Stories, Taoke (Business)

3 business experts on overcoming challenges of abrupt digital transitions

In light of COVID-19, most, if not all establishments have had to somehow adapt to non-contact means of conducting business. Though the Philippines was already well on its way to expanding its digital economy, the pandemic has accelerated that progress, forcing even smaller businesses that did not have the equipment and know-how to accept digital platforms as their new norm.

To support small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in this abrupt transitional period, Globe myBusiness Academy, in cooperation with CHiNOY TV, presented the Create. Modern Tao Ke. – The Transformational Journey of Family Businesses through Innovation (Northern Luzon Edition) webinar, the fifth installment of the series.

This project was supported by the Association of Baguio Chinese Filipino Youth Inc. (ABCFYI), Anvil Business Club, the Filipino-Chinese Chamber of Commerce of Angeles City Inc, the Filipino-Chinese Group, Filipino Chinese United Youth Association (FILCUYA Tarlac), BA Securities Inc, The French Baker, and Foodee Global Concepts.

Held on September 29, 2020, the webinar, hosted by Valerie Tan, included three distinguished speakers: Dr. Francis Chua (Founding Chairman of the International Chamber of Commerce – Philippines), Mr. Johnlu Koa (Founder and CEO of The French Baker), and Mr. Eric Thomas Dee (COO of Foodee Global Concepts). The expert panel discussed their businesses, experiences, and advice on overcoming the challenges caused by an abrupt digital transition, as prompted by the global pandemic.


DR. FRANCIS CHUA: Opportunities in a rapidly changing world

In the business world, those who survive are those who know how to adapt. This is true now more than ever, in light of the ever-evolving digital economies on both the national and global scale. Commenting on facing the abrupt changes accelerated by the COVID-19 virus, Dr. Francis Chua explained, “Those experienced [businessmen] know that things change without you knowing it or controlling it.”

Chua recognizes that several businesses including his own have taken losses during this tumultuous period. Despite this, he is not one to dwell on the negative side for long. “I look up [sic] on [the pandemic situation] as an opportunity. This is the time to scout around to see businesses invest in the future. I always believe that there is always opportunity. We just have to open our eyes and be very sharp—it is always there.”

Looking at the current entrepreneurial landscape of the country, Chua observed that the pandemic has somehow served as a leveling ground between smaller businesses and larger corporations. “The good thing about start-ups is that they don’t have the baggage,” he said, elaborating on the restrictive systems that larger businesses already have in place. “If you are just starting, then you don’t have all those troubles. [You] can just take on what [you] can swallow.”

“The pandemic is not the end of the world. It’s the beginning of a new business challenge and a great opportunity. Before, you might not have had the chance to be bigger than the biggest business. But now you do. Because everyone is now at the starting point.”

“Have faith,” Chua advised. “The opportunity is with you. Don’t worry because nothing is worse than what we’ve been through.”


JOHNLU KOA: Leading by example

Six months previously, when the lockdown was just declared, The French Baker CEO Johnlu Koa noticed problems that plagued most businesses during the onset of the pandemic. “There was a supply problem: Workers did not want to work because they were afraid of being infected. Customers were the same.”

“I knew that if I did nothing, then nothing would happen because I am the boss,” Koa explained. “[So] I put on my chef suit and went to my stores. [I was] very religious in hand-washing—all the works—but I made sure I was there.”

Koa believed that in times of change, one needs to take a risk; otherwise, one might be left behind. Though he supported maintaining one’s health during the global crisis, Koa also recognized the long-term consequences of businesses being idle for too long. “I was more concerned with what would happen if retail trade would come to an end,” he shared. “This affects the economy.”

Stepping out into his stores was only one of the risks that Koa convinced himself to take. Observant of the changing mindset that the general public has had in response to the virus, Koa expressed the importance of digitalization in the current society: “During the 1980s, most businesses used digitalization for internally generated information or data—accounting systems, how you file your documents, [and the like]… Digitalization was just meant to be a tool to save operation costs. But today, it is now more [of an] outward focus. It is now identifying customer wants and needs.”

“There is no excuse to not entertain these opportunities,” Koa continued, encouraging others to look at new social behaviors. “Our new normal is being defined not so much by what’s happening to COVID, but [by] what’s happening to the person.”

To those still doubtful of the rapid changes occurring in this pandemic, Koa advised, “The biggest lesson I learned is this: In times of crisis, lead by example.”


ERIC THOMAS DEE: Being flexible in uncertain times

According to Eric Thomas Dee, managing a business during a pandemic means having to constantly rebuild and repurpose everything. “We’re being flexible and resilient. We’re trying to weather the storm,” he shared.

As a player in the food and beverage industry (operating brands that include Mesa, Tim Ho Wan, and Todd English Food Hall), Dee has had to adapt to recent policies dictating that only a 30% seating capacity can be allowed in dine-in restaurants. Dee explained that their business had previously relied on revenues from customers dining in, citing an emphasis on their products and services being experiential. “We had to re-engineer our menus and consider the delivery time. What extra services do we have to put so that the services we put in [a] dine-in [experience] transcend in taking out?”

“We’re seeing a digitalization,” Dee said. “Before COVID, we were already starting that. When the pandemic hit, people were open to that… From the baby steps of having a website, we accelerated that and now have an app. It’s easier to adapt because of the pandemic. Being forced to learn to do it, you find a way to learn how to make it work.”

Dee also commented on studying protocols to gain the confidence of their customers back. “We want to lessen their fear—to make sure [their] hunger outweighs that.”

Change is inevitable, and adaptation is key. In times of uncertainty, Dee reminded aspiring business owners to be careful when introducing new systems: “Make sure to do a lot of research. We do a lot of trials. Try out systems before you commit—there are no cookie-cutter systems that work for just one set-up.”

In the end, he left one last advice: “We’re in unprecedented times. It’s not the time to be concrete but to be flexible.”

Concluding the webinar discussion, all three speakers responded to inquiries submitted during the talk’s Q&A segment. Imparting viewers and aspiring business leaders with valuable insights and skills, Globe myBusiness Academy, in collaboration with CHiNOY TV, hopes to continue equipping tao kes with the knowledge and business solutions they need to operate their businesses in a rapidly changing world.

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