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.

19/2019 – The tremendous China retail market

Singles Day 11.11 is just nine days away. Alibaba’s warehouses and e-fulfillment centres all over China have been stocking up huge inventories for the biggest 24-hour sales event in the world.

Sales on Singles Day in China is now six times bigger than Black Friday in the US.

Over in South-East Asia, Lazada now owned by Alibaba has been preparing for this main sales event with their local offerings and also special deals from Taobao. Other local e-commerce platforms and retailers have also jumped on the bandwagon and planned similar 11.11 promotions.

Almost a year ago, Alibaba achieved Singles Day sales of US$30.8bil on 11.11.2018 which were shipped via one billion delivery orders. The average ticket size was US$30 (RM120) per order. There were 180,000 participating brands of which 238 brands achieved individual brand sales of 100 million yuan (RM60mil) in gross merchandise value (GMV) in a 24-hour sales window.

On 11.11.2017, when sales on a single day were US$25.3bil, at its peak, 325,000 orders were processed per second and 256,000 payment transactions processed per second. No, I did not see wrongly. It is stated as per second, in the blink of an eye.

Alibaba was founded in 1999 and Taobao was launched in 2003 and sales in the first year were just a meagre US$5.7mil. In 13 years, GMV sales in 2016 were US$500bil and in FY May 2019, Alibaba achieved a GMV of US$853bil. Alibaba is projecting a GMV of US$1 trillion next FY 2020. This annual GMV is achieved through 10 million active merchants, monthly active users of 755 million and 89% purchases via mobile devices.

In comparison, in 2018, Amazon’s online sales amounted to US$282bil in the US, a 48% share of total US online sales and 5% of th total retail market. This would translate into a scenario where online GMV in the US is approximately 10% of total retail market size of US$5.5 trillion. E-commerce sales in USA are expected to reach 12.4% of the total retail market in 2020.

In comparison, online sales in China are expected to have a GMV of US$1.94 trillion, approximately 35% of the total retail market size of US$5.6 trillion.

In comparison, the Singapore online sales are about 5% of the total retail market while Malaysia is estimated at 2-3%.

Based on these market statistics, the total retail market size in China has caught up and will surpass the US in the near future as China’s population is almost four times bigger than the US. The potential for growth of the retail market in China is tremendous and frightening at the same time.

As the trade war looms and deepens between the US and China, Chinese manufacturers will utilise excess capacities (meant for US markets) to fulfill domestic demands which will intensify competition in China dramatically. It will be more difficult and more costly for manufacturers from other countries to penetrate the Chinese market. The latest report from the South China Morning Post indicated that the patriotic Chinese consumers will boycott American brands in the forthcoming 11.11 campaign.

When Cainiao (51% owned by Alibaba) commences logistic operations from their warehouse located in the bonded digital free trade zone (DFTZ), Asean countries, especially Malaysia, will face an onslaught of excess Chinese manufactured goods being offered to consumers, ranging from electronics to apparels to other general merchandise via the electronic World Trading Platform (eWTP) of Alibaba/Lazada.

To refresh your mind, it was reported last year that any orders below RM500 will be duty free if shipped out of DFTZ. Jack Ma’s request for a RM1200 limit was eventually turned down by our Trade Ministry. I am just wondering if cosmetics sold out of DFTZ via online platforms are registered with the Health Ministry as is the practice of all local manufacturers and importers of cosmetics?

Local importers of general merchandise from China should take defensive actions now before your lunch is eaten by your Chinese suppliers. Exporters should take advantage of the eWTP to export to other Asean countries and China, the near impossible market.

Manufacturers can trade via alibaba.com which is a b2b platform. TMall, which is a controlled and regulated b2c platform (quality guaranteed), and Taobao, which is the “everything that can be sold by anybody” platform. Margins of 5-8% transaction fee demanded is not prohibitive but like all distribution channels, other costs come into play like listing and set up costs and advertising cost.

Alibaba via eWTP should hold regular seminars for interested exporters and conduct training on “how to trade on the various Alibaba platforms” and advise on the relevant costs and budgets required.

This will help exporters evaluate the cost vs potential sales ratio and the kind of investment required. It is a distribution channel decision, digital or traditional.

My Singapore friend attended a two-day training at Taobao headquarters in China last year via his Chamber of Commerce and his trip was fully sponsored by the Singapore government. He advised me that domestic competition on this platform is ferocious and the costs can be extremely high if not managed properly.

