On Your Own

The writer is an entrepreneur who hopes to share his experience and insights with readers who want to take that giant leap into business but are not sure if they should.

7/2018 – My wishlist to Dr Mahathir and Guan Eng

Dear Dr Mahathir

It is difficult to congratulate you for your self appointment as the next Education Minister. Not especially with Tun Dr Siti Hasmah Mohd Ali being unhappy that you have broken your promise not to take up an additional portfolio as you already have the heavy job of a Prime Minister. You have hardly slept the past week and the nation is worried about your health.

So with it with great relief that you have decided to pass the baton to Dr Maszlee Malik before the starting line. Neverthless, many are pleased that you have thought about it as the future of this country rests upon your wise decision and a firm hand.

As you have combined the two education ministries into one, you can now chart a seamless education for a child from standard one to university. Re your online software lessons, it will open up content possibilities different from the dreary textbooks. Digital technology will enable scaling in terms of different subjects, multiple age groups and in different languages. It will open up the young minds.

However please ban political themes in primary and secondary schools. Reintroduce Rukunegara and moral teachings. Mastering science, maths and English will enhance personal intellect.

Religious indoctrination should be put aside while teachers and lecturers should stay religion neutral. All academic disciplines in universities should be recalibrated to produce graduates with the right skills to be hungry and job ready.

I do have one wish. Please set up a Council of Eminent Historians. Yes they say History is written by Victors but this was because in those days, it was difficult to archive manuscripts. But our history is young, we have computers and gigabytes of storage memory. And the Council should review all the history books in schools and replace the fake facts with true facts

The future belongs to those who learn from the past and live brilliantly.

Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Hopefully our recent bad chapter in history will never be repeated.

What’s done is done. Right actions in the future are the best apologies for bad actions in the past.

Anyway Tun, you will always be remembered in our history as the PM who came in from the past to save our future. And may God bless you with many more healthy years.

Dear Lim Guan Eng

Congratulations for being appointed as the Finance Minister-designate. According to Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim in his homecoming speech on Wednesday, as a past Finance Minister, he found the job to be difficult and complex.

Maybe that is why you were picked for the job. When the country is having a major cash flow problem, it is time to pick a prudent Malaysian accountant to helm the Ministry.

That Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad picked you for this post, he must have had tremendous confidence in your ability and your integrity. You yourself have had meetings with the Ministry officials in the last few days and discovered that the problems in the Ministry especially the 1MDB debts are deeper and wider than expected.

But financial debt is not your only problem. In an article by Digital News Asia just two days ago, the former secretary-general Tan Sri Serigar Irwan was described as the pillar of the startup ecosystem in Malaysia. Besides being the Board Chairman of Malaysian Global Innovation and Creativity Centre (MaGIC), his contribution, support and commitment towards the startup ecosystem has not been matched by any senior civil servant.

Well this is all admirable as Malaysia moves into the digital technology space, one wonder why MaGIC (MoF Incorporated) is under the purview of Finance Ministry and not under the Science, Technology & Innovation Ministry? It is akin to Maybank CEO appointing his chief financial officer to be in charge of its Innovation Lab when a chief innovation officer has already been employed.

Similarly Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC) another MoF incorporated company is under the purview of your Finance Ministry.

You will be pleased to know that MDEC was formerly known as Multimedia Development Corporation launched by your new boss Dr Mahathir back in 1996 under the purview of Science and Technology Ministry which was transferred to Communications and Multimedia Ministry and finally landed under Finance Ministry. Lucky you.

Should you decide to keep this two MoF incorporated companies under the purview of your Ministry, may I suggest you hire an additional secretary-general who is technologically qualified to oversee these two important subsidiaries.

I would strongly advise that your first secretary-general to be a highly qualified accountant to help you solve the massive financial problems and ensure that he is not distracted by all these digital jumbo mumbo from performing his task at hand.

When you next walk into your new office, perhaps you would like to verify an article by The Edge dated Jan 8th 2018 that another MoF company may have acquired a 51% stake in Mulia Property Development Sdn Bhd (for an undisclosed amount) which is developing The Exchange 106 skyscraper at the Tun Razak Exchange. You might need another assistant who is well versed in property development which I believe you will not find it difficult to find among our civil service team.

