Giving up a career for family business
Pre-school operator EtonHouse International Education Group executive director Ng Yi Xian had no qualms leaving a six-figure annual salary hedge fund job in Boston to prepare to take over his family’s business in Singapore. Mr Ng, 32, had been working at North Run Capital in Boston, and before that, Credit Suisse in New York, when a minor accident involving his mother, Mrs Ng GimChoo, co-founder of EtonHouse, triggered a bout of soul searching and his move back home.
After graduating with a Bachelor of Science in commerce from the University of Virginia, he went on to intern at Credit Suisse during the height of the sub-prime mortgage crisis when most investment banks were cutting back on recruitment.
“The investment bank analyst class I joined was half the size of the normal class. Because of the crisis, they even gave options where we could volunteer at charities and get paid a quarter of our salary,” he said. Fortunately, the economy recovered, and he began working full-time for the firm in August 2009.
But another problem arose. Because the investment banks had under-hired, it was normal for an analyst to work 100-plus hours a week. “During my worst week, I worked 130 hours. There were nights where the only rest I got was a one-hour nap beneath my desk, or in the prayer room at Credit Suisse’s basement, and a quick shower in the gym.”
Mr Ng came home after he realised his family business needed him. “I’d spent several years building a career in finance for myself, but coming back was a decision I felt I had to make. It was a calling.”
His background in finance helped prepare him for the challenges of running a family business. As the executive director and a board member of EtonHouse, Mr Ng advises the group on legal, IT, brand, finance and business development. “We are no longer an SME (small and medium-sized enterprise) in size. We are going to hit $100 million revenue annually because of our expansion in Singapore and China. Now, we have to spend a lot of time reorganising the business as a regional MNC, upscaling our accounting and HR processes,” he said.
Succession planning is also on the cards. “Every family business needs to find its own rhythm… Succession planning is something few want to talk about because no one wants to talk about death. But my mum and uncle are quite rational about it. My challenge now is how to take on a more regional role, while taking care of the Singapore operations,” he said.
Today, the group’s turnover has been growing at an average rate of nearly 20 per cent year on year over the last five years, and it has added new brands including E-Bridge pre-schools under a scheme by the Ministry of Social and Family Development. Last year, EtonHouse Group launched Middleton International school, an affordable education option for expatriate families.
In China, EtonHouse set up its first school in Suzhou in 2003, and today has 30 schools in 18 cities there. “China is the future. The Singapore brand is respected in China and Chinese parents are more open to best practices in progressive education probably because the country is growing so fast,” he said.