A cursory glance at Nichol Ng’s astounding portfolio and personal life, and the conclusion is clear: her schedule is impossible. This work and life cannot be balanced by a mere human being. This person’s plate is too full to take on something more, such as a magazine interview with both photo and video shoots.
But balance this work and life she does, and carve out time for Tatler Singapore she did, probably because Ng is just a little bit superpowered.
The 44-year-old runs X-Inc, an SG$80 million business with five subsidiaries across the food distribution, logistics and property sectors that was born from a small family business started by her grandfather in 1939, and which she and her younger brother, Nicholas Ng, helped reshape and reinvent in 2007. The siblings also started The Food Bank Singapore in 2012, a charity that collects food donations from farms, manufacturers, supermarkets and consumers that may otherwise be thrown out, and redistributes them to the needy. She’s president, too, of One (Singapore), an NGO that seeks to end poverty and raise awareness of issues such as climate change and inequality. On top of all that, she has roles in other NGOs and business organisations. And did we mention that she’s a funky, pink‑haired, hands‑on wonder mum to four young children, aged 10, eight, six and three, and is considering a fifth child?
“I think it all stems from my personality,” says Ng when asked about how she manages what seems like an insurmountable amount of work. “Since I was young, I’ve been a real busybody. I was always the one raising my hand and volunteering to carry things for the teachers. I feel a great sense of responsibility—to my business, to my kids and to society. I’ll ask myself what I can contribute so that tomorrow is better for everybody, especially in today’s uncertain world. So I’ve always been doing a lot. I created methods to manage—such as ensuring that I finish everything on my to‑do list for the day, so that less work is pushed to the next day, and always clearing my email inbox before I end the day.”
These productivity tips are great, but even the most organised and efficient folks would find it a challenge to achieve what Ng does on a daily basis: waking up at 5.45 am to make breakfast and prepare lunch boxes for her kids; ferrying them to school in two runs before heading into her office bright and early for a full day of meetings and work; making it home in time to put her children to bed; sometimes holding a 10 pm or 11 pm meeting before turning in; waking up throughout the night to nurse her kids (when they were younger) and to check on them.
So … how many hours does she sleep every night? “About four,” she reveals with a laugh. Not to take away from how insanely hard she works, but the fact that Ng is one of those slightly superpowered human beings that can survive and thrive with a lot less shut‑eye than the rest of us explains a lot.
Also, she eats only one meal a day. “I’ve been doing this since before intermittent fasting [was a thing]!” she says. “Genuinely, I do it because I only get hungry later in the day and can survive without food in the earlier part. Also, I’m really very busy, so I don’t have time to eat. What started as something of a habit has become a lifestyle. It’s about getting the proper nutrition from that one meal.”
Lest you think Ng leads a charmed and magical life, where she needs less sleep and food than the average person and is thus more productive and amazing, she has been vocal about her setbacks, which she says only fuelled her drive to succeed. Her battle with eating disorders, she shares, gave her a sense of determination and made her aware of her inner voice.
And of the hardships she suffered after her father became bankrupt and the family assets were seized by the banks during the financial crisis of 1997, she says: “I’m blessed that my dad allowed me to have that experience where we lost everything. I have to give my father credit: I never saw him completely give up on his hopes and dreams, even when we lost it all.”
Her dad passed away in 2016, but that never‑say‑die attitude lives on in Ng. “I think we’re fighting the biggest fight of our lives right now, as we speak,” she says. The pandemic wreaked havoc on the F&B industry, but Ng, whose company’s food distribution arm FoodXervices has some 6,000 clients, from hawker stalls to Shake Shack, Marina Bay Sands and Singapore Airlines, says she was saved by the wider basket of products that she carries, which includes non‑food items such as tissue paper and hand sanitisers, and the company’s other non‑food‑related businesses.