Entrepreneur of the Year - Douglas Foo of Sakae Holdings Limited



Douglas Foo

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.

How Social Entrepreneurs Make Change Happen

Author: Roger Martin & Sally R. Osberg

Who drives transformation in our society and how do they do it? Roger Martin and Sally Osberg argue in their new book, Getting Beyond Better, that the answer is social entrepreneurs, who target unjust and unsustainable systems — or “equilibria” — and transform them into entirely new, superior, and sustainable equilibria. In this excerpt, they tell a story illustrating how vision is the key to successful transformation.

To serious motorcycle racers like Andrea and Barry Coleman, flat-track racing is the most primal, authentic, and thrilling form of competition, harkening back to the origins of the sport at the turn of the twentieth century. The track itself is dirt and configured in the classic oval shape. Motorcycles make 20 or so counterclockwise laps during the course of a race, at speeds of over 100 miles an hour. As the bikes roar around the track, they gradually wear a groove where you’d expect to find it—near the center, just hugging the inside. Along the outside, the kicked-up dirt and dust forms what’s known as the cushion. Throughout the race, riders tend to stay in the groove, avoiding the cushion, where the ride is riskier because the dirt is soft and traction is uncertain.

But sometimes a rider will venture out into the cushion to overtake the competition. Taking to the cushion doesn’t require the rider to be a daredevil. It doesn’t take unnatural bravado. Rather, it requires the rider to have confidence in his experience and skill, and most of all, in the condition of his motorcycle. The bike must be impeccably maintained — oil, gas, gears, engine — and the rider must know it intimately, down to the depth of the tire treads to the millimeter. Taking to the cushion signals a rider’s determination to break out from the pack, to risk failure, and to win.

Social entrepreneurs, Barry Coleman explains, consistently ride in that cushion, where there is plenty of potential to get ahead and just as much to slide out of control. It is a place where guts and determination are required, and where skill and expertise can pay off. Barry should know. He and his wife aren’t just race enthusiasts, they are social entrepreneurs: founders of Riders for Health, an organization that manages transportation systems for the delivery of health care in seven countries across sub-Saharan Africa.

For the Colemans and Riders for Health, winning means nothing less than a new health-care delivery equilibrium on a continent that desperately needs one. Today, on virtually every relevant health indicator, Africa lags. Life expectancy is 10 years shorter than the rest of the world. Child mortality is double the global average. Whereas the United States has 2.4 doctors for every thousand citizens, sub-Saharan Africa has just 0.2. Across the region, some thirty thousand children under the age of five die every day from diseases that are easily treated or prevented with available vaccines and medicines, including diarrhea, measles, and malaria. Immunization programs, even with the massive scale-up in supply made possible by the multilateral Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (“Global Fund”) and a host of NGOs, still fail to reach an estimated 22 million children. Progress remains difficult, despite stated commitments to millennium development goals, decades of foreign aid, and billions of dollars in philanthropy.

The miserable health-care equilibrium in Africa, the Colemans would argue, is kept in place partly by its failing infrastructure. Too often, available medicine and equipment can’t get where they are most urgently needed. Health workers waste hours each day walking and waiting, rather than delivering care. Communities go weeks and months without meaningful access to health care, even in times of desperate need. All of these problems result from gaps in infrastructure, but it was one gap in particular that tweaked the notice of this pair of motorcycle enthusiasts: African health systems were failing because they lacked the underlying transportation systems needed for reliable health-care delivery.

It isn’t the stuff of banner headlines. But in Africa (or, for that matter, anywhere else), if reliable transportation is not part of the health-care delivery system, people die. To Andrea and Barry Coleman, the reality that they encountered — a health-care delivery system hobbled by inadequate transportation management infrastructure — was utterly unacceptable. They envision a very different equilibrium, a future transformed, in which African health ministries are equipped with reliable, affordable, and effective transportation systems that deliver the health-care services their people need, when, where, and how they need them. And it turns out motorbikes have an important role to play.

Vision and the Social Entrepreneur

Much has rightfully been made of the need for a clear and compelling vision in any endeavor. A vision can set direction, mobilize followers, align activities, and galvanize the will required by an individual or team to accomplish something significant. Without a compelling image of the future, and — as importantly — clear steps to achieving it, organizations will drift and quite likely fail. Any winning strategy begins with an aspiration that articulates what winning means for an individual, organization, or endeavor.

