Christopher Fung: "Boom and bust has led to a lot of innovation in food"

Questions for the CEO of Crussh.

New Statesman
Christopher Fung, CEO of Crussh, the health food, juice and smoothie bar.

1. Sum up your leadership style in three words.

Courage, persistence, integrity.

2. What was your first paid job?

An industrial placement as a manufacturing engineer at the Kellogg's factory in Sydney.

3. How would you define the role of the CEO?

Providing leadership and direction to the company and having the vision to see beyond the obvious - what I call looking out for the next wave - and at the same time always trying to maximise shareholder value.

4. What's the best piece of advice you have ever received?

A Chinese saying that translates along the lines of "take a step back and the ocean will become wider and the sky larger". In other words, give the other person a bit of space and room to move in any discussion, negotiation or partnership and the opportunities will open up.

5. What has been your biggest achievement?

I’d say that it is still being with my wife Em (she’s such a super star! In this day and age, to me, staying happily married really is an achievement and something that has to be worked on and not taken for granted), and also our little baby boy who’s now six months – a bundle of joy. From a professional perspective, it has been building the Crussh business, steering us through an incredibly tough recession and restarting the engine for growth as the economy recovers.

6. Who is your business hero and why?

There's not a single person, though there are aspects of three people that have inspired me.

First, James Dyson, for what he has achieved as an inventor having trained as a manufacturing engineer and industrial designer. Steve Jobs may be an obvious one, but coming from a designer and entrepreneur's perspective, his vision,  single-minded determination and courage of conviction is pretty phenomenal; and Richard Branson for his constant innovation, being fun and creating a great brand from scratch.

I guess there is a common theme amongst the three in that they have all been underdogs in their industries. Each of them created something both tangible and different that went against the natural tide and the prevailing conventional thinking, at great risk to themselves but for the survival of their businesses.

7. Do you have a favourite business/management book?

Letters of a Businessman to His Son by G. Kingsley Ward. I read this years ago and loved the insights and deeply personal nature of the words of wisdom from a father to his son.

8. What should the government do to improve the UK business outlook?

I believe a lot of it could be around creating an environment to encourage more people into sustainable employment by making it easier for SMEs to take them on board more cost effectively. 

On the premise that creating successful SMEs is a key driver to the growth of the economy, I've a couple of thoughts for the government. First would be to encourage more SMEs to start up by having low - or no - Corporation Tax on companies below a certain level of turnover and profits, in order for them to reinvest into their business. Second, on a similar basis, to reduce or eliminate employers' NI for companies below a certain level of sales and profitability, in return for using those funds to employ people or invest in themselves. This would hopefully lead to fewer people on government benefits and at the same time raise funds through the newly employed employee’s personal income tax.

9. How healthy in the relationship between the government and UK business at present?

Given the recent problems in hacking between government agencies and business, obviously there are some issues. However, I do think the balance is improving; the current government is making an attempt to understand issues both domestically and internationally. There could be greater support for SME businesses and a deeper understanding of what really happens in the banking sector in order to fundamentally solve the issues caused by separating personal risk from other people’s money and the asymmetry it drives.

10. What is your biggest business challenge right now?

In a very competitive landscape in central London, my biggest challenge is to spread the word to a wider audience of customers who haven't yet visited a Crussh, or those who think of Crussh as only a juice bar. We're seeing the mainstreaming of a health-consciousness amongst the younger generation brought up on Jamie Oliver’s hugely commendable efforts.

11. What's your favourite restaurant?

Impossible to say because the joy of eating is to discover new places; I'd always prefer to try out a new restaurant over choosing to return to the same one time and time again. Having said that, memorable meals include:

  • The French Laundry in Napa, California, for the Thomas Keller experience and his attention to detail.
  • Heston’s Fat Duck - I've somehow been lucky enough to get there three times now and even though I know what's coming up, I love seeing the friends and family who are going for the first time being amazed by the experience.
  • Xin, one of the original innovative restaurants in the private kitchen phenomenon in Hong Kong – what I consider the real pop-ups – which started back in 2001/02 just before and in the aftermath of the Asian financial crisis. Now the trend has hit London partly driven by the same set of economic circumstances: a huge economic boom – making it difficult to find cost-effective spaces – followed by recession. This has led to a lot of innovation in food.
  • Busaba for a consistently great Thai meal.
  • Crussh, of course, for every day healthy, tasty eating.
  • Anchor and Hope for visitors to London. You can’t get the uniquely British style of gastropub experience anywhere else in the world.

12. Blackberry or iPhone?

iPhone. Hipstamatic with the Lucifer lens; Sonos combined with Spotify; TED and Big Two – all you ever need with a wi-fi connection.

13. What possession could you not do without?

. . . my iPhone.

14. Where is the most interesting place you have visited?

As someone immersed in food, I visited Guangzhou, China back in the early Nineties. Anyone who had been to the Qingping market back then would have been amazed, horrified and fascinated all at the same time.

15. How do you manage to balance work and home life?

With a lot of difficulty, especially now that we have a six-month-old baby boy!

16. When was the last time you were truly relaxed?

Probably a couple of summers ago with old friends in a villa in Ibiza, followed immediately by a few days at Richard Branson's ski lodge in Verbier where we spent a great time relaxing and learning how to make sourdough bread. It doesn't get much better than that.

Christopher Fung is the managing director of Crussh Juice Bars, founded by 1998 by James Learmond. Born in Hong Kong, Fung grew up in Australia and joined Crussh in 2003. From just seven stores in 2003, the company now operates 26 branches across the capital. Fung is a contributor to 'Business Gurus', a compendium of summaries of the most influential business theories, published in 2012 by Crimson Publishing.