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.

3/2019 – Of mistakes and bloopers, and emojis

The year 2019 is starting to look interesting. After a boring January where nothing much happened, the pace is picking up both in business opportunities and political activities. After getting the New Year and Chinese New Year celebrations out of the way, entrepreneurs and politicians have started planning and strategising for the year ahead.

For both young and old entrepreneurs alike, the hope is to make more good decisions and minimise the silly mistakes. Politicians in power are hoping to become more popular and are trying to reduce the bloopers so as not to be portrayed as incompetent on social media.

My favourite emoji on WhatsApp is the facepalming one. It reminds me of the many mistakes and bloopers that I have made throughout my entrepreneurial and personal life. How I wish I could retract those bloopers whether in the spoken word or irrational actions – the not-too-smart moments that I have lived to regret. These are the many humbling experiences that show that we are human after all.

The latest saga that caught my attention involves a not-so-young bumiputra entrepreneur who had alleged on social media that our very young Youth and Sports Minister had broken his promise to help him promote his brand of bottled drinks. He alleged that after sending drinks worth RM192 to the minister, the drinks and his company credentials were not presented to the Cabinet. The minister did not promote his drinks on his personal Instagram account and as such, the minister was called a pig in our not-so-young entrepreneur’s social media posting.

He eventually took down his posting after the minister came out with his explanation on how he had tried to promote his drinks. The minister had met Tan Sri Vincent Tan of Berjaya Corp Bhd to get his assistance in listing the “drinks” in 7-Eleven outlets – 1,905 stores in total. The minister had also brought the drinks to the Cabinet meeting but I dare guess that the presentation of the company’s credentials was not made to the Cabinet, which I presume was too busy fending off the supposedly rising popularity of former Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s “Bossku” campaign and debating on the on-off East Coast Rail Link project.

As our Youth and Sports Minister has set up a committee within his ministry to help promote young bumiputra entrepreneurs, I hope my analysis of this saga will help young bumiputra entrepreneurs to decide on the merits and demerits of the case.

The young and good-looking minister had posted his picture on Instagram – hard at work with the drink on his table. 2 thumbs up on successful (free) influencer marketing.

If he gets his products (assuming there are four flavours) listed in all 7-Eleven stores without a listing fee, he will save RM381,000 because 7-Eleven normally charges RM50 per product per store as its listing fee. 3 thumbs up.

There was no picture of the drink on the Cabinet table, especially one with our dear Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad. This was a missed opportunity, as a previous photo of Dr Mahathir post-GE14 had caused a massive spike in the sales of certain Vitamin C and sandal brands. Just imagine the civil service and the GLCs in their efforts to please Dr Mahathir serving the drink in all their meetings! 4 thumbs down.

The company’s credentials were not presented to the Cabinet. A Face with rolling eyes emoji is now appropriate. Why on earth would the minister promise to present the credentials of a bottled drink supplier to the Cabinet? Perhaps the Cabinet, after 1MDB, is running short of “national interest” topics to discuss. 5 Face Palming emojis.

The minister has promised to pay back the RM192 for the drinks supplied and pray for the success of the drinks. What magnanimity shown by one so young! This was the best return on investment in any digital marketing campaign I have seen in my 35 years of business life. OK Hand emoji.

The drink went from an unheard and unknown brand to a much loved brand now even being promoted by the Umno Youth chief. This is a potential EFFIE (media marketing award) winner! Victory hand.

I fully recommend that all young bumiputra entrepreneurs make a beeline to meet up with our supportive, young and energetic minister. I do believe that in the next Cabinet reshuffle, the ministry will be renamed as the Youth, Sports and Young Bumiputra Entrepreneurs Ministry. The Entrepreneur Development Ministry, on the other hand, might be renamed as the Old Entrepreneurs and Paralympics Ministry since it is fashionable nowadays amongst ministers to cross-promote functions of choice amongst ministries. Rolling on the floor laughing emoji.

To the young non-bumiputra entrepreneurs, I would recommend that you look for a non-bumiputra minister to promote your unknown products. You could benefit a lot from a low-cost social media influencer marketing campaign, provided you supply free samples. Winking face emoji.

