Lessons at Lunch. Age no bar.

A wisp of smoke curled thru the dense air outside a coffee shop on Orchard’s. I poked at it while listening to a friend of mine, a partner in a leading consulting firm. These sessions are invaluable for me. I usually come out validating some of my work thus pressing onwards, or realizing things need to change. He had rich experiences with M&A and enabling growth strategies.

Rajesh, we grow in any area – be it quality of life at home or business accomplishments or anything else, we listen and then learn what sticks…

those two words right there had my fingers snap at the smoke, planting a grin as wide as a cricket pitch. So, I probed and listened. Somewhere, maybe somewhere he read about the culture my team and I had birthed.

2 years since my leadership team came together and signed off on an exciting journey. A journey where we committed to enjoy learning and listening to our client’s needs. Needs as an outcome from seeing, smelling, unearthing their pain/gain. In simple terms we labelled this “Listen & Learn”. Thereafter, one’s passion and aptitude should converge in a way that the gut in us, the fire in our belly would help us surface the client’s underlying needs. This inherent, constant fire in the belly we called love. Love that made things happen – stratecution. Stratecution – my term for strategy and execution. Thus came the 3 L’s of our culture. – Listen, Learn and Love.

If all this meshed well for a win-win, then surely one’s Voice would be sticky enough to earn trusted advisory. And, and eventually Value delivered, realized and recognized. Thus the 2 V’s and the birther of L3V2 as our winning culture. A formative 2 years with unravelling decades to go.

Let me tell you a couple of stories. Stories that make me continually believe in our journey and our stratecution. These moments fuel the belief system and upend innovation.

I ran late and hurriedly seated myself at a farewell lunch for a colleague. I stared at the colorful concoction the waitress had just placed, placed ever so gently across from where I sat. Noting my curious expression a colleague excitedly said it was to beat the summer heat and that it had some beet, lemon, …kept rattling away before he ran out of memory and said Sarah would recommend one for me. Sarah came by and with sensory detail explained the several drink options.

What mood are you in she asked?

engaging at the right moment. She finally suggested what might work for me. Hmm… all this for a drink? Back at the table, the aura was perfectly laced with laughter and revelations as the occasion demanded. Soon, Sarah came by with recommendations for the main course. She suggested I could be different than the rest at the table, should I pick a specific dish. That dish she explained in such detail down to the ingredients and the art of cooking it. I was fascinated and went along. I had been there a few times before, but not an experience like this. So I asked…

Sarah was transferred from Vietnam where the owner had closed down the restaurant, but she was offered a move to this location in Singapore. It was absolutely clear why a person like her in that role would be moved across the seas to Singapore. She toiled hard. Driven by her passion and aptitude, it allowed her to learn the culinary art or speaking, probing and listening to her Clients, thus adapting her learning skills in positioning the choices for her clients. Elements of the 3L’s at play – Listen, Learn and Love.

As we sauntered thru the door finding our way out, she glided across the room with a little card and her name at the back, and a message to rate her/the restaurant on trip advisor. She had her Voice and Value registered with me right thru the door.
Maybe it’s to do with food. My wife and I in a rush, hungrily scouted a quick meal in the building. Peak lunch hour. We chanced upon this eatery that served healthy options. We ordered, got our buzzer and plonked ourselves at a table. Across and hunched, barely stood a sweet, charming old lady with an apron, cleaning tables and clearing out spent dishes on the table.

She walks across and puts out a broad barely toothed grin. I stood up to get some cutlery and tissues on a counter across the room. She chimed in – ” Please sit down and I will get it for you. Would you like some water as well? ” I could not let her do this for us. So I ever so politely thanked her, saying we will take care of this and grabbed some tableware. Her experienced eyes noticed I had forgotten some cutlery, she sauntered across the room and brought some over and with it some water! She then asks us what we ordered, and commends us on the choice especially the cold shoba noodles. She recommends we try a few other dishes next time – those that were sold out this time. ” In my shop here we try new things and guarantee the quality. People love it here and I always tell them to try this and that…“. There was “we” but in many places the “I” and “my” unraveled a story. Now this coming from a cleaner, or maybe I was mistaken, probably the owner? Reena and I had a bet that she must be the owner, the mother or grandmother of the kids across the counter, and helping out in a family run shop.

Do you own this place?” I asked. A smile she broke out into, would melt any cold heart.
No. I work here and we are a small team of 2 chefs and me to clean and manage the front area.” I was pleasantly shocked. So I told her that it was fascinating to see her talk the way she did, with such authority and passion for her job. Aunty Jane as I found out, went on to tell me a bigger lesson.


We are a small shop here and pay an exorbitant rent (downtown). We get clients like you walking in for a quick meal. How much would you really pay for a setting like this, and we have to be competitive with the food stalls around. Our price is not as low as the others so we have to differentiate, and our clients when they walk out will remember us for the whole experience “. Here was a 75+ year old grandma working for somebody as a cleaner giving me this, this with a 70 foot smile and a 100 foot lesson!


Before we left Aunty Jane slipped a card in our hands letting us know that they delivered as well, and they had other branches. “If you liked our food please take care of us, so that we can survive, by ordering for your office events etc.,

I quickly did a math with the rentals, price per meal and clients turning in and out. Yes, that place could hardly survive. I told my admin about this and we placed an order for one of our staff events. The power of story. A story of passion + aptitude = Love.

Between Sarah and Aunty Jane, I learnt/validated –

1. Love for one’s job or a product is a non-negotiable. Non-negotiable for one’s personal success or/and that of the business. Passion + Aptitude spurs Love. A void for either becomes a non-starter for execution.
2. The first story that of a young lady, possibly in her late twenties and the second in her late seventies maybe. Contrasting ages, common values but different drivers. Age has nothing to do with Passion + Aptitude – Love.
3. One with a budding career ahead of her, and am sure at some point she will qualify with her aptitude to run her own business. The other enjoying the later stages of life, driven by survival instincts and a necessity. Both engaging enough to listen, learn and eventually earn the Voice at the table.
Young or younger, old or older, career driven or simply making ends meet, there is never a time to unlearn, listen and learn. That provided you have the love (passion + aptitude) for what you do, your products or/and simply the person across the table and what matters to them.
Let me leave you with a small parting story. Dogs are trained, they listen, learn when taught patiently so. The other way? Aha! Yes. Our one year old mini dachshund was being taught to do his high 5’s and paw shakes by my barely teenage daughter. She on the couch and he on the floor intently looking at the piece of apple in her hand. She must have gone 6 rounds of paw, high 5’s …longer than the usual drill, and the dog lost his patience. He glanced across at the coffee table, and registered a piece of apple sitting there. On the 6th count of high 5 he just ignored her and sprang on top of the table, gobbled that other piece. My daughter stood there looking foolish with the piece in her hand. So she learnt her lesson… Listen, Learn and Love …but if takes it takes too long to register voice and value, the person will move on to alternates.

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