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Suite Talk: Capital C's Co-Founder on how to inculcate an entrepreneurial mindset in staff

Apart from giving employees more autonomy, inculcating an entrepreneurial mindset involves having HR create a space for the sharing of ideas and knowledge, says James Cheow, CEO and Co-Founder, Capital C Corporation.

Q What does a typical work day look like?

My work day typically starts at 9am but I usually step into the office at 10am. Between 9am – 10am, you can find me at a café nearby having my caffeine fix and breakfast as I look through my emails. I read the news and have some quiet time before I start the day.

As my day is typically packed with meetings, I have very small pockets of time in-between to clear work and emails, hence it is extremely important for me to organise my schedule beforehand to ensure I have time for the important and urgent matters.  I also have the habit of setting aside 1-2 hours per week to think and strategise for the business.  I will slot these into my calendar with an agenda and invite relevant colleagues to join me.

My meetings usually end at 6pm (maximum 6.30pm).  Thereafter, I will have the whole evening to work on things that I cannot complete within the day and check my emails.  I typically set for home between 9-10pm.

Q Who is your leadership inspiration? How has he/she helped shape your leadership style?

A leader that I look up to is our late founding father, Mr Lee Kuan Yew.

There are many traits the late Mr Lee exhibited when he was governing the country that really inspired me and shaped the way I lead now.  Some of these include:

  • Having a vision: Know what your end goal is and work towards that.
  • Being proactive (not reactive): Anticipate issues before they happen.
  • Being objective: This is especially important as you develop interpersonal relationships with others.
  • Good conflict resolution: Do not hide from problems. Resolve them at the root and make sure everyone understands the severity of the matter and why certain actions were taken so that the same mistake will not repeat.

Q Being a smaller company, resources (manpower and capital) are limited. How do you ensure business growth does not come at the cost of staff wellbeing?

Our employees have always been a priority to us. We believe in investing in our employees, because if our employees are happy, they will do their job better, and that will also translate to how they treat our customers.

Thus, we strive to make our workplace an inclusive, fun and comfortable one to be in. For instance, employees can relax and play a game of foosball in the office during their breaks. We also organise several team-building activities, including community-related ones. One such event is the Walk for Our Children 2019, organised by Singapore Children’s Society.

Q From start-up to SME, at what stage did you realise the importance of HR?

Right from the onset when we started the business, we know that the HR function is an indispensable one. It not only helps us to deal with the day-to-day employee issues such as compensation, benefits, and training, it also plays a strategic role in the way we manage human capital and develop our workplace culture.

Given the nature of our business, we recognise the importance of not only providing our customers with the best customer service, but also ensuring that our staff feel valued with a clear career path in sight for personal progression and development.

Q From founding an events management company at 20 years old, to F&B venture in 2005, and now with Capital C, you’ve been an entrepreneur for most of your career. What sparked your foray into entrepreneurship?

I’ve always wanted to start my own business and create something I can take ownership of. Although being an entrepreneur comes with many challenges, I find it very fulfilling to be able to create a product or service that can help improve the lives of people around me.

In the case of Capital C, I set up the company because I wanted to make it easier for for individuals and small businesses to access funds quickly. When I was setting up my own ventures over the years, I realised how hard it was to get access to capital. I did not want other entrepreneurs (and individuals) in Singapore to face the same struggle. Another driving force was the fact that I am confident there is so much that digitalisation and technology can do to reinvent the alternative lending industry. I wanted to use the applications of technology simplify the experience for our customers, enabling them to access credit on-the-go.

Q Today, there is a lot of focus on having an entrepreneurial mindset. How would you describe such a mindset?

As an entrepreneur, I think having the determination and staying focused is important.  Believe in your vision.  As entrepreneurs, we can at times lose that 'spark' of self-belief after a few setbacks. Yet, this may be the most crucial time to work on rebuilding your confidence, so that you can learn from your failure.

“Stick to what you know; and do what you do best” is a school of thought that many believe in, but I believe just the opposite - I think staying curious and trying new things as an entrepreneur helps. By keeping your mind open to new ideas and embracing novelty, you create opportunities for yourself. By exposing yourself to a multitude of businesses and opportunities, your scope expands. Conversely, if you always have your blinders on, your perspective will become too narrow and you can miss out on promising opportunities.

Q Can such an entrepreneurial mindset be inculcated? If so, how can HR inculcate this mindset in employees?

We believe this can be done by allowing our employees to take ownership of projects, giving them more autonomy to make decisions and also encouraging them to come up with creative solutions. HR can help by creating a space for the sharing of ideas, recommending tools or setting up a platform for the sharing of knowledge, and managing the decision-making process within teams. They also look after our employees’ career progression and help ensure our employees are getting the relevant experience and exposure.

Q Do you think the HR function has a significant impact on organisational goals? If so, why? If not, how can the function better contribute?

While the goals are first being set out at the management level, the HR function is significant in helping us ensure that these goals are aligned throughout the organisation. Our HR team has been instrumental in helping us develop our organisational structure, bringing on board the right talents, managing and training our employees, and setting up the right programs and initiatives. Especially as we look to expand regionally, our HR also plays a part in ensuring that we are growing the business sustainably.

Q You invested heavily in R&D and technology to develop your own loan application system. What would you say are the three things to look out for when investing in new systems?

#1 Be clear about what you want the system to do or deliver. Avoid ambiguity when communicating your requirements to the developers.

#2 Choose the right partner to work with on the development. Selecting the right partner who shares your vision and understands what you want to achieve (in the long run) is highly critical. Chemistry plays a very important role in this case.

#3 Set a realistic budget and timeline and stick with it. It's very easy to get carried away in the course of developing new systems as additional functions will pop up now and then.  This has a direct impact on budget and timeline.  It is hence important to set a realistic budget and timeline and stick with it to ensure the system will be rolled out on time. Additional functions can always be added in future versions.  Get it done, then get it right!

Q If not this career, what alternative career path might you have chosen?

I have not given this much thought before, but If I have to choose a career path now, it I would perhaps be a chef. But then again, I believe I will still work my way to be a chef-owner in this case!

Photo / provided

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