It would be advisable that you also check with your boss the financial commitments of all the big infrastructure projects that are under the purview of the PMO office like ECRL, Bandar Malaysia, TRX etc. All which leads to a great opportunity to cut costs at other Ministries since they are left with hardly any major projects to manage.

As recommended by your DAP colleague Liew Chin Tong, Malaysia does not need so many Ministries since PMO and the MOF have taken over so many functions on their behalf. In view of the budget constraint, you can merge some of the mini Ministries, either into a 2 in 1 or even 3 in 1 thus reducing redundancy.

If your Pakatan Harapan government can reduce the financial deficits despite zero rating GST, I am sure Harvard Business School will write one its best Management, Finance and Leadership case studies for its world class students.

Talking about GST, you caught the market by surprise by zero rating GST from June 1. While it is an admirable action taken in view of the coming Hari Raya celebrations, most of the SMEs are confused and feeling a bit lost. It will be good if you can bring back Datuk Ahmad Maslan to explain to us how zero rating the GST will bring down retail prices.

I have advised my trading companies to reduce the recommended selling price by 6% for ALL products or as close as possible due to the rounding up of the odd cents which means a savings of 5.8% to 5.99% reduction from the selling price.

However, some of our products will be charged a sales tax of 10% when you implement the 10% sales and service tax. At that time, I will advise my trading companies to raise the recommended selling prices on the affected products accordingly. Kindly advise your still unnamed Trade Minister colleague to restrain his officers from threatening us with profiteering as we are just following the government’s flip-flop policies.

I have a humble wish to make. With our neighbouring Asean countries forging ahead with investments in startup ecosystem and national digital initiatives, Malaysia must not fall behind in this race to the future. It would be advisable for this government to continue funding a sizable annual budget towards supporting an innovative and vibrant digital economy.

A well-run ecosystem will produce many digital entrepreneurs. What is required is to institute good governance, transparent policies and open tenders.

I would however like to extend my appreciation for your ‘nampak banyak teruk tetapi mesti buat jugak’ attitude. You will survive. Lucky us.

Published: https://www.thestar.com.my/business/business-news/2018/05/19/my-wishlist-to-dr-mahathir-and-guan-eng

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6/2018 – My wishlist to the new government

An efficient and business friendly civil service will help the SME community greatly.

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Major force: SMEs now number around 500,000 and despite the presence of huge conglomerates, SMEs still provide the most employment opportunities and keep the economic engine running.

Major force: SMEs now number around 500,000 and despite the presence of huge conglomerates, SMEs still provide the most employment opportunities and keep the economic engine running.

Dear Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad,

Congratulations on your appointment as the 7th Prime Minister of Malaysia.

It has been 15 years since you have retired and your return has raised the hopes of the nation. I had my doubts with regards to your age and health but you have proven to everyone that your mind is still sharp, your retorts still laced with acidic humour and your eyes still having the mischievous twinkle. Vintage Dr M as I have known since my student days in Universiti Malaya. Welcome back.

Since you are about to appoint members of your coalition government to the Cabinet, I would like to share a few grievances facing the entrepreneur community in Malaysia. Hopefully you will have a better perspective of the state of affairs currently faced by entrepreneurs so that your new team of ministers can formulate new strategies, correct dysfunctional current policies and create a new mentality among the huge civil service that you will inherit.

Malaysia under your management for 22 years grew at a robust pace on the back of innovative and hardworking SMEs’ (small and medium enterprises) involvement in manufacturing, agri business, trading and exports. For your information, SMEs now number around 500,000 entities and despite the presence of huge conglomerates, SMEs still provide the most employment opportunities and keeps the economic engine running. You will be pleased to know that SMEs and its employees are the main supporters of Pakatan Harapan.

I would like to suggest some ideas for your new ministers to consider.

No new slogans please: It just confuses the civil service and the public in general. Bring back “Bersih, cekap dan amanah.” It has worked well before, it will work well again. As Tan Sri Rafidah Aziz has said recently, the civil service exists to serve the community and not to lord over the community. An efficient and business friendly civil service will help the SME community greatly.