I am instructing my brand manager to send our latest lipstick samples to our young and beautiful Deputy Women, Family and Community Development Minister Hannah Yeoh. All we need her to do is to post a picture of her applying our lipstick on her Instagram and Facebook pages. Face blowing a kiss emoji.

We will provide Yeoh with additional lipsticks to be given to all the female ministers and deputies with strict instructions not to mention our company name, as we have no credentials to promote. Just make sure our brand name is properly highlighted in all social media postings, thank you. Folded hands emoji.

If many more cosmetic suppliers approach Yeoh for support, I am sure with the support of her minister, Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, she will set up a committee in her ministry to work on how she can help young female entrepreneurs. It will then be known as the Young Women Entrepreneurs, Family and Community Development Ministry. Woman gesturing ok emoji.

Just a word of caution to all entrepreneurs who are looking for ministers and deputy ministers to promote their products on social media though. Do not expect politicians to keep to their promises. Just look at the number of unfulfilled, broken promises of the GE14 manifesto. Just be appreciative that the minister has promised to support your brand. Man bowing emoji.

Whatever the results of your digital influencer campaign, please do not call your ministers by any derogatory names. This zodiac year is not the perfect year for name-calling, and neither is the next, as it would be the Year of the Rat. Perhaps, we could rename this year as the Year of the Frog, which might be more appropriate. Frog emoji.

If you are ungrateful to the minister who has tried his level best to help you, not only will you get a facepalm emoji, you might even get a palm to your face, which will garner more likes and handclap emojis.

Some bloopers are just unforgivable. Facepalming emoji.

Published: https://www.thestar.com.my/business/business-news/2019/02/09/of-mistakes-bloopers-and-emojis/


2/2019 – Stay humble, avoid trouble and your fortune might just double

In the last few months, I have been busy attending weddings and funerals. Many happy moments interspersed with occasional sad news. The circle of life is filled with hope and despair.

Similarly, the various companies that I have invested in, they too have gone through some good moments and some bad moments. Happiness on one hand and anguish on the other.

On Facebook and WhatsApp chats, I have seen logical discussions and I have grimaced at the idiotic arguments. Everybody is either very smart or horrendously stupid. There is no middle ground.

Some of our local politicians have made some intelligent comments though many more displayed their lack of intelligence. More so when they include religion into their thoughtless speeches. Empty vessels do make the most noise.

Some ministers have been working hard and making good progress. Some ministers do no work at all. Some ministers make decisions that cause our country to regress. Many voters are now feeling depressed and full of regret.

Yes, UEC will be recognised. No, it will not be until a holistic analysis is done in five years’ time. No politicians will be appointed to head the GLCs. Yes, it is ok to appoint politicians to GLCs. Broken promises and flip-flop decisions seems to be the order of the day. Trust deficit increasing by the day.

To be or not to be. The eighth Prime Minister will be Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim. What was so sure has become unsure. Mentee usurping the mentor it should not be. Just as there are no permanent friends nor enemies in politics, loyalty is not blind when there is opportunity.

There are only good intentions in every religion. Only bad people come out with bad intentions. Hiding behind race and religion, these hypocrites create fear and thus bring shame to their race and religion.

There are good people and there are bad people. Kindness and evil exists side by side. Safety and danger are on opposite sides. What is right for some people, all is wrong for other people. What is fair to some, others will claim it is unfair. Everybody fighting for their rights, most of the time, it does not sound right.

Entrepreneurs have it tough, politicians only know how to play rough. Common people low on cash, corrupt people continue to take cash. MACC having a real bash, many people making a dash.

Chinese New Year is round the corner, Ah Lai the contractor driven to all corners. Old debts not paid, no money the developer said. Bonus not yet paid, some workers have to be laid off. Market not so good, on the table there will be less food.

Goodbye 2018. Hello 2019. The year may be different, to the people there is no difference. The struggle is the same, everyone trying to stay sane. Year in, year out, just smile and try not to pout. Stay humble, avoid trouble and fortune might just double.

Entrepreneurs must stay optimistic, in business there is no mystic. Some will make more, some will make less. Hopefully, more joy than duress. Work hard, work smart until it becomes an art. Use your brain, not your heart or fortune will depart.

