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Go-Kart racing is like running businesses: Lady M boss Vijay Pillai

The director of Caerus Holdings and boss of Lady M's first Singapore store kicks back on the racetrack.

After kart racing for almost a decade, Vijay Pillai has learned a thing or two about handling life’s curve balls. A few years back, as his vehicle came onto the circuit, he crashed into a kart driven by a young girl. She had wandered out unsupervised.

“I couldn’t stop. The impact was so hard, she flew off her kart,” recalls the 30-year-old director of Caerus Holdings. Fortunately, the girl was unharmed. Pillai chalks the event up to a rite of passage: “Accidents happen. It’s just part of the sport.”

This sense of composure, says Pillai, was forged over time. As a teenager, his “need for speed” drew him to the racetrack. Sheer adrenalin kept him there. In many ways, the sport suited his personality as a competitive young man with an active mind. While he couldn’t afford his own wheels at the time, his natural business skills came in handy.

“I convinced one of my dad’s friends to give me one of his old karts. He was nice enough to give me two,” he laughs.

Pillai purchased his first – a sleek CRG Dark Knight – shortly after he began working in 2011. It wasn’t long before his work life was pushed into high gear. He spent a year in Mongolia managing his family’s mining business while braving harsh winters. “I was looking for adventure,” he says.

After returning, he ventured into oil and gas investments in Malaysia, and subsequently started expanding his family’s F&B business.

Ironically, as his responsibilities grew, the race track became a respite from the demands of work. “Every day is pretty intense,” he says. “It’s very relaxing to get away from work and do my own thing.”

He likens the sport to the experience of managing multiple businesses: “If you’re on the track, there are five or six cars going at full speed. You’re two inches away from the driver in front of you and the one behind. You have to think of all the things around you while driving the kart as well. One thing you learn is composure and how to break problems down into parts.”

This ability to keep his cool while navigating the bends of the business world has served him well. Case in point: setting up Singapore’s first store for Lady M, the acclaimed New York cake brand. From sourcing the ingredients to setting up the central kitchen and maintaining the brand’s high standards, each day presented a fresh set of challenges, he says.

We ask him if he would try any other adrenalin-inducing sport. “Skydiving,” he laughs, “I’m still considering it.”

In the meantime, it’s more likely you’ll find this speed racer living his life to the fullest, both on and off the racing track.

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