From founding and operating a fine dining restaurant in Shanghai to joining Pizza Hut in Australia to rejuvenate its business, Foodpanda Singapore CEO Lawrence Wen has always been passionate about providing quality food to as many people as possible. Witnessing the rise of delivery platforms and seeing opportunities in that sector, he joined Grab in Indonesia, where he learned how to run a technology-driven food delivery business in a hyper-competitive market. Now he is excited to continue
ntinue building on the success that the company has enjoyed in the last decade, and to make Foodpanda the platform of choice for all things food and groceries. Inside Retail: Tell me about your career journey. How did you get into the industry, what are some of the different roles you’ve held along the way? Lawrence Wen: I’ve always been a foodie. After growing up in different parts of the world and being exposed to so many cuisines, it was natural that my appetite for food discovery would fuel a career in F&B. My food journey started in 2013 when I founded a fine-dining Mediterranean restaurant in Shanghai. I learned the ropes of running a restaurant, and leading business development and operations, whilst finishing my MBA. After five successful years, I was hungry for a new challenge and worked with Pizza Hut in Australia where I led their strategy to revitalize an outdated business model. After Pizza Hut, I joined the food tech sector and saw new opportunities to support the F&B industry by helping restaurants grow their business. Today, I have the privilege of working with Foodpanda Singapore to grow our services and help our restaurants and merchant partners meet evolving customer demands, spanning from food, grocery and essential deliveries. IR: What are some of the challenges you’ve faced in your career and how have you dealt with them? LW: During my time as a restaurant owner, I had to manage the delicate balance between overhead costs and the need to turn a profit. It was a demanding endeavor that required constant reassessment between keeping a healthy bottom line and investing for growth. Ultimately, this experience gave me a clear understanding of the challenges that restaurant owners face, and how the Foodpanda platform can truly add value to their business. At Foodpanda, one of the key challenges is to ensure that our customers constantly find value in using our platform, so that they will keep coming back to Foodpanda for their food and grocery needs. The on-demand delivery sector in Singapore has seen significant growth over the past decade. When the pandemic hit, it accelerated customers’ reliance on on-demand delivery, which led to a shift in customer preference for convenience. Post-pandemic, customer preferences have shifted again, and they now expect brands to offer great experiences both offline and online. In order to meet these demands, we have had to build upon our services by: Expanding our pick-up service from only food to our online retail marketplace Foodpanda shops, and also to our cloud grocery store Pandamart Enhancing the value customers get out of our subscription program, Pandapro Making dine-in, previously only for Pandapro subscribers, available to all Foodpanda users, offering exclusive discounts when they eat at partnering restaurants Strategic partnerships such as with ride-hailing company Tada to offer cross-platform perks, and with DFI Retail Group to bring Singapore’s most iconic supermarkets available for delivery on Foodpanda IR: What are some of your career highlights so far and what do you love about your job? LW: A few come to mind – firstly, the restaurant I owned and operated, T8 Restaurant & Bar, was named one of the Top 50 restaurants in the world by Conde Nast Travel. This accolade validated all the hard work and dedication put into the restaurant, especially since I was also juggling my studies at the same time. While at Pizza Hut, I faced the challenge of having to turn around the business from bankruptcy. Tough decisions and a lot of work were put in to turn it into a fast-food powerhouse that is experiencing over four years of consecutive comparable sales growth. I’ve also successfully increased market leadership for on-demand delivery companies in multiple markets in Asia — an achievement that was recognized in my inclusion in a list of top e-commerce and retail leaders in Asia. The most fulfilling moments of my career are when I can see the positive impacts that our work has on the communities in our ecosystem, including our customers, delivery and merchant partners in Singapore. IR: What advice would you give someone who wants to get into your line of work? LW: My advice for anyone hoping to get into the industry is to be customer-centric. While this seems quite obvious and many companies claim to be customer-centric, in fact very few companies are able to execute customer-centricity. We get so caught up with overarching goals that we lose sight of what our main priority should be: which is to make sure that what we do is focused on creating more value for our customers; who in this case also include our delivery and merchant partners. I motivate my team to strive toward a positive end-to-end experience for all stakeholders in the Foodpanda ecosystem and to always think of how we can constantly improve their experience with us. IR: What are some of the key leadership lessons you’ve picked up throughout your