If you’ve ever bought frozen dumplings from a supermarket or an Asian grocery store, chances are they are Mr Chen’s, a Chinese food brand named after my entrepreneurial dad, who started a wholesale business in the 1980s to bring his favourite foods to Australia.
As a teenager, I spent time working in the warehouse with my siblings, learning the ins and outs of the business. In my early 20s, after some experience in the IT industry, I quit my job to work in the family business. Within a couple of years, however, I decided to venture out on my own and ended up in a successful venture with my friend Tim Molloy, who has been my co-founder on several businesses throughout the years. So how did I go from the family business to striking out on my own?
Working in the family business taught me that dynamic matters. I am the youngest of four children. While we were all adults, you can probably guess where I was in the pecking order.
To take risks, make key decisions and assume responsibility, I knew I had to do it outside of the established hierarchy. Firstly, it meant that I would impact – positively or negatively – something of my own instead of risking the family legacy. Secondly, outside of the family dynamic, I could take more control. With Tim, I found joint responsibility and shared leadership as equal partners.
Today, there’s no love lost having left. I’m still involved in the family business, but my sisters run Chen Foods and do it well while I’m happy forging my own path with Good Things.
Find your working style
Another factor that attracted me to follow my own path was that the structure of a day at Chen Foods is quite formal, with set hours and duties, due to the nature of the sector. Working in the family business taught me a lot about hard work and setting up strong systems and processes.
Comparatively though, the way Tim and I work in Good Things developed organically. While we manage our leads and clients in a timely manner, we don’t necessarily count hours, and we’re flexible with doing what we need to do to build our business.
Prepare for reality
No business survives close to four decades without a few challenges and lean times. I saw the hard knocks as well as the successes of Chen Foods, which meant I had my eyes open to the reality of business when I headed out on my own. I knew any problem in the business would be my problem by default and I would need to work through them to find a solution.
As a result, Tim and I have learnt to seize opportunities when we see them because we’ve had to ride out major changes in our market. For example, more than a decade ago we had a thriving business selling neckties, then a combination of the global financial crisis and a fashion movement away from ties almost killed it. We pivoted, which became the seed for the branded merchandise agency we have today, Good Things.
Growing up in a family business enabled me to see what it was like to build something, which compelled me to create something of my own. If you have the good fortune to work in the family business – whether or not you end up there – learn everything you can from the experience so you can hone your skills and find your place. If nothing else, it’s a free training opportunity not many others get, so don’t waste it.
Jeremy Chen, Co-founder and Managing Director, Good Things