Elegant and poised, mother-of-four, Nichol Ng has in many ways ticked life’s boxes for career success. Today, she is the CEO of X-Inc, a $80-million business with five subsidiaries across the food distribution, logistic and property sectors, and co-founder of Singapore’s first food bank.
Yet, she is quick to clarify that she has seen her fair share of trials and tribulations—her success today is because she had her family to walk through the challenges with her.
Life is never defined by one single event
What she has learnt is that life is rarely defined by a single event, whether as small as failing her mathematics exam, or as life-changing as her family being driven to bankruptcy during the Asian Financial Crisis.
Recalling the shock and helplessness she felt at 19 years old, when the banks appeared to seize her family home, she matter-of-factly states: “I just had to grow up”.
Her family rented a one-room flat, she traded her dreams of studying in Switzerland for a place in a local university, and took on a series of part-time jobs, including working in a cafe and giving tuition to earn some pocket money.
Together, they recovered.
She credits this resilience in part to the strong bond her family had, in part to the lessons learnt from her grandmother, who is one of her biggest inspirations.
“My grandmother was just eight years old when she had to start working to raise two younger sisters,” Nichol explains. “But she never complained or blamed anyone.”
You are blessed to be able to give
“One of the biggest lessons she taught me is that it’s a bigger blessing to give than to take,” Nichol adds. “She always said if you feel that what you are doing is meaningful, you should go ahead, regardless of the tangible returns.”
And so Nichol did. Throughout her school days, she juggled multiple projects and took on roles like prefect, president of the student’s council in junior college, and later president of the student’s union in university—pursuing activities with impact on others, instead of just herself.
After she graduated with a double major in Economics and Japanese Studies, she began a career in marketing, but in 2002, eventually returned to her family business with the belief that it would be the most meaningful to be able to support her father and to contribute to the legacy her grandfather had started in 1939.
“Each time I had doubts about my extra commitment to give, my grandmother’s philosophy would put me back on track,” she recalls.
This is why when the business stabilised, she held true to a promise she had made to herself at the start of her journey—that when the time came, she would give back to the community. In 2012, influenced by her parents’ charity work when she was a child, she and her brother founded the Food Bank Singapore to feed the hungry and reduce food wastage.
The rule is “family-first”
Looking back, she notes that it is not always easy to work with family. At the start, even after convincing her relatives of her sincerity, there were still conflicts with her father to contend with.
“Our heart and soul was for the family business, but the route to success looks different for different generations,” she muses.
There were countless days she left the office in tears—it was her brother, who now also helms X-Inc with her, who encouraged her to stay the course and eventually helped her transform the family business into a food distribution company, FoodXervices.
As it is with all businesses, disagreements do occur, but Nichol says: “We made it very clear that we are family first and business partners second. So if we ever had to make a choice, we will always choose being family first.”
After all, family has always been her foundation, with her brother, parents, and later in life, also her husband, forming her biggest support.
“Now, my four kids are my new generation of cheerleaders,” Nichol says, laughing as she recalls a recent incident where her eight-year-old daughter asked about taking over the family business.
“I’ve never said anything to her about this,” Nichol exclaims. “But I think she felt this sense of responsibility because she’s seen how I work hard to continue the family business and give back to charity.”
While it is too early to know where her daughter’s path will lead, the fact that the child is already considering family in her decisions, is encouraging, Nichol says. Like other family moments, this is one of those that spurs her on to do the good work she does, each day.