Share on:

Why Chia Su-Mae quit her high-flying corporate job to join the buzzing family business

A skincare brand founder and second-generation leader on growing her family’s bee-based business.

While her peers were playing make-believe, a young Chia Su-Mae was making money. When she was 10, for instance, she would repot cuttings from her mother’s garden to sell to neighbours. With a knack for identifying consumer needs, a head for numbers and infectious positive energy, Chia is a natural-born salesperson. Joining her father’s company HDI, a local bee wellness brand selling supplements such as honey, bee pollen tablets and royal jelly, seemed a natural progression.

But, instead of studying business, she wanted to get into the bar. With a laugh, she recalls, “My eldest brother Brandon is 11 years my senior, and he studied law. As a kid, I gathered my understanding of lawyers from watching TV: people arguing and defending their clients. I wanted to study law too so that I could be a better lawyer than Brandon, and win our arguments.”

Upon graduating in 2012, Chia, now 33, set out to become the high-flying lawyer she envisioned herself to be. But the gruelling nature of the work, which saw her sleeping in the office and showering at the gym for days, kept her from spending time with those she loved most – her family.

(Related: Self-made tech millionaire Alvin Poh is back to help other entrepreneurs scale up)

Incidentally, her brother – the chairperson and CEO of the HDI Family of Companies – had been trying to convince Chia to work with him for some time, especially since HDI was exploring the possibility of launching a skincare brand in 2014. The next year, she joined the family business as the regional marketing leader for HDI and the founder of Bskin, its skincare division.

Chia has worked tirelessly to grow Bskin since its launch in 2016, even after becoming a mother last year. She launched the brand’s global website recently as part of its strategy to expand beyond Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Hong Kong. It has won over 20 beauty awards for its bee-based active ingredients. Natural, ethically sourced ingredients are the focal point of Bskin’s products. It doesn’t use mix-and-match, ready-made formulas that many brands use.

From the start, it took plenty of gumption for a small new brand to stand its ground. “Rather than have suppliers tell us what our options were, we asked them if they could create products that did not include any of our list of 12 banned ingredients, ranging from allergens to carcinogens. As a result, we eliminated a lot of suppliers, but eventually found a partner who met the challenge and has been with us ever since,” says Chia.

(Related: Justin Chiam’s foray into bird’s nest started with his wife)

The years of dedication have paid off. Currently, Bskin enjoys a loyal customer base that recommends the brand to others. “While it contributes to a small part of HDI’s revenue as a growing business, we have seen Bskin bringing younger customers to HDI.”

The fundamental value that her father instilled in her, that one should sell only what works, continues to motivate Chia. “We grew up eating everything we sold, from royal jelly to honey. I keep his mantra close to heart when formulating Bskin products.” After all, it’s part of the Chia family legacy.

And what about her brother? “I still have fights with Brandon – and don’t always win – even though they are now work-related,” she says with a laugh. “However, we will still fight together on the same team as a family. The greatest reassurance one can receive is that.”

(Related: How third-generation Tai Sun scion Esther Loo is reinventing the traditional nuts company)