It is yet another year gone by. It seemed only yesterday that I retreated to my private quarters to reflect on the year 2018. I treasure this time of the year because it gives me a rare opportunity to conduct an inventory of my motivations and values; my relationship with my family, friends, colleague and associates; and, my work. But, it is also a time to assess my learning curve and to identify areas of improvement. Above all, however, I cherish the moment because it is the time of the year when I get to compose my year-end review of the year through which I share, not just a catalogue of the chronology of my activities, but also my heart and my business soul with the people I cherish the most.
So much has happened last year that to account for it, memory itself is but an elusive source to consult. But I believe the things I remember without consulting my daily planner must be those which had the most impact on me. And my memory is ringing with things I only have gratitude for; gratitude for all the good fortunes this year had dealt me and my work.
I think you can concur that last year had been a tough year for China and for the global economy. Almost every headline featured a gloomy story and the ill-assessment that is even spilling into the next year, with many forecasting a yet even tougher 2020. I don’t wish to be another reminder of whatever is being said. It doesn’t always tell the complete story. It is equally important to remember that many good fortunes were also made last year too. It is easy to get caught up in the clamour and forget how, even for the unfortunate businesses who are caught in the whirlpool, every crisis is an opportunity in disguise.
Hence, I have nothing but optimism as I share my review of the year closing and the one we are about to embark. I say this for two reasons. Although my other reason, which I will share in a moment is equally significant, let me start with something that is rather personal and probably brings my point closer to home.
Since the first day of my journey as an entrepreneur, I have had many motivations. Some of them lingered longer than others but these two remained – my passion to bring about a positive impact and my desire for a unique approach to customer service with a bespoke and personal touch. Since 2009 when I co-founded my first venture company invested start-up, I could share countless stories about people whose lives were touched because of the work we did to address a need in the market. I am encouraged by these testimonies and it feeds the other topic I wish to speak in a bit length – customer service.
My choice to be in business, my plan to set-up the company in the UK and later in China and to eventually found Leong & Chee Venture, a company that bears the names of the Chee and the Leong families is symbolic, not just because these families have been in business for many years but because of the value we put on carrying a family legacy forward. The business has had obvious economic implications as well. However, it has been even more rewarding for me to witness the joy of satisfying the people we serve. This is the most compelling reason for why we do the things we do every day. Through our uniquely designed, family-oriented, and bespoke model of services we try to ensure that our firm and our bespoke education brand, which I identify as an education butler, brings a personal touch to all our services, which set us apart from the rest not just in our professionalism but in our willingness to assume responsibility, offer care and fully engage our customers. We are with the families when they choose a school for their child, and we are also there pouring over the technicalities of a mortgage break-down from a lender, we are there fleshing out the details of a real estate contract, or even making sure their business model or product or service fits the market or when they are looking for opportunities to invest, acquire a brand or consider to expand. The list is very long and very personal. The sheer excitement of the challenge to be almost an ever-present and always value-adding support, not knowing what the next call would be and of going beyond the ‘required’ to make sure that every child, every family, and every issue is well looked after is something I would not even consider exchanging for anything.
That has been the core of our success. In the ever-changing and heavily contested market, we have thrived against many odds. Unbeknownst to us, these seeds of service and sacrifice had built for us a rare trust between us and those we serve, who are too dear for us to just call customers. It has opened doors for us, which we would have been too naïve to even consider. These seeds have sprouted and we are now reaping the fruits thereof. In a time when many businesses have a shrinking client base, our customers have increased and have become like family to us, with whom we work with on the things that are dearest to them; their children and their family legacy. For this, I am eternally grateful and it continues to encourage me to look for even more opportunities to serve and to go even further to meet a need.