As part of the eWTP deal with Malaysia, Alibaba has kept to its side of the bargain. I believe it have organised three cohorts of young entrepreneurs for a 10-day Alibaba Netpreneur training programme at Alibaba Business School in Hangzhou, China.

Considering their domestic entrepreneurs trading on their platform have an average age of 26 years and are 49% female, digital training for our Malaysian youth should be encouraged.

Five of our local universities are also participating in Aibaba’s Global e-Commerce Talents (GET) Network which has the objective of educating and empowering young Malaysian entrepreneurs to excel in the digital economy.

Inspired by their domestic success of Taobao Village – rural e-commerce hubs, Alibaba Malaysia did a pilot project called The Desa project where they adopted Bentong as the first rural e-commerce export hub. They identified six product SKU’s – Orang Asli organic rice, ginger products, Sempalit peanuts, Sempalit soya sauce, kelulut honey and of course durian products for export to the China market.

They then advised on custom packaging design and pre-orders from the villagers based on agreed MOQ (minimum order quantity). Taobao China then takes over the operational aspects from accounting, digital marketing, online store management, orders fulfillment to customer support. This is to ensure they can understand how it works before they empower the villagers to take over in the second phase.

During my visit to Alibaba HQ, Hangzhou last week, I asked Yao Yao, Alibaba group’s director of international government relations on how do we target halal consumers in China via Taobao and TMall?

She replied that their platform currently does not have specific sites on halal products but we can focus on marketing through their various programmes being implemented in the south-west region where most of the Chinese Muslims reside.

With a population of over 20 million Muslims, it is equal in size with the Malaysian halal market if not bigger.

Just two months ago, eWTP China organised a Malaysian week of promotions on Taobao with live streaming of their key influencers helping Malaysian brands that are selling online. It was reported that 80,000 bottles of birds nest were sold in five minutes. It just shows the potential of the market if Alibaba throws its weight behind the marketing programme. According to Yao Yao, Malaysia was given special privileges due to the eWTP collaboration with the Malaysian government as other countries were given only one-day promotions, if any. The key opinion leaders or influencers would normally not be available for unknown brands if not for the leveraged strength of Alibaba China.

I would encourage Malaysian merchants to go onboard the eWTP if they want to penetrate the China market and I believe Alibaba can do more to help our Malaysian exporters to be successful.

Yao Yao further advised that for the Malaysian exporter to be successful in China, you must understand the local consumer market and you must have Mandarin speaking staff.

I am, however, pessimistic as to the online trade imbalance between the two countries when the manufacturers in China start their online onslaught into the Malaysian market via the DFTZ.

I stand to be corrected. But then, other than durians and white coffee, what competitive advantage do our manufacturers have over China, the manufacturing capital of the world?

Local importers and manufacturers of general merchandise in retail should brace for impact from the irreversible digital economy because in the blink of an eye, your lunch and possibly dinner are going to be eaten by some rural villagers in China.

Published: https://www.thestar.com.my/business/business-news/2019/11/02/the-tremendous-china-retail-market

17/2019 – Changing landscape of the retail industry

I was born in Malaysia in 1960 and have stayed, studied and worked here all my life. I am a Malaysian citizen by law – this constitutional right is not given by any living or non-living politician, academician or racist bigot.

Since Malaysia achieved independence in 1957, those born in Malaysia and naturalised citizens of all races have played a part in the economic development of this country. The nation’s rapid industrialisation was due to the hard work of responsible politicians, gung-ho entrepreneurs and diligent citizens who just wanted to build a better life for their families.

Capital was scarce in the 1960s. Fortunes were built by those who had access to capital, foreign companies (mostly British) which owned most of the plantation land and local entrepreneurs who pooled their capital to trade, manufacture and build houses. Citizens needed food, clothing and a roof over their heads as basic necessities. Thus, it was a demand economy with tremendous opportunities for yesteryear entrepreneurs.

When I was young, I remember that my family would purchase our groceries from the local grocery shop on credit, with the details of each purchase like the date and amount being written in a small 555 notebook – a long way from the computers of today. After receiving his meagre salary at the end of each month, my dad would pay the grocery bills just like any other creditor throughout the country. The grocers got their supplies on 90-120 days’ credit terms from the wholesalers, who, in turn, got 90-120 days’ credit from the importers who managed to arrange trade financing of 90-120 days from their bankers.

