GUIDING LIGHT

Grace Quek

GENERAL MANAGER

UNION CASKET PTE LTD

STELLA CATEGORY WINNER 2018

"Union Casket makes a difference by offering customised services and a sincere personal touch"

It may be a topic many are uncomfortable discussing but death is a reality that everyone faces eventually. For Grace Quek, the general manager of Union Casket, dealing with the topic is her profession.

Although just 36 years old, Quek is no stranger to the funeral services industry. Her father, William, who set up the business, started taking her to his office when she was just 12 years old. She never intended to join her father’s business. After completing school, Quek left for the US to study criminology and criminal justice. However, when she returned in 2012, she noticed that her father was looking weary. “He’s ageing and I thought it would be nice if he could have his daughter by his side to help him with everything,” she reminisces, adding that her siblings are not in the business.

Unlike several others in the industry, Union Casket is a family-run one-stop funeral service provider. Quek oversees the day-to-day operations of the company, including all the administrative work that comes with it. The company has just nine employees, each of whom wears multiple hats. They are assigned tasks from taking care of logistics to setting up wakes to being pallbearers and hearse drivers.

“We are very much focused on personalising services for each and every family depending on their budget, requirements, wants and needs,” Quek explains. “The things that customers want to spend on versus the things they need to spend on are different matters entirely.” It is the company’s job, as a funeral director, to advise the bereaved on the appropriate customs and relevant services required. “There are companies offering funeral services that would hope for you to spend more,” she adds. “But we don’t believe in [our clientele] spending excessively. We recommend that the family of the deceased get only what they really need.”

Providing a service to families who have lost a loved one is a delicate affair that requires great sensitivity, says Quek. “Being respectful in the way we talk and carry ourselves is very important. We honour the dignity of everyone involved and we handle the situation in a way that makes it easier for the bereaved to cope.” The overarching principle, she adds, is the service provided should be helpful and friendly. “For some of the bereaved, it could be the first time they are handling something like this, so we offer advice and help, so that they don’t have to burden themselves. We want as much information as possible so as to be able to render assistance wherever needed. We can even arrange for someone to keep all-night vigils or personalise services according to what they need.” In this regard, Union bucks the trend by offering tailored services instead of standard packages. This allows clients to decide how elaborate or simple they want the wake and funeral to be.

Thanks to the nature of the business, advertising the company on various media platforms may be tricky, so it restricts its promotional efforts to Facebook. For the same reason, the business is not able to expand beyond Singapore, as each country has certain laws and regulations concerning funerary rites and customs. In Singapore, however, Union receives positive feedback, which Quek puts down to sound business practices: “We keep everything pragmatic and down-to-earth. We maintain our principles and market ourselves as the go-to when funeral services are required. We are not just funeral directors, we are also friends — we don’t corporatise, so we are still the ones running the show and attending to everyone ourselves. We don’t want to lose the sense of personalisation and the personal touch.”

Social taboos concerning death and funerals mean that Union prefers not to talk about some of its CSR initiatives. But Quek discloses that the company makes an effort to give back to society. “We do a lot of coffin donations, especially to nursing homes and old folks’ homes, where there are people who don’t have next-of-kin. On top of that, we provide free services and burials.” Quek and her father are also supporters of the Yellow Ribbon project.

Being in this line does have an effect on one’s outlook on life, says Quek. Constantly aware of one’s mortality and the fragility of life, she prefers spending time and money on what truly matters. In the course of her work, she has also had experiences that left indelible impressions. “There was a funeral we once took on that involved a lady who prematurely ended her life. She was only 23 years old when she leapt off a 25-storey building, leaving behind her six-year-old child. The autopsy later revealed that she was pregnant at the time. It really made me wonder what could have caused her to take her own life, especially knowing that you have children. As a result, you tend to be a bit more philosophical and introspective, when you are constantly aware that people have just lost their loved ones, while the rest of the world is caught up in frivolity,” she says.

