15/2015 – An Entrepreneur’s Dilemma (Unpublished article)

by Tan Thiam Hock

unpu(Author’s note: This article was not published in The Star)
Saturday, 1 August 2016

Ever since I went into semi retirement some years back, I have tried to spend as much time as I can with my three kids. Well to be honest, as much as they allow me to be included in their ‘space’.

They are now my boss and I exist only for the sole purpose of working for their future. Maybe it is just me making up for lost time, paying the penalty for not being there for them in their growing years.

As all three of them went overseas for their higher education, I involved myself with their moving in and out of their dorms, checking out and helping them decide on their choice of universities and just being there for them when needed.

It is a joy just being able to have a one to one chat with them on anything and everything. And when they give me a hug or two and calls me from wherever they are to wish me happy birthday, I felt blessed, connected and loved.

To all the young entrepreneurs, you will not understand this old man’s tale of an entrepreneur’s dilemma. The world is your oyster and you have every right to forge forward and make your mark in life and society.

Your dilemma starts when you marry and start a family. Running a business will take up all your energy and time. When your business becomes more successful, you will have even less time for your spouse and children. It is a vicious cycle. You console yourself that you are building a better life with financial security for your family. Sacrifice now for a better tomorrow.

As you progress further in your business there will be times when you come face to face with moral and ethical issues. There will be occasions when you will lose the contract if you do not provide kickbacks and your competitors do. Should you shortchange your customers since cost has risen and retail prices have gone down? Have you been treating your staff fair and square or have you made your suppliers spin in circles squeezing their margins like a python until they could not breathe? Short term profits or long term sustainable business partnerships?

When your business is fighting for survival, you are forced to take drastic actions. Moral and ethical considerations take a back seat. Live today so that you can fight again tomorrow.

Even when you are doing well and a great opportunity (though a bit dodgy) comes along to make even more money, will you hold on to your righteous beliefs and reject the offer?

How will you handle such dilemmas when you cross path with such issues at the junction? Go right or go wrong? No money or easy money?

Most entrepreneurs manage moral and ethical dilemmas with their heads thus ensuring safe passage for their businesses. Those that manage with their hearts tend to be risk takers but normally hold firm to their moral beliefs.

The recent turn of events that resulted in the suspension of The Edge Malaysia and The Edge Financial Daily took me completely by surprise. No I was not surprised by the suspension as the authorities were hell bent on shutting them up.

I was surprised that the owner, Datuk Tong Kooi Ong allowed the continuous coverage of 1MDB despite the show cause letter by the authorities. At first glance I thought Tong was reckless and irresponsible towards the welfare of his 350 strong employees. The Edge was the most successful niche publication in Malaysia with an extremely strong brand name and they have beaten off all their imitation rivals.

What on earth made him take such risks? Was he not thinking right? Did he react with his head or with his heart? As if almost like an apology, he offered to pay the staff full salary over the suspension period.

Is this an issue of an entrepreneur’s dilemma based on moral and ethical ideals? Or is it something more? Did he developed a conscience? Why is it so important that the 1MDB story must be told?

According to opposition politician Tony Pua, this alleged 1MDB scandal was the mother of the mother of all scandals in Malaysia. According to The Edge reports, a small group of Malaysians and foreigners allegedly swindled our country of billions of ringgits. As it allegedly involves key politicians, this was a massive coup (news wise) for The Edge. No journalist worth his salt will walk away from this.

But Tong is not a journalist. He is the owner. A maverick entrepreneur extraordinaire. Having founded and built the Phileo Allied Bank in his thirties, he made his fortune very early into his entrepreneur journey. He has been buying and selling companies across many borders but he has kept The Edge Media Group close to his heart.

Frankly speaking, Tong could have used his head and walked away but he did not. He solved his dilemma by following his heart which tells him to do what is right. Ironically, doing the right thing brings harassment and inconveniences, such is the state of affairs prevailing in our disenchanted country.

And when I met up with him recently, I asked whether all these efforts was really worth the troubles and irritations. He whipped out his phone to show me two messages from his children. They were concerned for his health and safety, they support what he has done and they were very proud of him. ‘Love you dad’.

For a moment, I thought I saw a faint glow on his face. A contented father.

Not an entrepreneur in dilemma.