The successful private banker, entrepreneur, and mother of three tells us how she is constantly challenging herself
A lot is expected of the modern woman these days. Not only does she have multiple roles to fill in society, but she is also expected to efficiently manage them all. Private banker and F&B entrepreneur Serene Chua is one of the admirable women who have succeeded, but, as she candidly shares, it has not been without its challenges – especially with motherhood thrown into the mix.
Fortunately, Serene is no stranger to the hustle. In fact, she thrives on it. About 15 years ago, she ventured into private banking as a green 20something and was one of Singapore’s youngest in the field. Having had no formal training, the former television host had to equip herself with the required skills and knowledge to build her own client base from scratch.
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“I started out with just a name card in my hand and I had no clients,” she says. “Being in my early 20s, the challenge was really to gain the trust of clients, who were on average 50 to 60 years old.” Determined, she was, though. Over a period of two to three years, she managed to learn the ropes and build the right relationships to accomplish just that – successfully managing and structuring investment portfolios, even in the face of the global financial crisis of 2008.
Today, in addition to the above, Serene also helps provide clients with solutions to monetise unencumbered properties and chunky listed shares. It’s a challenging job that she finds great fulfillment in. “Each day is always different and I get to meet people from various sectors, ranging from professionals to entrepreneurs, family offices, and institutions,” she adds. “It is a very exciting and enriching experience!”
Making it happen Her drive and enthusiasm come through just as evidently as the co-founder of Wolf Burgers and Carvers & Co. The self-professed foodie grew up with an appreciation for all kinds of cuisines, and in 2014, together with her business partner Ho Song En, decided to turn passion into a business with Carvers & Co. It is a casual eatery specialising in roast meats and brunch food. After seeing how well their signature burger sold, the founders saw an opportunity to launch Wolf Burgers in 2015.
“It was a childhood dream of mine to have an F&B empire comprising a casual dining place, ice cream joint, and a coffee place,” Serene elaborates. “But there was a lot of uncertainty if we could really make it as a business, as my business partner and I had no F&B experience when we decided to do this.”
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As with many F&B businesses in Singapore, they struggled at first with finding suitable suppliers for high quality, fresh ingredients as well as with hiring the right staff and aligning them with the company’s vision. However, even in such a competitive and brutal industry, the business has grown significantly and even expanded overseas.
Currently, there are three Wolf Burger outlets in Singapore at Funan, Suntec City (PasarBella), and Deliveroo Editions (CT Hub), as well as one Carvers X outlet at Asia Square. Both brands also operate out of cloud kitchens for delivery via Deliveroo, Foodpanda, and GrabKitchen (Hillview). In Niseko, Japan, there is a Wolf Burgers outlet that is only open during ski season from December to March, and an all-year-round Carvery Grill in the Hinode Hills Niseko Village hotel.
“We are very proud to bring our home-grown brand overseas and slowly enlarge our geographical footprint,” says Serene, adding that there are plans to open two more Wolf Burgers outlets this year. She also stresses the importance of keeping the business on top of trends and embracing the changing tastes of consumers.
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Adapting to our increasingly digital world, Wolf Burgers’ Funan outlet has a fully tech-enabled ordering, payment and pick-up system. And to cater to the growing plant-based and meat-alternative market, Wolf Burgers offers vegetarian and vegan options, and is also the only burger brand in Singapore to carry two types of meat-substitute burgers, each made with Impossible Meat and Beyond Meat respectively.
In light of the current COVID-19 pandemic that has caused local F&B businesses to suffer greatly, Serene has been quick to react. “The business model has to adapt to shifting more resources towards online ordering and delivering, instead of traditional eating out. To survive in the F&B scene, one must really possess passion, creativity, tenacity, open-mindedness, leadership and the ability to inspire teamwork in the same direction.”
Balancing act Serene has had to learn to be extremely disciplined in juggling her multiple work and business commitments, especially as a mum with three little ones at home. “As a woman, I’m blessed with good multitasking skills and I’m also a big believer in delegating work as you can’t be doing everything yourself,” she says. “It’s important to find the right balance between my family, business and a career.”
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To do that, Serene begins her day by making a “top priority” list of the most important things she has to get done and checking them off, before moving on to other tasks. Having this structure and good time management allows her to spend quality time with Amber, 6; Christian, 4; and Bella, 3, and to be an integral part of their formative years.
“It’s difficult, but I try to be as physically present for the children as possible. As a single parent, I feel the need to double as both mum and dad and to be even more involved in the daily lives of my children so they grow up healthy and happy, and showered with love and care,” she explains. “It’s all worth it when they write you little notes to express their love for you, draw your pictures almost daily, and run up to you and hug you tightly.”
Stronger than ever Although most of her time is spent balancing family and work, Serene makes sure to also create some personal space to reflect and recharge. Working out for three hours a week keeps her body and mind in good health. Travelling to new places to explore different cultures and cuisines also feeds her adventurous soul, and keeps her energised and creative.
While she works hard to stay involved in all these aspects of her life, she still counts herself lucky as not all single mothers can afford to do the same. “I sincerely hope that single parents get more support from the government as they have a lot on their plates,” she says, adding that benefits like more flexible hours and working arrangements, greater tax reliefs, child support and priority in housing would all benefit single- parent households greatly.
At the same time, she hopes for society to be rid of the stigmas and stereotypes surrounding single parents, such as being failures at life or not raising children with the right family values. And, if Serene is an example of what it means to dream, persevere and push the boundaries despite challenges, she believes that those traditional mindsets can change, and people will soon embrace and support the concept of modern families.
“It’s not an easy path being a single mother, but you can still be the best version of yourself when things get very tough,” she says. “True friends emerge during tough times, and it’s important to focus on what your priorities are, have enough emotional support, and tune out negativity; be the energy you want to attract. Through all this, you will become a stronger and more independent person who can overcome any obstacle.”
Fashion direction: Johnny Khoo
Art direction: Audrey Chan
Photography: Cher Him
Fashion styling:Jacquie Ang
Hair: Sean Ang using Wella Eimi
Makeup: Melissa Yeo using Shiseido
Photography assistance: Yang Shihui
Fashion assistance: Jessica Khor
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