So This Is My Why podcast episode 139 - sneak peak of special STIMY Singapore subseries with host & producer, Ling Yah

Ep 139: Special Sneak Peek of Singapore Subseries!

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Welcome to Episode 139!

It’s finally happening!

The launch of STIMY’s special Singapore subseries.

Where you’ll be hearing from a range of fascinating Singaporeans/Singapore-based tech leaders, entrepreneurs, and daredevil adventurers on how they’ve built their careers, their journey in finding their why and the legacy that they want to leave behind (if any!).

We ran the whole gamut: the media broadcasting space, F&B (what it takes to build an empire of nine 1 – 3 Michelin Starred restaurants + inheriting a 100+ year confectionary brand), hospitality, tech and so much more.

To whet your appetite, you’re getting snippets from some of the guests that you’ll be meeting over the next few weeks.

Are you excited?

I know I am! 😉

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

They’re the ones who made this subseries possible and generously agreed to let me record all my interviews over a span of 4 days.

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 to do so at Hepmil’s Limpeh studios. 😉


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


Want to be the first to get the behind-the-scenes at STIMY & also the hacks that inspiring people use to create success on their terms? 

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    So This Is My Why podcast

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    Loh Lik Peng, Founder & CEO of Unlisted Collection - hotelier with Michelin Starred restaurants - Rishi Naleendra - So This Is My Why podcast episode 140 with Ling Yah host and producer
    So This Is My Why podcast episode 139 - sneak peak of special STIMY Singapore subseries with host & producer, Ling Yah - Arthur Kiong, CEO of Far East Hospitality
    So This Is My Why podcast episode 139 - sneak peak of special STIMY Singapore subseries with host & producer, Ling Yah - Lucas Lu Head of Zoom Asia
    So This Is My Why podcast episode 139 - sneak peak of special STIMY Singapore subseries with host & producer, Ling Yah - Kenny Chan Kinokuniya
    So This Is My Why podcast episode 139 - sneak peak of special STIMY Singapore subseries with host & producer, Ling Yah

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

    • Karl Mak: Founder, Hepmil Media – Building a Viral Meme Business in Southeast Asia
    • Phil Libin: Co-Founder, Evernote
    • Justin Byam Shaw: Co-Owner of the Evening Standard & the Independent – on building the UK’s largest media empire
    • Chen Chow Yeoh: Co-Founder, Fave – the Non-Charismatic Leader We All Need?!
    • Adrian Tan: The Late President of the Singapore Law Society & King of Singapore

    If you enjoyed this episode, you can: 

    Leave a Review

    If you enjoy listening to the podcast, we’d love for you to leave a review on iTunes / Apple Podcasts. The link works even if you aren’t on an iPhone. 😉


    If you’d like to support STIMY as a patron, you can visit STIMY’s Patreon page here

    External Links

    Some of the things we talked about in this STIMY Episode can be found below:

    • Subscribe to the STIMY Podcast for alerts on future episodes at Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Stitcher & RadioPublic  
    • Leave a review on what you thought of this episode HERE or the comment section of this post below
    • Want to be a part of our exclusive private Facebook group & chat with our previous STIMY episode guests? CLICK HERE.

    STIMY 139: SURPRISE Episode - STIMY Singapore Subseries with Guest Snippets

    Ling Yah: Hey STIMIES!

    Welcome to a very special episode on the So This Is My Why podcast. I'm your host and producer Ling Yah and it's special because today, instead of a full blown interview with a very special guest, I'm going to just show you snippets. And the snippets come because I was recently in Singapore and I managed to record them in a studio provided by Limpeh Studios.

    So shout out to them, thank you for providing the studios. If you want to find out more, go to But let's go back to the guests.

    So, in the entire week I was here, I got to meet tech leaders.

    We also have an incredible adventurer and the first to have gone onto Everest and also Antarctica with Singapore.

    The founder of China News Asia. Woon Tai Ho.

    We also have the founder of Unlisted Collections, which owns 40 hotels and restaurants around the world, including one, three Michelin starred, two, two Michelin starred, and three, one Michelin starred restaurant just in Singapore itself.

    And we also have a whole range of other people like the CEO of Far East Hospitality, which is a Singapore grown hospitality brand with almost a hundred hotels all around the world.

