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.

img_3333-copy

When did you first work in the company?

I interned here at 16 years old, and was tasked with modernising the company. It was during the early stages of dial-up Internet access. I was already using it and I wanted to convince my brothers (who are 12 years older than me), but they were insistent on using the typewriter.

Do you have any fond childhood memories?

During my school holidays I had to follow my late dad to work if I wanted my allowance for the weekend. (laughs) I would stay with him in the office and watch TV till nightfall. He would be waiting for the lorry drivers to come back and pass him money for the day’s deliveries. Thereafter, we would sit together and count  the earnings.

iy0c3284

John giving us a tour of his factory

Were there any changes you made to the company?

When I first joined the business eight years ago, there were no organisation structure or business continuity plans. If a staff member fell sick, the business would literally stop, so they would still have to come to work. That was appalling to me. So I decided to change HR practices. I also convinced the board to implement ISO 9001 (which has now been upgraded to ISO 22000) and HACCP for our production. The systems took some time to come to fruition as my staff have been working here since I was a kid., and needed the time to adapt.

How is it like working for your family business?

I used to work in a bank. Over there, you only care about yourself. It’s totally different in a family business–you care about everything. Even when our factory workers quarrel, it becomes my problem. I also handle most aspects of the business, from trading to operations and business development.

Buckets of raw sugar

Buckets of raw sugar

Share with us an interesting incident at work.

Three or four years ago, we were tipped off by one of our clients that someone counterfeited our STAR Brand in Singapore. It went viral on the news. Someone even said, “You are the Prada of sugar because there are people imitating your product.” (laughs) The couple got caught in a CID raid.

Why did you decide to enter the retail market?

We realised that many consumers did not know of Cheng Yew Heng as we only did B2B and wanted to build a branding on our B2C. So we introduced Jewels to raise awareness of our product and educate consumers on the benefits of rock sugar. That it is able to enhance the flavour of soups and beverages such as tea and coffee.

What is your favourite local dish?

Ayam buah keluak. I used to go to Kim Choo before they closed down, now my favourite is Chilli Padi along Joo Chiat Place.

iy0c3297

Processing the raw sugar

Your favourite drink?

Green tea latte from Starbucks–soy milk with no sugar syrup. This is my remedy whenever I’m travelling and homesick.

What do you plan to do this Christmas?

I will be celebrating it with my close friends, where I will be hosting my annual Christmas dinner. My helper will be preparing the food like steak and there will be tons of snacks.