The Body Shop’s Daryl Foong shares his visions on life, love and the planet

  • People
  • Sunday, 15 Feb 2015

Foong: "I feel very strongly about animals and human rights, right to life in general."

The Body Shop Malaysia’s marketing manager Daryl Foong is a fan of structure and familiarity. Not many changes for this 28-year-old – except for one thing: he recently got engaged to his girlfriend, Melissa – and he likes the routine of tradition, saying that his family will do “the usual” for Chinese New Year.

“We’ll be going back to my family hometown in Ipoh, having our reunion dinner, visiting relatives and overeating,” Foong says. “That’s the great thing about festive traditions and New Year. There’s the comfort of consistency.”

When it comes to traditions, Foong says his family “kept the traditional core virtues but without the outdated practices”. He also adds: “Respect is a core value, but not just from child to parent. Growing up I was taught to respect my elders, but the old thinking of ‘children should be seen and not heard’ was never applied. I was encouraged to share my opinions and to question what did not seem right.”

Foong’s preference for familiarity may have led him into a path he's known all his life: the family business. Some might say it was destiny, but Foong is a practical man. He believes that it was a natural progression, but he needed to make something of himself first.

His parents are The Body Shop Malaysia franchise owners Datuk Simon Foong and Datin Mina Cheah-Foong, who serve as executive director and managing director, so the thought of joining the company had always been in his mind. Still, he spent time working elsewhere – several years in PR, then two years in L’Oréal on its men's skincare range – before he was ready to jump into The Body Shop, three years ago.

“We were given a choice to do our own thing, but every parent has that hope that their children will work with them,’’ Foong says. (His younger brother, Dexter, is also with The Body Shop.) “That influenced my decision somewhat. I knew that was what they would be happy with and I thought, why not? There’s no reason not to.’’

He initially worked independently in order to “call myself my own person’’, he says. “So I wasn’t just injected into the company with a very vague title. That way I developed real skills I could use. It was just to get experience, make mistakes, get told when I screwed up or did a good job.”

From working in regimented structures to adapting to the fluid culture of The Body Shop was a challenge for Foong, but it didn’t take him long to thrive in the environment. “It’s a very flat hierarchy. Everybody’s opinions are valued. If you have something to contribute, you’re expected to make your views known.”

Most people at The Body Shop are all-rounders and knowledgeable on everything from products to sales, as everyone is expected to perform beyond their job scope. “It was getting used to all that, and learning to effectively manage my workload without a very regimented structure,” Foong says.

“I do love having some sort of certainty; your life takes on a certain security. But also you’re stagnated; you tend to take less responsibility for a lot of things. In The Body Shop, if you know something is wrong, you should say something and don’t let the team fail as a whole.”

Comfortable in his role and the responsibilities he takes on, Foong has his own vision for The Body Shop with regards to communicating with its customers. Traditional approaches aside, most companies have a social media presence. But in Foong's mind, it’s not about checking that off a list – it's what you do with it.

“It’s how we relate to consumers, formalising how we respond to queries and requests. It’s how we do customer service in terms of online deliveries. It’s about our ICT structures, how we are able to use that to our advantage, integrating that into our retail stores," he says.

“The line between what constitutes an online store and advertising, and what constitutes in-store marketing and service is blurred. We often look at it as different structures, but it’s not. As a brand, you’re presenting one single front.”

Foong adds that it’s a lot of work moving forward in that area, keeping abreast of how customers want them to respond and communicate with them as a brand. “How does Facebook or Twitter help your brand? It’s about cementing those lines; things that are relatable to our consumers today.”

Foong has plenty of ideas, so I ask if he can bring them straight to the top – to his parents – in the way several family-run businesses operate. He pauses before giving a measured response.

“That’s another thing that I had to think about when I started working with my parents. The line between employee and where you’re the son of the owner needs to be watched carefully. If you don’t, people will say you’re not working hard, so why should they work hard for you? You get dismissed, and at the same time you get people thinking that there are short-cuts to doing things.’’

He does admit there are benefits to having direct access to the boss. “You get a top level view of where they want to go with the business; insights as to why certain decisions are made. That’s as far as it should go – not run to mum and dad if you have a problem. That undermines the structure of the company and generates a negative culture. I don’t think it’s a good idea. I’m quite happy with the way it’s done now.”