On a brighter note, Quek stresses that dignity and ethics underscores all of Union’s endeavours, although she and her team are exploring new ideas to take the company forward.

Her job is not without its challenges, especially since Quek is a female in a male-dominated industry, but her indomitable spirit helps drive her and the company forward. “People tend to form opinions based on your age or gender, but it teaches us to have more patience, tolerance and understanding,” she shares.

“In any industry you are in, there is bound to be competition. You just have to be sure of what you want to do,” Quek notes. “Consider the commitment involved and be open to criticism — that’s how you improve. It doesn’t hurt to hear something bad from people; take it objectively and it can help you in your business.”

AWARD JUDGE

BG (NS) Chan Wing Kai

Director

Seed Global Investment

BG (NS) Chan Wing Kai spent 29 years in the Singapore Armed Forces as a military officer. He rose up to the Army’s top leadership and held numerous key appointments.

The years in the Armed Forces provided him a strong foundation in leadership, human capital management, operational planning, training development and critical diplomatic skills.

He retired from active military service in 2016 and is currently a Director with SEED Global Investment, a real estate investment firm. He oversees the company’s portfolio and business development in the US and UK. He holds a MSc in Applied Finance from the Singapore Management University, and is no stranger to corporate finance, portfolio management, equities, bonds and derivatives.

AWARD JUDGE

TIN PEI LING

Member of Parliament
CEO

Business China

Ms Tin Pei Ling is the Chief Executive Officer of Business China, a non-profit organisation that harnesses the support of the public sector & private enterprises to strengthen the ties between Singapore and China. Prior to joining Business China, Pei Ling was the Group Director of Corporate Strategy for Jing King Group.

Pei Ling is an elected Member of Parliament in Singapore since 2011 and currently serves on the Public Accounts Committee. She also serves on the Government Parliamentary Committee for Communications & Information (from 2018, Dy Chairperson) and Health (2011 – present) and previously for Law/Home Affairs (2011-2015) and Social & Family Development (2015 – 2018, Dy Chairperson).

AWARD JUDGE

RYAN CHIOH

Managing Director

Faseastflora.com

Mr Ryan Chioh joined FEF.com in 1998 as Executive Director of Far East Flora Holdings Pte Ltd.

Always a firm advocator for technology, Ryan identified the direction for e-commerce development and saw a business opportunity to offer FEF.com’s extensive range of flowers and gifts online in 2001. Ryan blended his IT savviness and prudent business sense to steer the company’s website to become the leading portal for flowers and gifts. Ryan also brought the company to another level by spearheading the development of a CRM and ERP business solution, integrating the front-end and back-end operations so that there would be easier identification of customer base.

AWARD JUDGE

NEO SING HWEE

Asia Pacific, Asean and Singapore Internal Audit Leader, Risk Advisory Services

Ernst & Young

Mr Neo Sing Hwee sits in the EY Asean Partner Governance Council and leads the Advisory (Risk) Internal Audit Practice in Ernst & Young Asia Pacific, Asean and Singapore.

He has more than 20 years of experience in providing risk management, performance improvement, internal controls and business advisory services to clients in various industries, including organisations in the government and public sector such as ministries and statutory boards. He provides advice to Boards and Management on leading practices, insights as well as issues relating to corporate governance, risk management and internal controls.

AWARD JUDGE

DR LIM WEE KIAK, PBM

Member of Parliament
CEO

Eagle Eye Centre

Dr Lim Wee Kiak, is an elected Member of Parliament for Sembawang GRC since 2015 and serves as chairman of Government Parliamentary Committee (GPC) for Ministry of Community, Culture and Youth. An Ophthalmologist, Dr Lim is currently the Chief Executive Officer and Co-Founder of Eagle Eye Centre.

