Wing Nien Foods
Wing Nien Foods is a family-owned business that spans three generations, dating back to 1942 in the United States. Entrepreneur George Hall saw an opportunity to start a soy sauce manufacturing business in San Francisco. Wing Nien Foods became one of the first soy sauce manufacturing companies in the United States. With the help of his extended family, the business did very well. Originally, creating the soy sauce was a manual time-consuming process: a soy bean press was used to extract the sauce, which was then bottled, labeled, and capped by hand. With each generation, this process has evolved to become more efficient and expanded to reach a greater market, while maintaining the same degree of precision and care.
George was an entrepreneur at heart, purchasing multiple buildings in San Francisco, Ming’s & Kan’s Restaurants on the Peninsula, and Hakone Gardens in Saratoga. George offered the business to his son, David Hall and said he would not have to go to college, he could teach him everything he knew. David was interested in becoming a Pharmacist, thus he attended University of California, Berkeley in 1957-1959, then finished at University of California, San Francisco in 1963. David became a Pharmacist, however, in 1967 his mother asked him to work as the Vice President of Wing Nien Foods when his father passed away. He agreed and worked alongside his uncle for many years, initially one day a week, and then ultimately took over the business in 1978.
David continued to run a successful business but changed a few things along the way. He saw the need for small portioned packets of sauce, found buyers in the Pacific Northwest, expanded the current business to Potrero Hill in San Francisco, automated the manual process, and opened a second plant in Vancouver, Canada.
David has two sons who currently work at Wing Nien Foods, Gregory and Patrick Hall. While growing up, David taught them sales techniques through lessons such as selling Otter Pops door-to-door. As they grew older, both boys worked sporadically doing odd jobs for the business. Gregory graduated in 1984 and then worked as an environmental engineer at Hughes Aircraft and Varian EIMAC, while Patrick Hall worked as an investment banker. In the mid ‘90s, Gregory started working for the family business and ultimately took over the business by 2001.
Even though Gregory knew how to run the business, there was a lot of pressure since it is very common for family-owned businesses to fail before the third generation of ownership. According to the Family Business Institute, “Only about 30% of family… businesses survive into the second generation, 12% are still viable into the third generation, and only about 3% of all family businesses operate into the fourth generation or beyond.” [i] Nevertheless, 13 years later Gregory is still running the third generation of their family business successfully. He has had his challenges, but has also successfully implemented many effective improvements within the company. He saw the need for diversification of the sauce offerings, invested in faster, more efficient automated bottling machines, and strove to get their products on the shelves of supermarkets.
In keeping with family tradition, Gregory’s daughter, currently in college, has planned to become the fourth generation owner of the business since the age of 10. With the guidance of her father, Kiana has been proactive in learning as much as possible to prepare. Once she graduates at the end of 2015, Gregory hopes she will work for another company for 10 years to gain perspective, and then work for him for five years to learn the trade before taking over the business—Just as he did.
ASL Principal, Luis Ramirez, assisted in the transition from the second generation and is currently advising Gregory on the transfer planning for the fourth generation. In addition to the succession planning, Luis was instrumental in identifying new processes at Wing Nien Foods that qualify for the Research and Development credits. Gregory said that working with Luis has been a very valuable asset to their business, joking that “the value of the accountant is that they save you more than they cost you.”
As the company has flourished and grown through each generation, their carefully prepared products and business approaches stay true to their motto: “Old World Tradition, New World Solution.” Each owner has modified the business to keep up with the times, but they still produce the same tasty sauces enjoyed by consumers for over 70 years.
Yu, Connie Young. Wing Nien Brand: A Story of Longevity. San Francisco: Chinese Historical Society of America, 2013. Print.