|8 Dec 2020|
Joining his family-owned Malaysian skincare business straight out of university, Julius Lim (‘95) has forged his mark on the business while focusing on promoting its uniquely Malaysian products.
Julius joined ISKL in his Freshman year, having spent the two preceding years at Taipei American School (TAS). He points to his international experience in Taiwan and at ISKL as being fundamental to his business success saying, “This has helped me in my overseas business development activities for my company as I am able to connect with all types of people much more easily.”
It was post-university that Julius met, and subsequently married, another ISKL Alumni, Marcia Yim, joining the ranks of ISKL Alumni who’ve tied the knot!
Julius shared his passion for M-beauty, ISKL highlights including his time with the ISKL Singers, and the impact of Covid-19 on his business with Lynette MacDonald, ISKL Director of Development and Alumni Engagement.
LM: I notice you attended three different universities while completing your undergraduate degree in Economics - in New York, Hawaii and London. Why so many changes?
JL: Haha. Yes it's quite unprecedented but it gave me a more varied university experience and expanded my network of friends in the end. After graduating from ISKL, I went to NYU (Stern School of Business) for my freshman year. New York City has always been my dream college destination as I love big city life. However, it was really far from home (which is Malaysia). I wanted to make it a point that for every long vacation, either I would fly back home or my family would fly in to visit me and New York was too far to do this. So I transferred to Hawaii Pacific University which is nearer and of course the weather there was much more hospitable as well.
Being on a paradise island like Hawaii was very relaxing and chilled-out, however after being there for a year, I felt that I was starting to become slow-paced and needed the big city life again. This time, I decided to move to London to have a change in culture and exposure. In order to have my American education credits transfer seamlessly, I had to enroll in an American university in the UK and so I ended up in Richmond, The American International University in London. I graduated after completing summer school in 1998 (which is a year earlier than when I was supposed to graduate) because I clocked-up sufficient credits after doing an international field study trip in South Africa and finishing a thesis on the wine industry in that country.
LM: What was university life like in the UK compared with the USA? Were some parts more or less enjoyable for you and how did you find moving to a new continent in your 3rd year of study?
JL: Coincidentally both my universities in New York and London were city campuses and therefore the buildings were scattered within the city. This meant that student life was very much intertwined with the city itself as it wasn't an exclusive campus environment.
Both are large metropolises, but have different vibes. New York to me has a constant heartbeat and is more fast-paced whereas London has a more community feel and more posh. I liked the convenience and speed of New York where you could get food and other essentials any time of the day, as they had more stores that opened for 24 hours, but it didn't feel as safe as London. Being in London made it easy to hop into the rest of Europe for short vacations which was nice, but London overall was more expensive to live in at that time.
Moving from the US to the UK for the last years of my university life meant that I had to make new friends but I am pretty friendly so that wasn't a problem!
LM: You're CEO of your family business, Beaubelle, and have worked there for more than 22 years. Did you always know you wanted to take that path? What was it like for you returning to Kuala Lumpur?
JL: Actually, I always knew that my mom would want me to join the family business because she had me help her out during vacations even when I was in high school. She always told me that instead of just being lazy and not doing anything during the holidays, join her in the office and help out with whatever that needs to be done whether it was working in the warehouse or doing some simple accounting work (menial type of jobs haha) as I was still not experienced enough to handle the more important stuff. But it was a good learning experience and, as they say, one should always start from the bottom and work his way up so that he has a more global view of the business operations.
I knew that I would join the family company eventually but I wasn't sure if it was the first place I wanted to work at after graduating from university, so I still had my options open during my college years. However, it became very clear when I moved to London that after I graduated, I would be working in the family business because the company was expanding and my mom was really shorthanded and she needed someone she could trust to work alongside her to grow the business further. This is also one of the reasons why I expedited my graduation by one year by doing winter and summer classes so that I could finish early and help her in the company.
Returning to Malaysia was great as I love being back home. I was excited to start contributing to the business. The only thing I missed though were my friends from uni as most of them weren't Malaysians. Good thing was that many of them ended up visiting me here so I got to meet them again and show them around my home city. It was an incentive for them to come all the way here because I provided free lodging in my home for them too.
