Armed with a mission to promote awareness of fitness and wellness, Patrick Wee ’89 shares with LawLink on what inspires him and this has driven him to build a business with a strong regional presence in the health industry..
LawLink: What first inspired you to pursue a career in health and fitness?
Mr Wee: I saw how people, when they started working out, were able to transform their lives and how that transformation not only affected them, but the people they came into contact with every day. They became healthier, fitter and cope better with the daily stress. That made them more relaxed and happier for those around them.
It became my aim to generate awareness of fitness and wellness, and to provide people with the opportunity to improve their health, while at the same time create a viable business. One thing is for sure: keeping healthy does not have to be a chore. It should be indulged in, enjoyed and passed on, and most importantly, it should be sustainable.
I made my first foray into the fitness industry in August 1997 when I was appointed as the Singapore partner of Ray Wilson’s California Fitness, and helped to set up the Singapore operations in Orchard Road.
Despite opening a month before the South East Asian financial crisis in October 1997, the Singapore branch in Orchard Road, which was the first overseas branch after Hong Kong, was a success. In early 1999, a private equity group purchased the two club chain for US$42 million and I had to move to Hong Kong to help run and expand the regional business. Within a year, armed with my experience from practice, I helped expand a two country business into a regional fitness business with three new branches in Taiwan, South Korea and Thailand.
After the financial crisis brought about by the September 2001 attack in New York, the US Private Equity partners did not wish to have an Asian exposure. As such, in 2002, I took the opportunity with the founder of the business to buy over the Korean and Thailand operations of California Fitness. As we continued to see growth opportunities in the markets we used to operate in, we decided to set up my own fitness centres under a new brand in Taiwan called “Hollywood Fitness” in 2003, and also decided to experiment with opening up dedicated yoga centres.
That same year, I also set up the first large scale yoga centre in Hong Kong called “Planet Yoga by Master Kamal”. Both these businesses were set up shortly before the outbreak of SARS in Hong Kong and I thought we would not be able to survive the health crisis as no one wanted to venture outside without a mask let alone buy a fitness or yoga membership. But I was proved wrong or right depending on how you look at it as our business soared after the SARS crisis partly because we offered a new and different approach to fitness and yoga, and partly due to the rising awareness that a healthier person had a better chance of surviving another outbreak of an infectious disease.
Armed with eight years of experience in the fitness industry and bristling with new ideas on how to bring fitness and wellness to the masses, I returned to my home country Singapore. Here, I founded and launched True Yoga at Pacific Plaza in November 2004. And the rest is history….we are now in five countries - Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Taiwan and China - with over 32 centres and 200,000 members!
LawLink: How has your experience at NUS Law and in Practice helped you in your business?
Mr Wee: I graduated from law school in 1989, and spent the next 10 years in practice, first in litigation and then corporate conveyancy before becoming partner at Wee, Ramayah & Partners.
My experience and knowledge from my time as a lawyer in litigation and corporate conveyancing helped provide the opportunity to work with prominent businessmen and women. I quickly learnt how to negotiate contracts and to see business opportunities from their perspectives. This gave me the necessary skills to be able to apply in my own negotiations in the various overseas markets I was to operate in.
Without the experience gained from my years of practice and the first hand relationships that came with developing my client base, I would not have been able to do what I did. The fact that I had a legal background and could interpret legal and lease documents greatly helped me to run my business as well. I could make decisions on matters when I was negotiating my own leases and contracts without having to wait several days for counsel’s advice. This was a great advantage when sitting opposite parties in your negotiations.
LawLink: What is the one piece of fitness advice you would give to those who are pressed for time?
Mr Wee: Fully commit to whatever you do, be it your studies, work or your exercise. Set your fitness goals just like how you set your goals when you start studying for an exam. In this way, you will maximise your time and see tangible results that will help motivate you to continue your passion to exercise.
All of us are pressed for time. Family, work, school, the obligations are endless. But trust me, it is possible to find some time to exercise even with the tightest of schedules.
Some tips I go by are to:
1) Make it official – put it down in your diary and make it part of your schedule, so there are no excuses
2) Have something to look forward to – treat yourself after each workout to keep you going back for more – a soak in the hot tub, a massage after a week/month of workouts.
You do not need to dedicate an excessive amount of time to work out – even a simple 30 minutes workout when you wake up is enough if you are disciplined. Make that commitment and you will love the results.
LawLink: What do you remember best of your law school days?
Mr Wee: The friendships which I have fostered are the best memories of my campus life. I had the opportunity to go overseas to study law, but at my parents’ request, stayed on in Singapore and went to NUS. I thought I was going to miss out on the opportunity of a lifetime by being able to study overseas and have fun, but the friends I made in NUS Law made me quickly realise that I would have missed out on more had I studied overseas. The camaraderie among us went beyond the lecture halls and classrooms, and I made my closest lifelong friends in those four years at NUS. Having graduated from law school about 24 years ago, I am still in touch with several of my law school mates and we remain best of friends till today!
LawLink: If you could change one thing about your law school days, what would it be?
Mr Wee: To make the learning of the principles of Common Law more relevant in today’s world as many cases we studied were English Common Law Principles, which dated back to the 19th Century. The world has substantially changed and I think our learning and teaching methods have to evolve, particularly for the aspiring lawyers of today.
Having more practical sessions with real life situations and skills in negotiations are some of the most important aspects that a young lawyer needs to be successful in today’s fast evolving world.