Article 36 – The importance of being honest

Confession time. I can be a tough boss when I need to. Occasionally, I fly into a rage with my staff, suppliers and even principals. I am straight talking and sharp with my words.

Definitely not witty. But for the life of me, I just find it so difficult to tell my wife that I will be having a game of golf on a Sunday. Because Sunday is family day.

So my tactical strategy is to tell her as late as possible, like Saturday night, murmuring something like having to play with the bank CEO whom I am indebted to, up to my neck with loans that will take the next three generations to pay off.

On a need to know basis, I only tell her what she needs to hear. Sometime it works, most of the time, I get a earful with divorce threats thrown in for good measure. To my golf buddies, now you know why I play badly on Sundays.

Tan Sri Tony Fernandes might just talk himself into buying Singapore Airlines. Who is brave enough to tell him that it might just work?

So it is with great amusement I see former CEOs and former ministers being charged in court with NOT telling to their boards or cabinet certain information that is deemed important, sometimes 10 to 20 years too late.

Is it the responsibility of the CEO to tell the board every pertinent detail of the proposal or is it the duty of the board of directors to ask the pertinent questions that matters? I am assuming of course the board of directors are experienced, sharp, astute and not in collaboration with the CEO.

After all, isn’t it human in all of us to tell others facts or fiction that they want to hear? Or tell them bits and pieces of what you want them to know? Unless you personally benefit directly or indirectly at the expense of the company. Then, you are in serious trouble and you could be charged with CBT – criminal breach of trust.

But if you have genuinely made a mistake, however bad it is, it is advisable to come clean and tell the story as it is. After all, isn’t it human for even the super high flying managers to make mistakes? Maybe the board will forgive you and maybe they won’t. But you keep your integrity intact and you can hold your head high as you walk out of the boardroom, your career in tatters.

That’s called accepting responsibility. So should the board of directors accept similar punishment for not doing their job?

If you are on your own, with no partners or board of directors to report to, will you tell the person in the mirror all the pertinent details, the whole truth and nothing but the truth? Can you sieve the facts from fiction? Or are you the type who believes so much into your own story, telling yourself things that you want to hear? Then you are in serious trouble and you could be charged with CBT – chronic belief trauma.

You are a stubborn dreamer and you will be sentenced to a life of poverty and an endless pursuit of emptiness.

Another confession. In my younger and more vulnerable years, I have pursued projects that sounded brilliant (because I kept talking myself into it) but are actually flawed. So I failed miserably and had to own up to my partner, tail between my legs.

Now that I am older and without being able to fall back on the excuse of inexperience, I would consult and discuss project ideas with my work colleagues so that we can arrive at a fool-proof consensus. Still, I see some of our product launches fail, quite badly, well, more like a bomb.

Looking back, we failed in our analysis because we were telling ourselves all the positive things, packaging looks good, product smells good and of good quality etc.

We have got a winner, pats on our shoulders all round and let’s celebrate with a nice group lunch.

Nobody mentioned the uncertainties, the uneasy feeling that maybe, just maybe, our target customers might not just like the colour or the smell or for whatever the reasons.

All we needed actually was a devil advocate in our group, a pessimist, a doomsayer or a wet blanket, someone brave enough to tell us as it is, that there is a possibility that this project might just not work.

Just plain conservative common sense and we would have saved ourselves a lot of money and effort.

Being honest and truthful to yourself is the first step towards an understanding of where you and your business stand in your value chain. If you are small, act small and you will strategise more appropriately. If your competitor is too strong, always avoid head-on collisions.

Work around them, feed off them or try to snatch pockets of market share. When you feel your main competitor is weak, by all means, go for the jugular, like Air Asia. Maybe now in search of a bigger fish to fry, Tan Sri Tony Fernandes might just talk himself into buying Singapore Airlines.

Who is brave enough to tell him that it might just work?

Now that I have told you what I wanted you to know for the last 22 weeks, it is time to tell myself that I have run out of stories, fact or fiction. As such, I will be on indefinite leave from this column, hopefully snatching a Sunday golf game or two on a summer holiday with my family.


