Kenny Chan ex-Senior Director of Kinokuniya Book Stores (Asia Pacific) shares his life story during his interview on the So This Is My Why podcast episode 145 with Ling Yah Wong (STIMY host and producer)

Ep 145: Are You a Masochistic Book Lover? | Kenny Chan (ex-diplomat & ex-Senior Director at Kinokuniya Book Stores (Asia Pacific))

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Welcome to Episode 145!

“Are you a masochist?”

“Do you love books that much?”

If you want to be a bookseller, than those are the questions you need to ask yourself – according to Kenny Chan, the former Senior Director at Kinokuniya Book Stores (Asia Pacific) – he spent ~20 years of his career there prior to his retirement!

But prior to bookseller, Kenny was a foreign diplomat at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Singapore, where he was posted to London as their Trade and Culture Attache.

He then switched to bookselling, first at Popular Holdings Limited, then MPH Bookstores Sdn Bhd, and back again at Popular when they launched their IPO!

And finally interviewed for a position at Kinokuniya.

The President & Chairman of Kinokuniya flew from Japan to Singapore to conduct the interview and asked Kenny just one question:

“Do you love books?”

As it turns out, Kenny gave me the exact answer he was looking for!

And even after retirement, Kenny remains deep in the bookselling world.

If you haven’t already guessed it, Kenny is the latest guest on STIMY!

And we dive deep into all things books & the art of evangelising.

❓Why does Kenny not judge people by their educational level?

❓Why did he initially become a foreign diplomat?

❓What was it like opening bookstores throughout Asia Pacific, Dubai and New York?

❓What was it like working at his dream company?

❓What is the secret to buying books & why is bookselling a spiritual experience?

❓How can aspiring authors can get Kenny’s attention?

Are you intrigued yet? You’ll just have to listen to this STIMY episode!

P/S: And don’t forget leave a rating & review!


A special shoutout to Karl Mak (STIMY Ep 55) & his team at Hepmil. 

They’re the ones who made this sub-series possible and helped me record all my interviews in their studio.

I definitely couldn’t do it without them – thank you Hepmil!

P/S: Let me know if you’re interested in doing a studio recording in Singapore! There’s plenty of space at Hepmil’s Limpeh studios. 😉

P/S: This episode is available on YouTube too!


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    So This Is My Why podcast

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    Kenny Chan ex-Senior Director of Kinokuniya Book Stores (Asia Pacific) shares his life story during his interview on the So This Is My Why podcast episode 145 with Ling Yah Wong (STIMY host and producer)


    • 1:01 The Punisher
    • 1:50 Don’t judge people by their level of education
    • 2:59 Do your best in everything that you touch
    • 3:58 My education was a roller-coaster
    • 5:31 Didn’t want to be a bookseller!
    • 7:56 Getting into foreign affairs
    • 9:51 Hunted down a book for Lee Kuan Yew & the power of connections
    • 11:35 Lee Kuan Yew was a hard task master
    • 14:54 Life isn’t fair
    • 18:32 How to get rid of inventory/books for bookstores
    • 20:21 Leaving Popular for MPH
    • 21:00 Introducing comics & Sanrio (Hello Popular) to Singapore
    • 22:12 How Kenny knew it was time to bring Hello Kitty in
    • 24:07 Memorable stories
    • 26:43 What was it like working in his dream company?
    • 27:46 Becoming store manager of the MPH Stamford Bookstore
    • 28:22 You need to be a dictator
    • 32:22  A great success
    • 36:23 The IPO
    • 37:11 The secret behind buying books & working at Popular
    • 41:29 Moving to Kinokuniya
    • 43:03 Meeting 
    • 43:30 The 1 question asked by the President & Chairman of Kinokuniya from Japan
    • 44:44 Working with someone who doesn’t understand English
    • 46:09 The spiritual aspect of book selling
    • 47:01 Opening a store in Dubai
    • 48:16 Love of books
    • 49:13 The Kinovirus & training to become a great bookseller
    • 50:45 The Speech
    • 52:05 Biggest achievements while at Kinokuniya
    • 54:44 Kinokuniya isn’t a bookstore. It’s a lifestyle choice
    • 56:15 The importance of building a brand
    • 58:51 The Twin Lemons Act
    • 59:50 Getting Kenny’s attention
    • 1:00:25 Ask a bookseller, what questions should you ask yourself?

    If you’re looking for more inspirational stories, check out:

    • Justin Byam Shaw: Co-Owner of the Evening Standard & the Independent – on building the UK’s largest media empire
    • Lucas Lu: Head of Zoom Asia – on his secret to climbing the corporate ladder to the top of the tech world in Asia!
    • Loh Lik Peng: Founder & CEO, Unlisted Collection – on how a lawyer transformed himself into one of Singapore’s top hoteliers with 40 properties under him (including 9 Michelin starred restaurants!)
    • Fong Wai Kheng: On life as the 4th generation owner of Tong Heng – Singapore’s best, 100-year-old confectionary town with its famous diamond-shaped egg tarts
    • Adrian Tan: The Late President of the Singapore Law Society & King of Singapore

    If you enjoyed this episode, you can: 

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    STIMY 145: The Secret to Becoming the Greatest Book Seller | Kenny Chan (ex-Senior Director, Kinokuniya Asia Pacific)

    Ling Yah: Hey STIMIES!

    Welcome to the So This Is My Why podcast. I'm your host and producer, Ling Yah, and today's guest is Kenny Chan.

    Now, Kenny was an ex diplomat turned bookseller who rose to become the senior director at Kinokuniya. He was in charge of things like launching the Kinokuniya shops all over Asia as well as New York. But how does someone go from working in diplomacy to becoming a bookseller?

    He has an incredibly unique journey and incredibly interesting and unique insights and ultimately a tremendous love of books and storytelling and how you bring that to life, how you ensure as a leader that your own people as well love books and embody that as well, such that when other people walk through their bookstores, they feel it too, because let's face it, bookselling is a really difficult industry and Kino has managed to rise to the very top.

    A lot of it has to do with Kenny. So if you'd like to learn more, jump on board.

    Are you ready?

    Let's go.

    I learned during my research that you like the Punisher. That's your favorite Marvel character?

    Kenny Chan: Yes, even more so today in the world where black and white become so gray and that bad can be good and good can be bad and that punishment for the evil doers is not always so straightforward.

    So a fantasy thing. It's a wish fulfillment where, you know, you're able to remove the evildoers without the problem of red tape and due process and rule of law. When they actually, you know, all these people are using the rule of law to rule other people. So all those kind of funny things.

    So the Punisher is an extreme example of vigilante justice, which I, I do not subscribe to, but anyways

    Ling Yah: It's fiction.

    Kenny Chan: It's fiction.

    Ling Yah: Growing up, I learned, and we spoke about this previously, that you don't judge people by their educational level, and a lot of it's because of your parents.

    Kenny Chan: Yes, a lot has to do with my parents, because my dad actually had primary two education, or thereabouts.

    But, in the school of life, and even in his ability to articulate and to write, he's much better than me. Not only in English, but also in Malay. His Malay, his level of Malay is crazy. He's A levels.

