John-Ian Oei, John-Son Oei, John-Hans Oei and their mother Ooi Piek See share their thoughts with Lily Ong on the subject of failure, entrepreneurship and how adversity changed them for the better.
The Oei brothers find their strength in family
To describe her family, Ooi Piek See answers without hesitation. “We are a fun family, that’s for sure,” says this young-at-heart mother of three strapping young men. Almost immediately, her sons—John-Ian, John-Son and John-Hans Oei—groaned in unison. You can almost feel the ‘Ugh, mum!’ vibe in the air. “Don’t set the bar like that. Pressure is going to be on us to keep that image,” says John-Hans. John-Ian pipes up with a quip, “Yeah, mum. Only uncool people say stuff like that.”
Piek See is the heart and soul of the family, befitting her role as the family’s matriarch. The eldest of the three bespectacled brothers is John-Ian, age 31, recognisable by his towering frame and powerful voice. Wedged in the middle is John-Son, 29, who looks like a twin of his older sibling. How do we tell him apart from his older brother then? I was told John-Son is the oddball. “The middle child syndrome is true,” says Piek See fondly.
The youngest of the Oei brothers resembled Piek See the most. “What he lacks in height, he makes up for in width,” teases John-Ian, alluding to John-Hans’s shorter and stockier frame. An ardent powerlifter, John-Hans, 27, has a commanding presence that goes beyond his hulking strength, which radiates from within his intense and serious Type A personality traits.
Needless to say, the four of them are close to each other, having gone through plenty of life’s ups and downs as a family unit. The first of the brothers to launch his own business, John-Son heads a social enterprise called EPIC Collective—a group involved in non-profit and profit ventures rooted in people and community empowerment with a massive following among Malaysian youths. John-Ian and John-Hans are the co-founders and driving force of Microbs, a waste management solution company with customers demanding their services all over Malaysia and Singapore.
Although being only in their late twenties and early thirties, the Oei brothers’ ascend to success happened quite rapidly, with the brothers taking it all in their stride.
Here’s a little backstory for you—John-Son and I were course mates back in our college days. The John-Son Oei I know from memory was easygoing, funny and cleverly charmed his way out of any mischief he got himself into. He is able to find common grounds with anyone regardless of race, religion and creed. These qualities have made him a very likable person on campus, even by our lecturers, who were sometimes exasperated by his playfulness.
“All of my sons have their own temperaments and personalities. When my husband passed away, they all coped with the loss in their own unique way,” expresses Piek See.
“With mum having to work and support us, the three of us experienced freedom for the first time,” grins John-Ian as he recalls their formative years.
John-Son, who excelled academically as a child, coped with the loss of his father by being ‘distracted’ with school. It was all fun and games—until he found out that he lacked the grades necessary to enter into the pre-university course he desired while applying for college.
“When the counsellor saw my SPM trial transcript, he commented, ‘Boy, you must be partying really hard.’ My mother, who had not seen my results until then, turned black in the face when she finally had a glimpse at my grades. I was told that I will not qualify for college with these grades.”
Ashamed, John-Son apologised to his mother, realising he had let her down. But Piek See’s reaction surprised him. She looked him in the eye and told him they will be ‘celebrating’ the moment with a big Japanese lunch party. Her words still burn in his memory: “This is the most important day of your life because you have learnt that failure is not fatal and success is not forever.”
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Photography: Kim Mun from Hopscotch Photography; Creative Direction: Allan Casal; Fashion Styling: Bryna Kaur and Shiatzy Chen; Hair: Tim Low from Albert Nico Boutique Salon; Makeup and Grooming: Eddie Iskandar Wong from Dior Beauty; Watches: Bulgari