    Now, as you can imagine with such a huge variety of people, we cover a lot of things and some common themes arose as well.

    So one thing that arose was the theme of fearlessness.

    Lik Peng, for instance, the CEO of Unlisted Collection, he actually started out as a commercial litigator for three years. But during that three years, he realized there was this property that came up constantly that was being sold for really, really cheap.

    So he decides to take one year out from legal just to convert it into a hotel and run it as a business before giving it off. But then he realized that actually, he was really good at it. So one hotel became one restaurant. Became two hotels, two restaurants, and on and on and on.

    And here is the snippet from Lik Peng.

    And then you expanded really quickly to London as well. Yes. And that's because you were also familiar with the market, your family already had investments there.

    Loh Lik Peng: Yeah.

    Ling Yah: How did you decide to move in?

    Loh Lik Peng: I invested in places where the legal training part of me was assured that, We had a bit of a framework. People always ask me, why haven't you invested in Vietnam or Indonesia or Malaysia and things like that? I'm always like, well, for me I invest in markets I'm familiar with, both in terms of the law and the business environment.

    So for me to go to a place like Vietnam, even though perhaps there are opportunities there it'd be probably more difficult. When I go to somewhere like Australia, Ireland or UK, actually I'm familiar with the laws. I'm familiar with the regulatory environment. I'm familiar with the business practices.

    And therefore, it's easier for me to, to do businesses in those places than to go to somewhere like Vietnam or Indonesia where I would have to be highly reliant on a partner on the ground. And I wouldn't necessarily understand how the planning laws work or, or what the business practices or the legal side of things are, right?

    And I know there's probably more risk in those countries for a small player like myself in terms of whether or not you can... local conditions. Shall I put it that way? And therefore I've always chosen to operate more developed markets.

    Ling Yah: But Bethnal Green of all places. I never went there when I was there.

    Loh Lik Peng: Yeah. Yeah. So that was a bit of an adventure actually. Bethnal Green, for those of you who don't know, is kind of like East End of London. And for...

    Ling Yah: More seedy area I would say.

    Loh Lik Peng: Yeah, yeah. Very much more seedy. And for those of you who are not familiar with East End of London, that is the more, sort of adventurous part of East End of London, too.

    I think when we first bought the Town Hall Hotel well, the Bethnal Green Town Hall, actually at the time, if you were the wrong... Shade of brown and Bethnal green. You probably get robbed.


    Ling Yah: Another person who epitomizes this concept of fearlessness is Swee Chiou. Now, Swee Chiou started off his career in IT at Singapore Airlines, but now he's a professional adventurer. As mentioned earlier, he's scaled Everest three times.

    He's done K2. He's also done Antarctica. He cycled 8, 000 kilometers from Singapore to Beijing. He's also kayaked 3, 000 kilometers across Philippines and rollerbladed 6, 000 kilometers from Hanoi to Singapore. And that is just some of the things that he has done.

    And he epitomizes fearlessness because that is his job. His job is to go past the death zone in the highest peaks in the world and come back alive.

    Khoo Swee Chiow: But

    Ling Yah: 10 years to prepare for that trip. That's a long time to keep it

    Khoo Swee Chiow: alive. It's a long time.

    And I believe it was necessary. Yeah. Yeah. You know, people say you need 10 years to be a master of something. And I believe that 10 years gave me a very good foundation. And it also gave me a very good very sound risk. assessment kind of to put it in a nutshell, it's better to be alive.

    Yeah. So knowing when to turn back is, is so crucial. You learned that during those time? I learned that a lot. How so? And I got lost many times in the mountains, you know sometimes with friends, sometimes alone. Oh, that's scary. And you know, those experiences taught me to to be very careful. To, to plan it even more properly and to know when to turn back.

    Yeah, so I have a list of mountains which I climbed, which I attempted, which I haven't got to the top. Yeah. Yeah. And it's okay. You know, every, every trip is a learning learning point. Was it

    Ling Yah: tough for you to get to that point where you say, it's okay to not let my ego take the forefront?

    Khoo Swee Chiow: It took a while.

