Alan Tan and Chris Loh are not your usual entrepreneurs. One thing’s for sure, they did not dream of starting a business together.
When the pair first decided to venture into the catering industry, they went from a random discussion over lunch to boldly quitting their full time jobs as financial consultants. When they finally launched Rasel Catering Singapore, then known as Rasa Selera, in 1997, they had a simple mission – To provide unique solutions for their customers’ catering needs.
However, with completely zero experience in the catering industry, coupled with the lack of contacts and only two other staffs at hand, their early days proved building up a business is nothing but demanding and tiring.
“At that time, we had to do everything ourselves. From cold calling to accounting matters, even the delivery of food was a part of our daily routine,” Mr Tan recalls. “We sacrificed a lot of our personal time and freedom just to make it work.”
Yet, it is through this hands-on approach that led them to become experts at managing the several aspects of the business today.
The pair were former colleagues in the financial industry prior to Rasel and when they saw a man carrying bags of packet food during lunch one afternoon, it sparked their interest in the food industry.
However, what propelled them to eventually set up a catering business was not merely this sight but two Chinese idioms – 衣食住行 and 工字不出头. The first refers to the four major industries – clothing, food, housing and travelling – that the Chinese believe will never go bust. The second is a belief that one will never carve a name for oneself by working for someone else.
“We were starved of challenges then and needed to step out of our comfort zones, to pursue something of our own,” says Ms Loh.
“I remember facing many objections from many of our friends and family, while some encouraged us to set up a restaurant instead. But Alan and I did not want to operate a business where we have to wait for customers to come to us. We wanted a more proactive approach.”
With these thoughts in mind, they daringly plunged in.
Starting with smaller orders such as packed meals and catering to residential events, despite their initial low returns, they took each step as a learning experience. When business fundamentals were established, they gradually accepted orders from private companies and government events. Understanding that there was a gap to fill in halal catering, they worked towards attaining a Halal Food Certification and in 1999, Rasel become the second catering company in Singapore to be halal certified. This opened doors of opportunities for them, driving their brand name into the market quickly.
“Right from the start, we knew that if we had the right attitude and an unwavering determination, we can realise great accomplishments,” Mr Tan says.
Their passion and determination paid off in 2013, when they came out as one of the winners of the Entrepreneur of the Year Award.
As their partnership goes along, Mr Tan and Ms Loh, despite both being driven and focused, have very different skillsets and personality traits.
Ms Loh who majored in banking is very sensitive to numbers, yet her creativity is innate. Give her a blank canvas and there is unlimited possibilities to her creations – all executed with perfection – which is why she heads the creative direction of the company, setting new trends in the catering industry. Her leadership qualities can be compared to the Iron Lady, Margaret Thatcher, ensuring survivability of the business.
Mr Tan on the other hand demonstrates an entrepreneurs’ sense and intellect. Using his entrepreneurial instincts, Mr Tan takes calculated risks and effectively source for new ways to increase business share and productivity levels.
It is with Ms Loh’s Iron Lady leadership, paired with Mr Tan’s entrepreneurial wisdom that led to their recent acquisition of Purple Sage Group, a wing to non-halal premium catering.
“I think what has helped us grow over the years is that, not only have we used our differences to our advantage, helping us oversee different traits of the business, but we have transformed these complementary skills, into a successful and strong partnership, catalysing our business success,” says Mr Tan.
“With a unified goal, we strive forward continuously in our decision making and never looked back at any point in time. Our differences have certainly helped us to synergise and create a more holistic image of Rasel, allowing us to manage the current and future health of the company in all aspects,” Ms Loh adds.