Interview with Hoon Thing Leong, Owner of the Kim San Leng Food Chains: Active Learning and Self Improvement—Keys to Staying Ahead in Life and Business

By Michael Ng| Epoch Times Staffbf4cd7ec6d5512487872e759e5332b5e

There is a proverb that says,”Learning is a treasure that will follow its owner everywhere.” Hoon Thing Leong, 65, the man behind the Kim San Leng chain of food centres in Singapore, is a walking example of the spirit underlying the proverb.

We had an opportunity to talk to Hoon and his youngest son Alfred recently at their premise in Toa Payoh Central.

Hoon runs The Bosses Network, a non-profit organisation that he started in 1997 first as a series of seminars for Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) bosses to keep abreast with professional knowledge and experience and to learn from one another, and later becoming a sharing platform with seminars, luncheons, and dialogues with government leaders.

To date, The Bosses Network has run more than 500 seminars, hosted more than 100 CEO lunchmeets, and numerous dialogue sessions with government representatives to provide feedbacks from SME bosses.

What inspired him to learn?

Hoon came to Singapore from Fuzhou, Fujian Province, China at the age of 5; his father having came earlier and started a coffee shop at Hougang. He stopped schooling at Secondary Two when his father decided that he help out in the coffee shop business.

With his father’s help, he eventually started his own coffee shop.

Hoon recalled teachings from his father, who told him: “Your steps must be firm; otherwise, you will fail.” As his business outreach expands, Hoon felt that he needed professional management and organisational knowledge.

In the late 70s, he attended seminars on business management and marketing in Johor Bahru before officially enrolling himself at the Singapore Management Institute in 1984. He felt that he has benefited tremendously from these courses; especially self-motivation courses from the Success Motivation Institute and effective communication from Dale Carnegie.

Hoon continued to enroll in courses one after another from 1984 to 2003 at the Institute. His dedication to the pursuit and practice of knowledge was recognised by a global award from the Success Motivation Institute in 1996.

Attending the award ceremony in the U.S. was such a memorable experience that he recounted it with joy and pride, as he felt he has done Singapore proud and he being the only Asian in the mostly Western event.

Hoon quoted an example of how he managed to stand firm on a Bishan coffee shop bid in 1990 that was then going for $1.5 million. Armed with professional knowhow that he has acquired from the courses, he did his own market analysis before surprising everyone with his $3.52 million bid despite caution from friends and associates.

He said that after doing the necessary background analysis, one should believe in oneself and stay by one’s decision. As it turned out, he was right and the Bishan lot turned out to be a prime location.

When one became too successful, one is also at his most precarious moments.

In 1997, Hoon started to diversify into noodle making, hotels, properties, and magazine publishing. The diversification did not turn out as well as he had anticipated and eventually, he came to realise that one should focus and persist in one’s niche, which in his case is his coffee shop business.

A common theme that came across our conversations was the emphasis on traditional Chinese cultural values and wisdom.

Hoon mentioned that one should acquaint and keep up one’s values according to age: When one is young, one should read “The Standards for Students” (弟子规) to learn the basic requisites for being a good person and guidelines for living in harmony with others.

When one has grown up, one should familiarise oneself with “The Golden Rules of Business Success” by Fan Li (范蠡 also known as 陶朱公) and “The Art of War” by Sun Tzu (孙子兵法) to learn strategies and tactics on how one should maneuver in the game of business.

Fan Li was a successful businessman during the Spring and Autumn Period (771—476 B.C.) of China.

When one has attained success and reached a level of stability in career and life in later years, one should study the human resource management skills of Zeng Guofan (曾国藩), a Confucian scholar of the late Qing Dynasty in China.

In the later years of one’s life, one should read the works of Confucius on how to let go of things.

Hoon’s youngest son Alfred Hoon was with us in conversation and he shared that his father is an idol to the children. While Hoon is a father at home, he treats his children as business partners at work. The son shared that Hoon listens and encourages his children, including texting them via smartphone daily with pointers and encouragements.

Today, two of Hoon’s sons have ventured out on their own, taking their traditional food centre business to new heights. His second youngest son Andy Hoon has started the Ochado bubble tea chain of restaurants that bubbled to 80 outlets in six countries within a span of two years.

Both Andy and Alfred have also started the Yellow Submarine Cheesteaks fast food outlet in Toa Payoh and aim to grow it into a major franchise.

At 65 years of age today, Hoon shares that his spirit and mindset is still that of a young person. He is as diligent as ever and will see himself pro-actively contributing to society in many creative ways.

For 2014, a cruise trip themed “Breakthrough and Change” has been jointly organised with a local newspaper where a number of successful people have been invited to share their experience, he being one of the speakers.

Come this June 2014, his new book (老闆出招) in Chinese will be published.


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