Efficiency saves time, time is money: Lower costs increase competitiveness. Competitive companies make profits and increase tax collection for the government. Your ministers should focus on controlling the government agencies that increase business costs unnecessarily. Ultimately, lower costs of doing business will result in lower selling prices thus lowering the cost of living for the people.

Eliminating goods and services tax (GST): As an economist, a consumption tax like GST or value-added tax is a sustainable tax collection model for any nation but it must be accompanied by lower personal and corporate income taxes. Pakatan Harapan’s plan to eliminate GST and reinstating the sales and services tax (SST) might reduce the cost of some products that does not incur sales tax at source. But still the net RM20bil loss in government revenue (GST less SST) means a RM20bil expenditure savings for the people. For that, all the SMEs will support your no-GST programme.

Like all businesses, the government needs to balance its books. I believe you can easily find RM10bil savings from your Prime Minister’s Office expenditure alone. Reducing the number of ministries and cabinet size might save you another few billion. In business when we are not able to increase revenue, we have to cut costs. When revenue decreases, we cut more costs. May I humbly suggest you get a sharp CPA (certified public accountant) assistant to help you review how to achieve savings from the expenditures of the various ministries to make up for the loss of GST revenue.

Another major factor in the increase of costs of living was imported inflation due to the weakening of the ringgit (RM3 to RM4.5 per US dollar). From experience, you have had major battles before with currency devaluations and its effects on our economy. I am confident that you will be able to create a stable exchange rate regime that can sustain a decent cost of living vis-a-vis the prevalent income of your citizens. Businesses will be able to plan better in a stable currency environment.

Rule of law: No businesses can survive without the rule of law being applied in a fair and just manner. It is even more unfair when different rules of law applies to different people. Your plan to restore the independence of the judiciary will create market confidence for new investors and citizens alike.

Similarly, your plan to restore the independence of various national institutions brings hope that a check-and-control system for political excesses can be implemented.

Reducing government involvement in business: The government’s role is to help the private sector, especially the SMEs, in growing the economy so that corporate tax revenues grow in tandem. Instead we have so many federal and state enterprises competing in all sectors of the economy. This creates an uneven playing field as the business opportunities dwindle and monopolies are created. Worst still, politicians and civil servants are involved in running such businesses and being inexperienced managers, state enterprises are inefficient and wasteful. There should be a clear separation of roles – politicians and civil servants administering the government and social projects – and leave the businesses to the private sector.

Anti-fake laws: Your decision to rescind this monstrous law augurs well for freedom of speech and expression. An independent judiciary will be able to solve any defamation suits. What will be of interest to the nation will be how your new administration will manage the publication licences of all the Barisan-owned media companies of newspapers and TV stations. You should not worry too much as they are all traditional media assets. Maybe it is time you allow apolitical independent online and offline media companies to exist and grow.

You will be pleased to know that viewership and readership of traditional media have been sliding at an alarming rate. So has their advertising revenue. Most of the lost advertising revenue has gone to social media companies like Google and Facebook, which incidentally are not taxed on their Malaysian revenue. To make matters worse, local advertisers have to pay additional withholding tax to the Inland Revenue Board since the advertising fees are paid online to overseas account. Perhaps you should direct our Inland Revenue to start collecting tax from such companies instead of harassing our local businesses.

Minimum wage of RM1,500: As most business employers will tell you, salary commensurates with productivity. If you go to a McDonald’s outlet in London, for example, a service staff there gets paid twice our salary on a dollar to dollar basis but their staffing efficiency is one to three. What needs to be done is to inculcate our young on the need to work hard and work fast instead of relying on handouts mentality. That said, it is difficult to find staff who is willing to work on minimum wage in the city thus the reliance on foreign workers.

For SMEs, the staffing problem is more acute. Despite the availability of unemployed local graduates in the hundreds of thousands, it is difficult to find Malay or Chinese graduates who can speak and write passable English. In this increasing Internet-driven economy, basic English proficiency is a prerequisite to employment. Your Education Minister will have a tough job reversing 20 years of misdirected education syllabus which does not meet current needs. Supply not able to meet specific demand. Suggest short-term solutions to bridge the gaps.

