Neo Kah Kiat
Neo Group Limited
Neo Group Limited is a leading food catering group in Singapore and one of the nation’s well-loved brand names. Established since 1992, the Group possesses an award-winning track record and is one of the most recognised brand names in Singapore. The Group has been ranked as the Number One events caterer in Singapore since 2010 and owns an integrated value chain to provide one-stop food and catering solutions.
Mr Neo Kah Kiat, Singapore’s “Buffet King”, is the Founder, Chairman and CEO of Neo Group Limited. At the age of 12, he aspired to be a businessman, even though he did not know what it took to be a businessman. Mr Neo was brought up in a humble family, staying in a 3-room flat with 5 other family members. As a child, he was sensitive to the importance and value of money, making conscious efforts to save his pocket money. He was determined to lift his family out of poverty and take charge of his future, armed only with an exceptionally astute acumen for business opportunities. His entrepreneurial journey began as he rallied a few friends to sell otah for some extra pocket money.
In 1992, Mr Neo set up his company with the intention of providing restaurant quality food for buffet. Determined to begin his business as he saw immense potential in the industry, he decided to loan capital from family. The journey to being Singapore’s leading caterer was fraught with challenges, as he shares some of his most challenging moments throughout his 23-year journey.
When the business was in its initial stages, the landlord decided to double the rental to $7,000 per month, which was too high for the young company to bear. As a result, they decided to relocate to the west of Singapore, something uncommon for a food company back then. The relocation also saw many staff leaving the company. Mr Neo decided then he would own his own premises, sparing such hassles for his company.
When the SARS epidemic struck in 2003, the business was hit badly as sales dropped by 80% and other industry players, especially restaurants, were forced to shut down. However, he foresaw demand for smaller buffet packages and introduced Mini Party Sets. This ability to react and respond quickly allowed Mr Neo to make the best of his circumstances and set Neo Group Limited apart from the others in the industry.
In 2007, a fire broke out in his main kitchen, just 2 weeks shy of Chinese New Year, the peak period of the catering industry. The blaze that lasted from 2am to 4am resulted in a heavily damaged and flooded kitchen. Showing great presence of mind, Mr Neo quickly rescheduled his business operations to other available kitchens and arranged for immediate repairs. By the third day, having spent S$180,000 and armed with a strict mindset of never failing customers, business operations bounced back to normal.
When asked how he managed to overcome the several obstacles that he has faced, Mr Neo remarked that one should just “accept it and challenge it, and just move forward”. Indeed, he has exemplified that in unfavourable circumstances, it is crucial to remain calm and persevere through adversity.
Today, Neo Group Limited has grown to a staff strength of 1,100, a dramatic increase from the mere 8 staff that it began with. With an astute sense for business, Mr Neo is able to recognize gaps and formulate solutions to meet the various demands of the challenging industry. To grow, he believes that his business needs to go beyond just catering –he needs to bring his business into wider arenas such as retail and other complementary segments. To date, his vision has brought him to create 15 other brands since – spanning across buffet supplies import and export, florist, retail and yacht chartering.
Mr Neo is certainly deserving of his many accolades which include his recent win at the EY Entrepreneur of the Year 2015 in Food and Beverages industry. We wish him and his company all the very best in the future!