Saturday, 28 January 2017
IT is 9.30am Friday and I have to submit this article to the editor by 1pm. Can almost hear the editor asking “why always last minute?”. But I have my excuses. Valid excuses. Normally I write late into Thursday nights but this Thursday was extremely busy for me. Last minute payments to contractors and suppliers, salaries and bonuses to staff and running errands as instructed by my home minister to prepare for our Chinese New Year’s eve family dinner.
Talking about excuses, I have made many in my life and I have heard of many from my team. My favourite excuses are normally from my sales and marketing people. When asked why margins are down, it is always the competitors are slashing prices and we have to match. Current top excuse is the devaluation of the ringgit versus all major currencies. Despite the festive season, the market is very quiet. Nobody is shopping. Consumers are spending less nowadays.
And it goes on and on. And every year, we increase our sales and profitability. No excuses for that. Just a smirking smile from the team telling me that they have managed to outperform the market despite the gloom and doom predictions. Being a nice guy, I would normally pat them on the back instead of reminding them of past excuses that they have made throughout the year.
I was reminded of this weakness in me when I attended a talk on Outlook For 2017 organised by BFM-Edge Business School earlier this week. When asked about the impact of ringgit devaluation on his business, Stephen Lusk, the CEO of Coca-Cola Malaysia and Singapore said that they just had to be more efficient in their manufacturing process and cut unnecessary costs to maintain margins. No excuses there. Like Nestle, he was more concerned with the rising prices of commodities.
When asked about increasing demand for halal-certified products, he said the Coca-Cola plant in Selangor is halal-certified and compliant with strict guidelines from Jakim, thus the beverages are exported to Brunei and Singapore. To Coca-Cola, being halal-certified is a necessity and gives them the “right to play” in an Islamic marketplace. No excuses. No complaints. Just comply.
With Coca-Cola being sold in 208 countries, they have to adapt to changing local market and cultural trends all over the world. His bosses in Atlanta do not listen to excuses. When asked about gloomy forecast outlook for 2017, he insists that they are still forecasting double-digit growth for this market. Having personally seen their tremendous growth rate over the last three years, I believe he will achieve his target … again.
I am glad that my brand director for Silkygirl was in attendance at the same event. Compared to Stephens, she realizes that I am actually less demanding, willing to listen to excuses and hey … maybe even a reasonable boss to work with. Definitely not the kind and understanding type. That would be a stretch too far.
So do Malaysian entrepreneurs make a lot of excuses? Yes and no. We still have local entrepreneurs blaming the government for not giving them preferential treatments and for not protecting their industry. These entrepreneurs will never succeed if they need to venture outside this country. Businesses that survive on excuses will eventually die a natural death for the simple reason that their business models are neither solid nor competitive.
With fast-paced technological advancements, many industries are being disrupted. If local entrepreneurs expect the government to protect their interests, they are in for a surprise. Take our local taxi business as an example. Over the last 30 years, taxi licences have been given to a few local entrepreneurs, who somehow managed to acquire licences by the hundreds and thousands. They then leased out the licences and cars to local drivers, charging per day usage for all 365 days a year. Special privileges and easy money.
Now that Uber and Grab have entered the market, suddenly the taxi drivers cannot survive. Their excuse is Uber and Grab charge lower rates thus grabbing their customers. The taxi drivers who were barely making enough money to pay for the high rentals of the cars and licences, subsequently return the cars to the taxi company. Because of the protectionist nature of the industry set by the government, the taxi owners have not invested in new cars or refurbish the old ones. The Malaysian public ended up with old and badly maintained taxis and poor attitude drivers. And through the action of a few rogue drivers, safety issue arises. The taxi market was ripe for disruption.
With newer, cleaner and better maintained cars, the polite Uber and Grab drivers have taken over a large chunk of the taxi business. Taxi fares are pre-calculated and transparent. With apps that allow you to call for a car, you can also track the car movement and rate the driver. These taxi syndicate owners are now on the brink of extinction. Even our Prime Minister has encouraged the unemployed to be a Uber driver in his Budget speech.
Excuses in businesses breed lethargy. Lethargic leaders breed lazy staff members. Unlike the civil service which is financed by income tax and GST, private businesses cannot afford to make excuses for non-performance, poor sales and low margins. Entrepreneurs should also look ahead at future trends whether it is technology driven or culturally driven. Not only will you see where your business should be in the future, you will also get a glimpse of the growth opportunities available.
I will take Stephen’s advice to heart and so should you. Make no excuses. Put your head down, grit your teeth and just do it. Don’t wait for tomorrow.
In the meantime, I have to rush off to order the roast duck which I should have done yesterday. Imagine no roast duck for our reunion dinner tonite. That would be inexcusable.