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Business Times - 24 Mar 2012
Armed with a never-say-die attitude and a fearlessness to challenge mainstream wisdom, BreadTalk Group head honcho George Quek has built a food empire that transformed the mundane experience of buying bread and eating at a food court. By Benjamin Tan GEORGE Quek can best be described as an accidental businessman. His first love, after all, is art. His foray into the F&B business was more a stumble than a calculated move. In 1981, life threw him a curve ball when financial difficulties compelled him to terminate his fine art degree in Taiwan. 'I didn't think of going into the F&B industry. I wanted to be an artist because I love painting and drawing,' he says. His belief that food can be art spurred him to take a course on how to make dragon beard candy, which he decided to sell to make a livelihood in Taiwan. Though his masterful kneading, painstaking stretching and nimble weaving of the dough served as a visual treat to onlookers who were asked to sample the sweet snack, the Taiwanese didn't bite the bait, and he was forced to move his candy stand from place to place. Third time's the charm as they say, and it was when he moved to his third location in Taiwan that sales finally took off. His perseverance then served him well as it does now. 'I'm a very determined person. When I'm faced with a problem, I will tackle it head on. I look for the root of the problem and develop solutions to resolve it,' he says in Mandarin. His never-say-die attitude is accompanied by a fearlessness to challenge conventional wisdom. Unfazed by naysayers who told him that the bakery business was a sunset one, Mr Quek set about building a food empire that would redefine not just the taste buds of consumers but transform the erstwhile mundane experience of buying bread and eating at a food court, and opened the first BreadTalk outlet at Bugis Junction in 2000. Twelve years on, despite being head honcho of the multi-million dollar BreadTalk Group, Mr Quek does not consider himself a clever man. 'I'm not smart but I'm very hardworking. I work much harder than other people. If you work 10 hours, I will work 12. If you work 12 hours, I work 14. When I work more, I learn more and I do better.' Possessing an unassuming persona, the soft-spoken entrepreneur comes across as strictly no-frills; he is decked in his trademark black polo t-shirt, grey jacket and flannel trousers. His white sneakers suggest that he is a busy man always on the go. Busy is an understatement; BreadTalk has grown from strength to strength since its inception. The group was listed three years later, a quick feat for a food start-up. The homegrown brand has come to be associated with Singapore alongside long-established icons such as Singapore Airlines. Today, BreadTalk Group is engaged in manufacturing and retailing food, bakery and confectionery products under the BreadTalk, Din Tai Fung, Food Republic, Ramenplay, The Icing Room, Toast Box and Carl's Jr China brands. It operates across 17 countries with over 472 bakery outlets, 26 restaurants and 39 food atria. In fiscal year 2011, the group's profit attributable to shareholders rose 3 per cent to $11.59 million, while revenue rose 21 per cent to $365.9 million. A common thread binding BreadTalk's F&B businesses together is the sheer aestheticism of every outlet. Mr Quek's penchant for art inspired him to create open kitchen bakeries that attracted snaking queues to savour his offerings after watching his team knead and pound dough. With their shiny outlines and glass frames, BreadTalk bakeries could very well be mistaken for retail boutiques or jewellery galleries. 'I want to make BreadTalk an international lifestyle brand. I want it to be a leader, not just a simple breadmaker,' he says. From the outset BreadTalk has led in moulding consumers' preferences, says Mr Quek, describing how the bun became a top-seller across all markets even though pork floss as an ingredient was alien to many people's palates. Likewise, curry naan also sold like hot cakes in China.
