Crucial change in thinking

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 14 May, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 14 May, 2011, 12:00am


Most people choose a profession at a tender age, prodded by their families to go the traditional route. This, however, doesn't mean that one cannot try something else later, whether it is right after graduation, in mid-life or even after retirement.

Lachlan Campbell broke away from banking and in 2007 set up the cupcake shop Babycakes, fulfilling his long-cherished dream of becoming an entrepreneur. 'Doing the cakes was quite a left turn. When I chose my studies, I went for the safer option, but I'd always wanted to be an entrepreneur. It's something I'd been wanting to do for a long time,' he says.

Looking at the restaurant scene, Campbell cites a few people who arrived there with a background in banking, accounting or law - their jobs giving them well-structured, logical thinking, a good feel for what finance is and providing the opportunity to save up some seed money for the venture. One such entrepreneur is Tony Cheng, who opened Hainan Shaoye and The Drawing Room and has a banking and accounting background. He says: 'The way I run the business is based on the knowledge and theory from my industry readings, my experience as an auditor and banker and my observations during my time in the kitchen.'

Many of these career-changers go to great lengths to learn everything about their new endeavour. Cheng worked in Rome's famous All'Oro, while Campbell spent a month learning to make cupcakes in the United States. Alan Lo of The Press Room Group spent time working at the Mandarin Oriental Group and the Shangri-la hotels. His partner Paulo Pong, who studied engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, got smitten by the wine industry while doing his internship.

Admittedly, for every rule there is an exception. Cynthia Suen, who has opened six Triple O's burger restaurants, says: 'I don't know how to do a market study; it's all intuition. I know nothing about food. Until today I cannot cook.' Not that she had easy sailing. She opened the first Triple O's during the outbreak of the severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) and went against her accountant's advice which was echoed by her friends.

And maybe intuition partly explains the triumph. The Press Room founders were told they would not succeed with a restaurant in Sheung Wan but they persevered. 'In fact, a lot of people, including some F&B operators, told us off,' Lo says.

Campbell, on the other hand, eventually gave up his business due to high rent and later the unexpected closure of the shopping mall in which his shop was located, among other reasons. But he treasures the experience. 'It was the hardest period in my life, but you do it for yourself so you don't think of the hours.'

Starting out

Put together a board of directors you trust and who want you to succeed. You should have three people with different backgrounds.

Take time to listen to ideas. You don't have to take their advice but sound out what they think.

If you have a good business idea, make a plan and stick with it. Don't deviate from it, especially if you are a small retail business.