Talk to anyone in a family business, most often they will regale you with tales of filial duties and abounding pressure to carry the torch and live up to the successes of their parents and those before them.
Brian Choo, the Chief Operating Officer of Soul Society, shares the same sentiment. In the debut episode of #PrestigeBizTalk, he tells us about the challenges of entrepreneurship – more so during the time of Covid-19 – and what it takes to continue the 25-year-old family legacy. Watch the full interview here.
Soul Society came into being in 1996, when managing partners (and parents to Brian Choo) Fred Choo and Michele Kwok started a small neighbourhood café Souled Out in Desa Sri Hartamas. Over two decades later, it has added WIP, Tujo, Hubba and Goa by Sapna Anand in its portfolio. The workforce too has grown in tandem, from 7 to a strong brigade of about 400 today.
Challenges in the F&B industry are aplenty, more so during the pandemic, but Brian tells us he’s happy that they’ve not retrenched a single staff since the first MCO in 2020. “The year 2020 has been, by far, one of the most challenging year we’ve had on record. The lockdown was a huge challenge, but we were quick to look into getting our offline opportunities moving.”
It was not only to provide the staff their jobs but also to translate that sense of assurance down to customers. The company as a whole overcame that challenging time by leveraging on its years of experience understanding customers’ wants while keeping communications clear and adhering to SOPs. “We’re proud to say, we came out of that with zero retrenchments.”
As a family-oriented business, the company is deeply rooted in “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” and thrives to create a healthy workplace where care, respect and trust is paramount.
In a previous interview with Prestige Malaysia, Brian admits he has big shoes to fill and so much to learn. “I have always been taught that ‘respect cannot be demanded, only earned’. With that motto in mind, I strongly believe in leadership by example. To get the best from our team, we need to give our very best as well,” he said. He also believes in remaining humble and keeping an open mind to advice and even criticism from the experienced as well as his peers.
What are the company’s plans in the next 6 months?
“Everyone hopes for the pandemic to be over and that things go back to normal. What we are looking at is to ensure that things are tightened in our internal processes and that the foundation is still as strong as it was. It took us 25 years to build and be where we are today, that growth is a very important aspect for the group,” he says.
Brian also says they are making sure the cashflows are healthy, as they have 400 staff to feed and house above everything else. “For the next 6 months at least, we will be very conservative in our plans and our activations. Just to make sure there’s a smoother transition back into normalcy for our group. We’re looking forward to getting past this challenging time,” adds the father of one optimistically.
His last advice to budding entrepreneurs would be to keep grinding. “Entrepreneurship requires a lot of grit and perseverance. It’s definitely not an easy task.” He states matter-of-factly.