Ms Esther Loo, 33, might be the thirdgeneration scion to home-grown nuts and chips brand Tai Sun, but there was no cushy corner office waiting for her when she graduated from university in 2004.
"I thought I was set on the job front, but to my horror, my mother refused to pay me anything more than $500 unless I had some real-world experience," the University of Melbourne graduate recalls with a laugh.
Taking her parents' advice, Ms Loo spent seven years honing her skills in advertising and marketing for brands such as L'Oreal before bringing her expertise back to Tai Sun. She joined the business as its marketing manager in 2010.
As the oldest grandchild in the family, she was the first member of the third generation to return to the coop. In doing so, the oldest of three siblings joined her parents, two uncles and aunts and 80-year-old grandmother (who still drives herself to work) to run the company.
It came at an opportune time too, considering the 49-year-old traditional business started by her grandparents was ready for change.
"At the time, blind taste tests were showing that the product was great, but our old- school branding meant the younger generation of consumers just weren't picking up our products," says Ms Loo, who is married to an engineer and has a son who is 31/2 years old.
Her family sought her advice to remedy the situation and to her surprise, they were open to her idea for a radical revamp.
Recalls her mother, Mrs Sandy Lim, 58, who is a director at Tai Sun: "We knew something needed to be done and we needed someone to spearhead it. Thankfully, Esther helped articulate the new direction we should take."
Her first order of business? Repositioning the products and cleaning up everything from logos to packaging to give the company a fresher look and feel.
The family kept the Tai Sun brand for its traditional roasted nuts and Nature's Wonders for the premium nuts and dried fruits range, but introduced a new brand, Treatz, for its potato chips, and a new product line of gluten- and transfat-free cassava chips called UCA, aimed at the health-conscious younger consumer. "That way, each of our product segments was differentiated and had a niche," Ms Loo says.
Not content with just resegmenting the business, she also changed the packaging, ditching the staid look of yesteryear for bright colours, catchy flavour names such as Smackin' Lime and Black Pepper, and nifty features such as resealable packets to keep the products fresh.
Making sweeping changes did come with challenges, though.
"I was really feeling the pressure to see that our investment paid off. Secondary to the cost of the project, we were also wasting all the products in the old packaging," Ms Loo says.
"During that time, I oversaw everything - I was even double-checking the translations for our international exports."
Still, it is undeniable that her entry into the business has been a breath of fresh air. Revenue has grown by 30 per cent since the revamp and, last year, the company chalked up more than $50 million in revenue.
It seems Ms Loo's enthusiasm for the family business is contagious - her two younger brothers and two cousins - all aged 30 and below - have since taken her lead and joined the business.
One of her brothers, Terence, 30, who worked in compliance before joining the company, is now the financial controller.
"He's always questioning why I'm putting so much money into marketing and advertisements," Ms Loo laments jokingly. "But it's okay because we trust one another. In a family business, the investment is more than monetary - it's emotional."
This article was first published on February 22, 2015.
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