Hiring the best people to the cabinet: Please select capable and bright talents to be ministers. When GST was implemented, the ex-deputy minister of domestic trade said that GST will not increase the prices of products. After insulting our intelligence, his officers from the ministry compelled our retail chain stores (customers) not to increase the selling price of products in the store for one year. So the retail stores in return forced the suppliers to absorb the 6% GST. As our imported products were void of sales tax, we had to bear the full GST cost ourselves. At that time, ringgit started its devaluation trend so it was a double-whammy hit on importers. Feeling insulted and bullied was an understatement.

In view of the transition to the new digital economy, I would suggest that Tun bring in as many capable and untainted young talents into your various ministries, if possible. Guide them well and we will have a pool of talented leaders who embodies your “Bersih, cekap dan amanah” mantra to take Malaysia into the next millennium.

Talking of young leaders, I would like to make a personal request that you keep Rafizi Ramli out of jail and bring him into your Cabinet. Nurture him and keep him out of harms. This boy from Terengganu has much to learn and much, much more to give to this country.

My last request is for you to appoint Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan to be the chairman of the Election Commission. She has been complaining non-stop for the last few years, so it will be good if she is allowed to clean up the electoral rolls, tighten up the laws, revamp the machinery and processes so that the whole nation do not have to stay up so late just to get the election results come GE15.

Last but not least, we wish you good health and good governance. Please listen to your doctor’s advice when she tells you to rest and eat well. You are blessed with a lovely and caring spouse. Not every Prime Minister is as lucky as you are.

Keep well sir.

Published: https://www.thestar.com.my/business/business-news/2018/05/12/my-wishlist-to-the-new-government/#EXvAGlTjf0XhqkBj.99

5/2018 – Fake startup entrepreneurs

TIME really flies. In the blink of an eye, my kids are all grown up. My two boys have started their journeys in career and in relationships. My little girl is graduating this July. Finally, my wife has grown accustomed to my rotund face and body even though it has taken her 30 years to do so.

Thirty years ago, we had fake Louis Vuitton bags made in Thailand and China. Now we have fake news made by almost anybody and everybody. There were laws against fake goods and now there are laws against fake news.

We could not tell the difference between the fake goods against the originals then, we are not able to differentiate between the real news and the fake news now.

Only the original experts could tell the difference then, now we have fake experts to spot the fakes from the originals. In the blink of an eye, real becomes fake and fake becomes real.

The powerless will soon be powerful again. Revenge turns to love, love turns to hate and now, hate is in the air. In the end, love will bring us together. Given time, all strained relationships will heal when the universe of power is balanced again.

Time will tell. Words are cheap, living cost is not. Promises made, memory fade. When in power, suffer the same fate. Time and time again, only the elite gain, the mass always suffer in pain. Sugar and spice, once in five years you can get rice. Missing in time, no one can tell, whether your rep is from heaven or hell. Once voted, only time will tell.

Time is money. Cash is king, votes will swing. Money can’t buy you love, everybody tells you so.

The Queen checkmates the King, money means nothing. People will love you, if you give up everything. Money, money, money, ABBA sings so funny. It is a rich man’s world, money rules the world.

If you think I am talking about politicians, it is just a figment of your imagination. Nothing could be more fake than that. I am describing the fake startup entrepreneur who over-promises his investors and his employees. Over time, you can tell whether he is genuine or a convincing fake.

A fake startup entrepreneur is as genuine as a business con man and I have seen many in my lifetime.

A con man tells one lie after another, covers up one hole with another bigger hole until he believes in his own lie. Now he believes he is speaking the truth and his subconscious is not able to differentiate the real from the fake or is it the fake from the real?

As seen in UK and US, some fake startup entrepreneurs are great con man spending investor’s money on a lavish lifestyle until they are caught.

Because of their ability to raise large sums of money, they genuinely believe their deception can continue forever. They have also corrupted their group of managers to participate in their scheme of deception. Cover-ups are normally done en mass at the top. The mass employees are the ones who suffers the consequences of a failed startup.