My early trading days were spent on arranging trade financing facilities, as I had to get my bankers to issue a letter of credit to purchase imported goods on 120-day trust receipts (30 days for shipping and 90-day for stock-keeping). Then, once the product was sold, there were another 90 days on average in accounts receivable. It was common then to work on a total trade financing of an average of six months for a single item purchased and sold.

The retail industry in Malaysia grew on a supply chain network used to working on long credit terms. As the retail formats evolved into air-conditioned supermarkets in the 1970s and 80s, consumers with better cash flows would buy their items in cash at the supermarkets. Because of the easy credit terms offered by suppliers, it was easy to open supermarkets and convenience stores with minimum capital, as the immediate cash flow generated by daily sales was used to finance the merchandise stocked on long credit terms.

My first lesson in managing credit risk was in 1985/86 when I started my trading business. The collapse of the Emporium Supermarket and Department chain stores with a debt of RM290mil crippled the entire supply chain of grocery and clothing entrepreneurs. The well-financed suppliers withstood the write-offs, but thousands of SMEs along the supply chain went bankrupt.

This practice of easy credit from suppliers continued into the 90s and only after the further collapse of local supermarkets and department stores like Super Komtar Group, etc, did the supply chain start to tighten credit policies with strict credit limits and a no payment-no supply policy. Managing credit risks is now a major concern even among SMEs.

With the introduction of credit cards, some of the easy credit risks have been transferred to banks. Retail outlets have to pay their suppliers on shorter credit terms. White goods suppliers and their chain stores sell direct to consumers on credit card installment plans.

Chain stores are better managed financially nowadays, traditional wholesalers and independent grocery stores have diminished in numbers and importance, and overall credit risks in the retail supply chain have reduced, leading to a healthier retail industry, going forward.

With the online shopping disruption underway, supermarket chain stores all over the world have to speed up internal transformation to meet new challenges. Malaysian retailers and supply chain players should study supply chain format transformation practices of advanced countries, as they have a much longer history.

John James Sainsbury and his wife Mary Ann opened a grocery store in Drury Lane, Holborn, in 1869. A grand 150 years later, Sainsbury’s has a 16.9% market share of Britain’s grocery retail market. Besides the chain of supermarkets and convenience stores selling groceries and fresh food, Sainsbury’s sells petrol at its gas stations normally situated next to its supermarkets. Sainsbury’s Argos sells general merchandise through a hybrid model of online and offline/high street stores.

My eldest son, who has lived in the UK for six years while pursuing his education, describes his experience with Argos and Sainsbury’s – if he needed general merchandise urgently, he would walk into an Argos high street store, place the order via the computer terminal placed at the shopfront and the staff would then pick up his order and hand it to him over the counter. As an Amazon Prime member, he can order online from Amazon for next-day delivery. He can also check online and compare prices of the same merchandise in both market places.

When in Cambridge, he would buy his groceries and toiletry supplies from the Sainsbury’s mini market, located just across the street from his college dorm at Sidney Sussex. When in London’s Kensington High Street, he would walk across the street to either Sainsbury’s or Tesco Express. Shopping online or offline is all about convenience and lower prices to the Millennials.

Such shopping demands from the Millennials weigh heavily on Mike Coupe’s mind. As the CEO of Sainsbury’s, he has to constantly drive his team to improve his supply chain in terms of sourcing, quality and lower prices. He has to continuously tweak his store estates in terms of size and location, being mindful that the cost of last-mile delivery to customers is manageable without sacrificing the convenience and service quality required by his discerning customers.

To compete with the online grocery competition, Sainsbury’s now has to sell online while at the same time delivering to homes. Home delivery of groceries is not profitable, as it does not make economic sense due to small-sized purchases and poor routing efficiencies. The tipping point for cost-efficient home delivery will be when Sainsbury’s can fully fill up the truck with orders before it leaves its warehouse/supermarket. Still a long way to go.

To help Coupe and his team of buyers understand customer habits and preferences, Sainsbury’s employs 800 data analysts to crunch customer purchase data through loyalty cards and debit/credit card purchases. Besides the basic analysis of sales numbers, sophisticated software can help reveal minute details like the peak sales time for sandwiches by location, the delivery time of fresh sandwiches, the type of sandwiches needed, and the purchase patterns of these sandwiches.

