You started Phyto Pharmacy, a company selling traditional Chinese medicine products, in particular, lingzhi.
Phyto Pharmacy is a company I set up over the last ten years because I am more aware of being well, I am more aware that people are sick and that the cost of healthcare is prohibitive. Also, a lot of the health supplements we are taking are chemicals. My father and grandfather are Chinese sinsehs, I’m a physiologist and have a Masters in pharmacology, and I did pre-clinical work. So I decided to go back to my roots and my family’s legacy, and use my Western academic scientific knowledge and integrate it into a holistic business.
Tell us about your lingzhi products.
We went to the wild forests of Zhang Bai Shan mountain in China where a species of lingzhi grows, that has three beta glucan extracts that are very effective against cancer. It is very rare; in the 10 days we were there we only found six specimens. After harvesting the lingzhi, we sent samples to one of the world’s leading experts on medicinal mushrooms, a Professor Wasser, who declared it a new species and named it after me. So it is our own species that we grow, organically, and is protected.
In Singapore we got Temasek Lifescience to do a DNA profile, they extracted 74 bioactives and found 16 out of 20 amino acids in huge concentrations, vitamins, fatty acids, essential oils, everything. Which means that if you just take a capsule of this a day, you get 80 percent of the beta glucans you need and you can, over a period, get well.
How has this helped you and your family?
Three years ago, my sister-in-law had cancer, so we formulated lingzhi spore oil soft gel for her that has a lot of triterpenes (what is this, pls explain) – a compound with good antibacterial and antiviral qualities. She told me it was amazing and that within the first month of taking it, she was going to the gym after chemotherapy. It gave her that much energy and today, she is fine.
Last year I started taking it and now I’ve got the energy to dance—I’m 65—four hours a day. My mother, who is 93 years old, takes it and asks for more the minute she runs out because of the vital energy it gives her.
How are you taking this to consumers?
At the moment we are in 40 Watson’s stores, in Cold Storage and we are going to be in Guardian Pharmacy. I will be the spokesperson, and my dancing especially, will be an example of how this product can increase your energy! And our pricing is very competitive. Most brands are priced at over $100 a bottle, we sell below $100. We also have it in the form of coffee and tea. But, I want to educate the consumer; I don’t just want to sell something. For instance, we are working with Nanyang Technological University to bring in different species of lingzhi, so people can go and look at them and understand which herb species is better and why it is better.
And what is your role now at The Hour Glass?
My role in Hour Glass is very much through the Singapore Retail Association (SRA). As president of SRA, I work with SPRING to train people for the retail industry. The
challenge in Singapore is this – our retail footprint has grown from one million to three million square feet, but the number of skilled trained staff has not grown proportionately. We need to quickly train people to be productive and efficient; so we have decided to have ambassadors within organisations that are willing to adopt productivity measures. I’ve been the SRA president for the last 10-12 years and I also helped co-found the retail academy of Singapore. I chair the Great Singapore Sale and out of that now is The Republic.
What’s the thinking behind The Republic?
At the Singapore Tourism Board (STB), we said, look, we really need to see how we can handle high-net-worth individuals. We have a lot of high-spending customers whom we know, need service beyond expectations. They need private jets; they need concierge services, like Quintessentially; they need to be picked up the moment they arrive – so now we have Quay Jet, a terminal dedicated to commercially important travellers. High-net worth individuals also need to get their GST seen to when they shop; they want closed door shopping; they want to go to the casino and they want to spend, but they want someone really to be there to give them the benefits, to encourage them.
So we got STB, MasterCard, The Hour Glass, Singapore Airlines and Marina Bay Sands together and agreed to share this 40,000-customer base. We said, if we give these high-net-worth customers an unbeatable lifestyle experience at their fingertips, they will come back again and again. Now that is really the experience we want out of The Republic.
Besides all this, you are also involved in the environmental movement with Save Our Planet Foundation that you set up in 1997?
My awareness of environmentalism started with one of my early business investments, in outdoor furniture. I realised the environmental cost of chopping down trees and that you must plant 20 trees to make up for every one you chop. But at that time, no one cared. It was only last year when our Singapore government participated in the Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen that they started thinking reforestation was important.
Save Our Planet Foundation is a social philanthropic enterprise that adopts a holistic approach to the environment. Trees are chopped because the farmers have got no livelihood, their land, the livestock and their crops have been taken away. To break this cycle, we want to help the farmers, women and children. We will nurture women, educate the children, and at the same time, enable them to be self-sufficient through sustainable achievable income, which we promote in a side programme, Women for Women. If we raise enough funds, help them with intercropping and selling their products, and plant trees, we are also helping them build homes, educate their children and get well. So, I think with a holistic approach, you can solve a lot.
You have a goal to plant a billion trees. How far along are you?
I’ve planted a million now. I am looking at working with Waterland International in Indonesia, which is a partnership with the forestry ministry, to start planting 10,000 hectares of Jatropha, timber and crops. To make this holistic, we will have farmers who plant the trees and crops, a distribution centre in Singapore where the harvest can be processed and sold internationally, and we are also looking at working with the Social Innovation Park in Punggol, founded by MP Penny Low, to help people here understand what we are doing. So, it’s all coming together.
A Renaissance Woman
Dr Jannie Tay, known to many for building The Hour Glass, has also developed a traditional Chinese medicine business, is an avid environmentalist and is the brains behind The Republic. She talks about these varied passions with equal enthusiasm for each one.
This article was first published in The Republic