He motivates his staff by singing a company anthem and recites a pledge every morning and evening. He also introduces the work safety pledge to all kitchen operations employees to recite it every day.
Neo Group Limited
An exemplary leader in the local food industry, Mr Neo Kah Kiat has grown a humble tingkat business started in 1992 to the No. 1 events catering company in Singapore today. He leads his staff by example and develops them to their personal best to reach his company’s goals.
The Background of Mr Neo Kah Kiat
Mr Neo Kah Kiat, the man behind Neo Group, came from a humble background where the financial situation in the household was often difficult. On some days, utilities would be cut due to the family not having enough to pay the bills in the 3-room flat in Eunos, where they shared as a family of 5. These difficult times did not deter Mr Neo Kah Kiat, and in fact, spurred him towards his ambition of being a businessman and earning money in order to lift the family out of this situation. In Secondary 2, he made the decision to drop out of secondary school to pursue his goal, even though he had topped his class in the previous year.
In 1992, he borrowed a sum of $15,000 from his friends and relatives. Gathering 7 other staff, he used this sum of money to lease a small kitchen in Joo Chiat, and launched what is now a popular household events caterer, Neo Garden Catering. Under his astute leadership, he later launched 3 other catering brands, Orange Clove Catering, Deli Hub Catering and Best Catering. He has also developed other complementary businesses such as a Japanese quick-service restaurant brand, umisushi. Recognising the potential for his companies to reach greater heights, Neo Group Limited was successfully listed in 2012.
Leadership Journey of Mr Neo Kah Kiat
To Mr Neo, having stayed in the business for over 20 years is a reason to celebrate. However, he would never say that he has succeeded – for he believes one should always strive for more and never slacken. For Mr Neo, his vision is to bring the catering industry locally to greater heights, and his leadership by example has certainly raised standards industry-wide.
When asked about the underlying values in his business, ‘No U-Turn’ stands out the most. Mr Neo believes that one must be firm and resolute in order to see the realization of his dreams, and not succumb to setbacks that one might face in business. In his business dealings, he emphasizes that honesty, respect and responsibility to employees and customers is of utmost importance.
A leader must also be willing to lead by example. When there is shortage of manpower, the directors roll up their sleeves to make deliveries or even enter the kitchen to cook with their employees. He himself still visits the fish market with his employees at 4am every Tuesday and Wednesday, to ensure that only the freshest ingredients of the highest quality are used in the businesses. A firm believer of constant improvement, Mr Neo personally oversees the creation and research of new recipes, including in-house sauces, batters and pastes.
His unwavering determination also puts him in a good stead to face any obstacles in business. Weeks before Chinese New Year in 2007, a midnight fire destroyed part of his kitchen. Despite this, Mr Neo refused to cancel any orders, and decided to take a calm and rational approach to solve the problem. By transferring the affected orders to his other kitchen and repairing the kitchen damages efficiently, the kitchen was up and running by the third day.
Company culture is of paramount importance in Mr Neo’s leadership. He introduced a company anthem and a pledge and ensures that they sing and recite them every morning and evening. He also introduced the work safety pledge to all kitchen operations employees to recite it every day. By ensuring a safe working environment for his employees, Mr Neo has earned the respect of his employees as a leader who cares deeply for their welfare.
Leadership Traits of Mr Neo Kah Kiat
Employees look up to him as a leader with foresight who would set new goals and targets, whilst having the perseverance and direction to bring his employees to achieve the goals and targets. Through frequent communication across the different departments in his company, he creates productive work environment. His commitment to the company, demonstrated through his involvement in the kitchen operations, further cements his reputation as a dedicated leader to his employees.
Pacesetting – Setting Standards
Mr. Neo is very much a trendsetting caterer. Knowing that quality food is the way to win customers, Mr. Neo Kah Kiat never compromises on food standards. He created 6 unique practices to be followed by his catering companies to ensure quality is abided to through all its processes. He would constantly set targets after targets to motivate himself and his employees to grow the business. It is through his persistence and foresight that his companies have repeatedly reached its targets and eventually become listed in 2012. He has also brought the company to become the Number 1 Events Caterer for 3 years, 2011, 2012 and 2014.
From providing quality catering service to consumers, the Group is now going beyond catering, providing a one-stop option for all events.
Coaching – People Development
Mr Neo recognises employees are his core assets and places strong emphasis on staff training and skills upgrading. He also develops a strong sense of giving in his company though its Corporate Social Responsibility efforts. In particular, he set up a SEED Fund Committee to encourage his employees to donate any amount to the Group’s charities of choice, and then matches the amount. Through these efforts, he encourages his employees to be responsible citizens and active contributors in the community that they operate in. Care for the environment is also an area Mr Neo invests time and effort in. He has actively taken steps to reduce the company’s carbon footprint by training and developing his employees to have ecofriendly habits and practices such as using eco-friendly, bio-degradable wares and cutleries made from organic substances, capable of decomposing naturally immediately. This not only helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions, minimize the impact of global warming, and also develops the employees to have green knowledge and help improve the business.
With these traits, employees in Neo Group look up to Mr Neo as a trustworthy leader to guide them to their goals. To keep his lead in the industry, Mr Neo believes in constant hard work and innovation to come up with new and exciting ideas, at consistently high standards. His beliefs are evident in the culture of Neo Group, which sets him apart from other leaders.
Credit: Neo Group Limited