Change is often uncomfortable, and a towkay with a successful business model would likely be wary when his employees suggest changes in the form of, for example, new products.

Not Old Chang Kee's boss Han Keen Juan.

The 62-year-old said he not only encourages his staff to introduce changes, he lets them make mistakes as well.

"I allow all my staff to make mistakes because if I don't allow this, they will be scared of (suggesting) changes.

"Changes will lead to mistakes sometimes. If you make a mistake, never mind, but you must benefit (and learn) after making a mistake."

He was speaking at The Think Big Entrepreneurs Convention 2013 organised by The SME Magazine, a publication of The Business Times, in collaboration with Action Community for Entrepreneurship (ACE) and SME Centre@SCCCI.

Joining him as fellow speakers at the event were Loo Choon Yong, co-founder of the Raffles Medical Group, principal consultant of Strategicom Jacky Tai and co-founder of online publication Gwendolyn Tan.

Mr Han, offering the 600 seminar participants an anecdote about making mistakes drawn from his experience, said he still counts Old Chang Kee's misstep of introducing croissants alongside its signature curry puffs as "a nice mistake".

From that experience, the company saw that it had forgotten that its customers were people who wanted to keep things fuss free. "They want it casual - they buy, they eat and they go," he said, adding that most people eat a curry puff on the go, but with French pastry, they prefer to enjoy it sitting down and equipped with a fork and knife.

The croissants were on Old Chang Kee's shelves for all of six months before they were canned.

"From that, we learned that whatever product you want to introduce, you make sure (it aligns with) the customer base.

"Sometimes you think it works, but actually it doesn't work."

Such a setback has not stopped him or the company from trying to re-invent itself. Last year, the group introduced a new brand called CurryTimes - small, sit-down eateries selling dishes like curry fish head, curry buns and curry chicken ramen.

"We know our strengths. We are good in curry puffs. We make curry every day."

Old Chang Kee's employees had suggested that the company go into all things curry. He set them loose to execute the idea. "The whole thing was done by them (the young people). I didn't get involved, I didn't want to tie their hands."

He said CurryTimes has added value to Old Chang Kee. For one, it has raised productivity because firm deploys the same staff to both brands under its name - saving on manpower and shop space while racking up more business.

When it is lunch time, employees are deployed to help out at CurryTimes; when it is tea time, they are deployed to sell curry puffs.

Fellow speaker Dr Loo spoke on the lessons he has learned at the helm of Raffles Medical Group.

He said entrepreneurs must have a vision; in particular, they should ask themselves whether their business can venture overseas, but they should not take this plunge without first establishing their foundations here.

Using Raffles Medical as an example, he said: "Before we set up a full hospital we had a small hospital, SurgiCentre, with 30 beds.

"If you can't even run (a hospital with) 30 beds, you don't go and try 300 beds."

It was by taking steps progressively that Raffles Medical grew from a two-clinic practice in 1976 into a group with some 80 multi-disciplinary clinics in Singapore, Hong Kong and Shanghai, and a hospital providing primary, secondary and tertiary healthcare in Singapore.

Strategicom principal consultant Jacky Tai offered tips on how firms can brand themselves; online publication's Gwendolyn Tan spoke on how the Internet has enabled entrepreneurs to raise funds and receive feedback on yet-to-be launched products.

The Think Big Entrepreneurs Convention was sponsored by Canon and co-hosted by Grand Copthorne Waterfront Hotel.