Article 37 – Making tough decisions as an entrepreneur

by Tan Thiam Hock

No, I have not stopped writing my column in The Star. I did write last week that I am on indefinite leave. That is because I am suffering from a constipation of ideas. A malaise unique to inexperienced writers. The regular experienced writers suffer from mental blocks. I am just a regular Chinaman and definitely not mental.

So my son helped me to set up my own blog thiamhock.com and in five days had 836 views. I have no idea whether this is a good start for my blog but the laughingtigress.com emailed me and said that her blog was more popular than mine and she appears before me in Google search so that got me worried. And that explains this one-off article before my indefinite leave … again.

As I sit on the balcony of Marriott Resort, Kauai, Hawaii, the winds are howling at 2 am local time, my second son is graciously keeping me company in the living room playing his favourite Dota 2 game on his frequently overheating MacPro. With my Cuban cigar burning nice and easy and a glass of Torbreck red in my hand, I dedicate this article to Datuk Vincent Lee, the executive deputy chairman of Star Publications who taught me how to enjoy wine and how to enjoy life. “No matter how expensive a bottle of wine you owned, it is not yours until you enjoyed it.”

Real deep stuff from the advertising and communications legend. I still don’t get it because I do not have an expensive wine collection.

What makes sense is his SMS to me asking me why I want to stop writing when my column is doing well? That got me thinking about how lucky I have been in business life. Not just about making money but all about making friends and building contacts that matters. And selling a business and leaving my loyal working colleagues who have been through thick and thin with me through the trying years.

I must admit that the toughest decision I had to make when I sold the business was the welfare of my colleagues who now have to face new bosses and a new business culture. After two-and-a-half years, some have adapted well and some have not. While I am happy for those who have done well, I am sad and disappointed when I see people leaving because they just cannot accept the “new culture” that had to be installed. Hopefully, they will find a new working environment that they will be happy with and with better prospects. I wish them well.

When you, the entrepreneur, start a company, inevitably you set the tone for your company a working culture that continuously evolved as your company grows. And you, the supreme manager, grow with it but your basic DNA will never change. If you have been tough and demanding but fair, the hard working culture will reflect as it is. Staff who can follow you will do very well because you would have looked after them equally well. And they will do well in any demanding culture.

If you are the thoughtful and kind type of boss, you will have a very loyal team following you but they will not be able to adapt to new cultures easily. If you believe in playing politics among your various teams to bring out the best in them, then your staff will fit into any major corporations. They will even do well in politics if they choose to do so.

I have no idea what kind of boss I have been. Somehow, different staff view me differently and I have been labelled on a scale from a saint to a devil so that is pretty scary. There is no way you can be too nice or too tough in managing people. I guess it is all about consistency and what you believe in that counts at the end of the day.

To me, integrity is everything. To my staff, my suppliers, my customers and to my friends. But have I been consistent throughout the last 27 years? Maybe now that I have more time to reflect on this, I will try to look back at all my poor and good decisions that I have made. Hopefully, I can learn from this and be a better boss in my next life.

Building a company culture is like a building block carefully done, layer by layer over the years. It is important for new businesses to start right, and that responsibility falls on the owner entrepreneur who must think right, with good intentions from the beginning.

Then adapt to the changes but always keeping the basic DNA intact. Your beliefs stemming from a good heart. Then good people will follow you and make you a great and successful leader.

Datuk Abdul Rahman from Ekuinas once told me that the best way to judge a CEO is after he has left the company. Will the company continue to do well? Did this CEO build an organisational structure with good leadership and a distinctively healthy culture that can continuously grow the company successfully? Is Media Prima still doing well after Rahman himself left? How well has MAS performed after Datuk Idris Jala left? How will AirAsia perform with a new CEO after Tan Sri Tony Fernandez decided to trade off his nasi lemak for nasi Padang? Only time will tell.

In the meantime, during my holidays, I will be busy finding ways to fend off a very popular laughing tigress on an Internet platform that I do not understand.

Maybe, I have to start writing a new series of articles on my blog, controversial issues that will not see the light of day in this column. Just need to raise my profile a bit and hopefully get more unique hits. I am sure that will be easier than starting an expensive wine collection which means I need to start from the bottom again, having to construct a basement wine cellar. So until the next I have no idea when article, cheers.

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