People come, people go, moments of high and low. Wish them well, say farewell, only memories left to dwell. Hire well, train them well, it will turn out swell. Keep the bold, cherish the old, advice you have been told.

Market not right, cash flow seems tight, best you stay asset light. Profits here, savings there, for sure bankers will be there. When confidence grow, money will flow, does not matter where the wind blow. Cash is king when you can buy bling bling without having to think.

When the going gets tough, the tough gets tougher. Tighten your belt, stay your course and you will be alright of course. When market down, stay lower to the ground. Stable stance, knees bent, you will last longer till the end. Heads in the cloud, always proud, you will not last through the drought.

Cycles come, cycles go, some business better no go. Timing good, timing bad, sometimes it is just too bad.

If you have saved for a rainy day, everyday is a happy day. If you are highly leveraged, you will surely quickly aged. Advice in, advice out, should have listened and you will never be in doubt.

Life goes on, carry on, offline need to be turn on. Platform here, platform there, now you can sell everywhere. Wifey here, WiFi there, time have to be share. Blockchain here, block heads there, bi coins everywhere. Ponzi here ponzi there, get cheated everywhere. Travel here, travel there, with Internet, you can travel anywhere!

Old advice, new advice, always stay out of vice. Entrepreneurs young and old, just remember you have been told. Wealth with health is better than health is wealth.

Stay healthy, act wealthy and like my contractor friend Ah Lai said…. “Don’t Woli ..Be Happy!”

Have a good year ahead.

Published: https://www.thestar.com.my/business/business-news/2019/01/28/stay-humble-avoid-trouble-and-your-fortune-might-just-double

1/2019 – This year looks like a tough year for business and ministers

The year 2019 started off badly with red ink declines across all stock exchanges in the world. Bears charged ahead as investors continued to be spooked by dramatic events happening in the United States, China and Europe.

Economic cycles of boom and bust are a normal occurrence in our last 100 years. Depending on the industry, the boom and bust cycle is dependent on basic economics of demand and supply.

Take our property industry as an example. We have just gone through a property boom which started in 2000 and had uninterrupted growth for 15 years with property values in certain locations growing three to four times. More developers jumped on the bandwagon some 10 years ago and now there is an oversupply of malls, office buildings, shophouses and condominiums.

There is still a huge demand for low-cost housing but there is no supply. Private-sector developers are not keen as this is an unprofitable sector due to high land cost. It is left to the government to provide low-cost houses but there is insufficient supply due to the lack of a clear strategy or understanding of what an affordable low-cost house/apartment should be. Prima apartments costing RM400,000 are way beyond the reach of B40 households.

Politicians only know how to plan in five-year cycles. From one election to the next. All politicians try to meet the short-term demands of their electorate so that the supply of votes is there for them in five years’ time. This current batch of politicians is thinking in two-year cycles since Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad has indicated that he will step aside in that time frame.

No politician, especially the ministers, had come up with a long-term vision for their ministry. Their only strategy is how to keep their job in the next Cabinet reshuffle. At this moment, Malaysia lacks visionary leaders who care for the country and worst of all, a Cabinet of bickering ministers making a fool of themselves.

If the politicians are not able to produce long-term plans for the country, I believe the rakyat should step in to take part in the discussion on national issues that affect the well-being of the people in the country.

The local education of a child takes about 16 years, 11 years from primary to secondary school, two years in Form 6/ pre-university and another three years in university. The long-term vision of an Education Minister should be focused on an education blueprint to produce the next generation of bright graduates that have critical thinking skills, are multi-lingual, tech-savvy and with good morals within the next 20 years.

Since Malaysia is multi-racial and multi-religious, there have been different demands from its citizens, thus resulting in the supply of multi-ethnic schools of Malay, English, Chinese and Tamil in the last 60 years.

Reforming our education structure and syllabus is thus extremely difficult for our Education Minister, hence the lack of any ideas for the last seven months.

Perhaps, if the minister tries to understand the educational demands of Malaysian parents, he can then proceed to plan on how to supply to their requirements within a national education blueprint.

Looking at the demand side of the equation:

> There is a demand for Islamic education. Religious education too from the growing supply of tahfiz and religious schools.

