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The health advocate
DR CHEN Jau-Fei, the founder of E. Excel International, makes an unusual company founder. She avoids talking about her company's products if possible, preferring to focus on getting her main message of prevention out to the public. The immunologist also raises eyebrows by saying candidly: "You don't need our products."
As Dr Chen explains, the company's health food products are made from wholesome plant foods readily available in the supermarket. "What we provide is convenience for people too busy to prepare a wide variety of fruits and vegetables daily," she says.
Her refined features and petite frame belie a strong mind and even stronger determination that helped her grow E. Excel from a small start-up in the US in 1987 to a multinational company today.
A dream of health
Born in Taiwan, Dr Chen migrated to the US when she was 10, and was an outstanding student. She became her high school valedictorian at age 15, earned a degree in microbiology at age 19, and completed her PhD at age 26, specialising in immunology.
As a lecturer and cancer researcher, she became disheartened by the suffering that treatments like chemotherapy could cause. A moving encounter with a terminally ill cancer patient who used a voice recorder to leave messages for her children made the scientist rethink her research focus.
"As a young scientist, I dreamed of finding a cure for cancer. But all medications have side effects. Instead of finding a cure, how about looking at prevention? However, at that time, there was not a lot of research on how nutrition affects the immune system," she says.
As Dr Chen devoted herself to researching the link between nutrition and cancer prevention, she was struck by the benefits of plant foods. But few wanted to support her research on foods like soy and broccoli. "People would ask me, can you isolate something out of it?"
To fund her research work and share her research findings with the public, she set up E. Excel International, a direct selling company, in 1987. Direct selling lends a more personal touch, which works well when sharing health knowledge, she thought.
But the initial going was tough. At that time, people were more receptive towards man-made supplements instead of natural foods. "People wanted secret, ancient formulas. And they thought anything chemical was better, preferring to take a vitamin C pill instead of eating an orange."
Not giving in to popular sentiment, she stuck to her original philosophy that whole foods are the way to go. "We know whole foods are good for people, and that gave us the strength to continue," she says.
To have better control over product quality, E. Excel invests in top-of-the-line equipment and manufactures its own products in the US, Singapore, and Shanghai.
E. Excel's products are based on the science of nutritional immunology, which studies the link between nutrition and the immune system.
"E. Excel's nutritional immunology advocates prevention over cure. By improving our diet with a wide variety of health-boosting fruits and vegetables found in the supermarket, and adopting a healthy lifestyle, we can strengthen our immune system and reduce the risk of disease," Dr Chen says.
The company developed a range of products formulated from wholesome plant foods, like drinks and powdered beverages. It even expanded into cosmetics and skin care.
Meanwhile, E. Excel's business grew steadily through the years. In 1990, Dr Chen took E. Excel to Taiwan, and then other parts of Asia in the 1990s.
E. Excel's uncompromising stand on product quality has led to an impeccable track record for product safety over the past 30 years, she says.
In Singapore, Dr Chen conducts three to four seminars a year despite a busy schedule. "Research comes first, then education, and finally, our products," she says.
Her work has led to numerous accolades. In 1997, Dr Chen was named one of the Ten Outstanding Young Americans by the US Junior Chamber of Commerce. She also received the China Dynasty Award in the same year.
An Asian footprint
Looking ahead, the company continues to see immense opportunities. Over 100,000 distributors have signed up worldwide, and some 80 per cent of the company's business is in Asia.
E. Excel has offices in Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, and the Philippines. In China, the business is conducted through about 100 retail shops.
The demand for a healthy lifestyle will only rise, Dr. Chen says. With the advent of productivity-boosting technology like smartphones, people are getting busier, dining out more often, and do not have the time to prepare healthy meals.
Obesity, cancer, and diabetes are on the rise. At the same time, standards of living have improved and people have the financial means to improve their quality of life.
Today, a key company project is digitising its educational materials to make it more convenient for its distributors to learn. "We're upgrading our overall computer systems as well as our websites. We're going to make it very convenient for people to use mobile devices to learn," she says.
The company is increasing its manufacturing capacity in Singapore. The city-state has a conducive environment for manufacturing, and it is easy to hire the right research and development talent here, she says.
E. Excel also supports basic research in immunology, giving grants to university researchers to do so through the Jau Fei Chen E. Excel Scholarship and Research Fund.
Dr Chen is also a published author, with her latest book Nutrition • Immunity • Longevity, published in 2015, becoming a bestseller in Taiwan.
The challenge remains to convince people, especially the young, to practice healthy eating, she says. And so Dr Chen continues, with passion, her life's mission of spreading the message that prevention is better than cure.
"Without education, my research would be done in vain. And from the first day that we started the business, I've been telling people that the miracle cure is right there in the supermarkets."