With AI, you can actually predict consumer demand and stock the right kind of sandwiches by store, time and location. Real-time information can be given to sandwich suppliers the night before as they start to prepare the orders by store throughout the night, assuming deliveries start from 6am the next morning. Centralised orders are written by computer softwares based on previous days’ sales figures, so no manual instructions need to be given. Shelf space is allocated by space management software based on a predicted sales volume for each individual store for the day. This is the future of efficient store operations.

With AI, Sainsbury’s will understand each individual customer’s purchase pattern, frequency and type of products purchased. AI can help predict when this individual customer will buy a particular product and at what price. This information will help buyers plan strategically in terms of product stocking and maximising margins due to the criteria of availability and not product price.

As for Argos, I was curious as to how it competes with Amazon with its high cost of managing high street stores. Surprisingly, 40% of Argos sales come from walk-in customers. The stores actually act as a fulfillment centre, where walk-in customers can purchase immediately, or for those who order online, pick up the items at the nearest store when there is no one at home to accept online deliveries.

With AI, Argos can expand its product range, as it will help predict the right mix of merchandise to be made available at its fulfillment centres. Stores that have fewer walk-in customers can be closed down, as the fulfillment can be done by online deliveries. Some Argos stores have been moved to Sainsbury’s supermarkets for efficient space utilisation and cost-savings. From a catalogue sales company, Argos has morphed into an efficient and profitable general merchandise retailer hybrid – online and offline. To remain relevant and sustainable, Argos will continuously transform its distribution channel to fulfill changing consumer needs.

In 2018/19, Sainsbury PLC achieved annual sales of £29bil and an operating profit of £518mil. As the CEO, Coupe’s annual salary was £3.9mil. His annual salary requires approval from shareholders in their annual AGM. Being a transparent PLC, the board of directors and the CEO are open to public scrutiny. When asked about his role and responsibility, Coupe told me that he is in a position of stewardship in Sainsbury, planning for the long-term sustainability of its retail business model and preserving shareholder value in this iconic company.

Biased as I may sound, “Honest” Mike is the consummate retailer who has morphed into an elegant corporate leader in the UK. Friendship will be put aside the next time we meet to discuss the supplier and retailer relationship. I might have lost the war but I intend to win a few battles yet. It is personal.

Published: https://www.thestar.com.my/business/business-news/2019/10/12/changing-landscape-of-the-retail-industry

16/2019 – Lessons to learn from competition in retail business

I was in London two weeks ago for my medical procedures when my wife showed me a newspaper article from The Evening Standard on an announcement by the CEO of Sainsbury on his future plans on store consolidation. So I decided to text the CEO, Mike Coupe, if he could spare some time for an interview.

Mike and I were classmates in the same living group that attended the Advanced Management Program (AMP 182) in Harvard Business School back in 2012. He was the group commercial director at the time and I remembered our long standing arguments on the bullying tactics of chain store buyers on their suppliers.

Being a supplier to chain stores throughout my trading life, I would inevitably be on the losing side of the argument as we depend on the stores for the last mile connection to consumers. For the last 40-50 years, the alternative to retail stores distribution have been multi-level marketing /direct marketing, mostly high value products like Amway etc with the exception of Avon, mass market low priced cosmetics.

In the clothing and cosmetics business, we have also seen the emergence of the brand owners opening their own retail stores in the last 20 years or so. In the last 15 years, e-commerce players like Amazon and Alibaba have transformed the clothing and general merchandise landscape using digital platforms as an effective distribution channel as compared to retail stores.

The secret to Ocado’s growth is their partnership with physical stores like Waitrose and starting 2020, a partnership with M&S Foods. Just like any digital startups, Ocado has been and still is losing money. Even though they are listed and have a market cap of £6.6bil, they are typically stating that they are ebitda positive but profit negative. No online grocery stores will progress without physical store fulfillment support. Hence Amazon”s purchase of Wholefoods stores in USA for the last mile fulfillment promise. Tesco, Sainsbury and other grocery retailers have also join in the bandwagon by offering same day deliveries to homes via online orders.

Sainsbury PLC has three business division, Sainsbury Supermarkets, Sainsbury Argos and Sainsbury Bank. Sainsbury bought Argos, a catalogue general merchandise chain store for a reported GBP 1.4 billion in 2016. Last year, Sainsbury and Asda (owned by Walmart) agreed on a GBP 12 billion merger deal that was not agreed upon by Britain’s competition watchdog – Competition and Markets Authority, UK.