    My mother is another strange creature as well. My mother grew up in a family of 10 siblings, and she's the only one that was told not to get education in English.

    So she was educated in Chinese. But her English is good as a Chinese, along with her conversational Malay, Tamil, and all the dialects.

    So, paper it's not unimportant, but a person's life cannot be just papered over in terms of reputation by mere tests.

    Ling Yah: And your dad told you, it's not just education as well, it's, you must do your best in everything that you touch.

    Kenny Chan: Ah, I think the main thing that he taught me was, life is not fair. You just got to suck it up. But in the meantime, you have to do your best, because it's got to do with your integrity, which is very, very important, which comes to another case, which it doesn't, he taught me, but not directly, was the calibration of the moral compass, or the foundation of a moral compass..

    Because life is In all shades of grey, but sometimes you have to navigate the grey and it's not easy.

    So the moral compass will allow you to navigate and see through life without being too idealistic or realistic, but it's somewhere in between. And that I learned from him as well.

    Ling Yah: And as you were navigating through life, you were putting your best foot forward. You won a literature prize. You went and collected at the old MPH building.

    Kenny Chan: Oh, I didn't, I didn't know. Oh, actually I love books and I love reading. Anyway, my educational journey is a rollercoaster.

    Ling Yah: How so?

    Kenny Chan: in my primary schools, I actually attended three different primary schools.

    In my six years of primary school education, my first primary one was in Stre Mo Avenue. All the schools were nearby. In fact, four schools were all side by side.

    Then I was transferred to Queenstown Primary School. And for my third, fourth, fifth, sixth year, I was in Margaret Drive primary school, which is now a sort of a school

    Kenny Chan: for special needs.

    It's a bad joke, but I used to joke that if I come from Margaret Drive, you all can make it as well. It's a bad joke, but I think it's quite inspirational if you tell it properly.

    So, coming back to this part of my life in primary school, some years I would be right on top. Top five. I was the top boy once even.

    And sometimes I am at bottom. The joke is my uncle, dear uncle has passed away, bought me an encyclopedia. One volume encyclopedia and say congrats Kenny for being top boy. I said that was last year. This year I was bottom boy

    But the encyclopedia really helped me a lot because you can't afford Britannica and Google wasn't around. And the more reliable Wikipedia wasn't around either.

    So that Encyclopedia was one of the two fixtures in my life that was so important. Besides books and magazines and all,

    Ling Yah: You love books, encyclopedias. Did you want to be a bookseller back then?

    Kenny Chan: No. Those days, as a small kid, you wanted to be all the things that everyone wanted you to be. I wanted be a fireman, a soldier, a pilot, even though I'm wearing glasses. I wanted to be a cowboy.

    Ling Yah: How did you go from all these, I want to be a cowboy, to studying the very normal conventional economics and political science? Because I believe you were seduced by a speech by Ambassador at Large Chan Heng Chee.

    Kenny Chan: Oh yes, actually at the time

    Kenny Chan: we went for the orientation, and we heard a lot of speeches, but the speech that impressed me the most was by Dr Chan Heng Chee. Of course now she's professor and she's such a... a big deal in the world of diplomacy and academia.

    She gave a speech that was very, very seductive. And, mind you, she's a very pretty woman also.

    Ling Yah: Do you remember?

    Kenny Chan: She said that in life, you need to be able to connect and be well versed with things that are important to the world and to your country. And to be able to do that and to communicate, you can win the other person over with your knowledge and your ability to connect with them. And that really hooked a lot of us.

    Political science is a very interesting topic, but it was because of professor Chan. I was more interested actually in English, English literature and the stuff. 'cause I, I grew up on Jane Austin and William Blake and all that. And in the early days , in the sixties pop culture and counterculture through all kind of things and all the old Writers and poets and playwrights were all in the forefront of, of this new awakening of the 60s with flower power and peace.

    It's no different now actually. Conservation of environment. It's been there, done that.

    So, what happened was I had to be a bit more practical because my parents were growing older. I wanted to do BZ, but I couldn't get in. Everybody wanted to do that.

    So, the second choice was economics and political science. It turned out to be perfect for my new career. And augmented by the fact that I was doing English as a Minor.

    How I got into economic into foreign affairs also is because I was specializing in Southeast Asian politics. So Thailand somehow caught my attention because of the way the Thais managed to survive for so long.

    When I did my academic exercise, I did study of the ruling elite in the foreign policy of Thailand, which is a pretty great subject for me.

    It was very interesting and lo and behold, I was assigned to the thai desk when I was recruited as a foreign service officer. The fit was great.

    Ling Yah: But then you wanted to quit.

    Kenny Chan: Oh, that's much later. Actually, I wanted to quit straight away.

    Ling Yah: Why?

    Kenny Chan: Oh, because at that time out of 2, 000, two of us were shortlisted.

    And when we went in, thinking that it was a Division 1 post, they say the market condition is bad.

    We scratched our heads and said, Okay, if the market condition is bad, we as newbies think that we'll try our luck outside. I was lucky of the two, because as I tendered my resignation, the HR manager, Mr. Lee said, it's not Mr. Lee Kuan Yew, it's Mr. Lee Ka Wei, it's a different person said, Kenny, How about posting to London?

    Such seductive offer. How can I turn that down? So I had a great fun time in London for two years. Two hours sleep every day. Work hard, play hard. Fantastic.

    It was a fantastic job. Because there's cultural and information attaché. It means almost everything.

    I was giving talks to... What do you call those small group of ladies in some parish. It was about Singapore.

    So they were asking, is there someone who is an expert on Singapore? Me an expert at the age of 27 about Singapore, ha, ha, ha. Anyway, I gave talks to a lot of different organizations and companies and old ladies. I guess.

    Ling Yah: Didn't you hunt down a book for Lee Kuan Yew? Because he read about it in The Listener.

    Kenny Chan: Oh, yeah, that was interesting because of course, in those days, London, even now in some ways, is the cultural centre of, The Commonwealth, as we know it, and Singapore is part of it. And, of course, Mr. Lee was educated in, in good old England.

    So, anytime there's any request of all sorts, we will do our best, and books was one of them. Because all the great bookshops were. In London, Dillon's.

    At the time there was no Waterstones of course. Foyles.

    Ling Yah: It was quite a journey to find that book.

    Kenny Chan: Because it was very cryptic. In those days we don't use facebook or social media. We use it's called a telex, even before the fax.

    It's like a thicker tape, a broad kind of thicker tape where a few lines are written. Read listener, book pension, get me a copy, something like that.

    Ling Yah: Doesn't tell you much.

    Kenny Chan: Rosetta Stone decoder comes out. Anyway I was lucky because being Singaporean at that time, we were a very small bunch of people. So we have to make use of our ability to, connect with other people and to, to, to get things going because you are one person.

    No man is an island. I managed to get in touch with the bookshop manager. I made friend with her and I said, Hi, it's me again. Uh, Something came out in the listener.

    Oh, you mean this book?

    Straight away.

