Driving with Yung Ong: People are key for 2nd generation boss

The executive director of Proof Living is more than the sum of his businesses. Go beyond his dapper exterior to find out what drives him as a business owner.

The engine that drives Yung Ong's purpose might be summed up in one word: Growth.

In that, he actively constructs opportunities for his staff to be uplifted.

Mr Ong, the executive director of Proof Living Group, manages Proof Living and Dream, along with its franchises such as Crate and Barrel, BoConcept and Suitsupply. He also oversees its many other ventures including F&B outlets like Acid Bar, Alley Bar and Peranakan Place. If his responsibilities sound hefty, they are. But that doesn't keep him from his prime directive: building people.

He is responsible for more than 300 employees, 25 of whom directly report to him. "My people are at the core of my business. They are my driving force. I look forward to seeing them every day and they are the ones who motivate me to be a better version of myself."

One of the ways he gives back to keep the team's drive and self-motivation on the high because he believes that an individual is nothing without these traits is by turning business trips into mini-vacations. Mr Ong is all for mixing business and leisure and with every trip that the team embarks on, the tighter the bond.

The Proof Living team is excited about their "bleisure" outing this October: a five-day seminar in Chicago, part of which will be a two-day break in Tokyo where flight and accommodation are sponsored by the boss. Their plan? Food, food and more food, especially fast-food snacks from vending machines, which is a novelty that the team, including the boss himself, is currently obsessed with.

Mr Ong's employees clearly enjoy being around him; and the group can boast a low attrition rate. Indeed, the Proof Living marketing team has had only one resignation in the last two years, compared to the turnover rate elsewhere in the industry.

Still, when you ask him if he enjoys the fandom, Mr Ong visibly cringes. "Maybe 'awkward' is a better word in this instance, because I don't do things for praise. I just want them to be happy."


Proof Living's assistant marketing manager, Ms Tan Kor Woong, might be first to testify to her boss' empathetic management style. She has worked with him for three years, and credits him for her motivation. "Yung puts our needs and wants first before his. It's very rare," she said.

"I've seen many instances where he showed humility and loyalty, when he honestly didn't have to because well.. he's the boss."

In an incident about a year ago, Ms Tan recalls how he came to the aid of one of her colleagues, a graphic designer. When she wanted to quit and freelance, Mr Ong countered her resignation with the offer to allow her to work for him two days a week, freeing up the rest of her time to build her client base.

He was more concerned about whether she could weather the creative industry's volatile nature than losing a key member of his team. Ms Tan said: "Yung told her that he wanted to be her safety net should she fail, because he knows the risks that come with freelancing."

"That wasn't the end of it. He also offered Proof Living's showroom and the office to be her resident meeting point with clients as he didn't want her meeting potential paymasters at McDonald's."

In another situation, Mr Ong offered to relocate one of his marketing managers to Proof Living's Hong Kong office so that she could be with her partner, who was based there. He wanted her to be happy, and still have a steady stream of income.

While the team sees him as an empathetic, charismatic, and sometimes goofy boss Mr Ong likes cracking jokes and keeping the vibe casual during meetings especially when it gets too intense they know to differentiate play time and crunch time because procrastination is one thing the boss does not stand for.


That dedication to building people will not be the first thing associated with Mr Ong. The 37-year-old, a charismatic pragmatist, maintains it as a more private side of his dealings with his people.

Google his name (he doesn't Google himself, if you're wondering) and you'd quickly establish that he is young and successful, took over the family furniture business when his peers might have landed their first jobs fresh out of school, then reinvented it as a high-end, multi-brand lifestyle retailer that is Proof Living today.

He barely has time for himself, but maintains that success is directly proportional to his staff's well-being.

Mr Ong notes that while he has always focused on people, his techniques have evolved from broad scope policies to individual needs. "In the past, I used to look at what I feel is best for people by providing them a good environment and a role that suits their skill sets. But today, I also look at his or her personal development and career progression. When I see them achieve their goals and accomplish projects, that gives me more satisfaction and drive than if I had completed the project myself."

He prioritises their growth above all else, and sees his role as an enabler of others' development: "I don't think I place a conscious emphasis on nurturing people – I just respond accordingly. When they need guidance, I am more than happy to fill that gap but if they can work independently, I will give them the space they need to grow on their own."

The role of mentoring others is a fine fit for him, something he has been growing into from the time he taught Sunday School as a teenager. He also plays an active role at home, finding time to bond with his loved ones: mum and dad, godmother and godson, younger sister, his beloved nieces and nephews, and especially to his best friend – Brave, his golden retriever.

#WhatDrivesYou? This series highlights individuals who embody a mix of ambition, boldness and audacity - the same values expressed in the Drive de Cartier watch. Watch for the next instalment as we ask Franklin Tang what drives him in life.