Member Spotlight: Nichol Ng
Member Spotlight: Nichol Ng
The first thing you notice when you meet ONE°15 Marina’s Member, Nichol Ng, is her ruby-red hair. Then you see the four bubbly children hovering around her—or balancing on her knees. That’s when you notice the five-inch black platforms that Ng is wearing. While some of us may find ourselves wobbling away in these heels, the 43-year-old does the perfect balancing act. Like everything else in her life, the Managing Director of FoodXervices Inc and the cofounder of The Food Bank Singapore (FBSG) takes it all in her stride.
Though not everything has always run smoothly for Ng. At the age of 16, her family was hit by the Asian Financial Crisis and her entrepreneur father went bankrupt. Ng remembers being told to leave their house and watching her mother’s car being towed away. But the one business the family managed to hold onto was the food distribution company that her grandfather launched in 1939. Ng did not realise at that time that this would prove to be huge stepping stone in her life. She had no idea then that she would buy over the business in 2007 and that it would inspire her to start a nonprofit initiative, which would distribute 13,000 meals daily to Singaporeans in need during the COVID-19 Circuit Breaker.
“There is no school that can replace what you do at home, in terms of value system.”
Before Ng bought out her grandfather’s company, she cut her teeth in media as a marketing executive and ran her own sandwich shop. She only joined the family business when the SARS pandemic hit and her father needed help digitising the business. A family person at heart, Ng knew it was the right move to make and jumped right in to help the business through this tough period. They were naysayers all around. Firstly, she was a woman in a male-dominated business and secondly, her alternative style of dressing was not for the conservative at heart. “My uncles said I’d last one year in the industry. That made me more determined to prove myself,” says Ng
When Ng bought her grandfather’s business, she didn’t keep its name (Ng Chye Mong), but held onto his philosophy—to put thought into whatever one does in business. She restructured the company, FoodXervices Inc, based on a U.S. model, attracting clients such as Shake Shack, the Privé Group and Redmart. “We call it a start-up with an 80-year-old soul,” she laughs. Success in business instilled a strong urge in Ng to give back to society.
Ng and her younger brother Nicholas, who had joined the company in 2008, noticed that the price of food had increased dramatically over the years. They also found they were being asked by more charities for food donations. In a cityscape that was dominated by glittering skyscrapers, and where you can eat a hot and hearty hawker meal for $4, it seemed strange to Ng that people were finding it difficult to put food on the table. What was even more surprising was their research finding, which showed that one in 10 people in Singapore were food insecure.
As food distributors, they knew that 92 per cent of it was imported, yet 30 per cent of that food was thrown away. “We were not only throwing a lot of food away, but increasing our carbon footprint as well,” says Ng.
So in 2012, they launched the nonprofit FBSG, which collects all sorts of excess foods from traders, supermarkets, hotels and restaurants and distributes it via charities such as Willing Hearts, Salvation Army and Family Service Centres. Around the time they launched the charity, Ng’s responsibilities started to grow even more. Ng and her husband Eddy Tapsir, welcomed their daughter Sascha (now 8 years old). She was soon followed by Shaia, 6; Xander, 4; and Skylar, 1.
There is no stopping this self-proclaimed ‘Energizer Bunny’ though. Barely two weeks after giving birth to Skylar, Ng and Nicholas moved into Xpace in Pandan Loop. Not just the headquarters for FoodXervices Inc and FBSG, the five-storey building is a coworking, co-cooking, co-distribution hub, designed to help other entrepreneurial foodies to dream big. “It’s basically like a playground for anybody that’s in the food industry,” says Ng.
RISING TO THE CHALLENGE
The biggest challenge for Ng came in 2020 when COVID-19 struck. It brought FBSG face-to-face with the people who needed the help most. “During the Circuit Breaker, we realised that the need for cooked food far outweighed the need for dry rations,” says Ng.
“It would bring tears to my eyes, because I would hear children saying things like, ‘my mum has not eaten for two days,’ or ‘my dad hasn’t eaten for three days’. It made the situation so real.” It spurred Ng to pivot the white label charity quickly in response to the needs on the ground—so instead of delivering produce to charities, FBSG delivered hot meals to homes. At the height of the pandemic, they were delivering 13,000 meals a day to families cooked by hotels in Singapore.
But multi-tasking Ng manages to keep all the balls in the air, and her role as a wife and partner to her husband is one of her top priorities. Equally important is being a good mum, a good daughter and a good niece to her children, mother and great aunt respectively, who all live with her. “I feel a great responsibility to look after everyone. I have 10 people living in my house,” she laughs. But she is in no way complaining, as she would still love to add two more children to their brood.
Ng makes sure that she spends time with her children. From packing their lunches, driving them to school or tucking them into bed and hearing tales of their day’s adventures. Saturdays are dedicated to swimming at the Club. “There’s no shortage of private schools to give them the opportunity to study what they want, but there is no school that can replace what you do at home, in terms of value system,” she says. And maybe, the work that she is doing with FBSG, is the best lesson she can give them of all.