    I was so impressed. So, after that I never had problems because, because once you know, in the know about certain things, I guess you know what's going to happen. This is the talking point now.

    But that was a great lesson in the powers of connection.

    Ling Yah: I imagine people were impressed as well, and eventually you got to work with Mr Lee Kuan Yew.

    Kenny Chan: I guess so.

    Ling Yah: You said he was a hard task master. He taught you that there's no such thing as impossible.

    Kenny Chan: All of us that were brought up in those days believed that we can do anything. Because if it's from Mr. Lee, we know it is for Singapore. And if it's for Singapore, how can we let Singapore down? So that was always at the back of our mind.

    Because when we accompany him on visits when he sits down with some VIP and you gotta take notes for him. So, you'll be observing him. And if he has a one to one with you occasionally, he'll ask you questions. Especially when you're overseas

    So what's that tree call? What do you think those lights are from? These are things that he asks because he was formulating the idea and he was micro planning the Garden City. So all these are little things that may mean nothing to anyone except him. So we have to be on our toes. to be aware about things. It can be anything.

    What do you think is the level of education of the waiter that just served us? He'll be asking all these questions. So sometime you can wing it. Because you cannot say I don't know too many times and survive, right?

    Ling Yah: And then he will challenge you if he knows you're winging?

    Kenny Chan: Depends. Human beings have moods. And I guess if they... You say with enough seriousness and without any beads of sweat coming down your cheeks, then I think you can make it. But generally speaking, we understand his questions and the questions are for the good of Singapore. So we take it.

    Ling Yah: And then you wanted to quit.

    Kenny Chan: Oh, why did I want to quit? Because I wanted to quit from the beginning, remember?

    Ling Yah: Yeah, But then you really did.

    Kenny Chan: I was still Division 2. And it's very hard to climb to Division 1 once you're in Division 2. You'll be faced with a whole rigmarole of red cape.

    Like you've got to take the Foreign Service exam. You've got to take the Civil Service exam from Dave 2 to Dave 1, all kind of weird things. So it's taking a lot of time. And at the time I was studying a lot of things. At that time I did a course in COBOL, which was useless until the end of the millennium.

    I did accountancy also, the basics. I was doing a law course as well. There were four of us, only one survived. Okay, oh, why I wanted to quit. When I came back from London I wanted to quit.

    But I was fortunate enough to have a very good permanent secretary. At the time it was a gentleman called Mr. Ersal Nardin. He has always been a big part of Singapore's success. So Mr. Elsa Narden knew my, my dilemma. Sat me down and said, Kenny, I'll do my best to see what we can do about your situation.

    Because at the time, I was already mentoring because I finished my London stint, and I was in my fourth year, and the newer recruits coming in with the same degree as me were being coached by me at a higher pay.

    Ling Yah: That's infuriating.

    Kenny Chan: Well, I remember my dad saying, yeah, yeah, yeah, life is not fair.

    So I carried on. Of course, I'll bitch a little bit, pardon my French. And he assured me that something would be done. But, lo and behold, my life journey took a different turn.

    He was seconded to be chairman of SPH. I was not part of the entourage so I said, this is the time for me to move.

    And the time when I wanted to move, that was in the early 80s.

    Ling Yah: 1983.

    Kenny Chan: That was a period where I just saw David Bowie, but that's a separate story. Anyway I had about four or five job offers then. One of them was a good one, a posting to Jakarta, which is another country which I'm quite well versed in and having Malay, it helps.

    There are a lot of perks as a diplomat in a developing country than in developed countries. With a hundred bucks you can have three servants, for instance, at a time. That kind of thing,

    And then the other one was the import export job. Then one was I don't know how come I impressed the chairman Selangor Builder.

    At the time he was, I can't remember, I think it was MD. His father was still running the show. Anyway, he said, Kenny, anytime you want to come, you can join me.

    And of course my tai kor, my big brother, from Foreign Affairs, has left Foreign Affairs to join Popular. So he was running popular. They say, hey Kenny, you want to come over?

    There was another job, I can't remember what it is. I think that was the one I wanted the most. But it was a bit difficult because my parents won't allow me. I think I was to be a gigolo or something. No, I'm joking. Last one is a joke.

    I can't remember the fifth one. So I had to decide between the four. Of course, Indonesia, Foreign Affairs, I'll come back with heartache again. Because I doubt they'll promote me.

    Import, export, I was very interested. But spices, there's a limit to my interest in spices, so I turned that one down.

    Selangor Pewter. If Selangor Pewter offered me a job now, I would have taken it.

    Ling Yah: Why?

    Kenny Chan: Because at that time, Selangor Pewter was a traditional company, which just offers traditional designs for the market.

    Now, Selangor Pewter has done collaboration with everyone from Marvel Comics to Disney, and they are doing things that are more my cup of tea. They do pewter collectible of, Mickey Mouse, Spider Man, Iron Man. Pop culture become immersed into the corporate world.

    In those days, no, no, no. If they think you are reading comics, they will send you to a mental hospital, you know. Or like me, I went to Margaret Drive primary school. It's no offense to Margaret Drive Primary School. So I took up a challenge with Popular because I said, Hey, I love books.

    What can go wrong with a product that I love? It didn't go wrong with the product side, but it went wrong with other things. That's another interesting story.

    Ling Yah: Like what?

    Kenny Chan: Well, learning how to tell the good and the bad in people. How to negotiate properly. How to manage and not let my ego be manipulated by people.

    Stuff like that. Because one of my biggest mistakes when I was... In Popular was, I was in charge of buying as well. I mean buying products for the bookstores.

    One salesperson was very, very good at persuading me to order a lot of stuff, which I knew were not perfect for the bookstore. But somehow he managed to say, Hey Kenny, how can you not have this?

    You know everything, you know. There you go. A little expensive lesson, but I managed to slowly get rid of the stocks and never again. A big lesson, but I really learned well.

    Ling Yah: How did you get rid of stock that wasn't fit for the bookstore?

    Kenny Chan: Normally what we do is we price it down and then we try to find niche for certain kinds of, because the range was quite, quite large.

    And we... We had quite a few stores, so we managed to put in certain stores. Certain mix and the rest of it that couldn't sell, another round of price down, and then later to sell it to a sort of Karangoni person.

    It's like a rack and bone. It's not really a rack and bone because at the time, we in Popular also buy from big publishers overprints, overruns. Overruns are normally sold cheaper, so we can sell it cheaper.

    So I started with that skill set for, for book buying and book selling, which is selling to the masses and finding products that are very accessible and affordable. So that's how I started. Before I left Popular, actually we had plans to slowly upgrade Popular.

    Not just selling bargain books and discount books. Although we have textbooks and school books. But for the general trade books, we wanted to upgrade ourselves. So at that time, in Bras Basah Complex, for instance, I managed to... start the art and design. This is long before Bashir.

    So I started a very, very nice art and design department within Popular. We had everything from Matisse to Picasso you name it.

    Ling Yah: Was it hard to get that section in?

    Kenny Chan: I love art so it wasn't a problem.

