Mr Douglas Foo of home-grown local Japanese restaurant chain Sakae Sushi is an admirable Singaporean son. He is our local success story. He embodies and encapsulates that Singapore dream that many of us yearn for.
Since that infamous statement made by him over a local radio station that he couldn’t find dish washers at $3,000 a month, he has caused lots of controversy in cyberspace. Singapore netizens have called for the boycott of home-grown local Japanese restaurant chain Sakae Sushi following the $3,000 dishwasher fiasco.
I read up a little about Mr Douglas Foo’s career and achievements. He truly personifies the Chinese saying, “白手起家 bái shǒu qǐ jiā ” – English translation meaning starting from scratch with nothing. [白手，空手。形容在原来一无所有或条件很差的情况下，靠自己的双手艰苦创业.]
Mr Douglas Foo wasn’t born with a golden spoon. He didn’t inherit any fortune. He works his way up using his ingenuity and business acumen to build up his business empire spanning hundred over Japanese shusi business outlets locally and overseas. He even owns a building at Paya Lebar Road.
Even in his university days in Australia, he worked part time to supplement his allowances. Yes, he is a hard worker indeed. Maybe because he is such a tenacious worker that he expects his staff to work like a bull. He expects his staff to earn every single cent working 12 hours a day for 6 days with a day off just like a blue ass fly.
If he had only spoken the truth; nothing but the whole complete truth, would there be any controversy? If he did state clearly his terms and conditions paying $3,000 a month salary to a dishwasher in that radio programme hosted by that MP would there be any public outcry? Maybe, he just wanted to make a politically correct statement which backfired on him. Like what Bee Gees would have said, “he started the joke and now, the joke is on him!”
That led to another interesting question. Why did he not tell the whole complete truth? He only spoke half the truth. He distinctly stated in that radio programme that it’s working 9 hrs a day with extra commitment and so on. Later, his staff clarified that it’s actually 12 hours inclusive of OT and not 9 hours. Was he not aware of the working hours of his dishwasher? Was it an honest mistake or did he let down his guard?
What message was he trying to convey to the listeners. We know that the government highly endorsed him by giving him a string of awards over the years for his many achievements. He was even bestowed a medal on National Day. Was he harping along the government adage that there are so many well paying jobs around but locals are choosy refusing to take up? Is he trying to counter the locals’ outrage in our local job market already flooded with low skilled cheap foreigners where citizens are edged out and that the government has finally come to it’s senses and is now tightening the foreign workers tap to reduce the flow? What was his agenda in making that statement to that MP in the radio programme and the listeners?
Why didn’t that brilliant MP probe further on that quotable statement – “$3,000 for dishwashers yet can’t get locals” – it may not be the exact words in the statement made by Mr Douglas Foo but it sounded something like that.
As expected, some of our scholar MPs took an immediate liking to that statement earning immediate praises until the whole truth or half truth is exposed. The cards are now open. Netizens reacted angrily with all kinds of expletives thrown in. Some even went as far as to call for a boycott. What a langgar situation.
Another Chinese saying best describes Mr Douglas Foo’s incendiary blunder.
聪明一辈子，临时却糊涂起来。指一向聪明的人，偶尔在某件事上犯糊涂。 ] You may be smart all your life but it takes only a moment of folly for people to recognize you!
We do not know his true intention in making that statement. We can only speculate. Ultimately only he knows. It’s still not too late to damage control rather than adopt a self-denial mode. Like what Mr Fish says, you can’t
screw fool all the people all the time.
Comments from netizen Winking Doll
The above story makes me respect even more our another local Singaporean son, founder of local icon Creative Technology. Over the years, I’ve always made an effort buy Creative products. I just bought their WP250 Creative stereo headset Link. I’m sure many of you share the same affinity with me.
I just feel that commerical companies should have social responsibilites to the country as well. I salute Sim Wong Hoo for his ability to perform some social responsibilites and adding a personal touch. How many CEOs can do this?
Sad to retrench, Sim gives $500,000 to staff
By Tammy Tan MONEY NEWS EDITOR
CREATIVE Technology founder Sim Wong Hoo is forking out $500,000 of his own money for his retrenched workers – and hopes other wealthy chief executives here will do the same.
Under the scheme, all retrenched executive staff here will get $2,000 each as a ‘gift’ from Mr Sim, whose homegrown company is the world’s largest maker of computer soundcards.
If they need more money, they will each get another $2,000 in the form of an interest-free loan – no questions asked. ‘If they pay me back, the money goes to charity. If not, it’s okay,’ he said.
For genuine hardship cases, Mr Sim is prepared to give yet another interest-free loan of $2,000, but staff will have to go through a ‘review committee’ to prove that they really need the money.
He said the staff cuts were hard to make ‘but as CEO, I have a responsibility to my shareholders… But we’re also a company with heart and we want to do what we can to help’.
Below is a brief write-up on Mr Douglas Foo.
Douglas Foo (b. 1969, Singapore – ), is the Chairman, CEO and founder of Apex-Pal International Ltd., a public listed food and beverage company which owns and operates Sakae Sushi, one of the leading kaiten (conveyer belt) sushi chains in Singapore. The success of Sakae Sushi has won the company accolades such as the Enterprise 50 Award in 2002, the Singapore Prestige Brand Award (Regional) in 2006 and the Singapore 1000 Award in 2007. In recognition of his entrepreneurial spirit, Foo was awarded the Rotary-ASME Entrepreneur of the Year in 2002.
