Work and play go hand in hand for Kent Chua. He knows how to have fun, but he’s also his own harshest critic.
At any given day, Kent Chua would rather be diving.
The days in the life of the co-founder of Rhombus Connexion look mighty amazing as they are – a store opening in Yangon in between a meeting in Shanghai and a check-in stop in Singapore for yet another restaurant there – but nothing makes him feel more at home than when he’s metres underwater.
“I love the silence underwater; you only hear the beating of your own heart,” he says as a look of yearning glosses over his eyes. “I find that very soothing especially amidst the day to day hustle and bustle of being in the city. The world is at peace and that changes the way your mind thinks. Your thought just flows.”
Delving deeper into his story, it is easy to see why the depths of the ocean has stolen his heart so. It is what drove him to start his first business and remains to this day a big undercurrent to how he runs his businesses and manages the people supporting him towards his bigger goal.
The pursuit of happiness
A Kuching native, Kuala Lumpur called to him the moment he finished secondary school. A degree in chartered accounting brought him to Deloitte, where he was an auditor for 3 years.
“It was a conscientious choice to go into auditing,” he explains. “It’s the only job in the world where big corporations open up their doors and let you understand inside out how their companies work.”
The long hours and subpar pay left him struggling to find ways to get back into the ocean, a predicament that led him to eventually open up his first The Beer Factory bar in Sunway Giza in 2010 with business partner Kean Leong.
“I wanted to continue diving and see the world, so I had to find two things – money and time,” he reasons. “And the only thing that can grant us that was to start our own business.”
A straightforward beer bar with an equally simple to understand name was that business. The focus on beer is further bolstered by the term ‘factory’, from where you get the freshest products and at the lowest price.
“We didn’t know much about F&B, hence why we didn’t want to start a restaurant,” he elaborates. “But we know beer. At 21 and 23 back then, we were our own target market.”
It was a product of borderline brash ballsiness and RM350,000 borrowed from various sources. But brash ballsiness paid off because he broke even 6 months in and is on track to rake in RM100 million in revenue 6 months into 2017’s financial year.
“We may fail but at least we tried,” he muses in hindsight. “I always say I can live with failure but I cannot live with not trying.”
Seven years in, The Beer Factory is 11 outlets strong, strewn across both West and East Malaysia and Yangon, Myanmar. He calls it his pot of gold, in which case, it’s a pot lying on a cloud that also includes The Rabbit Hole in Changkat and Suzie Wong in Wisma Lim Foo Yong.
But profits for profits’ sake is not what Kent is after.
“I started seeking for purpose in what I do,” he divulges. “I wanted to make a change and a mark on the people who work with us.”
A brainstorming session with old friends Tham Lih Chung and Edwin Yau found him that purpose. They joined what they had – Kent’s bars and entertainment outlets and Lih Chung’s restaurants like Wondermama – and renamed the parent company to Rhombus Connexion, “a place where our F&B companies can tap into each other’s resources and unlock our full potential.”
Joining them later are Andre Shum (who brought us Thai restaurant Rama V) and Dr Darren Ng (who founded The Morning After chain of cafes), completing the 51 outlets strong Rhombus Connexion.
Between Kent and another 782 employees, Rhombus Connexion continues to seek out other potential F&B entrepreneurs to be part of the family, grow in size and, most importantly, connect for peer to peer learning and support.
“The best life to touch is that of an entrepreneur,” Kent tells. “Touch the life of one entrepreneur and imagine the number of jobs they can create.”
“Happiness is the highest level of success”
Rhombus Connexion is run today in direct reflection to Kent’s belief in going after what makes you happy.
“Where there’s happiness, money will follow,” is how he puts it. “Money is merely a gauge of passion. If you’re passionate about something and you give it 110%, how can you not succeed?”
The Rhombus Connexion office stretches to the maximum the open space concept, complete with flexible hours and unlimited leave days.
“Your people are your greatest asset so you got to keep them happy,” he tells. “When they’re happy and believe in your vision, they’ll go out of their way to help you achieve it.”
Beyond the workplace, Kent also subscribes to the Triangle of Happiness to help him find fulfillment. He believes in it so much that he’s had it tattooed. In Tibetan, the words “Happiness is the highest level of success” runs down his spine.
“Happiness and success are never a destination,” he cautions. “Too many people pin it to a goal. It’s about living in that specific moment and truly savouring it when you’re there.”
To identify said destination, he says to listen to your heart. “It knows how to make us happy. A lot of us choose to suppress that due to societal expectations. We can’t just be living our lives to pay bills and die.”
“Ask yourself, are you living or are you just existing?”
“The flow should feel right”
Fresh from the opening of The Beer Factory’s 11th outlet, Kent is currently looking forward to his 32nd birthday, rolling around just this month.
“I will be travelling,” he tells without a missing a beat. “I travel every year for my birthday. I make it a vow to match the number of countries I’ve visited to my number of years.”
He laughingly jokes that he’s a little ahead – he’s stepped foot in 33 countries – but goes on to share this year’s destination: the Bahamas, to swim with the beach pigs as much as the waters.
“Exploring new places helps me reflect on life and learn to see things from new perspectives” he opens up. “The best way to observe a fish is to become a fish and you realise you’re free to move in whatever direction you feel – that’s a freedom I’ve never experienced before.”
That freedom is also how he’s learnt to listen to his heart and find his own definitions of success.
“In life it’s very important to go with the flow,” he reflects. “Like with diving, you can waste a lot of energy fighting the tides but the best things come when you ride the wave and go with the currents.”
That does not mean he leaves everything to fate.
“Hardship will come your way and of course you need to think of ways to rise above these challenges but the flow should feel very right.”
He cites a particularly dangerous dive in Bali as one of his biggest life lessons.
“The undercurrent there is very strong, there are many deaths every year,” he recalls. “Us being rebellious, we wanted to go even more. We were cocky; we’ve clocked over a hundred dives and believed we could do it. But when the currents hit, we really had to hang on to whatever rocks – anything – for dear life. Your limbs aren’t yours anymore because you can’t control anything.”
“It taught me to understand that when life becomes hard, you got to hang in there.”
Wherever and whatever he’s hanging onto right now, we’re sure it’s a good place, driven by his pursuit of happiness that in itself naturally translates into greater heights of success as is his belief.
Photography: Ian Wong from The Home Studio
Art direction and styling: Gan Yew Chin
Grooming: Ling Chong
Video: Zac Lam
Special mention: Kent wears jacket, shirt and pants from Dior Homme in the cover photo