    It's a question of pushing myself up the learning curve in terms of who are the publishers. Which publisher is good for what, and then of course you have the higher level publisher, lower level, where to get it from, blah, blah, blah, and which are the latest titles.

    It's a labor of love, so that's fine.

    Ling Yah: Why would you leave Popular then to MPH. But then I heard that MPH was your dream place to be.

    Kenny Chan: Oh, MPH was my dream. because, You asked me the question which I didn't answer long ago, which is how I got my literature prize. Anyway, I got my literature prize, which was a book voucher, and I went to MPH.

    In the old days they had, even now they have the compilation of this human magazine called Mad Magazine, and they compile the best parodies and spoofs into books. And so I bought one, I think it's called Brother's Man, and there are spoofs of things like the Brothers Kamarazov and there's a spoof of Superman, it's called Super Duper Man, all kind of funny stuff.

    When I got it, I saw the store manager then. And I said, oh boy, I want to be like him. So much goodies in the bookshop.

    Way later, and this is another moment of serendipity, because when I was in Popular Singapore, after I did the art and design. I was supposed to do a Comics department. In those days there were no comics. of any size and range, you know.

    Ling Yah: You would have been thrilled. You love comics.

    Kenny Chan: Oh, yeah, of course now another passion project In between I did a Sanrio corner for Popular and at the time Sanrio was only known for Hello Kitty.

    Even then Hello Kitty was not so famous, but there was in the early eighties. That was quite cool. But before I could start the comics.

    Ling Yah: How did you know about them if no one else was really pushing it?

    Kenny Chan: Ah, that's another weakness of mine, I'm a 'kepoh'. And I'm into trends and things, pop culture, so I knew about Hello Kitty.

    Ling Yah: How?

    Do you remember how?

    Kenny Chan: Magazines.

    Ling Yah: And you saw it come up all the time?

    Kenny Chan: It was coming out and I hear people talking about it. People go to Japan and say, Hello Kitty, I've seen it. And so I said, Let's start it.

    Ling Yah: But that would have been in Japan, not in Singapore.

    Kenny Chan: You see, the thing about the flow of information even then, before the internet, was word of mouth, travellers, sales people, and for Asia, a lot of the pop culture emanates from Japan.

    And then to the diasporic... Chinese trade routes, it goes down to Taiwan, to Hong Kong, Southeast Asia, Australia, Chinatown, Up West, etc. So that has always been the case. And Hello Kitty at the time was going down that route.

    Ling Yah: So you just skipped that whole trouble, I'm just going to bring it straight. Before anyone else did?

    Kenny Chan: Yeah, because Sanrio had an agent, so we contact the agent. Anyway, we managed to do it. So before I could do the comics, I was sent to Hong Kong. Had three years in Hong Kong. Because another offer I cannot refuse.

    At the age of 31, I believe, around there, 32, 32, around there.

    Hey, Kenny, the chairman of Popular said, I want you to be the general manager of Harry's bookstore. It's an upmarket chain in Hong Kong. And also to run my other bookshop chain, EPH ,Educational Publishing House.

    Because we have two bookshop chains in Hong Kong. And you're going to be the general manager of both. At that time I didn't know that the former general manager, a very formidable lady Elizabeth Gubulski, who used to be from Penguin has left Popular. So they needed a general manager, so I went down.

    I almost had a big accident because my head couldn't go through the door of the office. It was too big. You can't imagine the size of my ego then. Anyway, I had a good three years in Hong Kong. I learned a lot. I got hoodwinked a lot.

    Ling Yah: Oh no, again.

    Kenny Chan: And street smart again. So I learned it the hard way.

    Ling Yah: Any memorable stories in particular?

    Kenny Chan: Memorable stories? They're all pop culture stories. I know the director and producer in Golden Hours at the time Chua Lam. He's a very famous person now even. He directs films. He's a ood connoisseur. He's on TV and all. And he's a Singaporean. I got to know him so I get preview tickets to watch movies in Golden Hours even before it comes out.

    So once I parked my car, because the car park is very small, and I just parked in front of this car. And a guy came up and glared at me. You know who that was? Jackie Chan. Oh

    Ling Yah: So you backed out quickly.

    Kenny Chan: Oh No. I left my car there. I'm a general manager. You're just a actor. It's funny. That was funny.

    There are a lot of these incidences. Like getting actresses in our bookstore, which is quite rare, but Carol Cheng was a a big reader, so she was always in our bookstore in in Tsim Sha Tsui East.

    I think she stays around there, and Sally Yeh was the other one. Yeh Chen Wen also a book reader. And next to one of our stores in New World Center in Tsim Sha Tsui there's a tailor shop, and it's owned by Loh Liat. A famous actor from Shaw Brothers. He always plays the villain. So he was in the lift with me and I was so scared.

    Ling Yah: Oh really?

    Kenny Chan: Not because he's bad. He's a nice guy. Because of all the movies I watch. It's so funny. A lot of stories like that.

    Anyway, finally I had to come back to Singapore because my parents were growing old and I wanted to come back and be nearer them. At that time when I came back, I had two job offers.

    I don't know why people see me anyway.

    Ling Yah: You didn't even apply for it, right?

    Kenny Chan: No, no, no. I certainly didn't apply. One was by the general manager of MPH at the time. He said, Kenny, anytime you come back from Hong Kong, look me up.

    The other one was Times Bookshop. They are one of the big shots. Kenny, come back. we need someone like you in Times, the bookshop. We throw you in a car even. But foolishly I took the MPH one because that was my dream and it is coming true. So there I was back to MPH.

    Ling Yah: Hey, STIMIES!

    If you haven't done so already, please do head over to give a rating and review for this podcast, because without it, Apple Podcast, Spotify, would never push it forward to let anyone else see. So just head on over, share with people, so that people will know about this special series, especially the ones that we are showcasing right now on Singaporeans who have achieved incredible success.

    What was the dream company like in reality?

    Kenny Chan: It was a real nightmare in terms of the work, but I never wanted to leave.

    Once you're immersed in something you like, agony becomes ecstasy as they say.

    Ling Yah: Why was it a nightmare to work?

    Kenny Chan: There's so many things to do, my goodness.

    Ling Yah: Compared to popular?

    Kenny Chan: Hmm, compared to Popular.

    Kenny Chan: Popular, it was not my dream. So, the quest for perfection wasn't there. And also I was learning the ropes. By the time I learned the ropes, and joining MPH, I was a different person already.

    I was slightly less gullible, and I think I have a bit more skill sets in terms of the book selling aspects.

    I wanted to make it even more perfect and I was given a lot of things to do. I was in charge of B2B which is the direct sales to corporations and libraries and all. And that's a big job by itself.

    I was in charge of A& P, advertising and promotion. I only have an assistant to help me in all these things, you know.

    Ling Yah: That's huge. That's two very big departments.

    Kenny Chan: Of course, the running of the store itself. I'm the store manager of the MPH Stamford Bookstore. Which is a mothership at the time.

    Ling Yah: And where you got your prize from.

