Home voices My Southeast Asia Ventures: Joining family business in Malaysia as the boss' daughter was a challenge, but I'm glad I did it

My Southeast Asia Ventures: Joining family business in Malaysia as the boss' daughter was a challenge, but I'm glad I did it

My Southeast Asia Ventures: Joining family business in Malaysia as the boss' daughter was a challenge, but I'm glad I did it

Southeast Asia might not be many young Singaporeans’ first choice as a destination for work or study, but some have taken a leap of faith and ventured into the region. TODAY’s Voices section is publishing first-hand accounts of those who have spent time in Singapore’s closest neighbours for a variety of meaningful pursuits.

In this instalment, Ms Isabelle Lim, 32, a fourth-generation owner of a logistics firm in Malaysia, recounts her initial trepidation over joining the family business straight out of university in Singapore. She made an effort to build personal relationships with her co-workers, which helped her earn the respect of the teams she would later lead. 

Published February 5, 2023 Updated February 5, 2023 Bookmark Bookmark Share WhatsApp Telegram Facebook Twitter Email LinkedIn

“Why me?” I thought to myself when my father asked me to move to Malaysia to join the family’s logistics business nine years ago.

But I could not bring myself to say those words, for fear of disappointing him and the legacy he was about to entrust me with.

The family business, Hock Cheong Logistics, was founded in 1932, specialising in newspaper delivery and postal services in Malaya. Over four generations, the company has evolved into a full service logistics solution provider that connects Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei and China.

Knowing the sacrifices my father had made for the family and the weight he had to carry the last 50 years, I thought it was time I shared the burden.

So I agreed to take on the role without question.

At the time, I was fresh out of pursuing a communications studies degree in Singapore. 

Even though I had always known that I would eventually join the family business, I didn’t want it to be my first job.

I had wanted to gain some job experience first — perhaps in public relations or advertising — so I could bring more value to the table when I joined. 

Being thrown into the unfamiliar environment of downtown Kuala Lumpur to take on a 90-year legacy without any experience in logistics was a daunting task.

But instantly being labelled as the “boss’s daughter” made it even more challenging as I had to meet the unspoken expectations of a male-dominated industry.

The pressure of responsibility and the fear of failure was overwhelming at first as I sought to blend into the company’s culture.

For the first three years, I was an inter-department trainee in our headquarters at Petaling Jaya, learning the day-to-day operations.

I took the opportunity then to build a more personal relationship with the teams, and understand their working styles and challenges. 

I am glad I did that as it allowed me to earn the respect of the teams I would later need to lead.

It was also through immersing myself with the operations team, that I managed to pick up the tricks of the trade.

For instance, power outages and water disruptions are frequent occurrences.

I was with the warehouse team at our headquarters rushing orders one night before the peak Hari Raya season when the power suddenly went out. I began to panic as the flashlights from all our phones were barely enough to light the warehouse.

It was then I heard a phrase that I hear so often from the team — “takpe, takpe” (“It’s ok”).

Before I knew it, our trucks were lined up along the shutter doors and the inside of the warehouse was fully lit, just from the headlights. The team carried on with their work, unfazed by the situation.

Working with our teams has taught me to be flexible and resourceful in tricky situations, especially ones I probably would not have had to face in Singapore.