Cheese Whiz

Weekend Glitz | Lisa Kao 3 Jul 2020

Having been best friends for almost half of their lives, Jacques Derreumaux and Normann Gany studied together, traveled together and are now managing three businesses together.

Over the years, despite conflicts and moments when they thought they had enough of each other, the two Frenchmen remain good friends.

“If our relationship was not good, I would not have wanted to open businesses with him,” said Derreumaux.

Even so, the two had completely different dreams when they were kids.

“I wanted to be a chef,” said Derreumaux. “I guess it was because I always seized things to eat and preferred adult food over kid food.”

Gany had dreamed of being an astronaut or artist. “I think it is because I grew up on a small island close to nature, where I found magic in nature, art and the stars,” he said.

And so the stars brought them together.

Though born in different cities, they ended up in the same management school in Ecully. “We lived in the same dorm, hung out often and became close friends,” said Gany.

After their five-year studies, they decided to go for a six-month backpacking trip around Asia. “We went to Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Hong Kong, Nepal, India, China, Mongolia and Russia,” recalled Derreumaux.

It was an unforgettable trip. “When you go for a week’s trip, you will be thinking about having to go back home. But with a six-month trip, you lose track of time,” he said.

Although they went their separate ways after the trip, fate had other plans for them.

“After working for a few years in Paris, I felt that the city was so competitive and stressful, so I came to Hong Kong,” said Gany, who joined a water, waste and energy management services company in 2011. Derreumaux, meanwhile, ended up in Shanghai as the managing director of Club 1888.

“Although we were working in different cities, we never really lost contact with each other,” said Derreumaux. “I traveled from Shanghai to Hong Kong often, and Gany came to Shanghai often because of his job.”

Derreumaux and Gany eventually decided to do business together in 2013, opening a consultancy firm.

“We saw we had the network, experiences and opportunities, so we started an advisory business on distribution, product and sourcing,” said Gany.

As soon as the business developed, Derreumaux moved to Hong Kong in 2017, where the duo reunited and started working together.

But one business was not enough for them.

So, in 2017, the business partners fulfilled their craving for fruits from home by setting up What’sIn, a fruit box service that delivers fresh European fruits to Hong Kong.

Building on their success and with the homesickness still lingering, they started another food delivery service last year.

“We found that the price of cheese was so high in Hong Kong. It was hard to fi nd them at a reasonable price,” said Gany.

At the time, Gany was planning his wedding, where he wanted to serve good cheese. He used the occasion to try bringing European cheeses to Hong Kong.

“Our friends – including those from Japan, Spain, Russia and Hong Kong – turned out to be very interested in the cheeses. They were surprised by the quality,” he said.

With another business model in mind, Derreumaux and Gany partnered up for their third business – the Cheese Club.

They developed a unique ordering system, directly sourcing from the European supplier.

“Every month, there is one week for people to order, and they will be delivered to the household once they arrive in Hong Kong,” said Derreumaux. “We’ve got the same brand of cheese for HK$59, while it sells for HK$180 outside. This is because we saved on the cost of multiple layers [in the supply chain].”

Derreumaux is now mainly responsible for Cheese Club, while Gany manages What’sIn and their consultancy business, Innotek Asia.

In their 19 years as close friends and seven years as business partners, conflicts sometimes occur. Yet they know each other too well to pick serious fights.

“Communication is the way,” said Gany. Derreumaux credits the six-month backpacking trip for the rapport. “We traveled for six months, 24 hours a day together. We learned how to get along with each other.”

However, the two agree that one six-month trip together was enough.

“We see each other every day in the office, sitting next to each other,” said Derreumaux.

“We are already spending quite a lot of time together. I prefer spending my weekends and leisure time with my family.”

Gany shared the same thoughts. “My wife would kill me if there were to be another six month trip,” he said. Still, the 39-year-olds are looking for more challenges to take up together. Another business, perhaps?

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