    Kenny Chan: Ah, yes. That's why. I was in charge of a lot more things. And I had to go for overseas trips as well.

    And I was also helping Malaysia. Malaysia, we had a separate set of people running it, but we were involved. At the time, Singapore was in charge of Malaysia, so we help them as well.

    And of course, the buying, I'm the one doing all the buying as well. Before that, they had a committee to buy.

    It didn't work.

    Ling Yah: Why?

    Kenny Chan: You cannot have a committee to buy because everyone would be afraid of making mistakes.

    Ling Yah: So it has to be one dictator.

    Kenny Chan: You have one person to decide. I was confident enough. They offered it to me, I said, okay, I'll do it. But it was on top of all the other things I'm doing, you know.

    Yeah. So, there was very, very, very hectic. But I had good people, and how I left is quite strange. Actually I didn't want to leave.

    By the time the managing director of a distributor, at the time it was called Heinemann Asia.

    Kenny Chan: They were part of a bigger group called REIT, the REIT Consumer Group, which does all the fantastic big publishers like Heinemann and Secai and Walmart, all the big, big names.

    And even Singapore , this company, Heinemann Asia, had their own publishing. Heinemann Asia is a very famous publishing imprint in Singapore at the time. And they did everyone from Leon Comber, to Han Su Yin, to Catherine Lim, to Robert Yeo. All the early ones were in this company.

    At the time I knew it, but I didn't want to join them because I'm Happy with MPH.

    The MD keep calling me, so I said, Oh, this cannot go on. I mean, I, I got work to do. I can't be entertaining, because I'm quite deferential to people. So I said, Okay, this gentleman, very famous MD Charles Choi. Okay, Charles, I'll meet you for lunch. And at that time, I got my game plan, plan A already.

    At that time, I didn't think of plan B. Anyway, my plan A was, I tell him, give him this exorbitant amount of money as a proposal, and he turned me down, and I go back to MPH.

    So during the lunch, I said, I will come over if you pay me this much. His hands came out. I had to shake hands with him.

    What the heck? I was trapped.

    Ling Yah: You asked for too little.

    Kenny Chan: I think so. So anyway, it was a new,

    Kenny Chan: it was a new aspect of the book industry which I've never done, which is publishing, distribution, and by distribution I mean the whole world.

    Because Heinemann Asia, some of the books like Catherine Lim's books were sold in almost every country. of note in the world.

    Pakistan, Jamaica,... Even China at the time. China is very funny, I tell you this story. We got a letter from the Chinese publisher. Thank you very much. We have sold, I can't remember the number, a few thousand copies of Or Else the Lightning God Strikes by Katherine Lim. Thank you very much for your support.

    We didn't sign any agreement with them. Where's the royalty check? The audacity. But it shows how widespread we were at that time. And it was a fun time. I had good colleagues again. Some of them are still my very close friends. I was doing the trade side, which is the fun side, fiction, children's books and comics.

    The academic side, the boring side, is done by another colleague of mine. We decided to combine resources because we want to up the revenue, right? We started a series called Professional Improvement Series. It was intentional- PIS. In fact, we wanted to call it Self Help Improvement Title- S H I T. But we thought that was a bit too too crude. So we put Professional Improvement Series.

    And one of the first titles we actually managed to get rights to sell in Singapore, Malaysia was Robert Kiyosaki's Rich Dad, Poor Dad. Oh, wow. So that time I think I attended one of his talks .

    He was very, very strong in, in this region, in promoting through his seminars. Just like Anthony Robbins. We managed to get rights. At the time it wasn't so big internationally. But our rights were just for Singapore and Malaysia. And we did very well.

    We did a lot of titles. So, this series that we called PIS, was a great success.

    Ling Yah: Because of him?

    Kenny Chan: No. We had a lot of good titles. because One of the key success factors for retail is range. And range means having titles that your customer wants.

    For instance, if you like one Agatha Christie novel, you want to buy the rest, right? So it's a question of backlists. every time, Books will drop out of this, this so called backlist.

    Our job for this new one is to find the backlists that are still working and republish them with new covers and all that. And it works. They call it recycling, which is fantastic.

    After a while, I was promoted to general manager again. And unfortunately there was a lot of restructuring of REIT. At one time it got bought over by this Dutch company called Elsevier. And there were talks of of downsizing. I left before they could downsize.

    I joined another company called,

    another fantastic acronym for you, PMS.

    Ling Yah: Did you pick them for their acronyms?

    Kenny Chan: No, no, no, no, no. This is all serendipity. Publishers Marketing Services, which were basically selling B2B. And one of our biggest customers was the National Library. Because we had all the good, big brands at the time like Darling Kindersley, for instance.

    So, we were doing B2B and also distribution of certain lines, including Darling Kindersley. I joined them because the owner, founder, again, I don't understand chose me, I don't know why, and he wanted to make me the successor. So I joined him as a joint MD or PMS.

    Ling Yah: Wow. It's so funny.

    Kenny Chan: Join MD or PMS, EIEIO. Sounds good. Anyway, I was joint MD. I was so excited.

    First day of work in the office sat down in the former founder's desk. All of a sudden I realized there's another chair there. Not a small chair, a big chair as well. As big as mine. So I asked the secretary, Hey, whose chair is that?

    Oh, Mr. is coming today also. Huh? So, there he was next to me when he came in.

    And I said, Hey, what happened? Then he said Oh. I'm still not used to, you know,

    Ling Yah: letting go.

    Kenny Chan: it's not too easy to have, a situation like that. Although he's a great person. He's a great boss. And we did a lot of things. I was very proud of my achievements in PMS.

    Ling Yah: Time to move on.

    Kenny Chan: Time to move on.

    Ling Yah: And then you didn't apply.

    Kenny Chan: Yeah, I didn't apply again.

    This time...

    Ling Yah: Have you ever asked any of these people why you...

    Kenny Chan: Next time you interview any of them for me. But I know that some of them actually asked around the industry. And lo and behold, and I'm scratching my head, all the feedback was positive. I don't understand these things.

    After this I went back to Popular because they were having their I P O. Yeah. And they wanted a couple of high profile names and I was one of them. Yeah.

    So the I P O I was in there and I think it was a group merchandise manager or something which is fantastic.

    I love merchandising.

    Ling Yah: Sounds like Popular was your true dream company rather than MPH. Keep going back.

    Kenny Chan: This time round, there are two reasons why. One is because at the time, the retail director of Popular, with the chairman of Popular, who asked me back worked with me before, both of them. The retail director of Popular at the time was a gentleman who used to be my boss in MPH, when I joined MPH.

    He left MPH, and I took over from him. Go figure. It was a tough time, but it was fantastic.

    And Poplar has grown much bigger. And I'm working with a much bigger scale. It's quite fun.

    Ling Yah: What were some of the standout moments from that time going back?

    Kenny Chan: The IPO itself,

    Kenny Chan: and reuniting with all my old mentors and colleagues. So many people. So much memories. Because by then, even MPH Malaysia has grown quite quite large because I was in the original team in the first round to help set up Popular in Malaysia.