Genuine politicians have noble intentions. Eradicate poverty, selfless service to the community at large, raise the standard of living, institute good governance and save the world. But there are also fake politicians who are similar to fake startup entrepreneurs who are similar to genuine con men.

To all smart investors, it is advisable to identify these fake entrepreneurs early before you part with your hard earned money. Do not be taken by sugar-coated promises of rich returns because there aren’t any.

If the startup entrepreneur and his wife live a lavish lifestyle on other people’s money, he is no more a startup entrepreneur. He is a con man. And you deserve the entrepreneur you have invested in.

To all the young startup entrepreneurs, please treat investors’ money like your own. Be frugal and do not forget your original noble intention of serving the public good. Do not take lightly your responsibilities towards your employees for their rice bowl is in your hands. You should empower your people towards self sufficiency, meritocracy and performance driven goals.

To all the young politicians, stay true to your original noble intentions. Do not be corrupted by the system and older fake politicians.

Easy money is evil money. Once you succumbed to evil temptations, you are on the hell road of no return. You are our only hope. If the older politicians are fake, discard them and start your own revolution.

To all the genuine older politicians, since there aren’t any, no advice will be forthcoming. Let the young ones rule the world for a change. Sit back, relax and enjoy the rest of your life in comfort. You deserve it just as we deserve you.

Oh by the way, I just realised the general elections is around the corner. To all the voters, please vote wisely. Or you will live to regret in no time. Have a good time at the polls.

Published: https://www.thestar.com.my/business/business-news/2018/04/28/fake-startup-entrepreneurs

4/2018 – Legacy issues in Chinese businesses

Saturday, 24 Mar 2018

SITTING at the Golfers Terrace outside the Main Lounge of Royal Selangor Golf Club (RSGC), one can get a spectacular view of the golf course. Amidst the tranquil ambience and scenic surroundings, one could hardly notice that just outside the gates of RSGC, the Tun Razak interchange is the most congested traffic road in Malaysia.

Celebrating its 125 years anniversary this year, RSGC is one of the oldest golf clubs in Asia, ranking alongside one golf club in India and one in Sri Lanka. All three golf clubs were built by the British where it was once a whites-only-club but since independence, the ownership and management of the clubs have been taken over by local residents.

Being a non-profit club, it is run strictly as a private member’s club, where members elect a committee among themselves to manage the affairs of the day. Club constitution and rules are strictly adhered to, hence the legacy of history is preserved and carried forward to the next generation of members.

Similarly, over the last 60 years or so, many successful Chinese emigrant businessmen in South-East Asia tend to pass their legacies and their businesses to their children. Many fathers distribute their shares in the companies to their sons only whereas the daughters will get cash and share of properties. Many a time, fathers will distribute equal shares to their sons in the name of fairplay not realising that such legacies could lead to potential conflicts that are difficult to mitigate.

I have a friend of some 30 years now having a problem with his brother over the ownership of the business that they have been managing together for the last 30 years. When their father passed away some years ago, he gave his two sons equal shares 50:50. Now that they can’t work together anymore, both brothers are in a deadlock as both refuse to sell their shares to each other. Their last resort will be to go to court for arbitration which will eventually lead to voluntary liquidation. In such cases, the court will appoint a liquidator to manage their company.

I have another friend who had a bigger legacy problem. Her grandfather gave equal shares to his four sons 25:25:25:25. After his passing, the third and fourth sons teamed up together to protest against the first and second son who were managing the family business. So it was a 50:50 deadlock situation and they decided to buy and sell the shareholdings among themselves. But they could not come to an agreement. In the midst of their disputes, the second son aligned with the third son whereas the first son aligned with the fourth. Again it is a 50:50 scenario.

So they went to court and a liquidator was appointed. More disputes followed as they could not come to a unanimous decision and they all did not agree with the way the liquidators worked. So for 25 years, their multiple lawyers and liquidators sued and counter sued and after wasting millions of ringgit in legal and liquidator fees, they manage to lift/suspend the liquidation order set by the courts.

So control of the family holding company finally came back to the family but the shareholdings among the four families remain the same, 25:25:25:25. Their only consolation is that the property assets (whatever is left) have appreciated many times in value.