19 thoughts on “Article 36 – The importance of being honest

  1. TTH,
    come what may, but dont stop penning your delightfull insights on our community, business culture and the society at large…….it has always and still is a great way to start a saturday morning


  2. The first thing I always look out on Saturday morning is finding your article in the Starbiz. I had always enjoyed reading your practical Chinaman articles and was even fascinated to learn that you are the owner of Rene Furterer Haircare Salon in Pavilion. My sisters and myself are regular customers, check with Ah Hong. How I wish I have the opportunity to work under your entrepreneurship, I am sure I will learn some valuable corporate lessons/experiences from you.


  3. Thank you for sharing your experience and point of view. Learn a lots. And thank you for putting up this website. Your essay compilation from starbiz are excellent source of reference for me. Tips and pointers are very practical.

    Ocassional stories about cows and people related to the cows is kau and kah kah kah. Cannot denied the fact that even how serious we look at the corporate and political world, once a while there will be jokers that make us laugh. We just have to live with it.

    Thank you and all the best in your golfing session.


  4. Hi Mr Tan,

    I have always enjoying reading your article and it is the first thing I look for in Biznews.

    I am going to miss your article and hope you will be back soon!

    Happy holidays and gofing on Sundays!


      1. Mr Tan,
        The existing culture of a country very much depends on the quality of the power that be. Look at Hongkong, most of its civil servants were corrupted before the new administration. When the new admin wanted to pull in all the corrupted officials, there were protests in that they claimed they were just pawns. So the admin decided to start from a clean slat. From certain date onwards, those who still were on the take would be prosecuted, It worked.


  5. Uncle Thiam Hock, very sad to hear that you are penning off.The indefinite leave from this column,ie for Sunday golf game/or two on honey moon holiday with family sound sweet. Pls, you can still relax and still share with us your valuable experience on topics like: b’ness comm’cation,environmental influences,some banking operations where young entrep’nuer need to know,basic knowledge on b’ness law, and last but not least on b’ness arrangement and ect.


  6. A lot of what you wrote in the column was amazing. You could’ve been asked to stop writing given the honest remarks about our current administration (which I hope is not the case). Well, could be interpreted positively as to brush up or ship out. But I admire your guts and eagerness in talking straight. Not to mention the truly genuine and great insights into entrepreneurship. Remain hopeful to hear more sharings from your blog. Enjoy your Sundays!


    1. Johann

      I am Mr. Mild compared to so many other writers or politicians so no worries..lah. Furthermore, I am non political and doesn’t take sides. Just not interested at all. Occasionally frustrated at the wastage of tax payer’s money. cheers TTH


  7. Singapore International Airlines has 40 years of excellent business track record.. It has an excellent internal management training programmes and a huge war chest.. back by the Singapore government.

    Despite the airlines not being a highly profitable business nowadays, I do not see SIA degrading to the level of MAS.

    For once, Singapore, unlike Kuala Lumpur, is a premium city.. You can see it Singapore’s tourism programmes, they were attracting high end visitors such as multi-millionaires, bankers, property tycoons, etc..etc whereas Kuala Lumpur attracts a lot of “budget travellers”..

    That’s why I say AirAsia and SIA are all together different from one another..


    1. John

      I always believe that we should buy healthy companies with future potential. so if you have to buy Malaysian Airlines or Singapore Airlines, which one would you choose?

      But Singapore Airlines a bit difficult to swallow…too big. And you shouldn’t buy sick companies unless you can revive their fortunes. MAS is out as the trade unions are too strong and too much political interference.



      1. My point is Singapore Airlines’ strength depends on the overall Singaporean economic model of attracting high end visitors.. People like Billionaire commodity trader, Jim Rogers or that Facebook co-founder (Saverin???) don’t fly on budget Airlines..

        That is why AirAsia is very different from SIA..


  8. Hi Mr Tan,

    It’s me.

    Just finished reading your “last” article in the Star. Pity you decided to stop.

    You should have told us that you have this blog, and we don’t have to buy the Star! Well, I hope you continue to share your thoughts here. I always look forward to read your article each Saturday. It may be too late for me to follow your advice for young entrepreneurs, but I always enjoy reading your articles.

    Hope you continue to share your thoughts here. Will be checking on your updates many times a day from now on!

    Take care, and enjoy playing your golf!

    Justin Choo


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