    Yeah, when I first started, it was like, you know, I have to get to the top, you know. I spent so much money, so much time and all that. I want to get to the top. And there were times like that when I started. But then slowly you learn. The mountain kind of speaks to you and you, you learn to appreciate every step of the way.

    Yeah. Yeah, and that, that is a lot more than the summit.

    Ling Yah: Another theme is Serendipity and hard work. One of them is Kenny Chan. He was the ex diplomat and also the ex senior director of Kinokuniya's Singapore main store and also senior merchandising director at Asia Pacific.

    If you remember a couple decades ago when Sanrio brought in Hello Kitty, that was because of Kenny Chan. Kenny Chan has been working at MPH, he's worked at Popular, he's worked at Kinokuniya, and he was always invited on to be a part of them. He never applied, he was asked to be the managing director, he was asked to help to grow Kinokuniya, so he has essentially put himself out there, been the best, and had Serendipity come knocking on his door.

    Kenny Chan: 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.

    Ling Yah: Another guest is Arthur Kiong. Now, Arthur is very interesting because he failed his A levels. And his dad said, you made your bed, you have to lie in it. And so he ended up hawking sleeping products on the streets. Then overnight, he became a celebrity DJ. And then he gave it all up to become a greeter at Prego, the restaurant.

    Because he didn't think that he could see himself in the entertainment industry forever. And from there, he grew to become the CEO of one of the biggest, if not the biggest, Singapore hospitality brand, Far East Hospitality. And this is a snippet from Arthur.

    Ling Yah: What I've noticed is that you've gone to so many different hotel chains in different countries as well. Was there an idea in your head of, this is all the places I want to go to get experience or was it just whatever door opens that seems interesting?

    Arthur Kiong: Oh no, it was very deliberate. I wanted to architect my resume.

    Ling Yah: Yes, you've said that before.

    Arthur Kiong: If you want to architect your resume, you have to say that you know, what would I require as my next step in order to build my resume. You want to be in the driving seat of building your resume, because people, when they look at your resume, it must tell a consistent story.

    For example, if you have only been on the job for six months, one year, six months, one year, that's not good. It shows that you are flighty or you got fired or, you know, it's not good.

    If you keep having in your resume wellness break, it's also no good. It means that, you were laid off or you were fired.

    So a resume must show progression. A resume must show consistency and a trajectory that is moving the right direction as to where you're headed for the next job that you are looking at.

    So in the hotel world just being great in your own country doesn't say very much, right.

    So one has to build one's reputation by going into cities whereby the best hotels and the most competitive markets exist. And so at the time, there are four great cities in the world that you got to look at in earlier part of my career. It was Tokyo, Hong Kong, London, New York.

    You can throw Paris in there. These are the cities that the best hospitality professionals at the best hotels were located.

    Ling Yah: A third theme is legacy. And with that, we explore it with Fong, who is the great grand We explore it with Fong, who is the great grandson of Tong Heng. If you're in Singapore, you would recognize Tong Heng. It is an almost 100 year old confectionery store. It's egg tarts, which are diamond shaped, are one of the most famous on this island, and let's face it, if you're coming into a family business that's been around for almost 100 years, that's a challenge, especially not just with working with family members, but attracting young customers when your current customers are 50 going on 60 and 70 and you want to attract 15 year olds, and he went through that by getting on board with his family members, a branding team.

    It was a very huge undertaking, but it's so immediate impact on the revenue. And this is a snippet from Fong.

    Fong Wai Kheong: And at that time, all the cookies were kept in wooden cabinets. So nobody really saw what we sold. Only the regulars would come in and say, Oh, I want an egg tart with a coffee.

    Otherwise, nobody really know. Oh, this is just another coffee shop that makes very nice coffee. My grandma roasts her own beans in the back lanes. So it was just another coffee shop, and my aunt had this vision.

    The vision was to make it into a retail concept.

    Fong Wai Kheong: he appointed the contractor to make the glass cabinet that's made of stainless steel and the glass with a glass showcase in front.

    Ling Yah: And your grandfather did not know about this?

    Fong Wai Kheong: Oh, my grandfather had no idea. He wouldn't approve of that, of course. It's like, why do you want to showcase? Why do you want to spend the money? He was a very frugal man. Yeah.

