This year, we celebrate International Women’s day with a series of eight interviews that feature inspiring women who represent the modern empowered woman. In Part Two of the series, we speak to Dr Ayesha Khanna, Carolyn Kan, Jocelyn Chng and Yvon Bock.
Jocelyn Chng, 52, founder and CEO of JR Group and managing director of Sin Hwa Dee
She is a woman who exemplifies rising above the occasion, proving that with strong character and a resilient spirit, you can overcome the worst adversities. And Jocelyn Chng, founder and CEO of food producer, JR Group, does it with amazing grace. Speaking to her, there is not a trace of bitterness in her voice. Quite the contrary, it is girlish and resonates with warmth.
Yet hers is a personal success story that is not without tragedy. At 21, she lost her father to a long battle with colon cancer, and suddenly had to take over the reins of her family’s struggling food sauce business. Just when things had stabilised, she lost her husband to lymphoma, only two weeks after he was diagnosed.
It left her widowed at 37, with three young sons to raise (her youngest was one). The company that she had launched with her husband, only three years prior, JR Foods, was still in its early days. A lesser woman might bow down in defeat, but not Chng.
She soldiered on to built JR Foods into a multi-million group (it was incorporated in 2011), that has four arms of business – manufacturing ready-to-serve meals for the consumer and food service markets; a number of restaurant brands including Shima Japanese Restaurant; vending machines that supply ready hot quality meals; and JR China venture, that spearheads the group’s growth into the China market.
In addition, Chng also heads Sin Hwa Dee, the food manufacturing company that does sauces and premixes like chilli crab and chicken rice under the Chng Kee brand (named after her late father). It rakes in millions in revenue for the sauces that not only fly off the shelves here, but are exported to more than 30 countries.
Easily recognised as one of Singapore’s top female business dyamos, she has received numerous awards for her entrepreneurship. Yet with all her achievements, Chng is humble and credits Christian faith and family in getting her through tough times. She says: “When I meet with challenges in life, I know there is a higher being, a Creator to watch over things.”
She draws strength from reading the bible and singles out two of her favourite verses (one from the book of Exodus, the other from Romans), that touch on faith, patience and perseverance. They serve as constant reminders that “whatever situation we are in, it is not going to be permanent or fixed.” These adversities, she says, “take nothing away from us, but are going to build our character and perseverance. All this produces hope.”
Even in dark moments, like her husband’s passing 15 years ago, when she pondered how she was going to raise three boys without a father, it struck her not to let uncertainty and phobias weigh her down, but do her best. She says: “Fear is unnecessary. We just have to face things, have a positive mindset and do our best, whatever we do, whether as a mum, daughter, business leader, friend or sister. Worries are inconsequential. This has helped me overcome many challenges that happen.”
Chng also credits her grandmother for the person she is today. Raised by her grandmother because her parents were busy building their business then, she taught Chng that it is “always more blessed to bless others, and that it is a blessing to have good health, wisdom and an able body to help others.”
Another thing her grandmother taught her: Don’t give up. These two invaluable lessons would prove intrumental in helping Chng manage the difficult times in her life.
Chng also prefers to focus on the blessings in her life, like when her son brings her chocolates or leaves her sweet notes of gratitude for all she has done for them. “God’s grace is sufficient for me. My children have no lack. Today he (my son) shared another note that said, thank you for teaching us that knowledge is important,” says the proud Mum.
Her boys are now 24, 21 and 17. Chng’s notes that it is an interesting time because she has grown up kids now, and with them getting on with their lives, she will have more time for herself. “In the last 15 years, I’ve had to make major adjustments because my husband passed away, and I would schedule my time around my kids. Now I will have to adjust my life again,“ she says with a chuckle.
Still it’s pretty safe to say that this busy bee won’t have problems filling her schedule. She admits that she enjoys doing business, like how some enjoy hobbies. She says: “I am not tired because that is my hobby. As long as we enjoy what we are doing, it’s not a chore but joy and happiness.”
How do you manage two businesses?
I have great teams that run it and I am blessed. My involvement is strategy and corporate development, and I work with the general managers to drive the business. As you grow, you need to empower the people around you to take over more important roles.
Juggling a career and motherhood is no easy task, and you’ve had to raise three boys on your own. Did you think of remarrying?
I’ve never thought of getting married as a solution or passport to a better or easier life, even when I was a single girl. So it’s never crossed my mind to see marriage as a ‘way out’. I fell in love with my husband, and chose to marry him. When my husband passed away, all I could think of was to bring my boys up well.
In hindsight, is there anything you would have done differently?
I always believe that in every stage and chapter of my life, I just have to do my best, and I will have no regrets in anything. When my kids were younger, I made sure I spent quality time with them, and when they were in school or busy with homework, I would attend to business. It’s always a constant juggle of priorities and time management.
Long chats with my sons are a daily affair. My eldest is now in Shanghai, but we still find time to talk about his work, school and his friends. It’s a conscious effort to work it into your schedule. We are also very expressive in our love, encouraging and motiving one another.
I believe in teaching my kids how to fish (metaphorically) so they learn life skills to survive, even when you’re no longer around. As mothers, we can offer guidance and offer them the necessary support to cultivate their passions. But we need to allow them to make the right choices themselves.
Is leadership predetermined and part of your DNA, or do you feel it’s something you can cultivate?
It is both nature and nurture, but nurture has more weight. Sometimes it’s the situation you find yourself in. My grandmother was always entrusting me to do things and I used to question, why always me. She would say: It is always more blessed to bless others …. The valuable philosophy has stayed with me all through the years. She recognised my capabilities – I was good and smart enough to do things for her. And in the process of doing things, it nurtured my leadership skills. It’s also why it has always been second nature for me to assume responsibilities – like how I was prepped for the responsibilities of supporting my family and seeing my siblings through school, when my father passed.
What strengths do you think women possess to make them great leaders?
They are used to wearing many hats, juggling a career and still taking care of the family, and it’s a responsibility that most have, whether you are married or unmarried. Women also tend to draw strength from extending help to others. We are happy when we love and somehow that enable us to do a lot more.
What is an empowered woman to you?
My son attends ACS, and one of the values they inculcate is that the ACSian servant leader works with others to make a positive difference. It’s a very important philosophy to have, and similarly to be an empowered woman and leader, we need to learn how to serve. To be empowered, you need to learn how to empower the people around, for example your co-workers. We need to help them to shine where they are. Women and female leaders should be empowering. Mother Teresa is a very great leader, because she dedicated her life in service of mankind – the poor and destitute, the lepers, those with HIV and tuberculosis. Because of her, many lives have been touched and saved. She had achieved so much as a woman, impacting many around her, positively.
An empowered woman not only has to be able to change other people’s lives but also do the best at their calling. Just like how my vision is to feed people well, and heeding it to make a difference in other people’s lives.
How do you see yourself empowering other women?
When I was young, my parents worked very hard, and at times my father would miss meals or not eat well. When he got sick when we were still so young, it was painful to go through. My goal is to make sure that even when people work very hard, they can still have a good meal and with my products, I offer women the convenience to feed their families well. Even when you do business, you can find ways of empowering people.
Photography TONY TING PHOTOGRAPHY
Styling XINDI SIAU
Hair and Makeup FIONA B MAKEUP
Location THE GREAT ROOM (NGEE ANN CITY)