THE FORMER CHAIRMAN OF OISHI GROUP TALKS ABOUT HIS SUCCESS IN BUSINESS AND GIVING BACK TO SOCIETY
When in school, no one wanted to hang out with him. He was never invited to parties or anything. Among his classmates, Tan Passakornnatee was the most disliked.
PHOTO: YINGYONG UN-ANONGRAK
"Once I tried to save some money to buy all my acquaintances a meal. I thought if it were my treat, they would all come. In order to save as much money as I could, I ate nothing. I only drank tap water. In the end, though, my friends refused to come. At that moment, I wanted to die. I felt that I didn't belong and that society didn't want me at all," recalled Tan.
A Chinese proverb, though - "Black cat or white cat: If it can catch mice, it's a good cat" - would later save his life.
There were many routes that led to success, he thought. And no matter who he was, he could get to the top if he did his best to reach for it.
And the young Tan was right. The 52-year-old is now recognised as one of Thailand's most successful businessmen. He is the founder of Oishi Group, whose well known services and products range from Japanese buffet restaurants, ramen restaurants, hotpot restaurants and bakery shops to green tea drinks and so on. Because of this, he is often times referred to as "Tan Oishi".
Tan is now also the president and CEO of Mai Tan, which literally means "no dead end" in Thai, a company that owns Yes!! R&B Karaoke and Restaurant, and Ramen Champion.
But before achieving his business success, Tan came a long way from where he began.
Born in Penang, Malaysia, to a Chinese family, Tan was educated only until he finished lower secondary school before relocating to Chon Buri province.
The enthusiastic teen always wanted to own his own business some day, but he knew that he needed to gain a lot more experience. So at 17, he decided to quit school and searched for a job in Bangkok.
His first job was doing labour, for which he was paid 700 baht a month. But Tan's commitment to his duties and his willingness to do everything he was assigned to do, quickly moved him up the ladder. He was appointed supervisor when he was only 21 years old.
"I was never picky when it came to jobs. I did whatever I was asked to do and I helped out in almost all departments. I turned up [to work] early and clocked out late. And the best thing I earned was the opportunity," he said.
Tan later moved back to Chon Buri with the dream of setting up his own business still in his mind. Though his goal was big, he preferred to start small. He rented a tiny space in front of a commercial building, and used the empty space to set up a newspaper stand.
Located opposite a bus station, a hotel and a massage parlour, his newspaper corner did so well that he ended up buying the whole commercial building and transforming it into a bookshop.
Those were lucky steps. Tan later bought the building adjacent to his bookshop and opened a coffee shop there, then bought another building and opened a bakery shop, a Thai restaurant, a hotpot restaurant, a spa and a photo printing service. In 1997, though, he made a bad business decision to move into the real estate business. The country's economic downturn at that time resulted in over 100 million baht in debt.
''I sold all my non-performing assets and negotiated with the bank to allow me to pay my debt on an instalment plan. It was indeed a very tough time for me, but I didn't give up.''
While running a wide variety of businesses in Chon Buri, however, Tan wanted to shift direction and focus on setting up a business with franchises. So he moved back to Bangkok and opened a wedding studio called Marriage Studio, followed by Wedding Castle. Eventually he found himself as a shareholder in 20 wedding studios.
''Business is important, but more important is how to run it. I opened 20 wedding studios and let all my employees hold shares in the studio they worked for. This way, everybody would do his or her best to make the business run well, since they also shared in the company's profits,'' Tan explained.
And then he founded Oishi, purely from his own imagination.
''I once heard Vanchai Chirathivat [chairman of Central Group of Companies] talking about a Japanese buffet restaurant in the United States. I had never seen such a place before. So I just imagined what it would look like and, in 1999, I opened the first branch of Oishi buffet restaurant,'' recalled the father of three.
His Japanese buffet business has since grown into an empire, like the Japanese bullet train, fast and unbeatable. With just 50 staff members in the beginning, Oishi Group now has over 5,000 employees and 120 franchises. The company's income last year totalled over 8,000 billion baht.
Despite this prosperity, Tan decided to quit his management role at Oishi last year and sold all his shares in order to do something else. This time, it was going to be something beneficial for society.
''The first thing I did after I quit [Oishi] was set up a Facebook page on which I wrote stories that I hoped would inspire the people who read them. The feedback has been very positive and people have suggested I do this or that business. It was a very hard decision to make because if you ask me whether I'm happy with my life, my answer is absolutely yes. I have enough money to spend, a lovely family, and there's nothing else that I want. But thinking again, I only finished Grade 9 and I wouldn't be as successful as I am today if I wasn't given opportunities when I was young. So now what I want to do is give people and society the same opportunity. I will no longer focus on market shares. I will now focus on happiness.''
And that was what led to the birth of Mai Tan Co, Ltd. To look for founding members for the new company, Tan came up with a recruitment project called ''The Nine Challengers'', for which those who wished to work with him would have to send a two-minute video introducing themselves. Of the over 1,600 videos received, nine were people selected and now hold company shares.
Mai Tan is a business with a mission, Tan noted. The founder holds 50% of the company's stocks, while the rest is owned by his employees and partners. Also, half of Tan's profits will be given to the Tan Pan Foundation, which he founded along with the new firm. Tan Pan Foundation's mission is to improve education for Thai children and create a better environment for a better world. The foundation recently helped rebuild a school in Bor Thong, Chon Buri, and worked on preserving and reforesting a 30-rai (4.8-hectare) plot of land in Chon Buri as well.
From a schoolboy who didn't have a single friend, Tan now has numerous friends in social networks and so far has had more than 108,000 fans visiting his Facebook blog. To him, before reaching success and happiness, it is important that you first learn to give. Because when you give, you will receive good things in return.
''I do believe that each man gets what he deserves. You do good things. Your reward may come fast or slow, but it will come one day. And when you have your reward, you should learn to give, too. In the past, I was offered a good opportunity to work and to grow. And now that I'm happy and have everything I want, I hope that whatever I choose to do (from now on) can offer opportunities to other people as well. Opportunities do not necessarily mean just making money. Through my blog, I write and I inspire. Some people have said that I'm their idol. That I show them the right way. That I encourage them. This is my way of giving back to society.''
Source: Bangkok Post