Every year, we scope out 18 women who are driven by a desire to bring positive change and have achieved success in their chosen field as part of the Great Women Of Our Time awards. Meet 2019’s Finance & Commerce nominee, Lim Hui Nan, Co-Founder, Empire Eats Group:
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Meet Lim Hui Nan – Great Women Of Our Time 2019 Finance & Commerce Nominee
“Learn to be like Teflon,” declares Hui Nan when asked about how to succeed in business.
Just like the coating on non-stick cooking utensils that repels nasty stains, the lawyer-turned-restaurateur lets criticisms and insults slide right off her.
“In a male-dominated industry like mine, the more people you manage, the higher likelihood you’ll get criticised or be described as ‘bossy’, whereas male leaders who display the same behaviour will likely be perceived favourably. Be like Teflon and let baseless criticisms slide off your back.”
This advice has served the mother-of-two well in her five-year stint as the co-founder of a collective of modern Japanese and American establishments under the Empire Eats Group.
Since she joined the company in 2014, Hui Nan has helped to expand the company’s stable of venues from four to 12 outlets, which include Standing Sushi Bar, Tanuki Raw and The World is Flat, a cocktail bar that’s in Changi Airport as well as The Bee in Kuala Lumpur.
“I love that I get to feed people well and I love seeing happy, satiated customers at my venues each time I am there. I also love that I can take pride in what I offer and that our brands are loved by many. The gratification is instant,” explains the 36-year-old.
It’s worth noting that Hui Nan was a lawyer by trade before being lured into the glamorous world of food and beverages by her husband, Howard Lo, who started the company in 2009. In reality, the tough-as-nails entrepreneur says the industry is not as glitzy as its portrayed to be via the mainstream media.
“Having a front row seat to my partner’s struggles and stresses in the early formative years of Empire Eats Group has stripped away all romantic notions associated with being a restaurateur by the time I joined the family business,” she reveals.
“I quickly realised that passion for food and drinks alone is not sufficient for one to thrive in such a competitive landscape. People sometimes think we gain fame and fortune by feeding people – that’s overrated. When I entered the business, it was with a razor-sharp focus on what needed to be fixed internally.”
And fix things she did. Not only did Hui Nan tighten up the processes that the Empire Eats establishments’ needed to thrive; she also handled things like Human Resources for the firm as well as running day-to-day operations.
All, while growing her family from three to four. Nan and Howard are parents to Henry, 3, and also welcomed Heather, 1, last year.
“Work-life balance takes on a very different meaning in entrepreneurship when you are personally vested. As owners, we are the last line of defence; where the proverbial buck stops at,” says Nan.
While the mum-of-two laments the fact that she hasn’t turned off from work in the last four years, she also appreciates the flexibility and absolute control she has over how she spends her time, which her kids surely are surely grateful for.
“At the end of the day, I want to be remembered by my children as a mum who loved them unconditionally and supported them irrevocably,” quips Nan.
“And I want to raise my children to understand their life purpose, and to equip them to be productive, independent adults that have the potential to make a lasting impact on the world.”
Empire Eats Group is eyeing further expansion into Kuala Lumpur this year with a new restaurant and cocktail bar concepts, Monroe, and The Secret Mermaid. They are also planning to grow the footprint of Tanuki Raw and Salmon Samurai overseas in the near future.
Photos: Vee Chin & Tan Wei Te
Fashion Direction: Aaron Kok
Styling Assistants: Juliet Suen & An Lyn Chee
Hair: Jason Wong/Salon Nu, Grego & Ash Loi/Sonder Salon
Makeup: Keith Bryant Lee, Hongling Lim, Rina Sim, Wee Ming & Jyue Huey (for Shann Sok)
Location: 89NR, The Working Capitol, Botanico at The Garage & The Summerhouse
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