Dr Lim joined the Singapore Armed Forces as a medical officer in 1994 and completed subspecialty training in Ophthalmology in 1998, with a Master’s degree in Medicine and two post-graduate specialist qualifications in Ophthalmology. During his service in SAF, he led numerous humanitarian missions to neighbouring countries. He joined Singapore National Eye Centre and was awarded the MOH HMDP fellowship in 2003, doing one year of clinical and research Fellowship at the National Eye Institute, National Institutes of Health.

Dr Lim had been an active grassroots leader since 1998 before joining politics in 2006. For his active community involvement, he was awarded the Young Executive of the Year in 2000 and Public Service Medal (PBM) in 2003.

AWARD JUDGE

Chew Mok Lee

Assistant Chief Executive
ICM & Digitalisation
Enterprise Services & New Industries

Enterprise Singapore

Ms Chew Mok Lee is the Assistant Chief Executive in charge of ICM & Digitalisation, Enterprise Services & New Industries in Enterprise Singapore, a government agency spearheading enterprise and industry development, reporting to the Ministry of Trade and Industry, Singapore. Enterprise Singapore is also the national Standards body in Singapore.

Prior to Enterprise Singapore, Mok Lee was with National Productivity Board (NPB), PSB and SPRING Singapore. She graduated from National University of Singapore, majoring in Economics and Statistics. She has a double Masters and is well versed in the area of enterprise promotion, industry development and partnership building, having been involved in various aspects of capability development, support for local enterprises, enabling a viable enterprise eco-system and entrepreneurship for 29 years. She also served as Secretariat to the Action Community for Entrepreneurship and was responsible for working with the Minister in Charge of Entrepreneurship and private sector members to foster entrepreneurship and support start-ups in Singapore.

AWARD JUDGE

CHIA KIM HUAT

Regional Head
Corporate and Transactional Practice

Rajah & Tann Singapore

Mr Chia Kim Huat has extensive experience in capital market, public and private mergers and acquisitions, cross-border joint ventures and private equity investments, both in Singapore and the region. He travels regularly in the Asia-Pacific region advising clients on a wide range of matters, including direct investments and infrastructure projects in China, major acquisitions in Korea, joint ventures in Taiwan, Hong Kong and Japan and cross-border mergers and acquisitions transactions. Kim Huat also advises foreign investors on their investments in Singapore, including listings on the Singapore Exchange, privatisations, secondary and dual listings.

He has been recognised as a leading lawyer in his field by International Financial Law Review 1000, Chambers Global “Leaders in their Field”, Asia Pacific Legal 500, “Eminent Practitioner” in Chambers Asia Pacific, Who’s Who Legal: Corporate – Merger & Acquisition/Capital Markets – Debt and Equity and Merger & Acquisition, ‘Leading Lawyer’ in Asialaw Profiles and Best Lawyers, 2017 Edition.

AWARD JUDGE

TAN WEE BENG

Deputy Chief Executive (Operations)
SkillsFuture Singapore

Wee Beng is the Deputy Chief Executive (Operations) of SkillsFuture Singapore (SSG). He leads the Business Technology Group (Operations Planning Division, Capability Development Division, Operations & Support Division, Security & Infrastructure Division), the Training, Manpower & Infrastructure Group (Manpower & Infrastructure Planning Division, Office of Lifelong Learning, and Institute of Adult Learning which comprises Learning and Professional Development Division, Research and Innovation Division, Learning Services and Support Division ) as well as the Business Services Group (Shared Services Management, Integrated Business Services Division &, Corporate Services Division).

Prior to joining SSG, Wee Beng was an officer with the Singapore Armed Forces, leading both large and small teams. His last appointment was Chief-of-Staff, Republic of Singapore Navy, overseeing a range of staff departments and ground commands. Other key appointments held were Head Naval Operations, Commander of Maritime Security Task Force and Commander, Naval Diving Unit. Wee Beng holds a Bachelor of Arts and a Master of Arts in Physics from Oxford University, UK, and a Master of Science in Management from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA.