Out of the heartbreak of his son’s stillbirth, came new life for founder of award-winning PR firm
Ng Jing Yng // April 28, 2021, 6:02 pm
At Jeremy Foo's firm, Elliot & Co, 50% of team members' KPI is based on how well they have abided by core values such as integrity. All photos courtesy of Jeremy Foo (in striped shirt).
As a “PR and communications guy”, Jeremy Foo, 35, is a storyteller for start-ups and small companies across Southeast Asia.
But before he was ready to be a voice for businesses on the fringes, God first had to forge his own life through meandering paths and heartbreaks.
Being a pastor or missionary had always been in the cards for Foo, being a pastor’s kid. In fact, it was the very life plan he had drawn up for himself.
Both his parents have been lifelong pastors and church planters. Now in their 60s, they are still itinerant missionaries, travelling fortnightly to countries like India and China for Gospel work.
Being a pastor or missionary had always been in the cards for Foo, being a pastor’s kid.
Foo himself started out in public relations, working his way up the industry before a sense of disenchantment with corporate life enveloped him. The idea of entering pastoral ministry became more appealing. Yet, there was a disconcerting feeling that refused to go away despite his repeated attempts to shake it off.
“It was too comfortable (a choice) … I felt I needed a challenge and to step out of the comforts of the familiar church walls,” recalled Foo, tracing his footsteps to where he is today as founder of award-winning PR firm, Elliot & Co.
So he and his wife, Quin, decided to head to the United States for a sabbatical and to seek advice from a Christian mentor. The six months in Los Angeles proved to be illuminating.
Away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life in Singapore, he had a chance to work alongside his Christian mentor, a trained life coach. The stint opened Foo’s eyes to his skillsets in entrepreneurship.
It became clear to him that it was not the right season for him to go into pastoral ministry yet.
As he continued to seek God on his next steps, memories of working with Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) came to mind. Then the eureka moment struck: The next chapter of his life involved starting a PR firm focusing on SMEs.
His assignment from God: To be a storyteller for SMEs.
Said Jeremy: “During my time in PR, I saw that SMEs often could not afford to engage expensive PR services.
“There is a misalignment in the whole industry as start-ups have great stories too … I saw a great opportunity to tell stories for an underserved community.”
Grief and sorrow
So in early 2017, Foo hunkered down and started Prospr, a consultancy firm focusing on PR and digital marketing for the SME community.
During the first year, he did not take a salary and had to knock on doors relentlessly. Nonetheless, the market responded swiftly and Prospr ended the year with 100 clients and a six-figure revenue.
On the family front, he and his wife were also looking forward to the birth of their first child, a boy, who was due in early 2018.
Then shocking news came as a bolt out of the blue.
During what seemed to be an innocuous check-up for a slight stomach ache during his wife’s final trimester of pregnancy, the doctor informed them that the baby’s heartbeat was undetectable. The little one had passed away in his mother’s womb.
The couple was shell-shocked.
“There is a boy in heaven who is smiling and cheering on you and your wife. The boy is wearing a cap with a letter ‘E’.”
Tormenting voices of guilt and shame washed over him. He berated himself endlessly for having sacrificed his baby for his business. He faulted himself for using his life savings for the business instead of buying more nutritious food for his wife.
The grief and sorrow were overwhelming and he decided to shut down Prospr. He did not have a single drop of strength left to continue.
“Our son’s death broke all of us,” he said. “We had thought he was a gift from God and it was very crushing to have him taken from us so tragically.”
But the night before he was to speak to his business partner about closing down, a Christian brother sent him a text message that literally stopped him in his tracks.
His friend had rallied others to pray for Foo and his wife without going into detail on the death of their son.
An anonymous prophet had a word for Foo: “There is a boy in heaven who is smiling and cheering on you and your wife. The boy is wearing a cap with a letter ‘E’ printed on it.”
Foo and his wife had intended to name their son “Elliot”.
“With that prophetic text message, we felt that we could finally breathe again … it was a breath of fresh air.”
He believed this was a word from God to press on with the business. It was also a personal encouragement from his late son. Then and there he decided he would continue to help others tell their unheard stories.
In his bid to start picking up the pieces of his life again, Foo uncovered blind spots that he had overlooked when the business was hitting dazzling revenue numbers.
For one, he had failed to see that Prospr was heading down the same path that had actually driven him to quit his PR job; the firm was moving towards big corporate clients and losing its identity as a voice for smaller firms.
“Using Elliot’s name in such a public manner took away the sting of death.”
Slowly he was being refined as a business leader. This included going through the humbling process of downsizing the firm and making substantial financial losses due to stakeholders who did not share a similar vision as the company.
He was determined to right the wrongs. As a symbolic move to refocus the business, coupled with nudging from his Christian mentor, he changed the company’s name to Elliot & Co.
This was a tribute to his late son and served to remind him of his primary purpose to serve SMEs in the cut-throat PR industry, he said.
Unbeknownst to him at the time, the change of company name was part of his healing process. It helped him to step out of the shadows of his son’s death.
“Using Elliot’s name in such a public manner took away the sting of death,” said Foo. “I believed that hiding and not talking about it represented fear.
“Being able to talk about it publicly moved his passing from private shame to confidence in the future,” added Foo, who has since shared candidly about his son publicly.
The narrow gate
With Elliot & Co, Foo seeks to do things with a different corporate value set from before, even if it seems out of place by industry standards.
For example, he appraises his hires, mostly fresh grads, not by sales targets. Instead, 50% of their KPI is based on how well they have abided by core values such as integrity.
“Among the many options, which is the path that honours God, my team, and my stakeholders the most?”
While his team comprises different races and ethnicities, he strongly believes in building a positive, open culture, and issues such as faith and values are discussed transparently.
He also advocates second, and even third, chances to allow his young charges to try again despite failing the first time.
Even as a PR and communications whizz, Foo lets on that he is constantly working on his communication skills. His “soft” leadership style sees him struggling to be firm with complacent staff or late payments from vendors and clients.
“I’ve to look to Jesus … He is indeed the master of communication, using simple messages to reach the most difficult people,” he said.
God’s faithfulness shone through the refinement process.
One of Foo’s proudest moments was not letting go of a single staff member despite the company revenue taking a 30% dive during the peak of the Covid-19 season.
Instead he had everyone take a paycut, a measure which, surprisingly, united the team more than ever before.
God has since blessed the firm above and beyond. Besides recovering lost revenue, they have met all their annual sales targets in the first quarter of this year.
Foo now abides by the principle of having a “narrow” mindset as he goes about in his business, in reference to Matthew 7: 13-14: “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”
He explained: “The narrow road is not about denying yourself of all privileges per se. But, among the many options and with excess resources, which is the path that honours God, my team, and my stakeholders the most?”
With the memory of some dark days behind him, he added: “The key word here is ‘metamorphosis’. Out of every crisis in my family life and business, God crushed the old, but brought out a better version of each.”
As a testament to this, the joyous chatter of his daughter, born two years ago, can also be heard in the background during the entire interview, filling the Foo household – and the days ahead – with light.