Social entrepreneurs, too, must articulate their winning aspirations, and do so in the context of transformative change. They must go beyond simply articulating an improvement to the system. Social entrepreneurs are driven to get beyond better. The social entrepreneur’s vision of winning must be aimed at equilibrium change rather than at the amelioration of current conditions; it must be specific yet systemic in its approach, targeted at a constituency that cannot effect the change alone while also considering the system holistically; and it must be adaptable and resilient in the face of changing conditions.

Andrea and Barry Coleman saw in the existing system an opportunity that was little noticed by others. Most of the attention in global health is on the eradication or effective treatment of disease. By contrast, the humdrum issue of transportation infrastructure barely registers. Andrea notes, “People assume the infrastructure is in place. It isn’t.” The Colemans could see that it wasn’t, and they could also see just how vital transportation was to the operation of the whole system. They were able to do so because they had deep and extensive personal expertise that could be brought to bear on this new context – and this expertise just happened to be about motorbikes.

Andrea had grown up in a family of motorcyclists, and from an early age wanted nothing more than to become a racer herself. “The day I was sixteen, I put my L-plates on, took three months and then passed my test. I just wanted to be out riding motorcycles,” she recalls. And so she did, sharing a love of racing with her husband, Grand Prix racer Tom Herron. In 1979, Herron died in a racing accident, spurring Andrea to develop a passion for safety every bit as intense as her love of riding. Her second husband, Barry Coleman, traces his own interest in motorcycles to his racing beat for the Guardian. It was through this shared interest that the two first met and their relationship began.

Racing also brought them to Africa. Together with their friend, the legendary Grand Prix racer Randy Mamola, the Colemans had spent years persuading their British racing peers to raise money for Save the Children’s African programs. In 1988, Save the Children sent Mamola and Barry to Somalia, to show them how these hard-won funds were being used. The money was clearly being put to good use. Yet what the two men saw in Africa, and what Andrea too saw on a subsequent trip, shocked them: hemorrhaging women being carted in wheelbarrows to the nearest clinic; health workers covering distances of twenty or more miles of tough terrain a day by foot; countless vehicles left to rust by the side of the road or stacked up against buildings, vehicles that would still be operating had they been serviced properly. What good, they asked themselves, was a health-care system without reliable transport? And what good were expensive vehicles that were as mobile as millstones? That, in a nutshell, was the status quo. It became the starting point for the Colemans’ vision for what should change.

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Leadership Is About Emotion

Author: Megan M. Biro

Make a list of the 5 leaders you most admire. They can be from business, social media, politics, technology, the sciences, any field. Now ask yourself why you admire them. The chances are high that your admiration is based on more than their accomplishments, impressive as those may be. I’ll bet that everyone on your list reaches you on an emotional level.

This ability to reach people in a way that transcends the intellectual and rational is the mark of a great leader. They all have it. They inspire us. It’s a simple as that. And when we’re inspired we tap into our best selves and deliver amazing work.

So, can this ability to touch and inspire people be learned? No and yes. The truth is that not everyone can lead, and there is no substitute for natural talent. Honestly, I’m more convinced of this now – I’m in reality about the world of work and employee engagement. But for those who fall somewhat short of being a natural born star (which is pretty much MANY of us), leadership skills can be acquired, honed and perfected. And when this happens your chances of engaging your talent increases from the time they walk into your culture.

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3 Things Shared by Top Performing Teams, Whether on the Field or in the Office

By Matt Mayberry, Speaker and Maximum Performance Strategist. CEO of Matt Mayberry Enterprises

Something that always intrigues me is watching top teams perform at a high level. Being an athlete for most of my life, I have been on teams that reached the top and teams that didn’t get anywhere. Since moving away from the playing field, I have witnessed the same thing while speaking to organizations of all sizes. The correlation between top performing athletic organizations and the corporate world is strong.

Those who perform at an extremely high level understand the importance of teamwork and culture.

Related: Institute 'Spring Training' for Your Business

Here are three things top performing teams do differently.

1. Vision

I have seen time and time again a pretty substantial separation between management and employees as to what the exact vision is. That seperation can be extremely toxic. 

When a football team begins a new season, the common goal is always to win a championship. From that point on, the same goal will be revisited with every team meeting during the regular season. Everyone from the coaches, players and support staff know exactly what the vision and direction for the team is headed forward. This is reinforcing the major goal and the vision that keeps everyone on the same page.

To truly thrive as a company, everyone within the organization has to buy in to what the vision is, and not only that, but come together to make that a reality in everything that the company does. 