> There is a demand for multi-racial ‘unity’ schools (like before). Schools for children of B40 parents of all races.

> There is a demand for Chinese schools. Strong focus on Science and Maths. A total of 80,000 non-Chinese parents send their children to Chinese schools

> Failing demand for Tamil primary schools.

> Dr Mahathir demands more English and less religion to be taught in schools.

> Dr Maszlee Malik demands Arabic to be taught as a third language in schools.

> Critical thinking skills to be taught in schools. More sports activities. Not sure about swimming due to a lack of supply of swimming pools. More hours on Science and Maths.

For all practical purposes, Dr Maszlee will need to restructure the physical assets – different schools can be assigned to meet the different demands as mentioned above.

Depending on demands by location, national-type schools can be divided into national-type Islamic schools and national-type unity schools.

> National-type Islamic schools – National Islamic education syllabus focusing on Science and Maths with Ministry-approved religious studies which should be followed by tahfiz and religious schools. The Education Ministry must develop a contemporary national islamic education syllabus that suits the demands of a growing nation. Arabic to be taught as a third language.

> National-type unity schools – Maths and Science to be taught in English. Religious classes if any will be taught after school hours. Tamil schools to be converted to Unity schools. Third language options of Mandarin or Tamil. No separate canteens please.

> Elite/ boarding schools – The minister will have to decide between converting these elite schools to Islamic or unity type schools.

National Chinese-type schools – Maths and Science to be taught in English. Third language options of either Malay literature or English literature.

The meeting point for these three national syllabi will be in Form 6 where the students can choose to study the subjects of their choice. I still do not understand why UEC is not accepted by local universities as racial politics should not decide our children’s educational rights.

At the end of the day, the choices made by parents for their children will determine which type of school will be in demand and the supply can be adjusted accordingly until an equilibrium of needs is achieved.

It would be interesting to hear from Dr Maszlee on how he intends to meet the demands of the education reforms needed so urgently by this nation. I hope his ardent supporters will supply him with some bright ideas in the next seven months or he will find himself with only one job back in IIUM.

After all, Dr Mahathir has an endless supply of candidates with impaired vision eyeing this coveted ministry. Looks like 2019 will be a demanding year for ministers as well.

Published: https://www.thestar.com.my/business/business-news/2019/01/05/this-year-looks-like-a-tough-year-for-business-and-ministers/

23/2018 – Taking stock of misses and successes

As the year draw to a close, most businesses start to wind down. Big bosses go on family holidays while small bosses are still fighting hard for last minute sales to make the forecast numbers.

Entrepreneurs take this opportunity to take a breather to reflect on the past 12 months of achievement, the misses and the successes.

Most businesses would have revised their forecast numbers for next year as the business climate has taken a turn of uncertainty, with news of global trade tensions and news of local political tensions.

Every year-end of my business life, I would reflect on my organisational needs for the following year. Do I have the right people to help me manage the new challenges of the new year? Should I reshuffle or bring in new replacements?

Political leaders in Malaysia Baru have the most to think about. Depending on which side of the Parliament you are seated, I would pay a penny or two for their thoughts. A penny for those in opposition who are thinking of hopping over and two pennies for those in power who are thinking of accepting them. Honestly, I don’t give a damn what both sides think.

If I am the Prime Minister, I would be worried about how our economy would fare next year. I would reflect on how my hand-picked ministers have performed over the past seven months. Did I make the right choice? Should I keep the same team or should I only keep the performing ministers and replace the incompetent misfits?

In the business and corporate world, hiring the right person for a specific job is one of the toughest decision a CEO has to make, More so if is a high level job. Hence the normal six month probation for every new hire.

Just like every other CEO’s, I have made good hiring decisions and I have made horrendous decisions over the years. The CV looks pretty good, the interview went well. The real performance unfolds over the next six months. I have made a poor decision. Should I keep this person or should I let him go?

Most times, I have deep regrets for keeping that person when I go against my gut instincts of not keeping that person. Usually it is a mismatch of capabilities with the job at hand.

Sometimes the big company experience person is not able to operate in an entrepreneurial set up. Most of the time, it is a mismatch of attitudes and egos. He/She is a misfit in my organisational set-up.

Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad made four important cabinet appointments upon his own appointment as the Prime Minister in May 2019. The Home Affairs, Finance, Defence and Education ministers.

Home Affairs and Defence were the most crucial as taking charge of domestic security was needed to calm the political turmoil in the aftermath of an historic election. Finance was equally important as it controls the cash flow for the entire government. To reflect the importance of the education portfolio, Dr Mahathir appointed himself to the job.

Since it has been more than six months, I believe the probation period is over and Dr Mahathir will be reflecting on the performance of these four key Ministers.

On Home Affairs, despite his medical problems, the highly experienced Tan Sri Muhyddin Yassin has shown tremendous guile and skill to take charge of the police force thus ensuring the domestic security. To tackle widespread corruption, he has reformed and empowered MACC to its original independent state.

His handling of nullifying opposition tactics using race and religion shows his experience and deft hands. I would rate him 9/10.

On Defence, Mat Sabu the humble, jovial politician and cook extraordinaire is well liked by his army of new followers. Not much is known of his knowledge on tactical defence manoeuvres but his culinary skills is now well documented and even acknowledged by our noisy neighbours. I would rate him 9/10 for being the most popular politician in the country. No ratings on his performance.

On Finance, minus his (still) opposition style rhetorics, Lim Guan Eng is actually a good and honest accountant. However he needs to understand that an effective Finance Minister extends beyond book keeping and cash flow management duties. As the finance spokesperson of the government, the Finance Minister needs to have finesse in bringing confidence to the business community, calm the financial markets and improve currency strength. I would rate him 8/10.

On Education, since the whole country protested on his own self appointment, Dr Mahathir retreated and chose the little-known lecturer from IIUM, Dr Maszlee Malik as the Education Minister.

The nation awaited anxiously for his school reform ideas, maybe a brilliant education blueprint for the next 30 years or even an inkling of his thoughts on education.

After seven months, the nation is aware that he cares deeply about the colours of school shoes and school buses, saving the lives of school children from drowning at sea or swimming pools and opening petrol stations in higher education campuses. Then this bizarre directive to keep religious teachers from Peninsular in Sabah and Sarawak schools.

Along the way, he accepted the position of President of IIUM despite the legal advice of the government and the cabinet that there is a conflict of interest with his current job. He has not resigned yet despite promising to do so.

After seven months, the nation is still clueless as to any plans for reforms to our school syllabus, the teaching of English or any discussions with other stakeholders and educationist groups.

I would rate him 0/10. My learned friends from the dinner last night says I am too kind as they feel that he should get negative marks. In fact they all agree that like Jose Mourinho, Dr Maszlee should be removed from the team and a suitable replacement be brought in before it is too late.

I believe he is more suited to stay in IIUM and if that is where his heart is, let him be happy. He should step down as the Education Minister.

Dr Mahathir mentioned that his Ministers were not getting due support from the civil servants in their ministries. Perhaps some of his Ministers are incapable of performing their duties or they really have no clue as to what their job entails. It takes two hands to clap.

It would really be interesting for Dr Mahathir to conduct a one-on-one interview with the director-general of each Ministry on their assessment of their immediate boss, the minister. I am sure great stories will surface that will help him assess the performance of his 26 Ministers.

In the meantime, Dr Mahathir should wind down a bit, get some rest and spend some time reflecting on his organisational needs for next year. I rate Tun 10/10 master politician and I know he will make the right moves. I will accept whatever he accepts…. warts, frogs and all.

To all Christians, have a reflective, meaningful and Merry Christmas!

Published: https://www.thestar.com.my/business/business-news/2018/12/22/taking-stock-of-misses-and-successes/

22/2018 – An exciting but challenging journey

One for the album: Counters promoting Silkygirl products. The birth of Silkygirl was due to a strategic dispute with Wet ‘n Wild Cosmetics on how the brand should go forward.

THE most difficult part of writing an article is the beginning. The first paragraph is the toughest. My mind is blank. Is this a good idea? Uncertainty sets in. I would light a cigar and let my mind wonder for the next 30 minutes. Brought back to reality by time constraint.

If you have ever started a business of your own, you would be able to identify the following symptoms. Uncertainty and excitement. Uncertain if the idea would work. Rush of adrenaline when you start the business. Full of optimism as the idea has been well thought through. You are ready to take on the world.

