CEO Series

They Only Own RM2 Of Shares In Their Million-Ringgit Company & They Want It That Way

  • The Truly Loving Company is a houshold cleaning product brand in Malaysia, where all their dividends are given out to charity. 
  • It was formed in 2006 before social entrepreneurship was acknowledged in Malaysia. The team went through a long journey to gain acceptance in Malaysia. 
  • After acknowledgement in the Prime Minister’s CSR awards, the company gained credibility in the public eye. They have now given RM1.73 million to the community.

Back when Julia Chong and Khaw Chay Tee founded The Truly Loving Company (TLC) in 2006, the term “social enterprise” was quite unheard of in Malaysia.

And all of their dividends goes to charity.

“Both my co-director Mr. Khaw Chay Tee and I just hold a single RM1 share each,” said Julia.

The Truly Loving Company is a business in Malaysia that sells a variety cleaning products. Their argument is that if you’re supposed to clean your house every day anyway, why not do so using products that you know are helping charities?

Julia gained the desire to help the disadvantaged one Christmas.

Her late husband used to regularly spend his Sundays helping out at an orphanage, and one day suggested that their family share their turkey dinner with orphans.

“That meal with the orphans was an eye-opening, emotional and ground-moving experience for me and I vowed that one day I would use my resources and skills to help the disadvantaged and less fortunate,” said Julia.

Image Credit: The Truly Loving Company

Unfortunately, the dream had to be put on hold when her husband died suddenly of a heart attack in 1999.

Julia spent the next seven years pouring all of her energy into raising her two teen-aged children as a single mother while juggling her role as Managing Director of Reckitt Benckiser for 4 countries.

By 2006, both her children were qualified professionals, and Julia felt like she had reached the peak of a successful corporate career.

“For thirty years of my career, my goals were focused on getting up the career ladder—it was about self-achievement, demonstrating my abilities and managerial skills, being rewarded with financial recognition and the next promotion, and knowing that I was successful,” said Julia.

“However, after recognising my blessings and realising that I have spent the first half of my life on self-advancement, I felt that the next half of my life ought to be about giving back to the community and making that difference. It is about moving from success to significance.”

It’s with this belief that the founding pair settled on RM1 worth of shares each, while 99.99% of their company’s shares (RM1,499,9998) go to charity.

But it was hard to get people to take them seriously in the early days.

The company’s first charity payout / Image Credit: The Truly Loving Company

Julia calls The Truly Loving Company one of the early social enterprises, as it was formed more than 10 years ago in 2006.

“Even though one may have experience running MNCs and large companies, but when you start an SME you cannot use the same template from the past. Instead, you need to adapt and tailor-make to suit the various situations as they arise.”

Having started up a social enterprise before social enterprises were “sexy” in Malaysia, awareness was a big struggle.

“Indeed, it was not surprising that when we said we were a social enterprise in those early years, we were often faced with responses such as ‘What is that?’ or ‘Sorry, not aware of your business model,’ and ‘Can it work?’

Back then, their business model didn’t seem plausible to the public.

“Most people find the concept difficult to believe and always wondered if there was a catch. They were skeptical about our mission and couldn’t believe that a company will give away 100% of its dividends to charities. But over time when they become more aware of our unique corporate structure, they support our cause and become loyal users,” said Julia.

When the general public doesn’t believe in what you’re doing, your team will have a set of unique problems to tackle.

Even the basic process of renting out their first office space was made more difficult. Because they had no track record, potential landlords would reject them because they thought “charity” meant that The Truly Loving Company couldn’t pay their rent.

Eventually, the company had to put up six months’ worth of deposit when other tenants only had to fork out three months.

The Truly Loving Company’s turning point came in 2009, when they received the Prime Minister’s CSR Awards 2009 under the Small Company CSR category.

The recognition granted the unique company credibility, raised its profile, and finally got a lot of people to take them seriously.

A decade down the line, TLC is now a mainstream presence.

Now in big-name hypermarkets / Image Credit: The Truly Loving Company

While they’re not quite household names on the level of large-scale global brands, The Truly Loving Company’s products are still displayed on the same shelves in hypermarket and supermarket chains like AEON, AEON Big, Cold Storage, Giant, Isetan, Jaya Grocer, TESCO, Village Grocer, KK Mart, Mydin, 99 Speedmart, among others.

It has even launched in Singapore two years ago, with encouraging results.

This comparison to more established brands is done internally too because The Truly Loving Company benchmark themselves against market leaders. According to Julia, “TLC’s products are manufactured by the same OEM factories that make for the leading brands.”

“Quality is important to us. If I tell you that the TLC’s products support charities, you may entertain me and buy the products once, but if there is no quality, there will be no repeat purchase and the business model will not work.”

“Therefore, quality has to come first if we are to provide charities with a long-term, regular and sustainable source of income.”

On top of benefiting charities, The Truly Loving Company even boasts the largest range of green products in Malaysia after launching their eco-friendly line in 2011.

“It is encouraging to know that although the industry that we compete in is growing at between 2% to 5% per annum, TLC has been registering double-digit growth since 2009, albeit we are growing from a small base,” said Julia.

Image Credit: The Truly Loving Company

Since their launch, The Truly Loving Company has also raised—directly and indirectly—a total sum of RM1.73 million to benefit a total of 37 charities over the years.

That being said, the company does have more longstanding commitments with 5 specific charities—Handicapped and Mentally Disabled Children Association Johor Baru, HOSPIS Malaysia, the National Stroke Association of Malaysia, Rumah Aman and SHELTER Homes for children.

These were the charities that have been with the company since they’ve established, and The Truly Loving company supports them on a regular basis.

When the recognition of social enterprises went up, the trend benefited The Truly Loving Company too.

MaGIC’s formation in 2014 also helped to boost social enterprises, according TLC. Julia was even a mentor for a couple of years in their startup programmes.

“TLC has benefited from all these developments in terms of awareness as we are seen as one of the early pioneers and our business model is sustainable. We have received an increase in proposals for collaborations and are acknowledged for our work in helping the less fortunate and promoting the protection of our environment.”

Just because your idea isn’t an instant success doesn’t mean that it will never be.

In cases such as The Truly Loving Company’s, maybe it just means that you need to persevere long enough for society to catch up to you.

Image Credit: The Truly Loving Company
  • You can find out more about TLC here.

Feature Image Credit: The Truly Loving Company

 

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