Jessie Ng is the youngest of six children and the only daughter of Mr. Ng Swee Hong. After the family immigrated to Hong Kong from Singapore, Jessie’s father started Pacific Andes in 1986 as a small frozen-seafood trading business. China was just starting to open up trade to the world. The grassroots operation saw tremendous growth over the years, especially when the family moved into fishing and processing in order to gain full control of the “ocean to plate” process.
Listed on the Singapore Exchange in 2006, Pacific Andes brings safe and nutritious seafood to customers around the world. With twenty thousand global employees and close to $2 billion in sales, the company shows no signs of slowing down. Jessie Ng, together with her five siblings, manages the operation. She gave me tips on wrangling a fast-moving company culture in a high-growth enterprise.
DO Mix Family with Business
Jessie and her five brothers are all involved in Pacific Andes. The arrangement works because they each have responsibility for different areas of the business, and they keep the same goal in mind: the well-being of the company. They regularly hold forums to discuss issues, and this communication contributes to a unified company vision, even among far-flung sections of the company. The siblings all have an entrepreneurial spirit and flexible attitude that keep everyone in sync.
I’ve never let any of my family members invest in any of my startups. I didn’t want to mix money, business, and family. However, my wife is very involved in the business. I think it’s helpful that Alice and I have normal check-ins to discuss issues and periodically monitor our alignment on the company’s vision, mission, and values. I still won’t let family members invest their money, but now I’m more open to working with friends and relatives.
— David Niu
Foster Enterprising Employees
As big as Pacific Andes has become, the Ng family still operates at a fast clip, maybe because they run the company like a true family business, with each person juggling a couple of roles. Nobody has time to “hold the hands” of employees who need a lot of guidance. This need for self-reliant employees has informed hiring decisions. People who can’t pick up the reins on their own don’t fit into this culture.
Creating a Strong Structure to Grow From
When hiring, Jessie and the crew look for someone who is willing to perform the duties as outlined and more. They look for self-motivated people who are willing to move beyond their expected role.
After Pacific Andes implemented a proper HR department, the company had help in adding strict guidelines to job descriptions, which helped streamline expectations and accountability.
Letting Little Fish Grow into Big Fish
Because Jessie’s team hires high-potential workers, commonly an employee hired for a specific position will evolve naturally into a different role, based on their strengths and talents. One of Jessie’s employees started as a secretary at age twenty, became Jessie’s personal assistant, then an assistant buyer, and eventually got promoted to be a buyer. Still early in her career, there may be more promotions to come for this employee. Giving opportunities to internal staff and promoting from within are big wins all around.
Bridging Oceans, Connecting Cultures
A company with over twenty thousand employees worldwide and distinct subsidiaries will surely branch out with subcultures. For a while, the Ng family let each one operate the way that it was accustomed to before being acquired by Pacific Andes. At first, nobody tried to change a new subsidiary’s management style to match its peers in other subsidiaries.
This approach changed a year ago. The company created a management committee to hold a monthly videoconference with all company department heads to discuss day-to-day issues and find ways to work together.
These monthly meetings cover daily challenges, issues, performance, and operations; they help top-level executives understand how to successfully synergize the different fields with one another. Managers are invited to tour the China operations facilities. Instead of trying to replicate a company culture artificially, Pacific Andes accepts the differences among the groups and instead focuses on working together through understanding.
Let Your Hair Down—Or Not!
Some cultural processes can be bridged with communication, but sometimes you just have to let groups of people be themselves. Jessie smiled broadly when sharing about the annual party. They have parties in two locations: mainland China and Hong Kong. Taking the stage and putting on skits is a big part of the party in mainland China. The employees there make a huge effort to put on a good show; fully enthusiastic, they get involved in details and take advantage of this opportunity to shine and let loose.
In contrast, the Hong Kong employees are reserved and more professional about their party; they let the organizing committee do all of the planning. It feels more like a company party than a free-wheeling festivity, and that is how they want it. One style of party definitely does not suit all.
Even though Pacific Andes is at the top of their game, a humble Jessie Ng says that there is always room for improvement, and she knows that she has a lot of work ahead of her. The company has constantly moving parts and branches with lives of their own. Jessie, who comes from a big family with lots of ideas and energy, has clearly embraced diversity itself as an important ingredient to success and a valuable part of a unique company culture.