In this series of light-hearted interviews, BiTES celebrates homegrown food companies headed by their next generation of family members. We get a glimpse of the stories behind the brands and the personalities in the boss’ seat
What was your grandfather like?
My grandfather was bedridden when I was born. However, from what dad has told me, he was a well-respected man in his generation and a great leader; he helped rally the families that wanted to stay in the business together and set up the foundations of the company to be what it is today. He was a medical doctor in Sri Lanka and it was only in his late 30s, when the business was facing troubled times, that he decided to return to Singapore to help out. When he came back, he enrolled himself into NUS to study business.
What do you love most about working with the family?
The sincerity you have towards the business. Everyday pressures of money are no longer apparent, as continuing the business is more important than just striking rich. There’s so much trust and goodwill among the family too, which makes it very special.
What would you have done if you didn’t join the company?
I studied finance in Monash, Melbourne. But I have always loved food and the arts, so I might have pursued those interests too. Maybe I would have done banking for four to five years, met an old classmate and started a business together with him or her. (laughs)
Aside from The 1872 Clipper Tea Co., are there other businesses you manage?
I also manage our B2B tea business Tea Tang, which is a tea production plant based in Sri Lanka that packages and supplies tea to quality-oriented markets in Singapore, Japan and Europe. I’m also responsible for other business–although not on a day-to-day basis– under the B.P. De Silva group, including Senso, where I’m part of the board.
Share with us what you’ve learnt visiting the tea plantations.
In Japan, a plucker will be sitting on a machine cutting down approximately 1,000 to 2,000kg of tea leaves each day. Whereas in Sri Lanka, ladies are hand-plucking the leaves and this can only yield up to 25kg a day. I want to change the life of these tea pluckers and give them more opportunities by increasing their productivity and wages. No matter what success I’ve gained from my tea business–whether it’s profit or how big the company has grown–if at the end of the day I have not moved the needle for these tea pluckers, I would have failed. I’m now trying to bring technology into the plantation.
Describe your management style.
It’s so hard talking about myself–let me check with my employee! (laughs and asks his senior brand executive) She says: “He doesn’t micromanage the team and gives us a lot of freedom in exploring and trying out new ideas. He is also very passionate and that energy trickles down to the team.”
Tell us where’s your favourite watering hole?
At home. I’ve recently moved in with two other roommates and we take turns making cocktails. It’s so fun because all three of us like gin and we have different bottles and garnishes to mix. But if I really have to choose a bar, it would be Manhattan Bar in Regent Hotel.
What’s your weekend routine like?
Catching up on sleep! It varies but I usually go to my parents’ house on Sunday for lunch, and in the evening I will have dinner with my roommates, where one of us will cook. This week is my turn and I have a request to prepare an eclectic mixture of dumplings.
Describe your favourite tea and food pairing.
I love it when a sweet dessert is paired with tea. The balance of having something really rich complemented with the tinge of astringency that comes from a tea is really interesting, along with the lingering aftertaste of the tea once it has melted away the sweetness of the treat.