Family businesses can be tricky business. After all, you don’t want to destroy everything your predecessors have created. But for Damien Soh (苏立祥) and his siblings, taking over their family business and altering it was one of the best decisions they’ve made.
Damien Soh first received opposition when he proposed ideas to change his father’s business. But, with backing from his siblings and his father’s eventual trust, they brought their family company to great heights, their crowning jewel being karaoke franchise 大嘴叭 (Loud Speaker).
What we now know as Ottotree Holdings was initially the Soh’s family business. Their father had been heading it then, working on renovation projects and the like. However, a year after Damien started to take over the company, he felt they needed a new direction.
Damien Soh and his siblings wanted to switch from renovation to construction, but their father wasn’t too happy with the idea, citing it was riskier and claiming they had no experience in the matter. Luckily, they were able to learn with the help of their friends from the industry. It was certainly a good decision as their annual turnover increased from RM1 million to RM50 million.
But Damien still wasn’t satisfied, especially after he realised their cash flow risk was high. He began looking into other business opportunities and a prominent one was apparently staring at him right in the face. As it turned out Damien and his siblings all had a love for karaoke. Unfortunately, karaoke-ing in Johor Bahru cost quite a pretty penny. And thus, 大嘴叭 (Loud Speaker) was born.
Designed to be an “AirAsia equivalent, budget, no-frills karaoke”, Loud Speaker Karaoke had the additional bonus of being family-friendly. As such, when they opened their first branch in 2009 in Johor Bahru, it became a huge hit. By 2023, Loud Speaker Karaoke has thirteen outlets total in Johor Bahru, Kuala Lumpur, Petaling Jaya and Georgetown.
“At the time, many KTVs (karaoke outlets) were filled with smog and family KTVs (were rare),” Damien Soh explained. “When we opened Loud Speaker Karaoke, my dad was initially doubtful, but he gradually came to accept it.” Damien added that his father had come to trust him and his siblings, allowing them to solve problems on their own while only acting as an advisor.
The Soh family put their construction business to rest before spending two years working on Loud Speaker Karaoke. After it took off, they continued innovating and in 2017, they began hotel chain Hako before forming Ottotree Holdings as the parent group for their subsidiaries. Village 17, an Integrated Leisure Centre was added to their list of implemented ideas in 2019.
While their father reduced his role in the company, Damien and his siblings still had to resolve running the company among themselves. Luckily, it worked out well for them. According to Damien, he is in charge of management, his younger brother has taken responsibility of maintaining the look of their businesses while their sister handles their finances.
Damien explained he was usually the ideas man and as the founder of Loud Speaker Karaoke, he held most of the shares. But, he still ensured their decisions were discussed by the family with their opinions being aired. Their friends too have since joined their businesses as sleeping partners. Their partnership definitely sounds like it could get messy fast and without warning.
But, Damien Soh insists the key to it all is communication. Be it among his siblings or with their other shareholders, Damien prizes communication as he believes it is how trust is born and maintained. “We meet once a year, but we will meet a dozen other times to talk, and try to meet once a month,” he added.
Well, there is no denying the karaoke empire Damien Soh and his siblings have built with their own hard work! We’ve certainly benefitted from it, and we look forward to seeing what other fresh ideas the trio will eventually come up with.