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Revival and Impact: The FoodXervices Evolution

Revitalizing a family business and becoming leaders in food banking

FoodXervices Inc has a storied history that encompasses humble beginnings, a rise to prominence, a fall from grace, and an impressive resurgence. While the third-generation leaders of the company continue to manage the business, they dedicate the lion’s share of their time to a food bank that serves over 100,000 families and 300,000 individuals through a network of beneficiary organizations.

The tale of FoodXervices Inc began when company director Nicholas Ng’s grandfather emigrated from China and planted roots in Singapore. There, he set up a modest ‘mom & pop’ shop. Nicholas recalled, “He set up a small shop that my dad and uncles took over. Like many people in 1960s Singapore, my dad decided to venture out to do other businesses.” His father expanded their portfolio to include the first duty-free store in the Maldives, a helicopter rental firm, a Hong Kong film production company, and various property investments. By the early 1990s, their revenues had grown to over US$250 million, with the original food business contributing less than five percent.

Their burgeoning empire, however, crumbled under the weight of the Asian financial crisis in 1997. Nicholas recalled his father’s bankruptcy with a grim clarity: “Dad became bankrupt. Banks took back everything except the food business. Banks saw turnover of a million a year there and said, ‘let’s not waste our time’. They took everything else.” With no other options, the family was forced to return to their food-based roots and build up from scratch once again. In a move that surprised his sister and mother, Nicholas’s father insisted they take over the business, effectively making them the owners while he and his uncles ran the company, slowly fostering its growth back.

FoodXervices food being sent to Food Bank Singapore

Food being delivered at Food Bank Singapore

When the SARS crisis hit in 2002, the company’s fortunes took another hit. In response, his father called back Nichol, Nicholas’s sister, from university to help. “My sister, Nichol, was an economics, arts, and Japanese studies major. Dad told her to set up an email system. All the hotels couldn’t do business face-to-face,” Nicholas said. After the SARS crisis waned, Nicholas, then just a university graduate himself, joined his sister in the family business.

In 2007, despite their financial constraints, the siblings decided to buy the company from their father and uncles. They took over, rebranding the company as FoodXervices Inc Pte Ltd, with Nichol at the helm as the CEO and Nicholas as the COO. Even though a recession loomed soon after their takeover, the pair stood their ground, persevering against the economic headwinds. Their father retained a role in the business, a paradoxical position Nicholas describes as having “no authority yet all the authority.” “Looking back,” Nicholas said, “I wish we had had the Family Business Network (FBN) as a support system and to get advice in managing family dynamics.”

Asian woman in front of food bank vending machine

Food Bank Singapore vending machine

In 2012, as their firm stabilized, Nicholas and Nichol began to explore ways they could have a greater social impact. They founded the Food Bank Singapore (FBSG), a separate charity with an independent board. Nicholas recalled, “Mum subtly brainwashed us to make sure we did good. When we were young, she brought us to the Lions Club’s old folks’ home.” These childhood experiences fueled their desire to give back to society, and they decided to channel this through a cause directly related to their business.

Their ambitions were great but not without obstacles. In the early stages, support was scarce and food banking was a novel concept in Singapore. Despite these hurdles, the siblings persevered, driven by their vision. Nicholas shared, “Suddenly, charity took over our lives – over 80 percent of our time.” It was a tough journey, but they were steadfast in their commitment. The results speak for themselves. From a modest beginning distributing 2 tons of food in its first year, FBSG scaled up to almost a thousand tons by 2022.

But their impact didn’t stop there. They became part of the Global Foodbanking Network, and were unexpectedly recognized as a benchmark organization. “They looked at us as a benchmark. We were trying to do things differently,” Nicholas confessed. Their innovation ranged from introducing Food Bank cards and vending machines to collaborating with F&B outlets, giving beneficiaries a choice in how they receive their aid. They realized that providing choice was a powerful gesture, creating a community bond over food.

Food Bank Singapore staff members

“We Bring Joy in Every Bundle”

Nicholas and Nichol also made sustainability a cornerstone of their operations. They adopted biofuel in 2011, braving the extra costs in favor of the environment. Even in this decision, Nicholas recalled his father’s disbelief, saying “’Are you crazy? Biofuel is 20-30 percent higher than diesel’. We did it anyway. It was just the right thing to do.” They extended their social impact by providing coffee, tea and snacks for staff, implementing work-from-home long before it became a norm, and supporting local farmers in distributing their produce.

While still running FoodXervices Inc, Nicholas and Nichol’s focus has evolved. Nicholas spends about 30 percent of his time on FoodXervices, 50 percent on his EV business in Cambodia, and divides the remainder between social work and family. However, they continue to volunteer at FBSG, ensuring that their influence and commitment remain central to the organization.

The third-generation leaders of FoodXervices have achieved much more than just reviving a family business from bankruptcy. They have established an organization that is a global exemplar in food banking and created a lasting impact on society. As their grandfather set up his small shop, he probably never expected his grandchildren to focus on serving the needy, but Nicholas and Nichol have rewritten their family’s legacy, not just as successful entrepreneurs, but as impact entrepreneurs creating a ripple of change in their community and beyond.

Richard Hartung, an Impact Entrepreneur correspondent, is an advisor, writer, investor and volunteer board member focused on sustainability. He is the co-founder of Asia Sustainability Angels, serves on boards of non-profits including Solar Washington and the Centre for a Responsible Future, and writes about sustainability for Wealth & Society as ... Read more
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