    It was in the early 80s. So by the time in the 90s when I went over it's bigger and better.

    Ling Yah: And then from Popular you left.

    Kenny Chan: I can't remember. There are a lot of professional ups in... Popular as well. A lot of them is in the buying because my buying is normally quite unerring and spot on in terms of the right title and the right price and all that.

    Ling Yah: I'm sure people have asked you what your secret is.

    Kenny Chan: Oh, the secret of buying? The secret of buying is also to do with luck, and also to be able to, at that point of time, pick the right horses. Like, for instance, I mentioned Sanrio. It came out at the right time.

    Comics actually didn't come out at the right time. If I did it then, I don't think I had the skill set in the early 80s to do as fantastic a job as I have done in Kinokuniya now.

    Popular was fun because at the time I met up also with a new colleague of mine who later played a part in my Kinokuniya job. In my second incarnation of Popular, he was the HR director in Popular.

    So we got along so well that when he went over to Kinokuniya, I got pulled in.

    Actually Popular I was still doing alright until one day I was at the petrol kiosk and I met an old reservist colleague of mine. He was running SNP, Singapore National Printers.

    At the time they want to revitalize the retail, the publishing, everything in SNP.

    And he was pumping petrol, I was pumping petrol, hey, Kenny! Hey, hi! Name card, name card. You're Popular, right? Name card.

    And he was thinking I was Popular in the first round. Because he didn't keep up with my... Yeah, career. Okay, I get it. Next day, his secretary called me.

    Mr. Chan! Yeah? Oh, this Mr... He's calling and he wants to have an appointment with you. Okay, so I was offered Group General Manager S& P, which comprises three divisions.

    One division covers trade publishing, one division covers educational publishing, and one division covers e publishing. And on top of all that, there's logistics as well, and there's a side project of revitalizing EPB bookshops. Because at the time, EPB bookshops were on the down and out.

    And another project which is to launch e platform for retail. As if I don't have enough to do, right?

    Ling Yah: You said yes. , Popular was 1987 to 1999. Yeah.

    Kenny Chan: So in the short span of time, with two hours sleep every day, I managed to do all that. Fun times again.

    Revitalizing, on top of that, that was the first year where Ministry of Education launched open market for textbooks.

    Meaning, in the past, if the textbooks for a certain level, for a certain subject, is given to a publisher, you'll get the whole cohort, which is 30 to 40 thousand of that level.

    Let's say secondary one, that's 35, 40 thousand. So all that will be yours. But now it's open tender. It's open, meaning that you may not get anything. Your books can get approved, but you may not get any, because it's up to the individual schools to buy whatever they want. So it was very tough.

    Especially when you do textbook, you have to do Tamil. Malay, Chinese, English. For economies of scale, definitely Chinese and English would be the one. So the other two languages would be like, heavily subsidized by the publisher. Even the price is very heavily controlled by MOE for textbooks.

    Unlike in Hong Kong, where the price is set by the market. Because the publisher needs to make money. In Singapore's case, it's a very tough call.

    On top of all this, I was chairman of the educational publishers and all kind of funny things, doing a lot of things. And also helping to launch the e books, which we did very successfully.

    We didn't lose money. Our competitor lost millions, but we didn't lose money. ... I'm a taskmaster. I use the same manpower. Because I say, hey, this is the future, you gotta learn about it. Let's all go in together. I also not getting extra money for this. So we all went in.

    Logistics also. It's all using the existing resources to attain your goal. And that's what all good managers have to do. The use of finite resources to meet infinite goals. Eh, copyright, that's a good one.

    Ling Yah: And then you decided it was time to go to Kinokuniya.

    Kenny Chan: Oh, the reason I went to Kinokuniya is very strange .

    Actually, my leaving S& P was another... moment in history

    At the period when I was at S N P and slightly before, my wife was in the Ministry of Trade Industry and she was seconded to Brunei to help Brunei who was hosting in 2 0 0 0, an international meeting called APEC, Asia Pacific Economic Council, I believe. Which comprises all the countries in the Pacific. Including a lot of ASEAN countries.

    She was one of the experts to help in the launch of this conference. Six months before the conference actually start, she gave me a call and said, Hi dear, I think I need you to come over and help me.

    Because the kids were with her. We had two kids at the time, they were very young. She was taking care of the kids and doing the job. But the last six months was too intense. She cannot cope with the kids and doing the job. I said, no worries, I'll come over.

    So next day I went over to see my boss, and I said, Sir, here's my notice, 24 hours.

    I went over to Brunei, became a house husband for six months. And the meantime, when I was in Brunei, enjoying myself, waiting for my wife to come back late at night, holding a rolling pin, asking her, Why are you so late today? I cooked dinner. It's all cold now.

    Anyway I get frequent calls from my ex colleague from Popular, who's now in Kino. He said, Hey, why don't you join us?

    Towards the end of my house husbandry in Brunei, I gave him a call. I said, Yeah, we can fix a meeting. So I met for the first time the regional MD of Kinokuniya Asia Pacific in Singapore and he offered me a job on one condition.

    I have to meet with the president and chairman of Kinokuniya who will come down and interview me.

    Ling Yah: You insisted that they fly down from Japan.

    Kenny Chan: So he flew down from Japan.

    Ling Yah: Because of you.

    Kenny Chan: It's because of Kinokuniya.

    He couldn't speak English. I couldn't speak Japanese.

    He asked me one question. My boss was the MD. At that time he wasn't my boss yet. He was a translator. So he only asked me one question.

    I was prepared to answer question about what's the strategy for Kinokuniya should be now that we have this issue of Borders and, you know, new players coming into town and the erosion of reading in general, blah, blah, blah.

    I was prepared for all these highfalutin questions. He asked me one boring question. Ah, Kenny san, do you love books? Yeah, that's how he called me for almost thirty three years.

    I said, yes, I do because bookselling is a calling. I'm a Jesuit priest.

    Then he asked me to elaborate, so I elaborated. I guess he was suckered into my argument. It was a good 22 years, I'm still there. Less so, but I'm still there. He has passed away, but his spirit, still lives on.

    Ling Yah: What was it like working with someone that you can't speak directly with because of language?

    Kenny Chan: There's a translator. He comes down a lot. At least once a year to Singapore. And in the opening of the other stores that we have, he'll come down as well. So I had quite a few opportunities to chat with him indirectly and to see how he works.

    I think one skill set that everybody has to have is to study the boss. The real boss. The main lesson I learned from him actually besides all the normal things, curation and merchandise mix and customer service, It's the metaphysical or spiritual aspect of book selling, which I find quite fascinating.

    From the little that I hear about him through translation and seeing him in action in the bookstore. There was an incident where we had quite a lot of people in the store, and none of them were buying anything. And all he said to us is, I got it in translation.

    They are infusing their life essence into a bookshop. Isn't that a good thing? Wow! Such a big moment for me. Why do bookshops survive? It's human beings. The connection and the transaction may not coincide.

    But the connection, transaction and the final result will show in time. Such a big lesson from him.

