Entrepreneur award winner started as a shampoo girl

Ms Regina Lee (left), managing director of Amplitude Incorporated, and Madam Cheah Bee Chew, director of Bee Choo Origin, two of this year's Entrepreneur of the Year award winners. Ms Lee received the New Entrepreneur award while Madam Cheah is a sec
Ms Regina Lee (left), managing director of Amplitude Incorporated, and Madam Cheah Bee Chew, director of Bee Choo Origin, two of this year's Entrepreneur of the Year award winners. Ms Lee received the New Entrepreneur award while Madam Cheah is a second-time winner in the established entrepreneur category.ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG

Bee Choo Origin founder is repeat winner in the established entrepreneur category

The founder of Bee Choo Origin, a home-grown hairdressing chain and haircare-product maker, was yesterday named one of this year's Entrepreneurs of the Year.

Fifteen other local business leaders also bagged the prestigious award, which is divided into two categories - established and new.

The overall winner in each category will be announced at a ceremony in November.

Madam Cheah Bee Chew, 55, was one of three women entrepreneurs lauded at the annual awards event jointly organised by the Association of Small and Medium Enterprises (Asme) and the Rotary Club of Singapore.

Speaking to The Straits Times at the ceremony held at Marina Mandarin, the second-time winner in the established entrepreneur category said she had come back to take part again because it was a "hard-to-get" award.

"I'd failed the first time when I tried three years ago. It's not easy to qualify and I see this as a validation of what I've achieved so far," said Madam Cheah, a Perak-born entrepreneur, speaking in Mandarin. When she arrived at the Tanjong Pagar railway station in 1979, at the age of 19, her aim was to learn to be a hairdresser.

Unable to afford the course fees of about $1,000, she ended up working as a shampoo girl in a hair salon. Three years later, she got married and became busy raising three children.

She did not have the chance to pick up the skills until about 20 years later, when she enrolled in a hairdressing course after her youngest child started primary school.

Armed with her newly acquired skills in 2002, she started offering hairdressing services for $4 to $5 a person, operating out of her five-room Housing Board flat.

She could afford only one hair steamer, a chair and a hair-wash basin.

By 2006, she had saved nearly $50,000, enough to set up a simple hair salon in an HDB shophouse in Ang Mo Kio.

Today, she has grown the business to include six outlets, of which three are run by her two sons, and a local factory producing herbal haircare products for distribution in nine countries and territories including Singapore, Thailand and China.

The combined turnover for her retail and manufacturing businesses was close to $7 million last year.

"My focus is now on manufacturing and bringing my products regional. The Singapore branding is very strong and made-in-Singapore products are very well received," she said.

Another female entrepreneur recognised at the award was Ms Regina Lee, managing director of consumer goods distributor Amplitude Incorporated.

Seeing potential in the food industry, Ms Lee, 40, switched from distributing Korean-style clothes to distributing Greek honey and olive oil last year. "I was looking for a recession-proof product as the fashion apparel business is easily affected by major economic downturns." Now only in the second year of her new business venture, Ms Lee is on track to achieving $8 million to $10 million in sales revenue, a threefold increase compared with last year.

For her achievement, she won the New Entrepreneur award, together with six other up-and-coming business leaders whose companies have been in operation for two to six years.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 15, 2015, with the headline 'Entrepreneur award winner started as a shampoo girl'. Print Edition | Subscribe