Insights + interviews

In Conversation With Roger Yuen – A Corpreneur’s Perspective

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Roger Yuen, CEO & Founder of Clozette/Singapore Corpreneur shares his insights about being a corporate executive as well as an entrepreneur.








Hindsight is 20/20, and I have often wished that I am able to travel back in time and share insights with my younger self on better ways of running several of my businesses.

While time travel is still impossible, let me share five insights I have gleaned from the past three decades as a corpreneur (corporate executive and entrepreneur).

1. Life Is A Roller Coaster

I was writing this article when I heard Ron Keating’s Life Is A Roller Coaster was serendipitously being played over the radio. This line from the song is arguably the best mantra that I have adopted for managing my businesses: “Life is a roller coaster, just gotta ride it”.

Just like life, any business be it large or small will have its ups and downs. Learn to enjoy the highs, but more importantly when in the doldrums, learn how to ride out the tough times.

In the early 90s, I was entangled with a lengthy litigious matter, as an adverse outcome would be financially disastrous for me, I was totally consumed and paralysed by the matter, to the detriment of the business and my personal life. I managed to ride it out eventually with this best advice dispensed by my legal counsel back then, paraphrasing his words: “…decide on the best course of action, execute, and don’t over worry about what’s going to happen next. Take it one day at a time, or you will go mad.”

Today I’m the co-founder of three startups and crises are the norm. I have learnt to work out solutions, act on them, compartmentalise issues and move on to focus on the business at hand instead of dwelling on the possible consequences. When hit by rough times, just remember that all things good or bad will come to pass.

2. Build Relationships/Paying It Forward

Help someone whenever you can. I dislike those people who respond with “What’s in it for me?”, when asked for help. I have built an extensive network of contacts over the past three decades of doing business, and most of them have turned into friends and even business partners.

I’m always happy to lend a helping hand where I can. I stay in touch with my former bosses, colleagues and staff who had worked for me. Many of them are now in positions of influence within their business circles, and we still enjoy our friendships as well as business dealings.

I recall a meeting in New Zealand back in 1990 with the very successful serial entrepreneur Eddie Chau. We became friends and remained in touch over the years. When Eddie relocated to Singapore, we co-founded our first startup – e-Cop, the world’s first 24 x 7 Internet security surveillance company which was eventually acquired – in 2000, ten years after we first met.

3. Build A Great Team – Learn To Hire/Fire

I love this quote by David Ogilvy. He shared: “If each of us hires people who are smaller than we are, we shall become a company of dwarfs. But if each of us hires people who are bigger than we are, we shall become a company of giants.” Learn to hire people smarter than you.

When I was younger I did harbour the fear that someone better than me could steal my job, but I realised quickly that hiring people who can succeed and do better than you frees you to move on to more interesting things.

Learning to hire is important; learning to fire people is critical. I agonised over my first firing but time has taught me that I need to be objective – keeping a non-performing employee is unfair to the company and the rest of your team. I recall this incident back in the late 80s when I was promoted to General Manager and inherited this lady as my assistant. She was a lovely person but highly forgetful and sloppy in her work. However, since she had been with the company for a long time, I lived with it. I failed to be objective. One day she went on a month-long vacation, and the temp staff that we hired in her place performed so well in comparison that everyone voted to keep her as a permanent staff. I had to fire my assistant on her return but I ought to have done it sooner.

We should value loyalty but not at the expense of performance.

4. Follow Your Heart, But Be Guided By Your Mind

How often have you heard people telling you to follow your heart? You should – but my caveat is to be guided by the mind.

Examine carefully what your heart is telling you – does it make sense? Is that really something you should do or really want? In my 30s, I was drawn into a venture simply because I had become enamored with the idea and ignoring the fact that I knew little about my business partners.

I’m passionate about food. One day I was approached by a friend to invest in a small restaurant with his friends. I agreed with little hesitation and failed to find out more about my other business partners. The business turned into a nightmare from which I was fortunate to extricate myself with some damage.

This experience taught me a very valuable lesson, that is, to temper my passion with careful consideration. Look carefully before you leap. This balance has served me well in my later ventures.

5. Find Time For Your Family

In your pursuit for success, also find time for your family. There’s no perfect formula for the right work-life balance; you just have to find your own equilibrium.

I have traveled extensively over my entire career, peaking at over 275 days out of Singapore in 2009, which is a good 3/4 of a year. I always make it a point to return home and spend the weekend with the family or call back home each night whenever I can. Before I travel, I make a dinner date with my wife (before we had children) and together with my sons as we build our family. I surprise them with a new restaurant to dine at each time I’m home. On occasional business trips where I can squeeze out spare time between my work, I’ll bring my family along, this helped them to better understand my work, and discovering new places as a family helped bond us. This has been my ritual and I’m glad that I’ve kept to it through these years.

Now that I’m over 50, I truly treasure those times. Remember not to forget your love ones as you become a road warrior.




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