    Wow. Because I've never thought of spiritual aspect of bookselling. That's why I'm so masochistic in believing that this is really a calling because there are other businesses that makes more money than book selling. Believe you me. But book selling is something that we book sellers feel is important because we are teaching people to read. We are allowing them access to information, to knowledge, to enlightenment, to entertainment.

    As human beings, you can't read it's already a setback for you. How can you improve when you can't read? Of course you can improve in other ways. Even my dad, who couldn't read so well initially, he picked up reading. And writing. Of course not formally, but who cares about formality?

    It's all about everyone as an individual, how you improve yourself.

    That was a big lesson for me. And of course his vision. When we opened in Dubai in 2007 or 8, while we were contacted in 2006 I was against it.

    At the time, Dubai was small, local population was very small, and I can't believe that there's critical mass to sell books there.

    But then, my boss told me that Mr. Matsubara sensei say we have to open in Dubai.

    I think my boss was still angry with me. I said, well, if Mr. Matsubara san says so, we'll do our best to open the store. And we did it.

    Ling Yah: It's one of your most challenging ones, right?

    Kenny Chan: It was the most challenging. But the timing was perfect because at the time, we already opened so many stores around Asia Pacific.

    We had re opened our Australian store to great success. We have re opened our KL store, Bangkok store. Helped to revamp and re open indonesia, et cetera, et cetera.

    So we have a much larger talent pool to choose from. For the actual preparation to the opening where a lot of experienced people who can help and harness them to do it, and remember I did it in SMP with the EPB online.

    Yeah. So it's the same.

    Ling Yah: Was it different because they come from such different cultures? The way you evangelize almost would be different?

    Kenny Chan: There's a common thread. The love for books. Harry Potter is loved by everyone around the world.

    I have asked people from Nigeria or Dubai or Australia. It's the same.

    Ling Yah: But how do you do that? I mean, every week you would have these talks, right? How do you infuse that love?

    Kenny Chan: There's the email. Yeah. That's the social media. At that time it wasn't so strong. Social media came with the hand phone which was 2007. .

    So for the first few years, it's a lot of emails. And I visit them at least once, twice a year. Another thing that the main store in Singapore does, we are actually like the Xavier Academy for Mutants. Meaning that we are a training center. It's a live, online training center in Takashimaya.

    And that is where I inject them with the Kinovirus.

    Ling Yah: What is the Kinovirus?

    Kenny Chan: Love for books and to know the DNA of our plan to conquer the world through books.

    Ling Yah: How though? What does the training look like to be a great bookseller?

    Kenny Chan: There are two schools of thought here. One school of thought believes that if you love books, you can be a good bookseller. Because you have a passion for it.

    Another school of thought is that you can be a professional bookseller without loving books. And both schools of thought have their pros and cons.

    The difficulty is to find someone in between.

    The horse of reason and the horse of passion. So in your chariot, you need two horses. And a good manager to manage both horses to move forward and win the race. And that's the secret of success.

    As long as you have people that share in the same mission and are driven, and employees are the same. If they have a purpose which is inspirational enough, they will do it.

    Ling Yah: What are the words that you use?

    Kenny Chan: Inspirational, basically. I know they all love books. And they all have the same issues. We have daily sessions where we brief everyone in the store before the store opens. I will try to say something inspiring,

    Ling Yah: if you were going through a bad patch, and you know everyone's spirits were down, you have to raise it up, what would that speech from you look or sound like?

    Kenny Chan: The finest wheels are forged in the fiercest of fires. The best swords can only come about when the master swordsman put it in extreme heat for a long, long time, hammer, hammer, and you get a fantastic sword.

    We will overcome. We have always overcome. We shall overcome.

    Ling Yah: Do you give different briefings for your GMs, those who are managing the individual stores?

    Kenny Chan: It's the same thing in different words. I use a bit more big words if you are in a board meeting, I guess. But it's the same thing.

    But for the upper management, we don't need that much rah rah because we are in for the long haul. But now everyone is in for the long haul. I've not been directly watching over them for the last few years because I've retired. But they're still going on, so it's alright.

    The spirit or the ghost of Kenny is still there. Their words, not mine.

    Ling Yah: I mean, when we were there, the guard still knew you. People in the store still knew you.

    Kenny Chan: Oh, you remember all these things?

    Ling Yah: Of course! I mean, you clearly are still there all the time.

    Kenny Chan: Mainly social media. That's the best part of it.

    Trying to evangelize more people. Ha ha ha.

    Ling Yah: What would you say are some of the biggest highlights from your time in Kinokuniya?

    Did you achieve everything you wanted?

    Kenny Chan: Biggest highlights of Kino is making Kino number one, definitely. Because when Borders came in the late 90s, 1997 to be precise, Kino was not in the top three.

    Ling Yah: Yeah, they were just for the Japanese.

    Kenny Chan: Yeah, people think they are just for the Japanese. But now, around the world, we are somebody. The brand has survived.

    Even in Australia, we have only one shop in Sydney. And that shop can win quite consistently shop of the year. For Australia, not for Sydney.

    Ling Yah: How do you do do it?

    Kenny Chan: It's the people there. It must be the Kino virus. .

    They're all great people. They understand the mission, and they know what we do in terms of curation, marketing, promotion, customer service. The works.

    Dare I savior, we all in Kino speak the same language.

    Ling Yah: Which is love of books.

    Kenny Chan: Love of books. The spread of culture. It's in our mission.

    I guess, personally, my biggest accomplishment as a geek is raising of popular culture to the level that we have done so for the whole merchandise mix for Kinokuniya.

    And our brand has become very, very cool.

    Ling Yah: How did you do that?

    Kenny Chan: Through mainly our merchandising and after that our promotion and advertising. and PR.

    So again,

    Ling Yah: you look towards Japan. What's hot, bring it in first.

    Kenny Chan: Of course, our name is Kinokuniya, so in our branding, Japan is number one in terms of the product that we have, our cultural heritage and legacy.

    Even the way we hire our people. Most of them, have a love for things Japanese.

    Whether it's Ikebana, Bushido, or Naruto family, spy family. Once the enthusiasm is internal to spread the influence is very infectious, as you can see.

    Professionally, the other big accomplishment which I take some credit for, is the ability to make the brand shine beyond the expectation of the industry.

    Because retail and especially bricks and mortar retail bookshops is considered a sunset industry.

    And my job, which I think I've succeeded, is to make Kinokuniya rise beyond this. It is a brand by itself. Like Coca Cola is not a bottle of sugared water. It is Coca Cola.

    So Kinokuniya is Kinokuniya. It's a lifestyle choice. It's not a bookshop.

    Ling Yah: Because you brought in the cafes, you brought in the huge variety.

    Kenny Chan: Yes, all that. The things that connect ourselves with our customers.

    Ling Yah: Were you clear that that was the vision, that was the Kino you were working to build towards?

    Kenny Chan: Yes.

    Ling Yah: Right from day one?

    Kenny Chan: Yes, because I understood the vision of the chairman who employed me and the one before, and the current one.

    To shine a light into the darkness that the world could be. Eh, copyright there.

