Joy, Pride, and Challenges of Running a Family Business

Tee sisters, Choo Ling and Jia Xin share their journey in taking over a traditional family business and what they valued about their undergraduate studies at Sunway University.

Tee Choo Ling, our Accounting and Finance alumna, had spent some time in employment in Singapore before she decided to return to Malaysia to take over the family pastry business. Her sister, Tee Jia Xin also our alumna from Actuarial Studies, decided to join her and the family business when the Covid 19 pandemic hit globally. They share their story with The Blaze about business, family and learning the ropes during extraordinary times.

What started as a baking business in a relative’s backyard more than 30 years ago has now grown into a production factory with more than 60 staff. As such, when asked about the challenges faced as a young leader, Choo Ling said that modern management practices were not looked upon favourably in a traditional family-owned business. "Because of this, I had to prove to them that my management skills are workable without affecting the factory’s performance. I also wanted to create a happy working environment with no office politics and arguments.", she added.

On how it was like to work with family members, Choo Ling shared that living with her family who were also her co-workers, meant discussions about the business could happen 24/7. This made work-life balance harder to achieve, unlike her time in Singapore where her weekends were spent at yoga classes and indulging in other leisurely activities. She also added that her ability to remain professional and rational, sometimes offended her siblings. However, issues were usually resolved after an apology.

Jia Xin, on the other hand, who admitted to being more sentimental, found it challenging when conflicts arose. She however, felt that although her style was different to her sister's, they complemented each other. During her time at Sunway University, she met people from diverse backgrounds and gained valuable exposure to other cultures. “This experience assisted me in developing my social skills and understanding customers’ needs in the business world”, she added, and proudly said, “Being a Sunway student was a very fulfilling journey”.

Choo Ling shared that her undergraduate studies at Sunway University had trained her to be creative and to speak up when she had ideas. "This has been an important skill that enabled me to work well with my superiors, colleagues, and clients", she added.

In 2020, the world was hit by the Covid-19 pandemic. Citizen movements were restricted by governments around the world, including Malaysia. Many businesses were forced to shut their doors permanently as revenues plunged. When asked what measures were taken to sustain their business during the pandemic, Choo Ling said, “Before the pandemic, selling our products through online platforms were never taken into consideration. We did not want to have the risk of our products being damaged during delivery. This time, we attempted it and it is now a new business opportunity! While the overall sales may still be lower than usual, online orders are picking up and giving us something to work on in this new normal. “

At the time of writing, the sisters were focusing on building their brand and exploring social media marketing channels. “We managed to convince our father to make TikTok videos!”, Choo Ling and Jia Xin said excitedly.

“Huat Huat Kouping” was founded in 1988, offering local delicacies such as Teochew soft cakes, braided cookies, and mooncakes. After 32 years of experimenting, their product line has expanded to more than 20 types of pastries with a signature product - the salted green bean pastry, also known as “Tau Shar Piah”.

This article has been adapted from the original story found in Blaze (Issue 54)