Building a multi-million-dollar empire off the simple curry puff is a feat in itself, but Han Keen Juan, founder and now executive chairman of Old Chang Kee (OCK), humbly attributes much of the success to luck, timing, government grants and loyal customers.
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Grateful for the support which helped grow Chang’s Curry Puffs, a single stall at the old Rex Cinema on Mackenzie Road, into a public-listed company with over 70 outlets islandwide, Han feels morally compelled to contribute to the public good. One manifestation of this is the active policy of favouring elderly applicants when hiring for production or retail positions.
“I have been the beneficiary of taxpayer money, and this nation is where my fortunes grew,” says the 64-year-old Han. “This (policy) is my social obligation.” Around 80 per cent of the staff are at least 45 years old.
”The elderly are immensely loyal and dependable,” he says. “For example, some of them keep the OCK shirt on even after knocking off , saying they are proud of working for the brand. They are punctual and absenteeism is low.”
“Many aren’t working because of money,” adds Han, a business graduate who quit his management position at a security company to buy Chang’s in 1986. He cites the example of an employee whose son drops her off at work – in a Jaguar. “They do it because it’s a purposeful existence they can take pride in, and because they want to be recognised as contributing members of society, despite their years.”
A wizened employee base does present challenges, but Han simply works around them. For example, he commissioned a software overhaul of the cash register, which now displays pictures of food instead of difficult-to-read lists. In this way, employees with poorer vision – or who are illiterate – can still key in entries quickly. The simple solution paid dividends, too. Even younger staff remarked that they were able to process entries faster.
Han believes that it is a responsibility for business leaders to instil the idea of giving back. “Businesses succeed thanks to good conditions. We have to give back to the environment that helped us rise from nothing.”