Imagine that you have to take two buses to get to school every day. Suppose that the second bus takes you for just two stops before you reach school. Would you choose to take that second bus for two stops or would you instead walk the distance to save that extra few cents? As a student, Mr Douglas Foo, Founder and Executive Chairman of Sakae Holdings Ltd., chose the latter. Growing up with a strict father who did not give him excess pocket money, Mr Foo learnt the value of thrift early in his life and this has helped him save money to fund his many businesses.
Sakae Holdings Ltd. has come a long way since the opening of its flagship Sakae Sushi outlet in 1997. Today, the group has more than 100 Sakae Sushi outlets in Singapore, China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, the U.S. and Japan. The group also boasts an outstanding portfolio of brands – Sakae Teppanyaki, Sakae Delivery, Sakae Junior Club, Hei Sushi, Hei Delivery, Senjyu, Crepes & Cream, Sakae Express, Sachi and Nouvelle Events.
Mr Foo is a strong advocate of planning and managing one’s time well. He recognizes that our time on earth is finite and we should all make the best of the time we have. During Mr Foo’s three-month’s vacation before National Service, he worked four jobs in a day. His day would begin at 5 a.m., with him taking turbine readings at Pulau Seraya (now part of Jurong Island). At noon, he would return to mainland Singapore to give relief teaching at Ping Yi Secondary School. In the evenings, Mr Foo worked as a baker at Delifrance. As if that was not enough, Foo would continue working at night, conducting door-to-door market surveys, before ending his day at 1 or 2 in the morning for a 21-hour workday.
“Anytime my colleagues or superiors required me to help, I would help in every way I could,” recalled the 46-year-old entrepreneur when he worked as a marketing executive in the real estate arm of Tokyu Group, a Japanese conglomerate. Foo’s helpfulness was rewarded with many friendships which led to his first business opportunity in the form of a garment manufacturing contract for the Japanese market.
Mr Foo is grateful for his exposure to positive values from a young age. Not one to forget his roots, he still holds the values from the mottos of his alma maters, Red Swastika School and Dunman High School, close to his heart. For Red Swastika, the motto: “恭, 宽, 信, 敏” stands for respect, magnanimity, trustworthiness and alertness. For Dunman High, the motto “诚，信，勇，忠” translates into honesty, trustworthiness, moral courage and loyalty.
“Entrepreneurship should not be seen as a way to simply earn profits,” said the passionate businessman. Entrepreneurship should transcend money-making and should be for a greater good. Almost 20 years ago, Mr Foo realized that Singaporeans enjoyed Japanese cuisine but could not indulge in it often due to its high price. This gave him the impetus to create Sakae Sushi, in a bid to bring Japanese food to the masses at an inexpensive price. Mr Foo succeeded in doing this through innovation. For instance, he studied the operations of other conveyor-belt sushi joints overseas before investing in conveyor belt systems to deliver sushi to his customers. Today, Sakae Sushi has newer innovations such as sushi-making robots and portable conveyor belts for private dining events.
Advice for the young
As advice for the younger generation, Mr Foo hopes that they will think about the role they want to play on the world stage. He thinks that the youth of today should answers questions such as: “What do you see yourself doing? What are your interests?” Mr Foo believes that it is good to plan and work towards our goals early, even if we not sure of what we want. Life is after all, a continuous journey of self-discovery.