fix, Singapore’s premier D-I-Y home solutions retailer.
The company has come a long way since it was established in 1993, after Mr Low took over his family’s traditional hardware store business. With a combination of hard work, business savvy and enlightened human resource policy, Home-Fix today boasts 19 stores across Singapore, and nine in Malaysia, Cambodia and Mongolia. It also provides handyman repair services.
In a sector renowned for long hours, high staff turnover, and high reliance on foreign labour, more than 70% of Home-Fix’s employees are local while staff turnover is just 2%.
Secret #1: Create Attractive Careers
The company achieved what it did by taking on sacred cows in the retail industry – it introduced a five-day work week with options of some weekends off for frontline staff, provided comprehensive staff welfare benefits, developed a career path and sponsored higher education for promising staff.
It won the 2014 Work Life Achiever Award, an accolade given by the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (TAFEP).
Secret #2: No Resources? Find A Partner With One
To do even more, Home-Fix recently inked an MOU with the NTUC’s U SME, an initiative which focuses on helping small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs). The partnership will see the retailer updated on the latest regulations and best practices, be assisted with grant applications, and get access to the myriad of courses and seminars that NTUC organizes for bosses and workers alike.
“NTUC has a lot of resources. We will benefit from the U SME because we have limits to what we can do in terms of the programmes and benefits we want to run. It is important to tap on NTUC. It’s also a very important collaboration because we get to hear perspectives outside of the industry, know what’s going on in other sectors.”
In fact, Mr Low is so convinced of the benefits of collaborating with NTUC, he is even insisting that his staff sign up for union membership by paying for their dues, for all his 170-strong workforce.
“There are so many benefits for individuals. Discounts at FairPrice, recreational facilities, subsidized courses. NTUC has so many seminars. I’m sure there is something my guys would find useful and interesting. We want them to attend. It’s to broaden their minds. Training and learning are crucial today because the world is changing very fast. Allowing my guys access to this platform will help them to upgrade and go further.”
Secret #3: Groom The Young And Make Lifelong Learning A Culture
Mr Low is a firm believer in lifelong learning, and has engraved that into his company’s value system.
“When we recruit, we look for an open attitude and a passion for learning. I continue to learn, take on executive courses. I am going to be learning about the online world. Tomorrow, I am talking to search engine gurus. I think that the moment we stop learning, we deteriorate, especially more so in today’s world.”
To take that learning further, Home-Fix has started learning labs in three secondary schools in Singapore to engage students and expose them to what the company does. It will also be starting on a collaboration with the Institute of Technical Education (ITE) in August.
Ostensibly, this is one way of grooming potential staff for the future, especially in a tight labour market. But it is also about cultivating an interest in the practice of D-I-Y home improvements, developing skills and craftsmanship to benefit the industry as a whole.
Secret #4: Equip Your Staff To Do Their Jobs Better
Within the company, Mr Low feels it is more important to have a systematic way to collate, catalogue and share the knowledge and information which his staff amass.
Home-Fix is developing a Learning Management System (LMS) and using Artificial Intelligence technology to harness the learning on the shop floor (“real learning comes through interactions with customers”), codify and transfer it to the backend to add to its training manual.
In time to come, “hopefully, if a staff is asked a question they can’t answer, they can type in the key words and get an answer to satisfy the customer. We want to embrace technology. We are thinking about how to push information not just to staff, but also to customers. It’s a very different kind of training approach we are working on.”
It is a sensible approach. Productivity and morale are boosted when staff are well-trained and feel they can satisfy customers’ needs and do their job well. It is also about meeting staff’s aspirations to keep learning so they can do more significant things.
Secret #5: Train Your Staff For Their Next Job
And one of these significant things is that staff can progress to become their own boss! With the launch of the company’s new Entrepreneurship Scheme in April, driven and capable staff can enter into a special franchise agreement with Home-Fix to own and run their own store.
“We are training entrepreneurs. We are trying to meet the aspirations of our staff. The first employee to take it up is Ricky Soo, who has been with us for six years. He has 16 years of experience in the retail industry, and now he has taken the first step to be his own boss. I am very happy.”
It seems Home-Fix has found not only a creative way to reward good staff, but also one that makes perfect business sense. Some of the company’s foreign staff have also expressed interest to start Home-Fix stores back in their home countries. This can only help to expand the company’s footprint and brand. There is certainly a reason to smile, all around.
This article was contributed by LK Lai. She has travelled the world as a news journalist and enjoys interacting with people and listening to their stories. She also likes to pen her thoughts and observations on family life, work issues, and anything that impacts societal development.
Source: Refer here for original article by Vulcan Post