RAISING A TOAST
DATO’ ELAINE TEH
OCTOPUS GROUP HLDGS PTE LTD
“Alongside the pursuit of our business objectives, it is important to achieve them with sustainability. We believe in investing in our people, engaging our partners and clients, and playing a part in building our community together.”
Possessing a keen interest in running her own business from a young age and shaped by life experiences from previous successful ventures, Dato’ Elaine Teh forayed into the food and beverage industry in 2002 by starting a company as a turnkey lifestyle services provider, surrounding public entertainment and F&B lifestyle concepts. This formed the genesis of Octopus Group and was first of such companies in the entertainment lifestyle industry in Singapore. Underpinned by its innovative business model, Octopus Group became a huge success and went on to become the market leader with over 80 nightlife outlets in Singapore.
Following a period of strong business, growth inevitably became limited, due to restrictions imposed by Singapore’s labour hiring policy. Consequently, with the understanding of consumer and supply chain behaviour, Dato’ Elaine decided to exit the business before making the decision to move upstream into alcohol beverage sales and supply chain management. The company soon gained significant market share in the market, underpinned by its strong sales and brand activation know-how and a well-developed modern supply chain infrastructure spread across all markets, anchored by deep relationships forged with beverage brand owners and sales channels.
Today, Octopus Group is the market leader in Singapore and Malaysia, with growth planned in the region. It boasts an extensive portfolio representing local and international brands that have well-known provenance, heritage and history, and which resonate with all trade and consumer sectors from high-end cocktail bars to local hawker centres. As a consumer-focused group that aims to deliver the best consumer experiences, Octopus Group responds to the ever-changing market with innovation and agility.
What is different about the Octopus Group as compared to other similar companies in the field?
Our blue ocean strategy allows us to create untapped opportunities in the market. Distribution companies in the market typically do not cover as wide range of beverage categories and sales channels, with a selected few at most covering two beverage categories such as either beer and wine, or beer and spirit. Whereas at Octopus, we carry beverage brands across a wide and deep range of categories that include alcoholic beverages covering across the spectrum of beer, wine and spirits, as well as a selected list of premium non-alcoholic beverages. Octopus Group is also the only company that covers all five sales channels in modern on-trade (bars, restaurants and hotels); modern off-trade (supermarkets, hypermarkets, e-commerce and convenient stores); traditional on-trade (hawker centres and coffee shops); traditional off-trade (dormitories and provision shops); and direct-to-consumer.
What’s your guiding philosophy in ensuring the continued success of the business?
I believe in investing and developing the right talents to manage our business. The management team is made up of industry veterans with a wealth of experience and complementary skill sets in running different product categories and channels.
To what would you attribute your success? What mindset do you adopt?
My philosophy is to dream big, start small and scale fast.
Tell us about your key driving force as an entrepreneur.
For me, the urge to succeed is what drives me and keeps me going. I am very ready to challenge the impossible and to achieve a breakthrough in this male-dominated industry.
What is a typical day for you like?
My day starts early in the morning with qigong exercise followed by a short meditation to maintain my physical and mental well-being. After that, I will make breakfast for my family before filling the day with full-day work activities. Occasionally, I will make time to cook for my family after work. I also enjoy baking in the evening. To wind down and get ready for bed, I will work on qigong breathing exercises before turning in.
What motivates you?
Helping underprivileged women motivates me. One of the initiatives under the International Women’s Federation of Commerce and Industry (IWFCI) branch in Malaysia, of which I am the president, was to set up a Women In Commerce or wiCOM interest group. Its sole aim is to create economic opportunities for underprivileged women who need help by providing them training and life skills. The pilot project was a sewing centre in Beladin, Sarawak, a small town in Malaysia, to help single mothers break away from poverty. Our volunteer trainers and consultants, through a structured program, imparted sewing and basic business skills to a group of Beladin women. The outcome was a doubling of their gross household income, improving their quality of lives and greater financial stability. This initiative inspires me to go the extra mile in my corporate business and develop the team to handle more responsibilities in my company so to free up my time to take up more social work, as a form of contribution to the society. By seeing my students in Beladin gain their independence and lead a better life, it has touched my heart and this motivates me further.
Any expansion plans for the business?
Building on our solid infrastructure and network, we are planning to expand to emerging markets such as Mongolia, Nepal and other parts of Asia, including the creation of our own private label brands in near future.
What were/are your biggest hurdles? How did/do you overcome them?
My biggest hurdle earlier in the business was to raise funds to support the company’s growth. It was challenging at first to secure financing from banks mainly due to their lack of understanding in our business model. It was not easy to convince them of our “blue ocean” strategy as it was a new concept, unconventional and had not yet been proven successful. It was through sheer grit and determination that we braved through these challenges, simply because we had the vision that this master turnkey nightlife services business model would revolutionise the whole entertainment industry.
Do you have a favourite quote that you constantly keep in mind or share with others?
“Success isn’t about how much money you make; it’s about the difference you make in people’s lives.”, as quoted by Michelle Obama. With limited time in our life, I am always mindful of doing my small part to contribute to the society, choose the right path for myself, and stay happy and positive.
How do you build and maintain a good solid foundation upon which to build and develop the business? What is your key to building a strong business foundation?
Our key to building a strong business foundation is to set a clear vision and mission, to invest in talent and keep innovating to raise the bar of our business. The main focus and foundation of our business is to create value at a sustainable growth rate. We focus on delivering steady organic growth by gaining a bigger market share and customers and through selective M&As (mergers & acquisitions) for regional or new vertical expansion. We are constantly looking out for new beverage brands to represent or to acquire, to grow our portfolio so as to target and appeal to a wider audience.