The other reason is purely coincidental. The education industry, where we have a major investment to-date, has continued to perform better each year for the last 10 years. I would like to ‘qualify’ this increase. The increase is explained by the growing number of young and educated parents who are not just looking for ‘any’ international education or school, but for those schools or models which show unique features or special area of emphasis. This has created a demand not just for more schools but for more ‘types’ of schools, showing an appetite for continued growth. Forbes magazine reports the last five years alone have seen a 64% increase in the number of students enrolled in international schools in China, which now account for 372,000 children in a total of 857 schools. The report also shows that in 2018 alone, 87 schools were opened. The ISC Research, a leading provider of global English-medium K-12 international school data and research since 1994, also reported a record 14 British international schools which have opened or were due to open in China last year, including outposts of the King’s School, Canterbury, and Shrewsbury School, which counts Charles Darwin among its alumni. It is equally interesting to note that the wave of schools opening is not just limited to tier-one cities. Notable international schools like Harrow, Dulwich and a host of other UK based boarding schools are in a race to open many schools in tier two, even tier-three cities. This is resonant with my firm belief that there is no such thing as a bad investment for those who invest in people.
There is yet another compelling observation that I wish to share before my closing. In the middle of last year, I had the opportunity to attend a brand promotion event organised by BrandZ, the world’s largest brand equity database, in association with WPP and KANTAR. Yearly, BrandZ publishes a list of the top brands which are making the largest contribution to the total value of their respective parent companies, considering both current and projected performance. This year, BrandZ China has featured a list of best performing 100 Chinese brands and for the first time, education companies made the list, which is usually dominated by tech companies or financial institutions or car manufacturers. What I found even more surprising is that these education companies are offering English language training! It is difficult to imagine how this could have been possible without the rise not just in the popularity of international education and international schools but the trend among local parents to ensure their children learn the English language, be better equipped for a place in international education or for studying abroad. The brand promoters also had another surprise for us which I will term as inter-brand dependence. The crux of the matter is how each brand needed to perform well for another brand(s) to remain successful. Gone are the days of market-dominance by a stand-alone brand or company selling a single product or service. Businesses are thriving in an eco-system where the success of all is determined by the success of each. The same is true, especially in the education space, where international schools would fare so well if they support the work of supporting services companies like education institutions, testing and diagnostic centres, students’ guardianships and other education-related service providers so that they don’t struggle to fill their classes not just with students but with well-prepared students as well. On this occasion, I would like to thank all the international schools and universities and their staff whom we had the privilege to work with last year. They are doing an exceptional work of changing the lives of thousands of Chinese students and I would like to assure them that we are more than ready to work alongside them.
The ultimate reason for writing this rather long review is all the people I got to meet and interact with last year and before. I have been touched by their countless acts of kindness, courage and hope. Their simple gesture or smiles have made so many of my days. It wouldn’t be inappropriate if I could list here all the people who impacted me. However, for want of space and time, I will contain my list to those few individuals who made the contributions I needed the most, whether I knew I needed it or not.
I would like to share my admiration and respect for Ms Sabina Brady, who was one of the most important influences for us last year. With her more than three decades of experience which she shared with us without any reservation and her professional consultation and advice, she has been a rare guide in showings us things that bring even deeper value to the families we serve. Her demand for exceptional excellence, which, to borrow her phrases, “ is a performance that ‘moves the needle” has helped us in adjusting not just the technicalities of designing our education services but also inspiring us to show care and heart while doing it. In a time where such virtues are being replaced by the blind quest for technical efficiency, her input has rekindled our passion for service. I would also like to acknowledge the exceptional team at BeGo, who are doing excellent work every day at the frontline our services, ensuring that every child and family are well looked after.
And finally, to my managing partner and business co-founder, Jennifer Leong, for whom I reserve my ultimate gratitude and admiration. She has always stood alongside me since the early days of our Venture together and I have a great appreciation for her leadership and the commitment to excel. I want to say thank you for your drive and the passion for our work and for the kindness of your heart. I wish you enjoy the holiday season and may the new year bring you closer to the desires of your heart.
While saying goodbye to 2019, I am looking forward to 2020 and feel certain that the new year will only be more exciting with challenges and great opportunities waiting for us.
Again, I wish you and your family a wonderful holiday and Happy New Year!
CEO, LC Venture