When things go well, it is smooth driving. Most times, the journey is littered with pot holes, road diversions and occasional dead ends. Such is the journey for an entrepreneur.

Some entrepreneurs have short journeys. Some have long journeys. For serial entrepreneurs, they take on multiple journeys. Sooner or later, all journeys come to an end.

My journey with Alliance Cosmetics is finally coming to an end as it has been sold to a new owner, Mandom Corporation, Japan. It has been a journey of 22 years. Looking back, the early years were challenging especially the 1998/9 Asian Financial Crisis. Excitement turned into despair. But we recovered.

Then the excitement of taking over Revlon Malaysia and Singapore in 2000. The joy and pride of rescuing Revlon brand from being kicked out of the market by Guardian and Watsons in both countries. And then the despair of losing the agency in 2014 despite the year on year growth performance for 14 continuous years.

Not many people are aware that Alliance Cosmetics have been instrumental in building the dermo cosmetic category in Malaysia via the 20 year old journey of marketing Avene skin care in Malaysia. Nor the fact that the Alliance Cosmetics team is 100% local, born and bred in Malaysia.

And how the local team gain experience and confidence to take on the biggest cosmetic company in the world.

The birth of our own home grown brand Silkygirl was due to a strategic dispute with Wet ‘n Wild Cosmetics on how the brand should go forward. From the despair of a dispute came an opportunity. Again there were great anxieties and uncertainty as we journey into the unknown. I was lucky as I had the full support of my partner as the capex investment in brand, inventory and merchandising was enormous compared to our turnover.

The Alliance Cosmetics story is more than the story about Silkygirl and Tan Thiam Hock. It is the story of the support of partners that an entrepreneur should have. It is about a supporting spouse in business and at home that an entrepreneur like me can appreciate. It is about the customers and suppliers that have supported us and eventually becoming good friends throughout the journey. These friendships have helped my journey less stressful and more enjoyable.

Most of all, this is the story about the people that makes the company for what it is. I will be forever grateful of having the opportunity to work with so many nice and genuine people. It is a story about simple people working for a living, performing to the best of their abilities in whatever role that they have been given.

It is about Wendy who was our 18-year-old sales promoter back in 1996 and now a trade manager and a mother of two. It is about the Revlon admin and finance team headed by Bin Shu that came with the company that forms the backbone of our operations team till today. Shout out to Chin Lay for helping me take on Revlon.

I will never forget the sales team and Sarah, my late secretary that hop over from Wella, engineered by Georgie, my first sales manager. I will always remember Ang, who travelled with me throughout Malaysia setting up our general trade distribution network amidst the many cigarettes smoked in between.

All our packaging designs, merchandising and advertising creatives were done in house. Our in house Studio Manager Heng has been doing graphic work for me since 1985 when she was working for other studios. Our honest and diligent purchasing team headed by Joanna built a network of trust and integrity with our world wide suppliers.

To compete with L’Oréal and Maybelline, we developed a similar world class brand management structure for Silkygirl headed by Theng Theng. We are proud of the fact that many of our former brand team members have now spread out to other companies to be in charge of competitor brands.

Alliance Cosmetics have been managed by a professional team headed by our CEO Chee Eng since 2012. I am glad that the new owners have decided to keep the whole team intact as they move forward.

When she got news of the sale, Suridah texted me, ‘Are you feeling relieved or finally sad?’ Having sold her company before, she knew what I was going through.

It is like giving away your daughter in marriage to a new family. You can only hope that this new family will look after her well.

To the young entrepreneurs, your journey will take you through many roads. Enrich your life with the many new friendships that you will develop over the years. It is much easier to face the challenges in business life with the support of your partners, family, colleagues, suppliers and customers.

Just remember that friendships remain long after your business journey has ended.

While heaving a sigh of relief that my journey has ended well, I am grateful for the many friends that I have had the privilege to know and meet.

I never knew that the ending would be as difficult as the beginning. It is finally sinking in. I am feeling… finally sad.

Published: https://www.thestar.com.my/business/business-news/2018/12/15/an-exciting-but-challenging-journey/

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