We share five essential pieces of wisdom from Singapore's original mumpreneur.
Starting a business while raising kids may seem like insanity to some; to others, it’s a great way to ‘have more balance’ in life. Fifty years into running her locally grown business, Tai Sun, Singapore’s original ‘mumpreneur’ Madam Han Yew Lang tells us how she got started (in her kitchen!), valuable things she’s learned, and the secrets to holding it all together.
Madam Han Yew Lang is the Founder of Tai Sun Food Industries, one of the leading producers of snack foods in Singapore. The family-run company produces well-loved brands Nature’s Wonders, Tai Sun Nuts, UCA, and Treatz, with the belief that there is ‘goodness in everything’ – this family will not offer anything they wouldn’t eat themselves. She started the business as a young mother in 1966 (Tai Sun is just one year younger than Singapore!) and the family legacy has continued throughout three generations. Madam Han’s daughter Sandy is now one of the business Directors (together with her brothers Winston and Lawrence), is a mother of three and a grandmother of one, and she says: “I’ve learned a great deal from my mother’s zeal for life and determination to just forge on,” she says. “She is the epitome of ‘when the going gets tough, the tough get going’. Sandy’s daughter Esther (Tai Sun’s Marketing Manager, and also a mother) says the family spirit has been passed on through the generations: “my mother has been my model of quiet strength and hard work.” Now 80 years of age, the woman who started it all, Madam Han, has kindly shared her wisdom with us…
1. Seize a good opportunity
“When I married my husband, he was already involved in the family business of distributing imported nut-dispensing machines to bars. I would help him roast nuts to fill the machines with, but margins were tight and establishments found it more profitable to fry and sell their own nuts. However, we knew it was a time-consuming task for them, so my husband and I saw a business opportunity and decided to start frying and supplying. Tai Sun became the first commercial supplier of peanuts in the 60s.”
2. There is no time to be fearful
“We started in the kitchen of our rented home in Katong. I had to juggle household chores with the business in addition to being a mother to three growing children, and the days started as early as 4am. After cooking for the family, I would start production. It’s a laborious 12-hour manual process from preparing the peanuts, to slow-frying them to get the right crunch and saltiness, to weighing and packing. After all that, we had to go out on the streets to close sales and make deliveries. There was no time to be fearful. To make ends meet and to raise the children, we just took things as they came day by day.”
3. Have strong family ties and relationships
“The most important lesson I’ve learned along the way was from my husband, and that is to have strong family ties and relationships. He believed in the Chinese saying ‘家和万事兴’, meaning ‘in order for the business to prosper, we need a united and harmonious family’. The definition of family for us extends to our staff. There’s a greater focus on building relationships and teamwork so you get the job done. These family values give everyone in the company a common goal, and when the going gets tough, they compel us all to come together, roll up our sleeves and make it work.”
4. Think of failure as a lesson to keep going
“My advice to new entrepreneurs who experience failure in some way is to think of it as a lesson to keep going. To mums who are thinking about starting their own business, family support is very important. Once you have that, always know that they will be behind you as you pursue your dream. There’s no way of knowing how things will pan out. I’ve learned everything about the business from scratch and I’ve learned to take the bull by its horn.”
5. Keep your mind and body active
“What has kept me going during the tough times? My family. And in my free time, I keep fit by going for swims and brisk walks on alternate days before driving myself to the office. I also keep my mind active with weekly brain exercises of mahjong!
Running a business is never easy but thankfully in Singapore, the government is very supportive of entrepreneurship and there are many grants to help start-ups. However, the current environment is very competitive and consumers are spoilt for choice, especially with imported snacks. This is why we need to create products that appeal to different market segments. After 50 years of business in Singapore I’m very proud that our nuts are being enjoyed by people across the world including Asia, the UK and the Middle East.”
This post is sponsored by Tai Sun.