LM: How have you made your personal mark on the business?
JL: When I joined the business in 1998, we had only one brand then called Beaubelle which my mom launched in 1995 as her own. She, however, started her beauty and health business in 1983 representing other European brands in Malaysia.
In my initial years, I grew the business by expanding our international representation which brought Beaubelle to Singapore, Vietnam, South Korea, Japan, China, India and Russia. But I think my biggest personal mark on the business has been the launch of B&B Labs in 2014. This was my pet project because it has always been my innermost desire since I joined the business to launch a range of products that have a very distinctive Asian (particularly Malaysia) nuance which we can market to the world. The realm of premium skincare has always been dominated by European and American brands and then the Japanese and Koreans came into the game as well slightly later. So now, J-beauty and K-beauty are both global successes.
We have launched B&B Labs as a true blue Malaysian homegrown brand and my goal now is to make M-beauty also a global force to be reckoned with.
LM: Has the Covid-19 pandemic affected the running of your business, or made you reconsider any elements of your processes? Has it opened up any opportunities?
JL: When the Malaysian government imposed the MCO in March this year, it was truly a difficult time for our business as I'm sure it was also for many other businesses. Although we had started digitalising our business operations prior to the pandemic, many processes and business dealings were still done physically because in our line of business, face-to-face meetings are more effective. But this definitely wasn't possible during the lockdown and we had to pivot our business accordingly.
It accelerated our push towards DTC (direct-to-consumer) marketing through e-commerce and online marketplaces to make-up for the shortfall in brick and mortar sales. It had also opened up the opportunity for us to get into personal care products like the recent launch of our Hygiene Series of products to help fight Covid-19 infections. Since international travel is halted now, physical exhibitions which were so expensive to participate in before, have become cheaper because they have gone virtual thus eliminating the need to incur travel expenses and building up expensive booth structures. This has opened up more opportunities to expand into overseas markets for us.
LM: Let's go back to ISKL and your high school years. What were your favorite subjects and were any of your teachers particularly influential?
JL: My favorite subject was science. This is why I chose to do AP Biology and my teacher at the time, Mr Tom Hopkins made the class very fun and engaging. I remember him taking us on a special field trip to Batu Caves where we got to go deep inside the cave to study the ecosystem there which the public didn't have access to. We had to crawl through tiny tunnels filled with bat guano so it was quite an adventure.
LM: What activities or sports were you involved in? Do you have any favorite memories of people or events?
JL: Among all the activities I joined while in ISKL, the most memorable one was ISKL Singers because it brought me to Singapore, Bangkok and Jakarta for the IASAS Cultural Convention. Getting the opportunity to visit these affiliated schools was really awesome because I got to meet new friends and had loads of fun with my fellow ISKL friends on these trips. We explored new places together and discovered new types of food during all these tours. Mrs Catherine Evans was instrumental in my music skill development while in ISKL and I am most grateful to have grown in this area and received the Most Outstanding Choral Musician award in my senior year.
LM: Your wife, Marcia Yim, is also an ISKL Alumni. Did your romance blossom at school?
JL: Yes, my wife graduated from the Class of '96. We knew of each other in ISKL but weren't close friends and didn't hang out much. After graduating from ISKL, we had no contact until 2012. I had dinner plans one night in that year with two other ISKL friends and one of them asked if Marcia Yim could join us since she just recently moved back to KL. Since I remember her from high school, I said, "Why not? The more the merrier." I guess you could say that it was love at first sight when we met for the first time again since we both left ISKL and our relationship blossomed very fast, because we got married the following year.
LM: Did your international school experience shape the person you've become? If so, how? What are its benefits?
JL: My international school experience started from 7th grade when I was in TAS and from then on there was no turning back. My views had become more globalized and interacting with different nationalities and cultures shaped me into becoming a more tolerant and understanding person. It also made me more comfortable and at ease while interacting with people other than my own. This has helped me in my overseas business development activities for my company as I am able to connect with all types of people much more easily.
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