In 2018 Sainsbury employed 186,900 staff. HQ staff strength about 8,000 people of which 10% are data analysts. Full financial year Mar 2019 revenue was GBP 29 billion ( RM150bil) excluding VAT. Operating profit was GBP 635 million (2.2% trading profit) whereas after exceptional item profit after tax was GBP 219 million (0.7%).

Compare it with the biggest retailer Tesco PLC, which has a staff strength of 350,000, UK sales of GBP 51.6bil (RM268bil), operating profit of GBP 1.53 billion (2.96% trading profit).

If the merger between Sainsbury and Asda is approved, the combined entity would overtake Tesco as the biggest retailer in UK.

The German Discounters Aldi and Lidl have gained 1.4% and 1.1 % respectively over the last 5 years at the expense of the supermarket operators. Even more significantly, it has lowered grocery prices across the board for all grocery retailers.

When asked about the rationale behind the merger exercise with Asda, Mike replied that there was a potential savings of 10% on sourcing due to the combined volume of purchases.

For the grocery business, with a trading profit of 2.2%, that would mean they will have a higher trading profit and they will be much more competitive against the discounters. In addition, the cost savings from the synergy would improve their bottom line significantly. As the biggest retailer group with a combined 32% market share, Sainsbury and Asda would cause countless sleepless nights among its suppliers.

Instead, Mike had to announce a consolidation plan for its store estates by announcing a potential savings of GBP 500 million over the next five years. Sainsbury had a store estate of 1,423 stores of which 815 are convenience stores. Argos have 844 stores.

Mike’s latest plan was to close 70 Argos high street stores, 15 supermarkets and 40 convenience stores. However, Sainsbury will open 10 new supermarkets and 110 new convenience stores. 80 Argos stores will be relocated into Sainsbury Supermarkets. Basically convenience stores have grown tremendously and are more profitable (lower operating costs) and they are highly suitable for city centre customers.

There are many lessons that we can learn from this competitive landscape.

The retail business of brick and mortar grocery will still be a viable business. However supermarkets should strengthen its capabilities in terms of online orders and same day delivery.

Changing habits by consumers to buy in smaller quantities and more frequent transactions means convenience stores near you will be your location store of choice for daily necessities.

The growth of our local Speedmart 99 has been tremendous. It now has over 1,300 stores and is growing at a tremendous rate. Giant has closed down many hypermarkets over the last three years as consumers find that they can pay same everyday low prices without having to buy in bulk from hypermarkets.

Small convenience stores would normally mean a two shop lot operation that will result in limited shelf space for many brands. Only top brands and limited sizes will be made available for consumers. Manufacturers and brand owners will be hard pressed to list their products into Speedmart 99 and Seven Eleven stores due to astronomical listing fees and the shortage of shelf space. Eventually the top brands will get bigger and house brands will be the only avenue for manufacturers to enter these outlets despite the razor thin margins.

Product range will be reduced to only fast moving sizes that justifies its place on the shelf.

Manufacturing capacities will be managed and driven by data analytics provided by retail store numbers. The role of marketeers will be somewhat reduced and have to be complemented by data analyst in product development and merchandising needs.

The competitive push for low prices everyday would mean a much more efficient supply chain which would mean a more direct approach from producers/farmers and manufacturers to the last mile retail stores. Distributors and middleman operators will be continuously squeezed off the market as the competition for consumers intensifies.

UK now imports 30% of their fresh foods from the European Union and the Brexit issue has caused tremendous headache to all the grocery retailers. For instance, fresh tomatoes are imported from Spain on a daily basis and once the custom checks are implemented at the British border, Mike anticipates that there will be a one day delay for the tomatoes to arrive into the distribution centers which means one day less fresh tomatoes that only have a shelf life of 4-5 days. There will be a cost increase in terms of additional forwarding, transportation costs and wastage costs that will be passed on to consumers.

In Malaysia, our supply chain of fresh food has yet to be weaned off its inefficient operations and still have many fat layers in between especially the cartel of vegetable wholesalers from Cameron Highlands. The wet market vendors work on high margins hence the high inflation of fresh food over the last 5 years. If they are not careful, they will be disrupted by these chain store supermarkets and convenience stores who will be able to source direct from the farms, fisherman/ fish breeders etc.

