ENTREPRENEUR OF THE YEAR
Founder & Chairman
Sakae Holdings Ltd.
“It is good to plan and work towards our goals early, even if we are not sure of what we want. Life is after all, a continuous journey of self-discovery.”
~ Douglas Foo, Founder & Chairman, Sakae Holdings Ltd.
Sakae Sushi is a Singapore-founded trendy, quick-service kaiten (conveyor belt) sushi concept that has become synonymous with a fun-filled, value-for-money and healthy dining experience. Serving Japanese cuisine, and catering to customers craving affordable and quality Japanese cuisine, Sakae Sushi is the flagship brand of Sakae Holdings Ltd. that has been listed on the Singapore Exchange since 2003, and is the first name that will come to mind when Japanese food is mentioned.
Since the first outlet was introduced in September 1997 amidst the Asian Financial Crisis, the brand has come a long way on the fast track of growth with local and international expansion, and is currently the largest kaiten-sushi (conveyor-belt sushi restaurant) Japanese restaurant chain in the country. 18 years on from the first outlet, Sakae Sushi has attained sustainable growth and remained resilient amidst various uncontrollable economic challenges over the years. Today, Sakae Holdings Ltd manages over 200 outlets globally, and aspire to be the best F&B company globally.
Listed on the Singapore Stock Exchange, Sakae Holdings Ltd. (Stock Code: 5DO), is a Food & Beverage company that is on the fast track of global growth. Since its inception in 1997, Sakae Holdings Ltd. has grown into a portfolio of diversified brands – Sakae Sushi, Sakae Teppanyaki, Sakae Delivery, Sakae Express, Hei Sushi, Hei Delivery, Senjyu, Kyo by Sakae, , Sakae Junior Club, Sakae Shoppe, Crepes & Cream and Nouvelle Events & Catering, all of which are synonymous with healthy dining, food safety, quality and sustainable growth. The continuous strong growth has been achieved synonymously through technological innovation and patents for improving operational efficiency, constant effort in strategic menu planning and maintaining high service standards. The emphasis on operational excellence has since contributed to the Group’s expansion across the globe, including Singapore, China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand, USA and Vietnam.
Brought up by a strict and thrifty father, Mr. Douglas Foo, Founder and Chairman of Sakae Holdings Ltd. learnt the value of money early on in his life. As a schoolboy, the budding entrepreneur would save money by walking half of his commute to school and then back home, instead of conveniently taking two buses. The money-saving lesson and mentality he fostered is one that helped him raise the money to fund his many businesses. Another childhood trait that he fostered well into his working life is Douglas’ belief in the importance of planning and managing one’s time well. During his three-month vacation before Singapore’s mandatory National Service, the young budding entrepreneur recognized that one should make the best of one’s time, and worked four jobs daily. His days would start at 5 a.m., with him taking turbine readings at Pulau Seraya (now part of Jurong Island). At noon, he worked as a relief teacher at Ping Yi Secondary School, and in the evenings, he worked as a baker at Delifrance. He would continue working at night, conducting door-to-door market surveys, before ending his day at 1am or 2am, after a 21-hour workday!
As Douglas embarked on his early career as a marketing executive in the real estate arm of Japanese conglomerate Tokyo Group, he would help out in all facets of the business, offering his help to his colleagues or superior. It was this inquisitive and helpful nature that earned him recognition and friendships which led to his first business opportunity - a garment manufacturing contract for the Japanese market. Douglas is grateful for his exposure to positive values from a young age, and holds the core values instilled by the mottos of his alma maters, Red Swastika School, ‘respect, magnanimity, trustworthiness and alertness’; and Dunman High School, ‘honesty, trustworthiness, moral courage and loyalty’ close to his heart. It is with this credo that he states “entrepreneurship should not be seen as a way to simply earn profits. It should transcend money-making, and should be for a greater good.” Like many successful entrepreneurs from around the world, Douglas did not start up Sakae to make money, but rather, to build a global brand and help the communities in which we operate.
About 20 years ago, the visionary realized that whilst Singaporeans enjoyed consuming healthy Japanese cuisine, the masses could not afford to indulge in it due to its high pricing. Back then, Japanese food was traditionally served in high-end restaurants. To make this healthy cuisine available for the masses, he researched and studied different ways, and introduced a simple three-tier pricing system which offers customers a no-frill dining experience. Today, with over 200 gastronomic creations carefully conceptualized and crafted by their chefs, Sakae Sushi’s customers can indulge generously in Japanese cuisine made with fresh and healthy ingredients, including Vitamin E enriched rice. With unique technology and innovation at the heart of their operations, including their patented Interactive Menu (IM), Sakae Sushi continues to delight their customers with hassle-free food ordering, Sushi games on their IMs to keep customers entertained while dining, and self- service hot water taps that provides customers with the ease of having their green tea anytime. Today, Sakae has become the benchmark for excellence where quality and service is concerned, and continues to churn out newer innovations such as a patent portable conveyor belts for private dining events.
Besides being a successful entrepreneur, Douglas is passionate about Branding, and believes that branding transcends the product, and engages and communicates with the soul of people - customers and staff alike. To build 30, 0000 outlets in 5 continents, Sakae builds its sound foundation by investing in four core pillars – Human Capital, Global Food Resource, Real Estate Management and Sakae Corporate Advisory. The first pillar is Human Capital, because to build a global brand, Douglas believes that Sakae is going to need good and happy staff. He believes that there are companies that offer good products, but fail to thrive due to unhappy staff who represent the company poorly, thus affecting people’s impression of the product. On the other hand, staff who are treated well automatically become a company’s brand advocators and staunch supporters.
Douglas believes that it is imperative that life and business have meaning. In keeping with that belief, Sakae’s logo was created with meaning, where all parts of the logo symbolize his vision for the company. The eyes of the frog represent the set direction for Sakae, and foresight, the smile represents smiling, happy staff and good service; and the body and legs represent the other departments that ensure Sakae’s sound operations. Sakae’s logo also resembles gold ingots which signify prosperity, and the bottom portion of the logo represents a rice bowl which represents the rice that we serve in our Sushi, and prosperity. Together, all facets of the frog represent one Sakae, one Heartbeat, and one Sakae Spirit that personifies the united Sakae team who strive together to propel the company forward. Fittingly, the word “Sakae” in Japanese means ‘growth’ and ‘prosperity’, and also represents “Drink Sake, Eat Sushi.”
In his free time, Douglas invests his time and efforts in helping people from around the world. As a staunch advocator of helping youths prepare for their future, he spends much time visiting schools, and speaking to youths to encourage them to think about the role they want to play in society. He gets them to focus on asking themselves “What do you see yourself doing, and what are your interests?” He encourages them to plan and work towards their goals early, even if they are unsure of what they want, because life is a continuous journey of self-discovery and learning.