The Co, a premium co-working space with design-forward facilities, operates four outlets in Singapore and Malaysia.
Architecture-trained Justin Chen views spaces as more than just form – it’s about the people who use them too. With his human-centric approach to design, the deputy CEO of Arcc Holdings has transformed his family’s traditional real-estate business into a fastgrowing, hospitality-oriented company in the region focusing on creative spaces, including The Co., a local co-working brand.
LESSONS FROM HIS FATHER
Profit may be the golden rule of business, but for Chen, businesses have an equal responsibility to their employees and the communities they serve. This lesson was impressed upon him when he saw his father in action. Chen spent six years of his childhood in Mali, Africa, after his family inherited a factory there from his grandfather. “My father spent the prime years of his life in a ‘hardship’ post out of duty, in order to support our family,” he says. In recent years, Chen used to wonder why his father would make the yearly long-haul trip to visit the old factory, even though his family no longer actively manages the business. “I realised our factory is still around because of my father’s sense of responsibility to our staff,” he says. “That made a very deep impression on me.”
ON THE JOB
“One of our biggest challenges moving ahead, is the alignment of our company culture,” says Chen. While his father operated a more top-down, hierarchical model, Chen is moving to a more team-based model, where responsibility and ownership are shared with employees. “My father and I have had some very animated arguments about these changes. I’ve learnt that sometimes you need to show by doing,” he says. Indeed, Chen jumped the gun in hunting down a suitable candidate to spearhead The Co., without his father’s expressed agreement. Once he introduced the chosen candidate to his father, Chen saw his father coming around to his point of view. He says: “Sometimes, you have to initiate these changes by doing things a bit tactically.”
Being in a family business has deepened Chen’s sense of responsibility. “A lot of my motivation comes from a sense of duty to the people I work with,” he says. As Arcc Holdings continues to grow in China and South-east Asia, Chen aims to benefit the lives of people touched by his businesses.
“My hope is that we’re building a company and culture whereby people who’ve come through our spaces feel that we’ve made a positive mark on their lives.” He’s also enthusiastic about invigorating local communities around the region. “There is so much opportunity to do something that is meaningful and that gives back to the local community.”