“While a tertiary education gives you a great foundation and education, at JIA Group and in the real world, it’s about being hands on.”
Founded with the opening of the Philippe Starck-designed JIA Group Hong Kong on 6 March, 2004 followed by the opening of JIA Group Shanghai, Shanghai’s first design boutique hotel, on 10 August 2007, JIA Group is a 283-employee strong, established player in the hospitality as well as food and beverage industry.
Headquartered in Hong Kong – a particularly competitive market – JIA Group are pioneers with their culinary concepts and the locations that they go for. They look for addresses and neighbourhoods that don’t necessarily jump out at first sight – selecting locations that may not be centrally located, strategically opening in areas where the community are often in want of great food and drink that’s served with warmth.
What makes JIA Group stand out from its competitors is that its collection of restaurants offer a truly diverse range of cuisines, each with a specific, defined concept based on simplicity, originality, quality and authenticity; yet with a level of flexibility and adaptability to give today’s increasingly knowledgeable customers what they are really looking for.
At JIA Group, founder Yenn Wong, believes that employees are the heart of the business, each with a mission to bring to the table the best experience possible.
The management also feels that they have been fortunate to have a closely knit team of experienced, creative, decisive and entrepreneurial specialists who bring with them an underlying passion, and a management philosophy based on a series of simple but vital concepts, namely, knowledgeable decisive service, a welcoming attitude, preparation and details.
The clientele for JIA Group is diverse and varies depending on location. For example, their retro Thai eatery Mak Mak in the Landmark, receives a mixed group of guests. Customers who love beautifully made and approachable Italian fare call in regularly at 208 Duecento Otto, their Italian restaurant in Sheung Wan. Families make it their weekend pizza haunt due to the popularity of its pizzas with children, while adults and those looking to celebrate can opt for a free flow brunch featuring French champagne and aperol spritz.
The mission at JIA Group is to be a leading hospitality group, creating properties with a pulse; to strategically plan growth while maintaining core values; to reinforce brand personalities and values to the public as well as internally so that the JIA Group ethos is infused into each member of their team. JIA Group also seeks to provide customers with an ‘experience’ which is personal, interactive and authentic, yet which also provokes and entertains.
Each JIA Group restaurant has its own brand personality and style but it is always uniquely JIA Group. It is JIA Group’s particular approach and attitude, which defines who they are and helps them to deliver their own brand of product and service. Five milestones that JIA Group has achieved which are proud moments for the group’s Chief Executive Officer, Yenn Wong, include developing the first boutique hotel in Hong Kong and being able to compete against larger, multinational hospitality brands for bookings and occupancy. Wong is also one of the youngest leaders in the hotel business, and was named Restaurateur Of The Year by several publications. Under her leadership Duddell’s restaurant received its second Michelin star, leading to the restaurant’s first international expansion via Duddell’s London which will open in late 2017.
One of the most difficult challenges Wong faces is people management on various levels. “It’s challenging but rewarding to deal with all types of people, all the time – whether it’s a member of my team or a guest. Across the JIA Group portfolio, we serve approximately 3,000 – 5,000 people on a daily basis,” says the young entrepreneur. Wong tries to problem solve in present time as best she can, and works with different characters to understand their viewpoints or concerns. “In some situations one needs to place feelings aside, but at other times, one needs to have great empathy,” she observes.
Wong obviously has mastered the art of empathy as JIA has a high retention rate across the board, which she feels speaks to the environment that they have created. “From a human resources perspective, we look for people with initiative and talent. They are then empowered to do their own thing. Because we have empowered them, they show pride in their work and the venues or projects they’re assigned to,” says the graduate of the University of Western Australian who majored in Marketing and International Economics.
Wong’s father has always been an inspiration to her, as he was a self-made entrepreneur who taught her the value of hard work. “My father nurtured me to become an entrepreneur. While a tertiary education gives you a great foundation and education, at JIA Group it’s about being hands on. It’s about the daily encounters which you then apply what you have learnt previously in one situation to the next,” says Wong. “You learn by doing, and when you make a mistake, you reflect upon what you did to ensure you don’t make the same mistake again,” she states when asked her philosophy of business.
She also feels that for a person to be considered ‘successful’, one must earn both respect and credibility within their own industry. “Reputation is important, as is conducting yourself well and treating others how you would like to be treated. This applies to everyone, from your teams on the floor, to those you collaborate with.”
Compared to her peers in the F&B industry Yenn feels that the difference that has made her successful has been that she likes her core team to be a big part of the business and the decisions they make. She shared that she is transparent and doesn’t keep much up her sleeve. Her team knows what she’s thinking about so they can then bring ideas she might not have previously thought of up to the table.
She also shared that her not being out late into the evening has helped her to keep a clear head too, allowing her to be fresh faced and focused on the tasks at hand. Another trait that Wong also feels makes someone a good entrepreneur is the need to be passionate, organised and responsible.
When asked what she hopes to be doing ten years from now, Wong replied that she
hopes for the JIA Group to be known as a brand that doesn’t just compete, but sits at the vanguard of hospitality internationally.
And how does this successful entrepreneur spend her time? She counts her favourite past times as spending time with her sons Gregory and Gabriel and catching up on lots of sleep. As a working mother, she feels that it is about balancing home time with work time which mostly consists of meetings, tastings and site visits.
Last but not least, the advice Wong would give another young person wanting to start their own business is to do their homework. “If you can, live and breathe what you do all the time. Don’t ever switch off. You need to love what you’re doing and so when you need to quickly check reports or emails on vacation it doesn’t feel like a chore.”
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