Foo, the eldest of three children, was born in Singapore in 1969. His father, an immigrant from Hainan, China, worked as a mechanical and electrical consultant. Foo received his early education at the Red Swastika Primary School where he was both a top student and prefect. He went on to study at Dunman High School and Victoria Junior College. In college, he was active in sports and participated in long-distance running, laser sailing and windsurfing.
After his “A” levels, he served his National Service with the Air Force. During his military service, Foo would read on topics relating to radar and electronics in order to understand the workings of the missile systems. It was then that he discovered that his interest did not lay in engineering. Though he had already secured a place with the engineering school at the Nanyang Technological University, Foo decided to make the switch to study Business Administration. However his grades did not qualify for the university’s business school. So, aided in part by funds from his parents, Foo enrolled in the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology in Australia for his degree in Business Administration (Finance), where he graduated with distinctions in 1994.
The Value of Money
Foo was taught the value of money from an early age. Once, when he was ten, Foo called his father to ask for a lift home because he was running a fever. His father, instead, chided him for wasting 10 cents on the phone call, and told him that their house was within walking distance from school, and that he should make his own way home. Foo was also given a modest monthly allowance of $50 for his food, transport and outings.
To supplement his pocket money, he would give tuition from 8 am to 11 pm on weekends, earning up to $5000 a month. He also worked during the six months vacation before his National Service. His typical day then involved taking turbine readings at Pulau Seraya in the mornings, giving relief teaching at Pin Yi Secondary School in the afternoons, and conducting door-to-door market surveys in the evenings. He also worked briefly as a baker at Delifrance, where he met his wife. When Foo was studying in Australia, he continued to earn his pocket money by selling shoes at the Queen Victoria Market in Melbourne.
After Foo returned from Australia, he worked as a marketing executive with the real estate arm of Tokyu Group. In the course of his work, he formed friendships with a number of Japanese clients, some of whom who traveled to Singapore to buy garments for the Japanese market. Through these networks, one of his Japanese business contacts approached him to start a business to manufacture garments in India for sale in Japan. Foo decided to take the plunge despite an attractive counter offer from his employer and his lack of experience in the fashion business. He invested $100,000 from his savings and registered Apex-Pal in 1996. The trading office was located in International Plaza, and a factory with fifty workers equipped with reconditioned sewing machines from Taiwan was set up in India. The business turned in profits in the first year.
The Beginnings of Sakae Sushi
With the success of the garment manufacturing and trading business, Foo began to explore various ways to diversify the business. He looked at the basic needs of consumers and decided that the food business would be a good industry to venture into. He conducted a survey and found that Singaporeans were becoming more conscious of their health and what they eat. Among the various cuisines, Japanese food was generally considered to be one of the healthiest. However, at that time, it was also a relatively expensive dining choice for the masses. Hence Foo came up with the business proposition to offer Japanese food at affordable prices. By targeting the middle-class masses, the company would be less vulnerable to economic downturns. Foo’s price consciousness also stemmed in part from his strict upbringing. But his Japanese partner was reluctant to take on this new venture due to the Japanese economic slump. In the ensuing months, Foo faced the uphill task of raising funds to buy out his partners share and to set up the sushi business as well.
In planning for Sakae Sushi, Foo made trips to Japan and Hong Kong to study the operations of conveyor-belt sushi joints. He decided to implement a single price for all colour plates (with the exception of delicacies on red plates) because he felt that the various colour plates (indicating the different prices of sushi dishes) used in Japanese restaurants deterred customers from ordering more. He also created a dining concept for Sakae Sushi to differentiate the restaurant from other Japanese dining establishments. Sakae Sushi has a conveyor belt system to deliver its sushi, and customers have their own water taps to make their tea as well as interactive menus to place their orders. Over time, the company added innovations such as sushi-making robots and portable conveyor belts for catered dining.
The first Sakae Sushi outlet opened at the OUB Centre at Raffles Place in the midst of the Asian financial crisis in September 1997. Despite the weak economic situation, the business took off. Today, there are Sakae Sushi outlets in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Philippines and China, and Apex-Pal has added ten other brands to its portfolio.
2008: Commendation, Singapore Youth Award
2007: Public Service Medal, National Day Awards
2007: International Management Action Award
2005: Health Leader (Excellence) Award by the Singapore Human Resource Institute
2004: ASEAN Youth Award
2003: Singapore Youth Award
2002: Rotary-ASME Entrepreneur of the Year (joint winner)
2002: Top Outstanding Young Person Award by Junior Chamber of Singapore
2002: Merit, Yazhou Zhoukan Chinese Entrepreneur Award
In his free time, Foo enjoys tennis, long-distance running and swimming.
Ang, E. & Chang, P. Y. H. (2004). Winning strokes (pp. 39-59). Singapore: Nouveau Pub.
(Call no.: RSING q920.05957 PEO)
Sakae Sushi – where F&B, tech meet. (2000, October 2). Business Times Singapore. Retrieved April 23, 2009, from Factiva database.
Tan, R. L. (2008, July 27). My McSushi dream. Straits Times. Retrieved April 23, 2009, from Factiva database.
Theresianto, N. (2008, February 11). Corporate: Apex-Pal expands its Sakae Sushi empire. The Edge Singapore. Retrieved April 23, 2009, from Factiva database.
The information in this article is valid as at 2009 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.
All Rights Reserved. National Library Board Singapore 2009.