brands are not stagnant.000 bakery outlets. we won't go in'. 'Currently.000 products. Also on the cards is the launch this year of what he dubs the 'Generation IV' concept. new interior style. Learning is essential for creativity. But there are limits to how much localisation there can be. Mr Quek says that though BreadTalk is open to opportunities to go upstream in the retail supply chain by co-investing in real estate with experienced partners to benefit from future gains in property value. You have to choose someone with the knowledge of the market you are entering.4582.' he explains. which he vaguely defines as 'a holistic consumer experience involving a fresh product mix. China contributes about 30 per cent of our revenue. Mr Quek is quick to point out that 'if a city or country is deemed to be unsuitable for our product range.' says the Chinese-educated O-level holder. which is still relatively new. and added customer interactivity'.sg/sub/storyprintfriendly/0. 200 restaurant outlets and 80 food courts. and has appointed the general manager of Din Tai Fung to manage the restaurant brand. He has 'big plans for Ramenplay' both this year and next. Mr Quek is not one to rest on his laurels and still has plenty of fire in his belly. therefore we need fresh ideas to sustain the brand. someone familiar with local consumer tastes who can give insight into the local market. innovation and integration of the local culture and customs into his foods are extremely important. China is expected to be the group's key growth driver. and it creates an average of 50-80 new products a year. 'Consumers are becoming more discerning. To date. franchisees . but their managers are.which contribute about 7 per cent to group revenue . and to embrace new methods of doing things.are key to penetrating new markets and building existing brand equity. he hopes to have 1.Deft dough-maker Page 2 of 4 Novelty indeed sells.00. prudence and building strong foundations are the main watchwords. It's also important to keep striving to be better to bring the business forward. Asked if he is keen to diversify his business beyond F&B. he said that building deeper relationships with developers and negotiating as a group has enabled BreadTalk's bakery. That's why. 'I've always believed that it's important to have an open mind-set. BreadTalk is leveraging on master franchisee Pan Arabian Gourmet's extensive business networks to sub-franchise its outlets in 12 Middle Eastern countries. The sky's the limit there.businesstimes. To operate in the global arena. Which explains why the company is extremely selective with the partners and franchisees it works with. To do this. second.html? 24/3/2012 . It's a requisite cycle for innovation. focus. At 55. In two years' time. He also expects to achieve double-digit growth in both top and bottom line each year and has set a $1 billion revenue target for the group by 2016. even though it is frequently courted by many parties. But his expansion strategy is anything but scatter-gun. it's easy to distil the qualities that make him a successful businessman. according to Mr Quek. Oftentimes. In the next two or three years. food atria and restaurant outlets to obtain prime locations that are usually available only to the likes of Starbucks. Citing the example of the newly opened 112 Katong mall.com. http://www. for instance. the focus is still on building brand presence rather than a pure investment. to always keep learning. the company has rolled out as many as 1. we hope it will be 50 per cent. We need them to always stay ahead of the curve.483263. adding that his focus will be on deepening the brand's penetration in China's first-.' he says. 'Choosing a business partner is key.' he says. while in Thailand it plans to open one outlet across all brands per month over the next five years.and third-tier cities. Listening to Mr Quek. China market In terms of markets.
If I chose the dry noodles.businesstimes.com. they will naturally share with you opportunities that may come along later. it's important that we learn to work together and care for one another. That sort of environment taught me thriftiness and the importance of savings and managing with what I had. I had to decide how I wanted to use that money. Mr Quek says it's important to work very hard.4582. Mr Quek believes in drawing the best from his staff and says that knowing how to select and train staff came in handy when he embarked on his bakery business. he reveals poignantly that his one regret in life is not having spent enough time with his elderly parents before they passed on as he had devoted much of his time to growing the business. BreadTalk Group Limited Age 55 Married. This extends to colleagues and business relationships. First BreadTalk outlet opens at Bugis Junction. 'I came from a humble background and we had few resources. has one daughter and two sons 1981 Sells Dragon Beard candy from a kiosk in Taipei.html? 24/3/2012 . expands the business and later starts a small food business selling South-east Asian cuisine in Taiwan 1993 Returns to Singapore and sets up Food Junction with two other partners in Singapore 1996 Sets up Da Shi Dai food courts in Mainland China 2000 Founds BreadTalk. Singapore 2002 Conferred Entrepreneur of the Year. A bowl of dry noodles cost 20 cents versus 10 cents for soup. I had to walk home as the bus ride was 10 cents.' bentyk@sph. and I learnt that I could have some extra pocket money by selling my paintings for 20 cents each.sg GEORGE QUEK Chairman. ASME-Rotary Club 2003 BreadTalk is listed on the Singapore Exchange 2004 Brings Din Tai Fung restaurant to Singapore 2005 Launches Food Republic Wisma Atria in Singapore. 'I love art. the first thematic food atrium with 1960sstyle hawker fare 2006 Conferred Ernst & Young Emerging Entrepreneur of the Year http://www. have confidence in one's ability .Deft dough-maker Page 3 of 4 Human relations Apart from being a continuous learner. those were happy times and my parents taught us how important it is to treat people well and to have the right values and integrity when it comes to making a living. 'Treat people with care and they will take care of you too. 'At a young age. Asked what advice he had for budding entrepreneurs.' he says.com.and think carefully before making decisions. So important are human relations to him.sg/sub/storyprintfriendly/0.483263.00. In a team. However. If people know that you keep a lookout and care for their welfare.
Singapore Art Museum 2008: Business and Marketing Advisory Committee.businesstimes.sg/sub/storyprintfriendly/0. Teochew Poit Ip Huay Kuan 2004 to present: Board member.4582.html? 24/3/2012 . The Singapore Youth Olympic Games Organizing Committee 2011: Committee member.00. All rights reserved.com. http://www.Deft dough-maker Page 4 of 4 2012 Chairman of BreadTalk Group Limited Social involvement 2011 to present: Vice-president. Committee For Review Of Ministerial Salaries Copyright © 2010 Singapore Press Holdings Ltd.483263.
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