We will continue next week with comments from Mike Coupe on why Sainsbury employ 800 data analyst, how Argos will compete with Amazon on the general merchandise space and how he views his job as a CEO in a very transparent public listed company in UK.

While you are reading this article, I am probably with my wife at the wet market in PJ haggling over the high price of fish and prawns with my fishmonger lady. Happy shopping!

Published: https://www.thestar.com.my/business/business-news/2019/10/05/lessons-to-learn-from-competition-in-retail-business

15/2019 – Three funerals and a wedding

Over the last three weeks, my wife and I met relatives and old friends quite frequently. Due to a bizarre twist of fate and bad timing, we were involved with three funerals and a wedding.

The first funeral was due to the passing of my university mate, GH Lim who was in a coma for a few months since he fell and knocked his head. I did not have a chance to say goodbye.

Two days later, my wife’s elder sister Fong was admitted to hospital and later passed away from sudden heart failure. Two funeral wakes within two days. Just when we reached home to rest for the night, news came to my wife that her dad who is 92 years old was bleeding internally. He was immediately warded in the ICU and over the next few days his condition deteriorated to the point that he needed palliative care.

My second son’s wedding was just 10 days away. Invitations had been given out months ago and overseas guests and friends had already booked their flights to Malaysia. Venues and menus had been booked and deposits paid. What were we to do if my father-in-law passed away before the wedding? Major dilemma for the family in view of our Chinese customs and pantang culture.

Dr Chong understood that the wedding had to proceed and he was trying his best to keep my father-in-law alive and at the same time easing his suffering. The family had consented to his suggestion of non aggressive interference should my father-in-law suffer further setbacks.

The key was to keep him comfortable till his last breath.

Somehow the old man survived. He must have wanted his grandson to have a joyful celebration on his big day. The morning after the wedding dinner, Dr Chong removed the dialysis machine and other apparatus, moved my father-in-law out of the ICU back to a normal ward and gave him some medication to keep him comfortable.

Within 24 hours, he passed on, serene and contented.Hence three funerals and a wedding within three weeks.There are some lessons to be learnt from this series of extraordinary events: In my speech during the dinner, I advised my friends of the same age group to engage a younger doctor to care for them.

No doctor should die before their patients. I also mentioned that I have chosen Dr Chong to be my physician for palliative care. His wife, Rachael, is my oncologist. She is keeping me alive and when my time comes, he will keep me comfortable. More importantly, Dr Chong will keep my family calm and well informed. When faced with inevitable endings, family members suffer more than the patient.

A good palliative doctor will be able to ease the pain of seeing the loss of loved ones.

I did advise my son that his wife is the boss at home just as my wife has shown she is the rock of the family. Together with her siblings, they have looked after their ailing parents and sister for quite some months, taking turns to visit doctors and hospitals practically on a weekly basis. Yet she tirelessly helped my son to organise his wedding and put on a brave front through the many wedding events.

Our Asian culture of filial piety should be nurtured and carried through future generations. Just as your parents loved you unconditionally from young, it is your duty to look after them when they are old and the cycle continues. Just don’t break the cycle for you might not be loved by your own children when you are old.

To the young entrepreneurs, when faced with setbacks and unexpected losses, always stay calm and collected. There will be occasions when unfortunate events happen beyond your control and you have no solution in sight.

Do not get frustrated, let the events unfold and you will just have to ride through the storm. Just remember that after every storm, the sun will shine and the future will again look bright and promising. Just be resilient.

Is our beloved country ailing and sick? The race and religion diseases have permeated into the fabric of our multi racial society and no antibiotics have been found and used.

The future looks bleak as the politicians continue to divide and rule based on racial sentiments whereas some fake religious leaders continue to poison the innocent minds. Self interest is the name of the game.

If this country is heading towards an inevitable end, does the nation need palliative care? If so, this nation need a young physician fast, for the good old doctor has run out of suitable prescriptions. Worse still, wrong prescriptions have been dispensed and many organs have deteriorated and unable to function anymore.

The head is spinning, the body is malfunctioning and the heart is bleeding. Hands are tied behind the backs, the legs are weary and the pockets are empty. Good doctors should not play with their patient’s lives. What we need is a young physician who cares to come forward to save the nation.

Even if the nation is dying, the good doctor should still try to provide suitable palliative care to heal the national divide, ease the people’s sufferings and soothe our minds. The nation would rather be in the good hands of a young caring doctor than a self serving experienced old doctor.

