Building a Business and a Life with Honesty, Empathy, and Resilience: Lessons from Nichol Ng
Updated: Mar 7
As International Women’s Day approaches, we celebrate the stories of women who have made a significant impact in their community. Today, we are honoured to share the remarkable journey of Nichol Ng, a third-generation business owner of the esteemed food distribution company, FoodXervices and the founder of The Food Bank Singapore.
Recently, we had the privilege of conducting a candid interview with Nichol, where she shared her incredible story of philanthropy and community development. In 2017, Nichol, along with her brother Nicholas, was recognised in Forbes’s prestigious Heroes of Philanthropy list.
Together, they have spearheaded a mission to partner with over 370 organisations, including The Salvation Army, to reach out to more than 300,000 people on the ground and redistribute over 1000 tons of excess food annually.
Through her inspiring journey, Nichol emphasises the critical role that partners and allies have played in driving change within her community.
As a source of inspiration to our members, could you please share with us your personal and professional journey?
I joined the family business in 2002, and when my brother Nicholas joined in 2008, we wanted to rebuild the business in a way similar to running a start-up, starting from a clean slate. This would be the biggest project we have accomplished as a team over the past 15 years. The last three years were a true test of the strength of our partnership, as it had been a very trying time for the food distribution service. Sales were highly impacted by Covid-19, and we almost had to liquidate the business. We were only able to pull through the crisis thanks to shared beliefs and values, which have also enabled us to become better versions of ourselves.
I am very fortunate, from both a business and professional standpoint, to have found an ally in my brother. I am thankful to have him as my platoon mate, fighting at the forefront, and supporting each other behind the scenes as and when the need arises. Although our business is still currently fighting for survival, we look forward to overcoming the challenges that come our way and celebrating the company’s 100th anniversary in 2024.
Apart from the family business, The Food Bank is another project that we have embarked on and built together since 2012. Nicholas and I truly enjoy working together and share the hopes of contributing back to society, in addition to rebuilding our grandfather’s business. With The Food Bank, we had to tackle and manage sensitive topics such as poverty and minimum wage while driving education and advocacy for food waste management and food security. We are glad to have each other on such a meaningful journey, and this has helped us deepen our convictions on the impact of our actions.
Who has been the most important supporter in your life and career?
I met my husband when I was 19 years old, and for the past 26 years, he has been my biggest fan and cheerleader. Even during the most difficult times, he is always there to support me. As parents to four children, he trusts me to make the necessary decisions for our family, and he respects my choices without questioning them.
Apart from my husband's unwavering support, I have also found support through professional networks. Most recently, as a member of the Young Presidents Organisation (YPO), I have been able to connect with CEOs who come together not to solicit for business, but to learn and grow together. Being a leader can be quite lonely at times, and I have found an emotional support circle and allies in this group of CEOs that I met through YPO.
As part of your career journey, did you have someone you considered a mentor or role model? Additionally, what is the most valuable career advice you've received?
I do not have a formal mentor or serve as a mentor to anyone. However, I look to my late father as someone who has guided me through his actions. Although I do not see him as a traditional mentor, I learned a great deal from his failures. Even during the most difficult times, such as bankruptcy, my father remained true to himself and committed to rebuilding the business in hopes of passing it on to his children. Although my father has already passed on, I still view him as a spiritual mentor.
In addition to my father, I also admire my late maternal grandmother. My mother got married at 19 and gave birth to me a year later. As a result, my grandmother played an active role in raising me, and she was the first person to recognise my strengths. Through her example, I saw her strength, perseverance, and sense of responsibility in taking care of her family. Her motto, "it is always a blessing to give rather than to receive," remains with me to this day, reminding me that even in challenging times, I have more than others, and I am willing to give back.
Can you share your thoughts on what are the top attributes that are crucial for building a strong and supportive network, both in your professional and personal life?
Firstly, honesty is crucial. You need to embrace the real you. Do not let your supporters down by faking your persona or beliefs.
Secondly, empathy is another key trait. As a true leader, you lead with your heart as much as with your mind. Having empathy does not mean sympathy; it simply means thinking of others before yourself. This will garner you more support even after a tough decision is made. Today, the Food Bank continues to grow because we have a genuine heart to help those who are not able to feed themselves.
Thirdly, strength and resilience are vital. Before a leader gathers support from others, one must be their own supporter. People generally gravitate towards leaders who are resilient and able to pick themselves up, rather than those who win over others using sympathy votes. As a mother of four young children, a board member on several boards, and deeply involved with numerous charities - this is the life that I have chosen. We all have choices to make, and however tough those choices may be, know that it is possible to have your cake and eat it too. Building your own strength and resilience goes a long way in supporting these choices and carrying out commitments in your life. As of today, I have made my life choices, and I am still thriving.
Finally, it's important to take life with a pinch of salt. We can be more forgiving towards certain aspects of life and try not to take things too seriously. As Bruce Lee said, it is important to be fluid like water. We must learn to take the shape of the environment, especially in today’s context where everything moves at lightning speed.
We hope this article has provided you with valuable insights on how to cultivate a supportive network in both your personal and professional life. Remember that building strong relationships based on honesty, empathy, and resilience is key to achieving success and fulfilment. Look out for more inspirational stories with our upcoming International Women’s Day celebratory event happening on March 11th as we look to embrace equity!
Author: Michelle Chong
Editor: Rachel Tan