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Why the Old Chang Kee boss prefers hiring elderly

Why a multi-million-dollar business prefers hiring out of the box.

Building a multi-million-dollar empire off the simple curry puff is a feat in itself, but Han Keen Juan, founder and now executive chairman of Old Chang Kee (OCK), humbly attributes much of the success to luck, timing, government grants and loyal customers.

(READ ALSO: Michelin Guide arrives in Singapore in 2016 – what does this mean for us?)

Grateful for the support which helped grow Chang’s Curry Puffs, a single stall at the old Rex Cinema on Mackenzie Road, into a public-listed company with over 70 outlets islandwide, Han feels morally compelled to contribute to the public good. One manifestation of this is the active policy of favouring elderly applicants when hiring for production or retail positions.

(RELATED: No, I do not want a Michelin star, say some chefs.)

“I have been the beneficiary of taxpayer money, and this nation is where my fortunes grew,” says the 64-year-old Han. “This (policy) is my social obligation.” Around 80 per cent of the staff are at least 45 years old.

”The elderly are immensely loyal and dependable,” he says. “For example, some of them keep the OCK shirt on even after knocking off , saying they are proud of working for the brand. They are punctual and absenteeism is low.”

“Many aren’t working because of money,” adds Han, a business graduate who quit his management position at a security company to buy Chang’s in 1986. He cites the example of an employee whose son drops her off at work – in a Jaguar. “They do it because it’s a purposeful existence they can take pride in, and because they want to be recognised as contributing members of society, despite their years.”

William on bus

The leadership of Old Chang Kee (in this case, William Lim, nephew and current CEO) are advocates of employing the elderly.

A wizened employee base does present challenges, which he works around. For example, he commissioned an overhaul of the cashier software to work off pictures of food items instead of lists, so employees who have poorer vision or are illiterate can key in entries quickly. The system ended up being beneficial to staff of all ages.

Han believes that it is a responsibility for business leaders to instil the idea of giving back. “Businesses succeed, thanks to good conditions. We have to give back to the environment that helped us rise from nothing.”

YOG Paper Bag picture

Without any prompting, OCK changed the desigh of their takeaway bags in support of the Youth Olympic Games in 2010 – a move that raised the profile of the landmark event.

(RELATED: An article from TheSmartLocal profiles a number of said employees.)