Not many people can claim to have succeeded as a businessperson, turning over a near-bankrupt company to seeing it being acquired a few years later. Less still are those who can survive in the cut-throat Food & Beverage industry and thrive in the hyper-competitive Chinese market.
Li Kheng is one individual who can claim to have succeeded in what must be one of the hardest industry and market in the world. Li Kheng is an F&B entrepreneur who succeeded in China by turning over a near bankrupt Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf franchise from 2 branches to overseeing its fast growth across the Shanghai province to 35 branches and then later, making a successful sale of the franchise.
Li Kheng was a recent presenter at TEDxYouth@KL 2013 and we had the good opportunity to spend some time interviewing her. There were many nuggets of wisdom that was imparted by Li Kheng throughout the one hour that we spent talking to her and here are some interesting advice that she has to say to young people.
Li Kheng advises young people to not be bitter or cynical about life. How you view challenges in life and what you do with them is the difference between yourself and everyone else. If you want something badly enough, don’t quit but be resourceful and focused.
We wanted to find out from Li Kheng how to disregard criticism from others and convince ourselves that the path that we are pursuing is the right path even though it is full of challenges. She had to say that first of all, we need to know what we truly want. Most of us simply follow what others have set up for us. She said that if we pursue our true dreams, then regardless of what we go through or what others say about us, we will still believe in ourselves. In general, Li Kheng said that whenever we are doing something that benefits others, we will generally feel satisfied and rewarded.
We pressed Li Kheng further on how to differentiate between a reckless pursuit and perseverance. Li Kheng responded by saying that knowledge is the key. Whenever you practise your knowledge, you gain experience. The key thing to differentiate between making a reckless decision and to continue in a dogged pursuit of something is to analyse the results of making the decision. If the results is not something that strikes a chord in you and, at the same time, causes harms others, then usually it is a bad decision.
On Company Culture
Li Kheng said that she believes that the key to any organisation’s success is its people. She believes that it is important for everyone to be the best of who they are, be they the person sweeping the floor, to the person tending the cashier.
She believes that transparency is a key ingredient to retaining employee. The way she does it was by being very upfront with her employees by finding out about their dreams and asking them if her company could be a platform for them to move together towards their dreams.
Li Kheng said that many of her staff had been loyal to her throughout her time in China. She boils it down mainly to having a family culture in her organisation and treating employees with respect instead of merely a number in an organisation.
Advice To Herself 10 Years Ago
We were very interested to find out was the advice that Li Kheng would have given herself 10 years ago as she was starting out. To that question, Li Kheng said that she wished she would not hesitate so much. She said it is alright to have self-doubt but you should not allow it to pull yourself down. She said having good result check is the most empowering thing to look for in determining whether you did well or not. Constructive feedback from people you trust was also very valuable.
One of the things that struck us most about Li Kheng is the amount of emphasis she placed on spirituality. It usually seem that spirituality and the pursuit of money are at odds with each other and it is not common to read about an entrepreneur who places such strong emphasis on spirituality. In fact, Li Kheng attributed most of her success in China to the fact that she found peace of mind through meditation. The clarity in meditation helped her in making sound decisions beneficial to her business.
Attributing her success to her guru, Tsem Rinpoche, she said that Buddhism helped her a lot in the beginning when the journey was very volatile. Her advice to anyone young is that young people should not think that spirituality is for the retired. In fact, spirituality has the most value when you are young and facing many challenges.
Li Kheng’s focus these days is on the environment. She expressed how she is sad that mankind is constantly chopping down trees to make way for development without thinking about the sustainability of that growth. She pointed out that being environmentally friendly is actually economically feasible yet most people are short-sighted in that respect.
After making a successful sale of the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf franchise, Li Kheng is now focused on making the environment a better place. She is focused on reforestation and also growing Kechara Forest Retreat, a Buddhist meditation retreat centre in Bentong.
* This interview with Phng Li Kheng was conducted by Choo Kok Ming and Bobby Ong