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Managing Asia

UOB heir Wee Teng Wen reveals secrets to Loof-owner Lo & Behold's success

Reporting by Christine Tan | Written by Justin Chan
How to make it in Singapore's F&B industry

It's not easy creating your own legacy when you're the heir to a banking empire.

But Wee Teng Wen has managed to carve out his own niche, outside his family's connection to Singapore's UOB Group, by co-founding The Lo & Behold Group, which is now arguably one of the city-state's most successful lifestyle businesses.

"I think ever since my teenage years, it was quite clear that I really wanted to do my own thing," he tells CNBC's Managing Asia. "What excited me the most would be starting my own business."

He is part of the fourth-generation of the prominent Wee family behind the UOB Group, and the son of current United Overseas Bank (UOB) Chief Executive Wee Ee Cheong.

But although he comes from a business-oriented family, Wee says he had no clue how to run a food and beverage company when he began his entrepreneurial journey at the age of 25 in 2005.

Wee Teng Wen, Co-Founder of the Lo and Behold Group

"I knew pretty much nothing at all but I started with a sense of humility, so what I didn't know, I asked, and quickly picked it up along the way," Wee recalls.

His foray into the F&B industry came about when he found an empty rooftop property above Odeon Towers that had an unobstructed view of the historic Raffles Hotel and the Chijmes heritage building complex, and it was "love at first sight," he says.

He had what he thought was a unique concept - celebrating local culture - so he took the plunge, partnering up with an old friend and, with a $400,000 investment, turned the rooftop space into his first venture, a bar called Loof.

"I had the naive-ness of youth from my side and a can-do attitude," Wee says.

Buoyed by the success of the first venture, Wee's Lo & Behold Group went on to open five new outlets in the following five years. Today the group has 11 restaurants and bars and more than 250 employees and staff, and is set to expand further, with the opening of its first hotel slated for later this year.

An interior view of the White Rabbit. The restaurant, housed in a restored chapel built in the 1930s, was set up by the Lo and Behold Group in 2008.
The Lo and Behold Group

But the entrepreneur wants to define success according to his own terms. According to Wee, The Lo & Behold Group has a staff turnover rate almost 30 percent below that of the industry's average, which he says is his proudest achievement.

He attributes this to his company's focus on becoming an "employer of choice" by rolling out initiatives designed encourage staff and reward them for good performance and loyalty.

Long-serving staff who have been with the company for more than five years are given a month-long paid sabbatical, a move that Wee believes is in line with his philosophy of treating employees "as students, business partners, and family".

"One of the key goals has been to create a company that people want to work for, so we judge our success in many ways by the engagement and the happiness of the employees," says Wee, who graduated from the Wharton School of Business before starting up his own company.

Although he's now established in a sector far from banking, Wee says he holds dear the advice his father gave him about running a business.

"My dad always mentions to me that regardless of which industry you're in, when you reach a certain point, it's really about managing people," he says, "And that has really stuck."