Another thing Foong is satisfied with is that he is now doing something he’s always wanted to do: making the world the better place. It sounds cheesy and clichéd, but The Body Shop was built on the idea that nothing should be harmed for beauty, and so by choosing a Body Shop product, consumers are already doing something good for Earth.

“I feel very strongly about animals and human rights; rights to life in general,” Foong says. “The Body Shop helps fulfil that for me. That was something I always knew I wanted to do, something positive, to leave the world a better place, to be able to make a difference in people’s lives.”

This philosophy sits well with customers. Foong says that with all the cynicism in this world, people appreciate the meaning behind what The Body Shop does, from their cruelty-free products to the fact that ingredients are sourced sustainably and in ways that benefit the communities they come from.

“Our products actually work. They're accessible, our pricing is competitive and we don’t dress our stuff up. People appreciate that as a brand, we’re not hard to reach (over 75 locations). The kindness that we show, the values we hold, and our products cater to everyone,” he says.

Foong: "I feel very strongly about animals and human rights, right to life in general."

Honest, straightforward, and in his own words “a simple guy”, Foong’s work etiquette and personality extend to his lifestyle choices. When it comes to personal style, the voracious reader of anything from teen fiction to philosophy likes his garments like his grub – fuss-free and consistent.

“If I find something that I know is good, I tend to go back there. I’m a creature of habit,” he says. “I will always go to Victoria Station because the escargot and steaks are really good. For Japanese, Sugimotos in Hartamas. Las Vacas for the really good steaks; they’re not fancy or come with any frills but the steaks are consistently good.”

He adds: “I’m very laid-back, quite chilled. Sometimes people ask me where I go; it doesn’t sound so glamorous but I love my mamak stalls, and the siew yoke at the coffee shop just near my office.”

Even with fashion, Foong appreciates subtlety and familiarity. “I prefer brands that don’t have labels on them. For suits, if I could I would get Prada because they’re understated – not that I can afford them all the time, but that’s the kind of styling I like. For day to day, Uniqlo has nice simple stuff; no branding all over the place.”

He says people are sometimes disappointed to find that he's really quite a relaxed guy, but also adds, “I tend to like the things that I can afford. If you ask me what cars I like, I like my Audi.”

As for watches, function takes precedence over form. Foong's trusty Tissot, of which he has several, is one he's wearing right now. “I quite like tech and this is a touch screen watch with a compass, weather gauge and altimeter,” he says. “I like the idea of a family heirloom; something you can pass down, like a Patek Philippe.”

On the subject of inheritance, this outdoorsy chap who enjoys hiking, white-water rafting and skiing says he owes his best traits to his parents.

“Much of what I am, I inherited from my parents. I’d say I inherited my dad’s easygoing attitude and his love of technology, with most of my general outlook on life coming from my mum. I was always taught to be compassionate and kind, to have courage, to stand up for myself and others around me, to reason and think for myself,” he says.

With an exciting life ahead of him, Foong says he can’t wait to get started. “Work-wise, I’m looking to expand the business and my role in it, especially The Body Shop’s e-commerce online store. I also plan to improve on my managerial capabilities in line with our business expansion.”

On the personal front, he’ll be adjusting to married life soon: his future wife, who works at KPMG, will be moving into his family home. “Mum always wanted a daughter!" Foong says. "My mum took a shine to her from the beginning, and my dad thinking something along the lines of ‘She’s a wonderful girl; Daryl is going to marry her’ less than a year after we started dating."

He adds of his fiancée: “She fills in the gaps where I’m lacking. She’s a lot more thoughtful, pays more attention to detail, and can be a great deal more mindful than I am. I think my parents are looking forward to having her around as much as I am. It’ll be a lot easier for us to plan our day and to get about with both of us living under one roof. Who doesn’t want to wake up next to their dream girl in the morning?”

This article was originally published in Life Inspired, out every second and fourth Sunday of the month, and distributed exclusively with The Sunday Star to selected areas in the Klang Valley. The next issue will be out on Feb 22.

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