career? LW: Over the years, I’ve learned there are three key values that every leader needs. First, it is crucial to have self-awareness. Whilst a good leader knows their strengths, an even better leader can identify and acknowledge their weaknesses. Complementing this, humility is vital when leading a team. You might not have all the answers and a leader should always be open to learning from others. Finally, open communication is the thread that ties all leadership skills together. Effective leaders foster an environment where members feel heard, valued and encouraged to share their knowledge, as the team collectively works toward success. IR: What advice would you give to someone who wants to move up the corporate ladder? LW: Invest in yourself through different experiences. I completed five internships (four of which were unpaid) in university. I worked almost every summer and winter holiday. While not everything will work out, all experiences are valuable and can be learned from – even if it isn’t immediately apparent. Make sure to also take the time to get to know and understand the people you work with – often, a company’s best asset is the people in it. Take the time to get to know the different internal teams and find out what they’re working on and sync with external stakeholders as well – you never know what useful lessons you can pick up. For example, working with the younger members of my team has opened my eyes to unconventional ways that we can connect with our Foodpanda partners and customers. IR: Do you have any business heroes? LW: The three people who are my business heroes are my parents and Jack Ma. My mother’s role as the CEO of a pharmaceutical company in China had a profound impact on my understanding of effective leadership. Growing up, I had the unique privilege of sitting in on her boardroom meetings and learned that being a successful leader isn’t just about making strategic decisions; it’s also about nurturing a sense of teamwork and empowerment within the organization. My mother has been a source of inspiration and support throughout my own leadership journey and continues to provide guidance towards being a people-focused leader. My father was a taxi driver for 30 years, who made the switch to becoming a driver with a ride-hailing platform in the last five years. He saw a marked increase in earnings due to the steady stream of customers, and I realized that gig work presented my father with much more flexibility in his schedule. Being the son of a gig worker strikes home the need to prioritize rider welfare at Foodpanda. He continues to remind me of the real value my work presents in providing a positive working experience for our delivery partners. Jack Ma’s advice on how to set goals in each stage of your career really resonated with me and has a become principle that I apply in my life. He shared that in your 20s, you should find a good boss more so than a good company to learn from them; in your 30s try and do something yourself if you can; in your 40s, focus on what you’re good at after developing your skills over the past 20 years. Finally in your 50s, give back to society and spend time to develop the next generation such as your children or grandchildren. IR: Do you have any “work hacks” for getting things done? LW: I split my week up into two halves so that I can dedicate enough time and focus to all stakeholders. The first half of my week from Monday to Wednesday is used to focus on internal business management, while Thursdays and Fridays are set aside for events, store visits and external meetings with merchant and delivery partners. I find that making use of digital tools helps me to be more productive. I like Google Calendar’s useful feature that tracks weekly hours spent on meetings as it helps me manage my time spent in meetings. By doing so, I can set aside enough time to do deep-focus work. Another method to increase efficiency is by using different communication tools to differentiate between extremely urgent tasks — such as using emails for formal announcements and Slack for quick alignments with the team. IR: What’s your approach to work-life balance? LW: I prefer not to look at work and life as a clear split — in a lifestyle business like Foodpanda, it’s often hard to do. Instead, I view my professional and personal lives as a circle. This means allotting time to what is most pressing at the moment, such as making time for my son’s school events or going to the gym during what people demarcate as traditional working hours. It also means that I can shift my schedule around and work outside of office hours if I need to. This helps me to stay focused and present in any setting, as I minimize the possibility of being distracted. I encourage the adoption of a similar mindset at Foodpanda, where employees can flexibly schedule their work and leave for appointments or errands if needed. IR: Do you have any hobbies that help you switch off and stay balanced? LW: I prioritize spending my time off with my family. On the weekends, we enjoy going to buffets or trying out new restaurants in the neighborhood. I try to read as much as possible and am currently into books on geopolitics and Asian history. I also make it a point to travel once a month as I want to expose my son to as many cultural experiences, especially in Asia. It helps that Singapore is a convenient travel hub which makes it easy to travel to many countries!