2. Authentic leadership

The best leaders in this world are authentic leaders. The best coaches I ever had were the ones who were authentic -- those who truly cared and appreciated their players showing up to work every day and giving maximum effort. The same goes for the business world. The success of a company starts and ends with the leadership of that company. Just as John Maxwell says, "Everything rises and falls on leadership."

If employees feel that their boss truly values them and their work, they will be motivated to give their all every day. I recently spoke to the staff of a Fortune 500 company and was blown away by not only their organizational structure, but their effectiveness to produce. During lunch when I had the opportunity to chat with a few employees, the answer was always the same: “Our leadership is superb. They really care about us as people."

What a profound statement. 

3. Communication

The teams that fail in the communication department are quickly headed for dysfunction. Being able to express a concern, pick a teammate up or simply have a voice in the company makes a tremendous difference in its growth.

Create a culture where everyone feels they have a voice and soon you will have a company that can endure almost anything by simply talking things through. On the gridiron, when a big play was given up or something went wrong, it was usually a miscommunication error. Not communicating properly is a catalyst for mediocrity whether on the football field or in the workplace.

Creating a world class team takes a lot of work, but if you are willing to do the little things day in and day out, eventually together you will be able to conquer the bigger challenges that lie ahead.

It's an incredible sight to see a team thrive on all levels and come together for a common goal. Let these three principles be a guiding light for you and your company to take your success and performance to the next level. 

Peer Farther Into the Future to See Opportunity Before Your Competition Does

By Steve Sponseller, Intellectual Property Attorney, Innovation Strategist, SteveSponseller.com

Apple’s recent product announcements provide an excellent opportunity for business leaders to innovate. Following trends is a common practice by intelligent businesses. For example, leaders monitor trends that are affecting their industry today and in the near future. However, many companies are not fully leveraging innovation opportunities by extending current trends farther into the future.

Apple’s announcement of the Apple Watch and Apple Pay service are the latest examples of a growing market for wearable technology and alternate payment methods. Many companies are monitoring these trends and working to develop products and services that are in alignment with them.

For example, innovative thinkers will carefully evaluate the new opportunities to engage with their customers in an intimate manner through a wearable device. Although smartphones and other mobile devices provide a personal connection with a customer, the ability to interact through a device physically “connected” to the customer for significant periods of time is a new business opportunity.

Related: What Is Keeping Wearable Tech From Being Fashionable?

How can your business provide a better customer experience and build a stronger customer relationship with wearable devices? Visualize a customer using a wearable device throughout a typical day. How do they interact with it, and what functions could make the customer’s day easier, more productive or more enjoyable? Consider other products or applications that can interact with the wearable device to benefit the customer.

The alternate payment trend provides new payment methods that do not require a traditional credit card or debit card. Paying with a mobile device presents new opportunities to engage with customers and help them with purchase decisions.   

Truly innovative companies will review these current trends and go one step further by looking for new problems that will be caused by these trends. The problems may not exist yet, but a creative business leader will look into the future and identify them early. By anticipating upcoming issues, and creating solutions ahead of time, the company is positioned as an industry leader, which provides a strong competitive edge.

Related: 5 Steps for Creating a Long-Term Plan for Your Startup

Spend time looking at each of these trends and identify potential future problems related to wearable technology and alternate payment systems. How will customers use their wearable devices, and what problems might they encounter on a regular basis? What types of issues may arise when using an alternate payment system regarding security, tracking payments and handling receipts? After identifying potential problems caused by these trends, brainstorm creative solutions to these obstacles.

Here’s a brief case study regarding traffic signals which provides an example of businesses failing to predict future problems. Many cities have installed new traffic signals (or modified existing signals) to use low-energy light bulbs, which reduce energy costs. However, in cold climates these energy-efficient light bulbs create a new problem: the new bulbs don’t generate as much heat as the traditional ones. When snow or ice develops on the traffic lights, the new bulbs don’t generate enough heat to melt it. When this happens, drivers cannot see whether the light is red, green or yellow. Accidents and injuries were blamed on this problem. The cities had to find a solution quickly. 

If a manufacturer of traffic signals had brainstormed about future problems caused by this trend, they could have foreseen this problem and created a solution ahead of time. Instead, the problem was not discovered until accidents occurred, causing many cities and traffic light manufacturers to rush for a quick solution. By anticipating unintended side-effects of a trend, innovative businesses can be a market leader with a response before the problem even occurs. 

Today, business leaders should observe the wearable technology and alternate payment trends, identify potential issues caused by these trends, and begin searching for answers today so they are first to market with a solution.