That is my personal preference if given a choice. What is yours?

Published: https://www.thestar.com.my/business/business-news/2019/09/14/three-funerals-and-a-wedding

14/2019 – Late bloomers

Last night I arrived late for Caring’s 25th annual dinner celebration at Berjaya Times Square. I did use the excuse of horrendous traffic but it was really my own fault for not starting earlier from home. But I also had the excuse of not being able to wear my bow tie (which took 15 minutes) because the last time I wore one was during my own wedding years ago. As you can guess by now, I am wearing a new tuxedo, recently made and 30 years apart from the first one.

In view of my second son’s wedding next month, my dear wife had insisted that I get a new tux since I could barely put on the old one let alone cover my rotund belly. As my wardrobe consist of a few old jeans and tailored pants that could not fit anymore, I felt rather under-dressed whenever there was an official event that I had to attend. I have left it too late as my fashion sense has completely disappeared, now wearing jeans, t shirts and old shirts wherever I go.

I have always been a “late” person except for business appointments. As a late night person, my earliest appointments are normally fixed for late mornings. I will only wake up early for golf and morning flights. I work best when under time pressure which is actually foolish because I choose to delay, dilly dally and start working only when I put myself under time pressure. Like writing this article which I am horribly late in submission. Hope this article sees the day of light today.

I was a late bloomer in school and coming from a Chinese-speaking family, I had my problems learning and speaking English in school until I took up English Literature in Form 6. I was motivated by my (English Literature) teacher’s stinging remarks – Stop speaking English like a Chinaman!

Standard 1 to Form 5 came and went without any appointments of class Monitor or prefect.

But in Form 6, I suddenly found the confidence to take on projects and leadership roles in clubs, the sport house, fund raising and class monitor. Thirteen years in La Salle PJ and everything came together in the last two years. Better late than never.

It is from such humbling experiences during my school years that I have learnt not to prejudge people, especially people that I work with. There might be a late bloomer somewhere if given the right job, right motivation and supportive encouragement. Confidence and proper attitude trumps paper qualification in most cases.

Perhaps our Education Minister Dr Maszlee Malik is a late bloomer. After all he is a late politician, appearing only before the last general election. I have always believe that we should be patient and give time to Dr Maszlee or anybody sufficient time to get used to his job. Yes, he is inexperienced and he got the Minister’s job because Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad denied his own appointment.

From a mere lecturer, Dr Maszlee was suddenly thrust into the limelight. Despite his diminutive size, his ego has grown proportionate to his ministerial role.

His skin has toughened considerably, basic requirements of a politician in power. He has his posse of advisors travelling with him so safety in numbers and shielding him from snappy jealous remarks. He is learning fast and growing into his job both as a politician and a minister. He sounds and act just like any minister from the last administration.

In a commercial enterprise, a new staff member is given six months probation before he or she is employed as permanent staff. I would normally confirm the new staff if he/she shows promise of a late bloomer. What would you do in Dr Maszlee’s case? I know many people have been calling for his removal from the Cabinet citing his introduction of immaterial policies of shoe colours, swimming classes etc. I will put them down as lack of experience or he was ill advised by his advisors. Small issues do not warrant the sacking of a staff or manager.

My patience is tested by his lack of constructive ideas on how he intend to transform the education system in schools and universities.

Dr Mr has given clear instructions of teaching Maths and Science in English in schools, reduction of school hours on religious classes, retraining of the 450, 000 school teachers etc. Everybody and I mean everybody in the country seems to know about these basic instructions from Dr M except him and his posse of advisors.

Now way past his probation period and after 14 months in office, he is still clueless. I doubt he will be a late bloomer. This job is just too big for him. He never gave any excuses for being late with his transformation ideas.

That is because he never started in the first place. Does he listen to advice from his seniors like Tan Sri Rafidah Aziz and Tun Daim Zainuddin on the importance of getting our education system to prepare our children to face the future?

The buck stops with the person who employed him in the first place. Tun Mahathir does not need to reshuffle the Cabinet. A straight replacement will do as well. Let Dr Maszlee keep his lecturer’s job and appoint Iron Lady Rafidah to do the job.

Just do it. Before it is too late.

Published: https://www.thestar.com.my/business/business-news/2019/08/10/late-bloomers

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