Avin Ong’s entrepreneurial light-bulb moment happened during a family meal at a Japanese restaurant in 2014.“I wanted to do something for myself and I’d been looking for a business idea that could use my career learnings and experiences,” recalls Avin, Founder and CEO of Fredley Group of Companies.
“I’m a real foodie, so during dinner I said, ‘Why don’t we start our own restaurant and I’ll run it?’ Taking risks is my mantra and making the first step is critical, so I started the business the next day.”
Only five years later, the Philippines-based Fredley Group of Companies is a master franchise collection of 120 restaurant and cafe branches and concepts operating nationwide with more than 1,000 employees and nine separate brands in the company portfolio, including Macao Imperial Tea, Nabe Japanese Izakaya and Hot Pot, Mitasu Yakiniku, New York Fries & Dips and Liang Crispy Rolls. This number will explode in 2020 with plans to have a total of 200 branches operating within the next 12 months.
With double MBAs, an honours degree from De La Salle University and global experience with Deutsche Bank, this 28-year-old isn’t afraid of rolling his shirtsleeves up. But it’s the many layers of Avin that make this business success story so compelling.
“I started my first job when I was seven,” he says. “We were very poor so I sold fruit shakes at the wet market. My childhood was spent either at school, working for myself, or working for family. It instilled a strong work ethic in me. “I know what it feels like to have nothing,” Avin adds. “Giving back to the community will always be a priority for us and I’m proud of that.”
Today, the company’s social responsibility initiatives are fiercely important. Filipinos with disabilities are employed by the company and the Employee Rewards Program subsidises expenses and tuition fees for employees’ children. The soon-to-be-launched Fredley Foundation will provide education scholarships and, ultimately, roles and a career path within the group to the less fortunate.
With his compassion and empathy, it comes as no surprise that Avin personally provides mentoring, learning and food to Filipino street children through Childhopes’ Street Education and Protection Program. “Poverty is a serious challenge in the Philippines and it frustrates me. I want to be someone who will change lives by helping them,” Avin says.
“I want to be someone who will change lives by helping them.”
“I’m proud that Fredley Group of Companies has created jobs and career progression opportunities. We employ more than a thousand Filipinos who can progress within the company.” People management is a strength and passion for Avin.
“I’m a very hands-on CEO, I visit branches weekly and try out different products and services as a customer,” he says. “I’ll talk to everyone – the managers, servers, dishwashers and the customers – and find out their insights and challenges. It’s important to understand how we can do better for our customers and employees.
“We put aside job titles and talk honestly and openly without judgement. Every day, we grow as a business and as individuals – it’s a very unique and special culture.” In 2018, Avin was recognised as Injap Sia Outstanding Young Entrepreneur and as a ‘young visionary restaurateur’ in Asian Dragon Magazine. “This recognition is not just for me,” Avin smiles. “It’s for everyone in Fredley Group of Companies and for those who’ve supported me from the start. I’m grateful for the opportunity to inspire ‘the next Avin Ong’.”
The next 12 months are success-focused for the company. “Our top priority is to introduce more international brands into our portfolio,” states Avin. “This will create thousands of jobs for Filipinos. Innovation is an imperative in the food service industry. It is constantly changing, so to survive and grow, we need to adapt and change with it.
“We need to re-engineer the company’s internal processes to support this projected growth,” Avin adds. “Our number one goal is to publicly list the company in the next 5–10 years and we need the back end to support it. Operations is the company’s lifeblood.”
The success of Fredley Group of Companies is dependent on positive long-term relationships with a large network of suppliers. “We regularly sit down with our suppliers to align our plans and goals,” Avin shares.
“We need to know our suppliers can support Fredley’s 2020 expansion plans. Where possible, we’ll work together by co-branding and running promotions together. “In fact, so strong are these relationships that some of our key suppliers have now joined us as franchisees,” he laughs.
“Self-discipline is the ultimate driver for our success. Self-discipline creates dreams and achieves goals,” Avin adds. “I’ve been pushing myself to do more and take risks – this is why we grow each day.”
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