The Ivy Lee Episode: Doing the Right Thing?

Lunch Actually has been featured in the news recently, both in Singapore and KL. Actually, the articles in KL are similar to the ones in Singapore.

The hot story in Singapore last month was the story of property queen Ms Ivy Lee. So what does it have to do with Lunch Actually? 🙂 Well, Ms Ivy Lee approached us about a year ago. She’s 42, divorced with 2 kids. And she’s looking for someone who is at least 10 years older than her. By the way, in case I forget to mention, Ms Ivy Lee is also a millionaire.

Based on her profile, and what she’s looking for, we felt that we do not have any suitable matches for her. Hence we did not encourage her to sign up. We were honest, and explained the situation to her.

In the same article, there was also a side story about this other lady who is 39 years old. After meeting up with her and understanding her profile and preferences, we did not encourage her to sign up as we do not think we have suitable matches. She told us that she does not mind dating younger men. However, we explained to her that based on the preferences of our male clients, most of them prefer to date women who are 35 and below. 

As a business person, if I can make more money, why don’t I just sign up anybody and everybody right? But we are not in the business of selling cars or computers.

From what I observe so far, there are 2 types of dating agencies.

(1) Dating agencies/services that sign on anybody and everybody who is willing to pay, even though they might not have suitable matches for these people who sign up.

(2) Dating agencies that screen because they would like to be:

a) Responsible to existing members who joined based on the fact that they will be matched with people within their dating preferences; and

b) Responsible to potential signups e.g. being upfront and honest if there are no suitable matches as the dating agencies do not want to waste the time and money of the potential signups

Lunch Actually belongs to the 2nd type of dating agency.

From a business point of view, obviously it would be more profitable if we too adopt the procedures of the first type of dating agency.

However, we believe that running a successful and sustainable dating service in the long run is like running any other business – reputation and credibility comes first.

So anyway, when approached by a journalist to clarify on the case of Ms Ivy Lee. I shared with her the above. And she could see where I was coming from. Hence, when the article was first published in Singapore, I felt that it was a fair article, as she gave our side of the story as well. The journalist even told me that she had readers emailing her to praise Lunch Actually for being honest and not just taking the money and ‘run’.

However, when the article was published in Malaysia, all the information that was presented by us to explain why we did what we did was edited out. Hence, it might appear to the readers that we are a very ‘heartless’ company.

Initially, I was very upset. However, I eventually figured that there is not much we could do about it as it was already published. We wrote to the editor, but we have not received any reply to date.

I sometimes do wonder if I have done the right thing. Or should I just do what some other dating agencies do?

We could have even just take in the money, and then refund them one year later when there are no matches. From a business viewpoint, that would be a good cash flow buffer, wouldn’t it? But if during the point of sign up, we know that there are no suitable matches at all, that would not be an ethical thing to do.

Yet by doing what we perceive as ethical, what we perceive as doing the right thing, we might have come across as ‘heartless’ i.e. not helping those that are seeking help. And the best thing is… it is not us that ‘discriminate’, it is the clients themselves. (In this case, the men.)

We are just the introducer, bringing together people according to their preferences and profiles. Of course, there are some clients who are very flexible, and leave it to us to find them suitable matches. However, the majority of clients have specific preferences when it comes to attributes like age and height. Yes, we can manage their expectations, we can advice them to be more flexible, but at the end of the day, the decision is theirs. We cannot force them to meet someone that are not within their preferences.

Oh well… I guess, sometimes in life, you can never win.

So as long as you know you are doing the right thing and your conscience is clear, maybe that’s good enough. 🙂

Post Note: Thank you to all of you for your support and encouragement… am truly touched by your words! 🙂 Jamie and I, with our team will continue to work hard to make Lunch Actually the leading dating agency in Singapore and Malaysia!

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11 thoughts on “The Ivy Lee Episode: Doing the Right Thing?

  1. yan, i can understand why you were upset. when i read that article in the Star, i also noticed the negative inference to Lunch Actually.

    but you did what you thought was fair to the client and at the end of the day, you are the only one who has to live with your conscience.

    so don’t fret. no matter how much effort you put into being a good person, sometimes things just happen to throw you off. makes life more interesting i guess. 🙂

    ps ironic that Ms Ivy Lee suddenly had so many suitors once people found out she was a millionaire. hmmm…. i wonder why. hahaha… 🙂


  2. a case of different perception by different people on the same issue. not something that we can stop (more especially if the person already has a fixed mindset about it), isn’t it? and yes, as long as you feel you are right, then go ahead with it. 🙂


  3. my dearest, it takes courage to do the right thing.. and i am proud that you did. Well. at least you will be someone who can sleep in peace at night that in this journey call life.. that’s the only thing that matters. Remember, money can’t buy integrity.


  4. Hi, violet..

    I think you did the right thing and i personally think that Lunch Actually did a very good job and honesty is the best policy in doing business and this what i admire most 🙂

    Continue in what you believe in and your principle in life as like what you have said “So as long as we know we are doing the right thing and our conscience is clear, it’s good enough” 🙂

    No worries as we are only answerable to ourselves..


  5. u r doing right thing.. ^o^
    some agencies just for sake of getting business and money, always money minded didn’t think of others feeling and condition. We need to consider lots of stuff when dealing with human relationship and business.
    integrity..humility,honesty…and be professional.
    well, i do believe word of mouth will spread around and help you in the future. We need to bring returning guest, loyal type of guest and welcome new guest (thru introducing).
    I do a friend told me she been to Lunch Actually once, she was pleased and commented very proffesional.

    We do things with a sincere heart, don’t expect anything in return. As long as we try out our best and efford to get things done. 🙂



  6. I admire the lunch actually’s policy. How many business out there can do this? Not many I guess.

    As for Ms Ivy Lee, I feel that actually she shouldn’t have problem finding suitors. I think the problem lies with her expectations.


  7. It is because of your policies that if, should I ever need a matchmaking service, Lunch Actually would be the agency to go for for me.


  8. Sorry for the late comment Violet. Anyways, I really admire your sense of integrity, responsibility and honesty towards your prospective clients. In this day and age of profits first and crass commercialism, it is indeed a rare find. Kudos to you and your company. 🙂


  9. Rudy-
    Thanks for your very encouraging words. We have been misunderstood by some people based on the article that they read.

    But at the end of the day, I believe that we have to stand firm to our own ethics, and not cave into making profits and losing sight of our mission. 🙂


  10. Having previously engaged Lunch Actually in Malaysia, I agree that the article was not fairly reflecting the great service you ladies provide. I felt it was professional, direct & honest about expectations right from the moment I walked into your office.

    Anyway, I think your service has good reputation with most of my lady friends, albeit not as many on the guy side. Good luck & keep up the great work!


  11. Hi Jason,

    Thanks for dropping by, and thanks for your support and encouragement!

    Are you guy friends members of LA too? If so, please do ask them to contact me directly as I would like to hear their feedback. Thanks! 🙂



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