You cannot say you are a KL insider if you have not dined or experienced one of Michele Kwok’s F&B outlets. Her name card bears the jaunty title of “First Lady” and indeed she is — of a veritable empire of restaurants. Her Soul Society Asia group includes the perennially-packed SOULed Out chain, which spans from the original outlet in Desa Sri Hartamas to Taman Tun Dr Ismail and Ampang, all the way to Kota Kinabalu in Sabah. Republic of Bangsar regulars, meanwhile, know to head to WIP in BSC for a guaranteed good night out. Those in the heart of the city flock to Tujo Bar-serrie & Grill in the shadow of the Petronas Twin Towers while her latest venture looks slightly westwards, to the Indian subcontinent’s Malabar Coast in fact, where Goa by Hubba is already racking up a legion of fans for its contemporary take on Indian cuisine, refined with the input and expertise of celebrated chef Sapna Anand.
Having been in the business for 22 years, starting the group from scratch, those who know Kwok would also realise the decades have not diminished her passion in the least. “The trick is to stay in love,” she says. “You need to have energy, focus and passion to stay in the game. And, as clichéd as it sounds, it is my team who inspire me to continue doing what we do best. Their drive, loyalty and commitment to the business make me want to do more, to achieve more, with them by my side, fighting every battle, winning every game!
“Success means different things to different people,” she says. “It is something I have always pondered upon. Is it a mere measure of wealth? Or is it success in business or success in life that should ultimately define it for me? The progressive realisation of my worthy goals — be it taking the business to a listing on the stock exchange, or to groom and support my children and colleagues to achieve their goals and dreams and to live a life of meaning, balance and worth as well as make time for all the things that matter to me — like family and friends — is what success means to me right now. Along the way, I am also aware and mindful of the definition of ego, so I constantly remind myself that I have come this far because I have chosen to remain grateful, humble and simple. And this is how I intend to live out the rest of my life.”
The indefatigable Kwok has just set up yet another business arm, this time focusing on the burgeoning essential oils industry. Teaming up with retail veteran Angie Chong, formerly of FJ Benjamin, Kwok — who firmly believes in the healing power of essential oils — has co-founded Puras, an online essential oils business, which purveys the best oils sourced from all over the world as well as custom healing blends. “We have only just launched this month, actually, and the response has been tremendously encouraging. I have been using essential oils for years and I believe it is a wonderful way to work towards balance and wellness despite the hectic lifestyles we all live today.”
“The trouble with the rat race is that, even if you win, you are still a rat,” she laughs. “Therefore, the race has always been within me personally, my team and my company. My advice to the young ones is to take time to really assess your interests, skill sets, the related industry dynamics and the competitive landscape. Let your target customers steer you in the right direction of growth and success. In the end, there are no shortcuts to success. It takes grit, passion and perseverance … and a whole load of solid hard work and sacrifice. As the adage goes, don’t be afraid of growing slowly. Be afraid of standing still.”
As someone who’s constantly on the move, Kwok’s experience with the new Mercedes S-Class was a positive one. “I had the Mercedes-Benz S 450 for just under a week and found it to be a great ride. I did not get behind the wheel myself but my driver was most pleased with it. As a passenger, I have to say it was superbly smooth and comfortable. Sometimes, I couldn’t even tell if the engine was running or not — it was that quiet. The interior was, of course, luxurious and spacious, as expected. It really is a car that is meant to be chauffeur-driven in!”
This article first appeared on Sept 17, 2018 in The Edge Malaysia.