My friend’s advice is not to go the legal and liquidator way unless you want to experience constant drain on your time and wallet. It is mentally too exhausting. Solve the family problems within. After all, you are still brothers in name and in blood.

After listening to both my friends’ sad stories, I might have to change my will. I have willed that upon my death, all the shares of my companies are to be divided and shared equally among my wife and three children which means 25:25:25:25. What will my children be like and how will they behave after they are married? What kind of influence will my daughter-in-law and son-in-law have over my children? Will my legacy decisions cause them distress in the future?

I will not have to worry about this problem if I am super rich like my namesake tycoon who has three wives and many children. I will assign one listed company to all the children of one wife and each child shall run his/her own company. Each child will have a little kingdom of their own to rule over. Success will be self achieved and failures will be self inflicted. Nobody blames nobody.

Sometimes, fathers have to make the tough decision of choosing one son from the brood to lead manage the family company. In the old days, fortune tends to favour the eldest son but successful entrepreneurs nowadays will choose the most capable of the sons or daughters to take the family into the next generation.

I have known of entrepreneurs who will give the majority shares to the chosen child so that he/she can manage the company effectively with trouble free opposition from his siblings.

It is not difficult to be fair when you distribute cash and properties but any decision on successor of holding companies should be based on merit and capabilities of the chosen child. It will be good if the shareholdings are structured accordingly to ease the smooth transfer of power to the next generation. A wise decision now will not cause legacy problems for the next generation.

Looks like I will have to will to my wife a bigger share so that the family company can proceed with a slight majority decision when necessary. A wise decision now will ensure that I will not get any WhatsApp messages from my wife while I am enjoying the tranquil ambience of a golf course during my afterlife.

Published: https://www.thestar.com.my/business/business-news/2018/03/24/legacy-issues-in-chinese-businesses/

3/2018 – Reunion in the Year of the Dog

MY Chinese New Year (CNY) celebration this year was no different from previous years. Same family reunion dinner on the eve of CNY, visits to the elders on the first day and for the following seven days, continuous lunch and dinner dates with families and friends.

The only difference was in the house decorations. The cute lovely Chinese chicken figurines were replaced by the cute lovely Chinese dog figurines. My dear wife had spent a good part of two weeks shopping for house decors and flowers to give our home a festive feel. She was also responsible for gathering both extended families for our reunion dinner.

Her good friend Thiat was extremely resourceful and managed to secure for me a copy of the elusive Robert Kuok Memoirs which I thoroughly enjoyed reading between heavy meals and many mandarin oranges. What stood out from his memoirs was how he worships his mother for her nurturing love and mentorship. If you had read Datuk Tan Chin Nam’s memoirs, he had a similar close relationship with his mother.

Both Robert and Chin Nam’s father emigrated from China in the early 1900s and became successful businessman in Malaya and Singapore. In that era, being successful and rich means they are entitled to having two or more wives. The responsibility of looking after the children rests with their respective wives and the fathers were generally poor parents to their children to the extent of neglect and instead were self-indulgent in the pleasures of life.

The Chinese emigrants to Malaya and Singapore brought with them their cultural beliefs and practices that has been passed on to present generations. The celebration of CNY started in ancient China more than 4,000 years ago. Legend has it that the first emperor of China, Emperor Huangdi invented the Chinese lunar calendar back in 2637 BC, more than 2000 years before the birth of Christianity and Islam. The Chinese lunar calendar is based on the exact astronomical observations of the longitude of the sun and the phases of the moon. How the 12 zodiac animals were picked is another mystical story.

Being Hokkien, my family (when my parents were still alive) celebrates the ninth day of Chinese New Year by offering thanks giving prayers to the Jade Emperor (Thien Kong) the Heaven God. This was based on the belief in history when the Hokkien people hid in a sugar plantation on the eigth and ninth day of the Chinese lunar new year to escape from a ruthless army and was thus saved by the Jade Emperor.

I remember my mother used to placed a table outside on the porch and offered thanks giving prayers and food to the moon/heaven on the eight night between 11pm and midnight. As a young boy, I would innocently ask my mother why she prayed to the moon when the Americans had landed on the moon and found no life forms there?

