The Straits Times
Wednesday, Apr 10, 2013
When Ms Jennie Chua resigned as non-executive director of Ascott Residence Trust last month, citing a desire "to pursue personal interests", one might have thought she was winding down on life in the corporate world.
After all, the veteran hotelier is 68 and a proud grandmother who cannot wait to catch her eight-year-old grandson perform at the famous Carnegie Hall in New York this week.
But Ms Chua is not slowing down, as The Straits Times found out in an e-mail interview.
"I don't like the word 'retired'," said Ms Chua, who remains a director at listed GuocoLeisure, a hotel and leisure group.
Last month, Ms Chua launched restaurant chain Jollibee in Singapore.
The fried chicken eatery, which originates from the Philippines, was involved in a minor flap after some netizens started a Facebook page calling for a consumer boycott due to what it claimed was the chain's clear preference for Filipino workers.
A retaliatory Facebook page was quickly set up by an opposing group called Fight Xenophobia, Eat Jollibee.
The boycott on Facebook was taken down shortly when diners ignored it and thronged Jollibee when it opened at Lucky Plaza last month.
In her e-mail, Ms Chua took the opportunity to set things straight.
"Seventy-nine per cent of my staff in the Jollibee outlet at Lucky Plaza are Singaporeans. The aunties, uncles and young people work very hard and when they see the business grow, they will be there for you," she said.
Ms Chua hopes to open two more outlets here over the next 18 months.
This is the first time in her illustrious career that Ms Chua is investing in a business.
"I've been a corporate person all my life. I wanted to be an entrepreneur years ago... but was too timid and too safe."
She said when she was younger, she was risk-averse and focused on building a career and raising her two children.
"I'm going back to what I never did, that is, being an entrepreneur," said Ms Chua.
She declined to say how much she invested in Jollibee except that she has a 40 per cent stake.
Despite her busy schedule, she makes time for her five grandchildren.
On Wednesday, Ms Chua will be in New York to cheer her violin-playing grandson, who is part of a school orchestral group that has been invited to perform at Carnegie Hall.
When asked about her other interests, Ms Chua said she does not dance enough.
"I used to do it nightly until a couple of years ago. I've tried other things like taiji and gym machines but dancing is the most fun way to keep fit," she said.
She added that she loves going on cruises and is thinking of being out at sea for one to two months.
Ms Chua remains a frequent traveller with her overseas board appointments and her ambassador duties.
She's a non-resident ambassador to the Slovak Republic and the ambassador-designate to Mexico.
She also remains active on many boards including charitable ones such as the Community Chest of Singapore and Temasek Foundation.