    Ling Yah: Haha, so many copyrights. What's the next evolution of Bookstore is then?

    Kenny Chan: in my own opinion, there'll be a lot more collaborations.

    Some could be a bit more fantastical, but possible. For instance, Republic Records, which have people like Taylor Swift, combining with JYP, which have people like Twice. Their new band, actually, is all recruited from the U. S., but trained in to be marketed around the world.

    That's why in our collaborations, we've always worked with a lot of different brands. We even work with Mon Blanc to have a display in our store when they have a celebration of a certain literary personality that they want to highlight to their pens like Mark Twain.

    We have done it with them a few times. Or with Magazines like Monocle.

    In fact, Our events are another fantastical thing where we have everything from fashion show to mini concerts. Not just book signing events.

    Ling Yah: I spoke to Eric Sim and he said, Kino is one of those places where if you can have a book signing, it really helps to launch a book to the general public.

    Kenny Chan: The brand. Remember the brand? Yeah, the brand is important. And we have done that.

    So in future, not only Kino, but any brand that wants to rise must connect. And of course the use of technology will become even more incredible.

    But as I've said in my previous interviews and talks, Chad GPT will continue to play a part, but nothing beats the human brain, the human heart. Creative imagination can only be gotten from individuals.

    And how do you spark that? Ignite that ? Reading. And where do you get reading? From books, not from Chet GPT. Even Chet GPT needs books.

    That's why some authors are suing Chat GPT now. Yes, yes. It's so funny, right? So reading is still the key.

    The physical book will still be important, but it could be much more expensive in the future because of finite resources.

    That's why a physical community space like a bookshop cannot go away. And I don't think that will change.

    Chat GPT. is just another slave that we have to use. But before that, the framework has to come in. If you can wrangle an interview with Simon Chesterman, that'll be interesting. Because he's really in the forefront of AI.

    The promotion of Singapore literature, I've always been very, very strong. In fact, Singaporean. Asian, ASEAN, developing country, we are as good as the rest of the world.

    Ling Yah: But it's hard to make it a business. I spoke to Edmund of Epigram.

    Kenny Chan: But he has done a lot. Yeah. It's hard for him to see the woods for the trees because he's in the midst of growing the trees.

    Ling Yah: He calls it a labor of love.

    Kenny Chan: It's a labor of love. It's very tough. But without him, the world would be much poorer for it, especially in the world of Singapore literature.

    He has done a fantastic job. I'm sure he knows it's not enough. His feeling is like my feeling when I came back and joined MPH for the first time.

    You want to do so much more, but then you got to give yourself some slack.

    But Edmund brought Singapore to the forefront of the world in terms of Singapore literature with Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye.

    And this year another novel would really come up very strongly. It's already winning awards, really. Rachel Hing's The Great Reclamation, another fantastic book.

    Ling Yah: What makes a great book?

    Kenny Chan: Connection, resonance. Relevance.

    Ling Yah: What do you think about, now that you've left Kino because sometimes we call it the second act? That's what some of the guests have called it.

    Kenny Chan: I've done so many acts.

    Ling Yah: Is there another act there?

    There's six? Is there seven?

    There's so many.

    Kenny Chan: I'm currently In an act of itself, really.

    I call it the twin lemons act because my two granddaughters are the focus of my attention all the time. Yeah.

    Yeah, they're coming up to three months this month.

    I've always felt I have a purpose in life but I never had to worry about that somehow. Because somehow, the currents will drive me on and I'll find something interesting to do or experience. So, I'm not worried about that count. And I've been lucky and blessed for so long.

    And I've told my friends, if I die now, I'm okay.

    Ling Yah: What about legacy? What kind of legacy do you want to leave behind?

    Kenny Chan: It's already left behind. My two granddaughters. My two wonderful kids.

    Ling Yah: If I'm an author and I want to get your attention, how do I do it?

    Kenny Chan: Social media, I guess.

    Also luck. In my older days I was much more assiduous, much more hardworking in terms of going through the new manuscripts, catalogs. Nowadays I just glance through, listen to the voices in the static white noise on social media and somehow it'll come up.

    Me going to Instagram, finding out about Langleaf, all this, I guess it's luck.

    Ling Yah: So if someone wants to be a bookseller, what kind of questions should they ask themselves?

    Kenny Chan: Are you a masochist? Do you love books that much? Are you a person who is interested more in In retiring at 55, then you can't be a bookseller. If you are not nerdy or crazy enough, you can't be a bookseller.

    Somewhere in between. The passion and the detachment. But detachment is a skill you can learn. Like we always say, if you like the book, ask yourself 10, 000 questions whether the public likes the book.

    Harry Potter, for instance, rejected how many times? Yeah. But I loved it the first moment I read it.

    What's a good book to read that's not prime prejudice?

    The Great Reclamation by Rachel Hing. But if you're if you want to be inspired, read anything any poetry. My favorite always is Rumi and William Blake. It's between the two. And all the metaphysical poets and all the romantic poets.

    And go into an art gallery once in a while.

    Ling Yah: And what do you think are the most important qualities of a successful person?

    Kenny Chan: Luck. Integrity. Hard work. Discipline.

    Ability to connect through communication.

    I think luck plays a big part. Anyway, I'm talking for myself. I've been lucky and blessed.

    Ling Yah: There is a question that my favourite podcast, How I Built This, always asks guests. How much of your success would you attribute to hard work and luck?

    Kenny Chan: Since I'm lazy, so 100 percent will go to luck.

    Ling Yah: But we already heard your story about MPH, we know that's not true.

    Kenny Chan: Ha ha ha. Yeah. So maybe 90%? Luck?

    No, hard work plays a big part. Hard work includes all those other things like discipline. Yeah.

    People ask me, where do you find the time to read? Hello, discipline! If you focus, even if you read 10 minutes a day on the plane or in the bus, it's still reading.

    You can read the news, you can read your book, whatever. But read. Really read. And I think a lot of people don't do enough reading. Read, reflect, read, reflect. Reflection is also difficult.

    Exercise is another important one. I learned that from very young. National service.

    Ling Yah: And final question before we close. Anything else you want to share that we haven't covered so far?

    Kenny Chan: The world will always remain a troubled place. The more you read, the more you know that you don't know. So why worry about all those things? Just continue to read.

    You can succeed in your own way. Listen to your own heart and your own abilities.

    Ling Yah: And that was the end of Episode 145. If you've enjoyed this episode and you want to share this and the transcript, you can go to

    And if you enjoyed this episode, please do leave a rating and review on Apple Podcasts and anywhere that you're listening to. It's really hard to get podcasts out there and your help in sharing will make a huge difference. And don't forget to stick around because next Sunday we'll be meeting the founder of Channel News Asia to learn all about what it's like to basically establish and run the biggest regional news channel and also how he's thinking about his second act as an author and how we should also be planning our careers for the long term.

    See you next Sunday!

    Kenny Chan ex-Senior Director of Kinokuniya Book Stores (Asia Pacific) shares his life story during his interview on the So This Is My Why podcast episode 145 with Ling Yah Wong (STIMY host and producer)

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