Business by Remote Control
Wu Chun is a name that requires no introduction in the entertainment industry, he is the Brunei heartthrob who has reached international stardom through his singing and acting careers in Taiwan. His endorsements includes the likes of Coca-Cola, Canon, Osim, Gatsby and a list of fashion and cosmetic items. You can learn all you need to know about him from his website: http://www.chunzone.com. Besides oil and gas, Wu is arguably one of Brunei’s most prominent exports.
Beneath Wu’s reserved demeanor on the television screen, lies a confident gentleman with a sound business acumen and more than a few lessons to share from his hard knock experience in a cut-throat industry, where stars rise as quickly as they fall. Before becoming a star, Wu was a national basketball player, a gym enthusiast and an entrepreneur who ran a chain of multimillion-dollar fitness centres and a hotel in Brunei. The main difference today is his inability to go anywhere in Asia without being recognized.
A commendable note about Wu is his commitment in giving back to the society of Brunei. Wu’s organisation, Fitness Zone recently donated BND 50,000 through the Japanese Embassy in Brunei for the Tsunami Relief fund. He has been spotted in helping to raise money in the Brunei’s HSBC charity run in May, and is a generous donor to charities and schools locally. We talked to Wu, whose management practice is not exactly by remote control from overseas, as most people would imagine. On the contrary, he is every bit in-tune with his business operations as any other business owner.
How do you manage a business of such magnitude, while you are busy pursuing your own very successful music and acting career overseas?
The acting career in Taiwan demands long hours. However, there is also a lot of waiting time in between when the other members of the cast are performing their acts. I use that free time to correspond with my staff in Brunei through my laptop whenever I am not doing anything.
So, while you were in Taiwan, your mind was constantly in Brunei?
Yes, indeed. I am constantly thinking of work, ideas and ways to improve my business.
I am a believer in delegation and empowerment. There is a system of incentive in place in Fitness Zone, where staff are rewarded for their performance. We have sent staff to the US, Australia, Taiwan and Malaysia in the past, when they achieve their targets. I always encourage my staff to learn more about health related issues, nutrition and diet so they can engage in deeper conversation with our clients and inspire them to live a better lifestyle. I come back to Brunei rather frequently when I can, and when I am back I will dedicate a lot of time to catching up on the business. Some of our staff have been with us since day one, and have developed some solid fundamentals about the business.
How much of your business comes from your stardom, how much of it is a result of the merit of the gym itself?
Relatively speaking, my celebrity status has got very little to do with generating extra business for my gym in Brunei. Idol worship is not as prevalent in Brunei as compared to China, Hong Kong or Taiwan. I remember an instance in Taiwan when there was a boost in business in a local beverage store, simply because the paparazzi took a picture of me patronizing it. I have recently opened a Fitness Zone in Shanghai, in partnership with a fitness chain in China. Because of the population there, the business was able to ride on my brand and do very well.
You have recently opened another gym in Serusop Brunei, which you poured your heart and soul into. With the same amount of dedication and effort, you would have had a much faster and higher return in China. Why Brunei?
Brunei is my home. My mission has always been to spread the importance of a healthy lifestyle to my fellow compatriots, from the start of the first gym I opened. Of course, everyone is in business to make money. We have a long-term vision for the gym’s development. The first Fitness Zone gym in Kiulap has proven that there is a market for a lifestyle gym in Brunei. I believe when you do the right thing for the community, the reward will follow. I enjoy the process of creation; close to 100% of this (new) gym’s concept was designed by me; the mirrors, the inspirational quotes on the wall and the color combination to name a few. The indoor basketball court is something rather unique I added in, because of my love for the sport.
I have done a lot of research about fitness centres, by visiting some of the top gyms around the world and drawing reference from many other resources. This is why there has been a delay of 1 year before the opening of the Fitness Zone Serusop. This gym represents my creation and my passion. There is an overwhelming sense of satisfaction to see it finally opened and embraced by the local community. Obviously you have a wide exposure in Taiwan and the rest of the world,for that matter. What are the business opportunities you see that can be applied to Brunei? Bruneians have a love for food. In Taiwan, there is this building with different national food theme on each floor, making it a one stop eatery for people to dine in. This could be an interesting model for the Bruneian market.
What can we learn from the Taiwanese about work and business attitude?
Innovation – Taiwanese business owners put a lot of thought and creativity into their businesses. My exposure is mainly towards the food industry because I have a love for food, so I will use the restaurant again as an example. There is a very
popular restaurant in Taipei famous for not having a food menu. Each day, the chef would think of some new courses to cook, and present them to the customers. The business is hugely popular because of this innovative concept! It makes perfect sense – as a person who eats out a lot, sometimes I do not have any clue as to what I want to eat. So, it is good to have other people make up my mind for me.
Customer Service – Taiwan has one of the best customer service cultures I have come across anywhere in the world. The people are naturally polite and thoughtful towards the customers’ needs. Customer Service has a lot to do with culture. When a kid grows up in Taiwan and is exposed to a certain level service from the restaurant attendant from an early age. As they grow up, they will naturally follow the behavior of how they were being served and repeat the same. This is not to say we can’t do the same in Brunei. It only takes a dedicated retailer or restaurant to raise the bar, and reap the benefit. When that happens, other businesses will follow. The trend would catch on, and the whole industry’s service standard will rise as a result of it.
Attitude – Take my filming crew for example, when the shooting project is underway, no one takes leave even during festive seasons. Everyone will work round the clock to get the work done. Of course, I do not advocate for the people here to go to this extreme. I much prefer the Westerner’s approach of a work life balance, where they put 100% into the work and take time to rest and recover. That said, there are definitely elements of the Taiwanese’ work ethic that we can learn from.
Brand Wu Chun seems to be embraced well by the entertainment industry and the media overseas. You were often being referred to by fellow actors and various media as an epitome of a healthy image, with personable charisma. How did you cultivate such an excellent Public Relations image?
I don’t think there is any special strategy on my part. However, I try to treat everyone I meet with due respect and sincerity. The entertainment industry has taught me a lot about the virtue of patience; I was a lot less tolerant individual prior to entering this career. I have learned that you don’t throw your weight around simply because you are famous.
Secondly, it is important to be genuine – what you see in front of the screen about me, is exactly the same as what you see off stage. When actors try to project themselves differently from who they really are, that is when it often leads to trouble. I think, when people can sense that you are authentic, they would respond in kind to you. This applies beyond just the entertainment industry.
What are some of the lessons from the entertainment industry that can be applied to businesses and vice versa?
The entertainment industry can sometimes be rather ruthless. 50% of your success comes from being in the right place and the right time. The other 50% depends on your hard work, and your ability to seize every opportunity as they come along. Even if you do all that, it doesn’t guarantee you success at all, unless you are super talented like Jay Chou. You need a great attitude and excellent people skills because every person you meet on a daily basis, be it the press or people within your circle can make or break your career.
There is a reason why people like Andy Lau, Jacky Chan and other top celebrities achieve their level of success today. I recently had the privilege of working with Samuel Hung in a movie, where he was the martial art director. Despite his poor health condition, he would always be the first to arrive at the stage, and be the last to leave. By the way, he is very caring gentlemen as well. There is a lot of hard work behind personal success. Business success operates on the same principle too; it takes a lot of character, people skills and will power.
What are some departing advice you can share with starting entrepreneurs?
Have an open mind to new ideas. Travel the world! When you travel, explore your own industry to compare notes and learn from what other countries do well. Invest in your people, send them overseas for training to learn the latest skills.
Don’t be afraid to test new ideas for your own business!