This is sponsored content that was produced in conjunction with Standard Chartered.
From supplying homemade carrot cakes for a quick buck to venturing into the world of supermarkets for the first time, Ben’s forward thinking ways has earned him a number of achievements throughout his career. Following the divestment of The BIG Group’s stake in Ben’s Independent Grocer (B.I.G.) last year, Ben’s focus has fully shifted to his F&B business. His company owns notable outlets including Ben’s, Plan b, BarBenQue, and Beauty and Beast by BIG.
His passion for food was never a newfound fad he had to get his hands into, it was always celebrated in his household. “When I was growing up my mother and her best friend Abby (Leong) cooked constantly every weekend. It seemed like a normal thing in every household and I guess that’s what instigated my love for food,” he says.
Ben was 13 years-old and needed money to buy his family Christmas presents. There was one thing he knew he could sell – the family’s favourite homemade carrot cake. He wanted to sell his homemade carrot cake to a family friend’s café in Lot 10, and they agreed to it. “His little business took off and he had enough money for Christmas presents, but after that he didn’t do it anymore,” laughs Helen. “At 13 baking carrot cakes and selling it and making a profit was my first real taste of commercialism,” he says.
The opportunity to get into the food business arose once again when Ben started working with Helen for MS READ. “We had this space that was too big for a retail shop and that’s when I started toying with the idea of having a café,” says Ben. The cafe adjoining the MS READ boutique in 1 Utama Shopping Centre quickly became a food haunt for those who craved a good carrot cake or a delectable scone with jam and clotted cream.
In 2010 they decided to sell their remaining shares to Eastern & Oriental Bud (E&O) after their initial purchase of a 51% stake in 2007. Giving up Delicious however didn’t end Ben’s journey in the F&B industry. It has now become his main focus.
Helen on the other hand, continues to grow her MS READ empire which has been going strong since it first opened in 1997. After 21 years, the brand has 19 stores spread out across the Klang Valley, Penang, Pahang, Johore, Sarawak and Singapore.
Her success has never gone unnoticed. Ben acknowledges his mother for the inquisitive business sense he’s cultivated from her. Helen too reveals that she has also learned a good deal of things from her children.
As an older member of the family and also the matriarch, Helen sometimes feels her opinions are backward. Despite the generational gap that creates these differences, she is thankful that it also plays a positive role in their relationship. As a parent, her influence over her children is seen through their dedication and willingness to take a chance on life.
In return, they too have rubbed on their influences on her outlook of life. “We do have our differences but I would like to say they are constructive. I love my children’s ideas. My daughter works with me now. They are so vibrant. It’s exciting because they are so forward thinking and curious,” Helen enthuses.
The constant need to innovate in order to remain relevant to clients is something Standard Chartered constantly practices. Just like the Bank, Helen’s healthy relationship with her children allows her to keep up with current trends, and maintain her relevancy in the local fashion scene. “That makes business interesting because there is never a dull moment at our family dinners or in the office. That makes me excited about life at this age,” she exclaims.
Their adventurous streak isn’t the only thing that ties them together. Their neverending support for each other’s ideas and plans keeps them afloat too. As a tightknit family unit, nothing is hidden from one another. This is a family that encourages one another to constantly voice their opinions and share their thoughts.
“We have lively debates in our family. Sometimes we are unaware of the company and we tend to get carried away in our conversation. It always gets so intense people outside might just think we’re all crazy,” laughs Ben. The family’s practice of being open with each other echoes Standard Chartered’s stance on the need to listen to clients to form deep and long-term relationships. “We really do share non-filtered discussions,” he stresses. “It’s a good and a bad thing but I think it’s very healthy because then we avoid having ‘I told you so’ moments because everything has been discussed and not suppressed.”
As a parent, Helen always makes conscious efforts to never put her children down for any reason. She has a great deal of respect for Ben and his views on discussed matters. “I think that’s how we are successful in what we do. Of we course we’ve had difficult moments but for me, I think about my family. I wouldn’t want to say or do anything to hurt them. So that will keep me in check. At the end of the day our family must be peaceful,” she stresses.
“I told you so” is the last thing Helen wants to say to her children, which according to Ben automatically translates to her never saying ‘no’ to her children. “By doing this she allows us to make our own mistakes because I’m quite sure we’ve made plenty of them. She’s probably made mistakes in her younger days too,” he says. “We still do make mistakes but we learn from them. That constant support when you’ve made mistakes is a rather important lesson. I try to apply it to our team and also my children,” Ben exclaims.
“My outlook used to be so narrow, but now with the children’s constant travels and of course with them being adults and the way they live their lives, I have learned to be more open-minded and not worry too much about everything,” Helen says contently. “Because at the end of the day they are there to help me solve it.”