There are many beliefs and cultural practices to this present day based on historical events and mystical stories. Again legend has it that pork was widely consumed thousands of years ago in the Middle East and Europe until a swine fever epidemic struck the population and killed tens of thousands. To avoid the decimation of the army, instructions were given out to avoid eating pork as it was unclean.

As there were no cure and medical understanding of diseases at that time, the best action was to avoid consuming the main cause of the disease. Similar pandemonium happened when a rabies epidemic occurred. Dogs with rabies foam at the mouth and hence the people were advised to avoid dog saliva as it was unclean. Over the last few thousand years, many common sense solutions and practices for the early years have been passed on through the generations as cultural practices and in some cases as guidance in religious practices. These are snippets of wisdom from past history that has guided the human civilisation that is constantly evolving.

Many cultural practices are based on economic hardships and practical climate reasons. I remember accompanying my father back to his birthplace in Yongchun China in 1993. My cousin treated us to a dinner where all 10 dishes looked the same, braised in gravy and all tasted very salty. My cousin explained that during the Chinese revolution, there was food famine in the villages and they could only afford to cook one dish for lunch or dinner. So they throw everything into the pot and put a lot of soya sauce and salt.

The reason is each family member will only need to eat a piece of salted vegetable or meat accompanied by several mouthfuls of rice. Filling up the tummy was the priority. So over 30 years, their taste have changed to having salty foods.

The Koreans invented kimchi which is preserved cabbage as this was the only vegetable dish available during the harsh winter season. Large amount of kimchi was preserved in large earthen jars to last the whole winter. As there was no refrigeration in the early years, mankind store meat by smoking it so that it can be preserved and consumed over a period of time.

The Chinese have their preserved sausages (lup cheong) and salted ducks and the Italians have their racks of smoked ham and beef. Hence the practice of slicing pieces of meat off the rack when serving during a meal and the balance rack for following meals.

During festive seasons in Malaysia, most commercial entities jointly celebrate the festivities by running corporate advertising campaigns with relevant and appropriate gifts like ang pow packets. Who could forget the endearing Petronas festival TV commercials?

Yasmin Ahmad avoided religious and cultural sensitivities by focusing on ethnic family values like family reunions, filial peity and basic human kindness and love. Her little naughty act as a sign of friendship was in naming the orphan in one of the commercials after me. As an orphan, the boy had not experienced a family reunion before so Yasmin’s message to everyone was to be thankful that you have a lovely family to reunite with during such an auspicious festival.

To the young entrepreneurs, the recent faux paus in some of the advertisements are lessons to be learnt. Replacing the picture of a dog with either the cat or a cockerel in your advertisement might soothe the sensitivities of certain segments of society but it also causes discontentment among other people. It just makes no commercial sense.

If it was my company that placed such an advertisement, I would sack my marketing manager for wasting precious advertising budget on a campaign that delineates certain group of customers and for not knowing that such advertisements dilute my company brand image of which I have spent millions on advertising over the years. No commercial sense and no common sense.

I will also sack my not-so-clever advertising agency who thought they had such a clever idea. Any advertising campaign that does not contribute positive attributes to my brands means they do not have a clue on brand building and local cultures. I will advise them to watch the various telco and banking commercials that focus on positives like family values and heart warming reunion messages that resonates across all races and segments of society.

If you do not have a good advertisement, save your money rather than placing a bad advertisement that damages the brand.

With the upcoming general election, it is going to be silly advertising season again. My advice to the educated public is to ignore the politically motivated advertisements that tend to divide the harmonious fabric of our society. Have a good laugh at bigotry and hypocrisy.

In years time, I will be watching with interest the new corporate festival commercials and new ang pow packet designs. I am sure the next CNY reunion will be filled with laughter and lively discussions as we usher in the year of the zodiac swine.

Happy CNY to those who believe in the mystical folklore of Emperor Huangdi. May this zodiac year bring you a pack of prosperity and bark..ti..ful joy and laughter

Published: https://www.thestar.com.my/business/business-news/2018/02/24/reunion-in-the-year-of-the-dog/

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