Dirty work

24 May 2016 / 12:36 H.

IF you're a restaurateur, you probably have your plumber on speed dial in the event of blocked grease pipes. But when that happens, we reckon you should first call John-Hans Oei.
Oei is the chief executive officer and one of the two founders of Centenary Million Group which supplies Microbs enzymes that provide better waste management for the food and beverage (F&B) industry. The enzyme, made up of multiple strains of bacteria, comes in powder form and accelerates the breakdown of organic wastes.
The 27-year-old started the company with his eldest brother in 2013, when John-Hans returned from working many years in Bangkok's hospitality industry. Oei reminisces his days in hotel management and although he has plans to revive that passion, he has found "the job that makes sense" in bringing Microbs to shopping malls, food processing farms, restaurants and cafes nationwide.
How does it work?
All F&B outlets have grease traps, which are the first defence before all the sludge goes out into the local sewers. But sometimes some waste don't get pass the traps and end up hardening, curdling and blocking the piping system.
Using Microbs enzymes means you don't have to manually clean the traps. It's essentially organic powder which you activate by mixing it with water then pour into the traps, letting the enzymes quickly break down wastes which will then freely flow down the pipes.
Why do a business of waste?
In a way, we are helping people solve problems and businesses save cost, and in the long run, we help the environment. I wanted to do a business that leaves an impact somewhere or on someone, if not business owners then the environment. A lot of people say it's noble but I think that's the way to do business. If you aim to just make money then after a while I don't think you get satisfaction.
Also, I wanted a business that is long-term. Something that I can pass to my children in 20 years. This is not a business that I build up, turn around and sell.
What inspires you?
We didn't come from a rich family. We struggled financially growing up. I started working when I was 16 doing all sorts of thing – babysitting, selling T-shirts, working at restaurants – anywhere to find money, so my drive has always been to make money to carry the family out of financial difficulty.
Secondly, I'm inspired by my second brother and my mother. John-Son founded Epic Homes, which builds homes for the underprivileged, and my mum has always instilled that kind of compassion. We were brought up that way so it was natural for us to think of a business gives back to the community.
What's the biggest challenge of running this business?
Right now, it's convincing business owners of this new way to manage organic waste. I think people generally don't see the need to spend money on wastes. The most expensive part of our business is the time spent with people, teaching them to embrace this new way of handling wastes. The results speak for themselves but it takes time and procedures like water testing then waiting for lab results and so on, so it's tough trying to convince them initially. But once they are, they stick with us all the way.


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