Me & My Money: Life Goals

Growing gift enterprise with a heart

James Quan is a contrarian by nature and normally invests during a major crisis.
Bynd Artisan co-founders James Quan and wife Winnie Chan with their children Josh and Vera at the Brooklyn Bridge in New York. Mr Quan says the children listen in when the couple chat at home about the economy, businesses, human capital and entrepren
Bynd Artisan founder James Quan, 50, at his shop in Raffles City. His firm's plan covers staff for outpatient primary care, including traditional Chinese medicine which the craftsmen prefer, specialist care, hospital stay, outpatient cancer and kidney treatments, and term life insurance.ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR
Bynd Artisan co-founders James Quan and wife Winnie Chan with their children Josh and Vera at the Brooklyn Bridge in New York. Mr Quan says the children listen in when the couple chat at home about the economy, businesses, human capital and entrepren
Bynd Artisan co-founders James Quan and wife Winnie Chan with their children Josh and Vera at the Brooklyn Bridge in New York. Mr Quan says the children listen in when the couple chat at home about the economy, businesses, human capital and entrepreneurship, and that has influenced them. PHOTO: COURTESY OF JAMES QUAN, BYND ARTISAN

Entrepreneur James Quan and his wife Winnie Chan are doing what they enjoy most, and taking good care of their staff.

Custom bookbinding and leather-craft seem rather exotic pursuits but they have become the best investment entrepreneur James Quan has racked up.

Mr Quan and wife Winnie Chan started their Bynd Artisan business in October 2014 and have seen the enterprise that specialises in personalising gifts grow by leaps and bounds.

He told The Sunday Times: "We are doing what we enjoy most, up-skilling mature workers as craftsmen in the workforce, engaging millennials to be in the service industry, inspiring traditional businesses to innovate, and combining our expertise/experience to make it a success.

"The support from the retail and corporate clients has been overwhelming and I thank them every day for giving me the purpose and adrenaline to grow my people and the business."

Not only have their children benefited from their parents' successful business experiences, but the staff at Bynd Artisan are also well taken care of.

Mr Quan, 50, recalls how he and his wife, who is in her 40s, decided to put a medical plan in place for their employees after realising that most had no insurance coverage. After all, medical costs are high here and the firm has a higher than average percentage of mature employees.

The firm's plan covers staff for outpatient primary care at hundreds of clinics across Singapore, including traditional Chinese medicine which the craftsmen prefer, specialist care, hospital stay, outpatient cancer and kidney treatments (dialysis, chemotherapy), and term life insurance.

Bynd Artisan has outlets in Raffles City, Ngee Ann City and Holland Village, and retail counters at Tangs, and Pedder on Scotts. It is also planning overseas expansion, starting with Dubai.

The couple have two children. Their son Josh, 17, is studying in ACS (Independent) and their daughter Vera, 20, is in Singapore Management University.

 

Q Have you started teaching your children about money?

A They listen in when my wife and I chat at home and over meals about the economy, businesses, human capital and entrepreneurship. I believe that has influenced them quite a bit.

Both of them started trading goods online at a very young age. I remember my son was building remote control drift cars to sell online when he was in secondary school, and he said that he didn't want to make a profit as it was a hobby.

I then explained to him about hidden/opportunity costs and that he needed to at least think about that. I also told him I wanted to invest in his business because he was quite good at it.

I always tell our children that I didn't have the latest toys when growing up and that they need to offer lower prices to customers who cannot afford to pay the market rate.

My daughter gave tuition after her A levels and she offered up to double the time for students who were on a tight budget. I told her it was important to let her students know that she cared without being too blatant about it.

Q What are your top financial priorities and challenges?

A Retirement is not something I think about now because I'm only 50 years young and extremely passionate about the work I do. There is still a lot more we wish to achieve for Bynd Artisan and to build this Singapore local brand to one that is internationally known.

I gave my dad a monthly allowance the day I started working, as did my two sisters. He's happily retired. My mum passed on 15 years ago.

I don't expect anything similar from my children when they grow up but I do occasionally hint to them that I'd like to borrow their sports cars when they can afford to buy one later in their lives.

Q What is your retirement plan?

A I think I will retire if and when I don't feel like getting out of bed for work any more. I work seven days a week but work now brings a sense of satisfaction and meaning to my life and I don't think I will be happy doing anything else.

It helps tremendously that my spouse is the co-founder and we don't ask each other, "Why are you spending so much time at work?", because we are in this business together and we motivate each other all the time.

I'm quite easy to feed as I can survive on biscuits and coffee the whole day. Simple luxuries, like a bowl of Hill Street bak chor mee (minced meat noodles), keep me happy.

We look upon insurance as a form of forced savings and are covered for life, terminal illnesses and so on, at a sum assured of $500,000 each. We took up educational insurance for the children after they were born.

The whole family is covered for medical and hospitalisation insurance that allows us to stay in a private hospital for treatment.

Q How much legacy planning (will, trusts, Lasting Power of Attorney, and CPF nomination) have you done?

A I have not done legacy planning yet, as I believe the responsibilities of taking care of my personal welfare and financial affairs will fall naturally on my wife should I lose my mental capacity to make decisions one day.

Perhaps I will start looking into setting up my Lasting Power of Attorney by 2018 (before the LPA fee waiver expires) and the rest when I am 55. Thank you for the reminder.

Q What is your investing strategy for your business?

A My wife and I have put all our resources into Bynd Artisan. Resources include all our time and energy as well because we are so involved in growing our business that I don't think we will have the spare time to watch the markets.

We started Bynd Artisan with $300,000 and seven employees in 2014, and we were profitable from our first year. We have been self-funded all along. We now have 25 full-time employees. I'm looking at $6 million sales at the end of our third year in business.

Q How did you get interested in investing?

A I am a contrarian by nature. I normally invest during a major crisis. I bought my first property in 1997 (Asian financial crisis). It was really quite chaotic then and a relative even asked me to forfeit my 1 per cent deposit because he thought the housing market would plunge further.

Luckily, I didn't waver and saw the transaction through. I bought another property and a lot of stocks in 2009 after the global financial crisis.

I don't hold any stocks now as I have just cleared all my holdings, in part because I feel the Straits Times Index is perhaps too red hot now. I'm actually trying to find some time to hide in a quiet corner and think about the current investment climate and what the future holds.

Q What stocks did you use to own?

A Shares that I bought during the crisis gave me decent returns. Very few people know about this but I put all my money into the stock market when the Straits Times Index was around 1,600 points in 2009... every cent I had or didn't have. It was really all or nothing back then.

I bought stocks like Ascendas Reit, Genting and Straits Resources.

From the traditional angle, Ascendas Reit was rock solid. I got them at $1.41 in 2009 and the yearly dividends over the years were awesome. Genting was a five-bagger and it started as a dangerous punt at 38 cents in 2005 but I truly believed it was going to get the casino licence. There was another buying opportunity after it got the licence in 2006 because the 2008 global financial crisis brought everything down to earth again. I sold them at around $2 apiece.

Q Home is now ...?

A A 1,900 sq ft freehold condo unit in Upper Thomson since six years ago. I bought it for $1.8 million. I love it here because it is just a five-minute drive to the office.

We haven't had a domestic helper for 10 years. The size is quite manageable and my wife and I do the housework ourselves.

Q I drive ...?

A I have a grey BMW M3 and a grey Mercedes E250...Grey is the new black!

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This is the second of a four-part Me & My Money: Life Goals series, which highlights the financial goals of entrepreneur James Quan.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 19, 2017, with the headline 'Growing gift enterprise with a heart'. Print Edition | Subscribe