An or­ganic way of life

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Family - By SHEELA CHANDRAN star2@thes­tar.com.my

LIKE many grad­u­ates, Clarissa Chong had a reg­u­lar, sta­ble job. But the bio­chemist who worked in the med­i­cal di­ag­nos­tics in­dus­try for more than 10 years had given her­self a dead­line to quit and ven­ture into busi­ness by 40. She felt that it was some­thing she had to do or her “pas­sion would slowly dim with time”.

And so at 40, Chong re­signed from her job and started her busi­ness with a cap­i­tal of RM500,000.

“I’ve al­ways been in­ter­ested in busi­ness as my father is a dig­i­tal and elec­tron­ics busi­ness­man. He al­ways en­cour­aged me to go into busi­ness,” re­calls Chong, who was more ex­cited than scared about her ca­reer change. “When the time came, I couldn’t wait to leave my job in the med­i­cal field to run my own busi­ness.”

It also helped that Chong knew ex­actly which busi­ness she wanted to go into.

“Since young, my sib­lings and I have been liv­ing in an or­ganic en­vi­ron­ment. My dad – an ad­vo­cate of homegrown veg­eta­bles – ed­u­cated us on the tox­i­c­ity of pes­ti­cides in veg­etable farm­ing, ad­verse ef­fect of colour­ing in food and chem­i­cal leach­ing from plas­tic bot­tles. So, it was only nat­u­ral to go into the or­ganic food busi­ness,” says Chong, who shares her par­ents’ be­lief in eat­ing healthily.

In 2010, Chong es­tab­lished Cot­tage Farm, of­fer­ing a home de­liv­ery ser­vice of fresh, or­gan­i­cally-grown veg­eta­bles in the Klang Val­ley.

The fol­low­ing year, Chong utilised her knowl­edge and ex­per­tise as a bio­chemist to de­velop and pro­duce or­ganic in­stant noo­dles, in­spired by her two daugh­ters.

“Grow­ing up, my par­ents for­bade my sib­lings and I from eat­ing in­stant noo­dles. I raised my chil­dren the same way too. The down­side was my chil­dren felt left out es­pe­cially when their friends ate in­stant noo­dles in front of them. So, I de­cided to for­mu­late or­ganic in­stant noo­dles with­out MSG, preser­va­tives, colour­ing and flavour­ing,” ex­plains the Univer­siti Malaya grad­u­ate, who took two years to de­velop her or­ganic in­stant noo­dles.

To en­sure the prod­uct’s qual­ity, she works closely with food man­u­fac­tur­ers in Melaka and Perak to en­sure there are no chem­i­cals, pes­ti­cides or ge­net­i­cally-mod­i­fied in­gre­di­ents in her line of prod­ucts. Or­gan­i­cally grown veg­eta­bles – sourced from Cameron High­lands – are used in her prod­ucts. Cur­rently, she has 10 staff to help her.

Through sheer hard work and per­se­ver­ance, Chong has mar­keted her or­ganic prod­ucts suc­cess­fully at se­lected gro­cery stores and or­ganic food chains in the Klang Val­ley and Pe­nang.

In Oc­to­ber, she will launch an or­ganic ce­real range.

For the past seven years, Chong has worked hard to build Cot­tage Farm, putting in long hours and stay­ing up to meet dead­lines.

“There are risks in­volved in start­ing a busi­ness from scratch. You could lose a lot of money. Your prod­ucts may not gain ac­cep­tance in the mar­ket. But there are al­ways risks. I won’t look back and say, ‘I should have’ ... I have no re­grets.

“Busi­ness own­ers with lit­tle or no man­age­ment ex­pe­ri­ence may face sig­nif­i­cant chal­lenges in run­ning a com­pany. I had the ad­van­tage of hav­ing a man­age­ment back­ground, from qual­ity con­trol to prod­uct de­vel­op­ment and mar­ket­ing from my pre­vi­ous job ex­pe­ri­ences. This gave me the con­fi­dence to build my busi­ness.”

When she gave up her job, Chong took a pay cut and had to change her life­style, which meant less over­seas travel, fine din­ing and lux­u­ri­ous ho­tel stays.

“But it was not so bad since I was ex­cited to be in busi­ness. The change in life­style taught me how to value money and be pru­dent.”

Still, Chong has no re­grets mak­ing her ca­reer switch. It has helped her achieve a healthy work-fam­ily bal­ance too.

“I can spend more time with my daugh­ters while con­cen­trat­ing on my busi­ness. My dar­ing plunge into busi­ness en­abled me to re­dis­cover my strengths and ca­pa­bil­i­ties,” says the 47-year-old who en­cour­ages others to ven­ture into busi­ness.

“There is al­ways a gap in the mar­ket’s needs,” says Chong.

— P. NATHAN/The Star

Chong is build­ing her busi­ness on the pas­sion for or­ganic food that her par­ents in­stilled in her.

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