Since a young age, Mr Dellen Soh, CEO of Minor Food Group Singapore, has been adventurous and always wanted to be the first to try anything. It was this adventurous spirit that led him to join the F&B industry, where he first started out as a cook, before becoming an Executive Sushi Chef. Despite training hard to master the skills required, Mr Soh later made the defining decision of his entrepreneurial journey to leave his job and start his own food business at the age of 26 years old.
Feeding the masses
Before establishing Minor Food Group Singapore, Mr Soh’s first venture was to sell individually wrapped sushi at Cold Storage supermarkets, later spanning to 13 outlets across Singapore. Soon after, he created the brand, Jollibean, which specialises in freshly ground soya milk and pancakes. The brand saw success and quickly grew to 28 stores at its peak before Mr Soh sold it to a listed company. Thereafter, Mr Soh started ThaiExpress Concepts with a business partner before returning to helm Minor Food Group Singapore after a five year hiatus.
Recounting that he came from a family with no entrepreneurial background, Mr Soh shared that he had been a rebellious child who had given his mother a hard time raising him.
“To be honest, I didn’t even know what entrepreneurship was when I first started out as a trainee cook, let alone envision myself becoming an entrepreneur. I believed that I had to work harder and learn more than others in order to gain experience,” shared Mr Soh.
Armed with an ambition to be one of Asia’s biggest and most profitable F&B operators, Mr Soh began his entrepreneurial journey.
Navigating the company through tough times
After stepping down as CEO of Minor Food Group Singapore for 5 years, Mr Soh felt compelled to return after seeing the company face many challenges due to a weakening economy, brand fatigue, poor management and strong competition.
“Since stepping down in 2013, the restaurant sector – especially in casual dining – has been faced with tremendous competition and a huge decline in domestic consumption. Although Minor Food Group Singapore continued to be Singapore’s largest casual dining restaurant chain, our best performing brands like ThaiExpress, Poulet and Xin Wang Hong Kong Cafe were not immune to the weakening economy.”
“Having played a major part in the founding of many brands under the Minor Food Group Singapore, I felt a sense of duty to navigate the company through this difficult time and bring it back to its former glory,” added Mr Soh.
Buoyed by a renewed sense of mission, Mr Soh began tackling the main issues that the company faced. Mr Soh believes that finding the right people for the company has been a crucial decision in his entrepreneurial journey. Investing his time, he interviews people from all walks of life to find those who are the right fit to join the organisation. When hiring, Mr Soh is guided by three main values that he holds strongly to.
“Diligence, integrity and the willingness to learn are three values that I look for when hiring people and I regard these values above experience.”
“After decades of working in the F&B industry and having navigated countless setbacks, I’ve learned that employees are the crux to a company’s success. Having the right HR policies to attract and retain talent has been a crucial factor in turning around my business,” explained Mr Soh.
With this belief, Mr Soh focused on hiring the right people for the company and implemented incentives to reward hard working staff. He did so by putting forth a profit-sharing scheme which rewards staff based on the performance of their store, regardless of the brand’s profitability. This way, performing staff are likely to stay motivated and will not be affected by stores which are underperforming. In addition, Mr Soh believes that this encourages ownership in his staff as they will be driven to take on the responsibility of managing their stores and ensure that any work issues are swiftly resolved.
Leading by example
When asked about his typical work day, Mr Soh shared that he visits the outlets daily to check on operations and holds meetings with staff at the outlets.
“I will be in the office by 9.30am to work with HQ staff. By lunch, I will be heading to one of the outlets to ensure that business is running smoothly. I also have meetings with the operations team at the outlets from 3 to 6pm. I make sure I spend at least 70% of my time on the ground, including weekends,” said Mr Soh.
Apart from having a hands-on approach and being dedicated to his job, Mr Soh also believes in being a personable leader.
“I believe that a good leader is one who is courageous and stands by his staff. In addition, a good leader is one who is influential rather than authoritative,” added Mr Soh.
Mr Soh also cited Singapore’s founding father, Mr Lee Kuan Yew, as his role model.
“His vision, guts and never-say-die spirit inspired me while I was building my company. In fact, I try to run my company like how he governed Singapore. I have studied the interviews, speeches, articles and books produced by Mr Lee and hope to become a fine leader like him one day,” shared Mr Soh.
Lastly, when asked on the legacy that he wished to leave behind, Mr Soh expressed his hopes of seeing the brand grow in Southeast Asia and eventually become an international brand.
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