Friday, March 05, 2010

Book Review - "The Soy Sauce Towkay" (Full Review)

Title: The Soy Sauce Towkay (The Story of Yeo Thian In)
Authors: Alfred Yeo, FT Liu, and Tee-Jong Lee.
Published: Singapore: Glory Minds, 2010, (172pp)

This is a wonderful narrative of the life of Thian-In Yeo (1898-1985), the founder of the household name "Yeo Hiap Seng" in Singapore. Just like Thian-In who was unabashed about his Christian convictions when running his business, the author-narrators of this book are not shy to consistently highlight how Christian beliefs shape "Yeo Hiap Seng" as a company. Having said this, you do not have to be a Christian in order to benefit from this book.

What is the Book About?
This book traces the life and testimony of Thian-In Yeo, who spearheaded the soy sauce business from Zhangzhou China to Singapore. Covering both China, Singapore and many countries it narrates the ups and downs of Thian In's personal and business ventures with a keen awareness of how Thian-In's faith in Christ shapes both. Launched at the 25th anniversary of Thian-In's death, this book received the support of many YHS family and associates.

Who Can Benefit?
Written by a project team comprising Alfred Yeo (Thian In's youngest son), FT Liu, and Tee-Jong Lee, the book benefits at least three audiences: the Yeo family, the Christian as well as the general public. As a faithful record of Yeo Thian In's achievements, the book generously credits the Yeo family for their willingness to be interviewed. The way the story is put together highlights again the need to remember fundamental business principles that the founders envisioned. It will also benefit the Yeo clan for many generations to come. The older surviving members can remember the humble beginnings, while the younger members of the family can learn not to take their success for granted. Christians at large, particularly entrepreneurs who are Christians can learn from Thian In's example of what it means to live as a Christian in the business world. Finally, the general public can get a glimpse of the man behind the home-grown famous food and beverage company.

The Book
Part One of the book touches on the early beginnings of the soy sauce maker. It describes the ravages and the tragedies of the war in the 40s, the painful separation of the family from China to Singapore, and the struggles of starting up a new company in a new land. It contains a great description of the YHS logo (lighthouse) and the name (Hiap), both allude to the company as a channel to shine for Christ, as well as a continued reminder that they are sustained in God's strength.

Part Two is a fascinating description of the growth of the company, the products, the distribution and the socio-political environment in Singapore. For those of us who do not know much about soy sauce, food distribution and marketing innovation, this part is a welcome educational primer.

Part Three is a moving narrative of Yeo Thian In's family, their ups and downs, and concludes with the passing of the patriarch. The photographs from pages 67-90 give the reader a very tender look at the breadth of Thian In's influence in his family, his work and his faith.

Part Four attempts to summarize some of the events and contexts that shape Yeo Thian In. It touches on "Christianity and Chinese Culture," "The Influence of John Sung, the Christian evangelist," and four papers from Christian entrepreneurs that tackle the challenging question of "What Makes a Business Christian?" All the four contributors did a great job by concluding their papers with a reference back to Yeo Thian In's faith.

My Comments
From a overall standpoint, the first three parts of the book are more cohesive. The last part can be placed in an Appendix section without affecting reader flow. I enjoy the biographical flow of Yeo Thian In the man, and the fascinating insights into the beginnings and the growth pains of Yeo Hiap Seng the company. The material is dense, but the authors can be commended for their ability to distill and pack them in a convenient short-chapter format that makes easy reading and referencing. I managed to finish the book in one sitting. As a biography, this book brings inspiration. As a record, this book urges continued perspiration and perseverance. As a Christian testimony, this book provokes aspirations for budding entrepreneurs who are Christians. This book is a fitting tribute to the man of faith, a Singapore-based entrepreneur with business foresight and Christian insights. It is firstly a story of Yeo Thian In, the businessman who founded Yeo Hiap Seng, the company. Secondly, it is about Thian In as a man of faith, who runs his business with Christian ethics as a guide in growing and managing his company. Thirdly, it is a book that hopes to guide modern entrepreneurs to learn from the contexts that enable Yeo Thian In (the man) and Yeo Hiap Seng the company, (YHS) to become what they are today.

Read this book. Buy three; one to keep, two to give away. The Bible speaks of encouraging Christians to be the salt and light of this world. Yeo Thian In's life is an example of his rendition of 'salty' faith: A soy-sauced faith.

My rating: Four Stars out of Five.

Available at Glory Minds website now. You can also purchase it from Times the Bookstore.


No comments:

Latest Posts