    One day, because my grandfather was so heavily involved in community work,

    Fong Wai Kheong: he told my auntie, I'll be out for long, and I'll come back quite late today.

    Six o'clock or so,

    Fong Wai Kheong: my aunties called up the contractor and said, Okay, now is the right time. Bring them down. So the two glass case just covered the whole front section of the coffee shop. So there was no entrance, no entry.

    So the customers who came regularly to have coffee just walked away.

    However we put on the showcase egg tarts and some cookies and the sales was very good. You know, when people walked past, they saw, Oh, I didn't know they sell egg tarts. Oh, they sell cookies. And the people started buying.

    Fong Wai Kheong: Sales was very good.

    We used to sell like maybe one or two trays of egg tarts a day. But that day, that afternoon, the sales just skyrocketed to maybe seven trays or eight trays.

    So when my grandfather came back about six o'clock

    Fong Wai Kheong: he saw the long queues. He saw the business that blossomed suddenly, and he kept quiet.

    He just walked in, went to his favorite corner. He stood there, and looked out. And my aunties, of course, they also kept quiet because

    Fong Wai Kheong: they were ready to be spanked by him because they just changed the whole business models without consent.

    How dare you? But it was good and it worked.

    Ling Yah: And so your grandfather never said anything?


    Fong Wai Kheong: And he said, let's continue. So, all the tables and chairs were gone. No more coffee shop at that time. But that was the end phase of our shop at Smith Street.

    Finally, we have Lucas Lu, the head of Asia at Zoom.

    And here we talk at great length about essentially what it takes for him to go from Miri, a shell city in Sarawak, all the way to becoming the person who's in charge of the entire Asian operations in Zoom. One of his tactics? It's to essentially plan his entire life, his career out. And here is a snippet, too.

    Ling Yah: What would you say was your advantage over other people that allowed you to just shine?

    Lucas Lu: I don't think there's any big secret. At the end of the day, it is that hunter kind of mentality that you want to get something done and you won't let things block you.

    You just find ways around it. You seek help. You just treat it as just one more obstacle. Is there some better way of doing something?

    So being just single minded and going after it. One of my strengths I would call it is the ability to multitask.

    It wasn't just one deal at one time, right? It was like actually two or three deals that were being worked on in parallel.

    I plan a lot actually. Even today I will plan for the day. I will plan for the week and I do a yearly planning for myself.

    Ling Yah: The reflections.

    Lucas Lu: Yes, I do the planning and then the reflections end of the year when I set the goals for the next year.

    And over time I've broken that down into whether it's personal, whether it's career, whether it's financial, whether it's family, and so on.

    So there are different buckets. I even have goals for each of my family. Wow. They may not know about it, but,

    Ling Yah: secretly ticking them off if they do.

    Lucas Lu: Yeah, that's right. It's a way to keep you know, something top of mind and focused, right? Because it's very easy to just run around, chasing after different things for other people's agenda.

    So I find that useful. That's probably one of my differentiation.

    The planning, that single minded focus on trying to achieve something. And I say it in a nice way, not single minded that I will bulldoze through everything and, step on everyone, but trying to find a way through.

    Ling Yah: But isn't that a fine line sometimes of bulldozing. It might not be bulldozing for you, but for other people, they might think you're really pushing it.

    Lucas Lu: Yeah. I mean, if you did it that way, you will get a reputation very quickly. I mean, it's a small industry. Everyone knows everyone else or, or know someone who has heard of you, right?

    But I think, I do have a decent reputation. I do have people tell me that people like to work for me, have heard of me, and so on.

    And part of that is, it's no different from when you're trying to sell something to the customer. You're always trying to find their needs, their wants, and sometimes maybe their personal agendas.

    And then you align what you're trying to do to what they want. And at the end it's not selling anymore. It's like, I'm here to help you achieve what you want. Right?

    So same thing with trying to get something done internally. It's like, how can this also help you achieve your KPI or make you look good and so on.

    So it's not about taking a frontal approach and go head on against what what they need to achieve. It's finding that common objective.

    Ling Yah: I hope you enjoyed the snippets. All of the episodes are coming out so make sure you subscribe to So This Is My Why if you haven't done so. And see you next Sunday.

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