2/2020 – Of Komodo dragons and iguanas

It is a calm and cool morning in Bali after three days of continuous rain. Sitting on the terrace facing the swimming pool and the ocean with a cigar in hand, one can easily forget that there is a world full of problems awaiting on the other side.

Maybe seeing the Komodo dragons in Komodo National Park just a few days earlier have made me wonder about civilisation and our existence on earth. Reportedly one of the few surviving creatures from the dinosaur era millions of years ago, Komodo dragons are the biggest lizards in the world. Carnivorous with a venomous bite, they can grow up to three meters in length and can live up to 60 years.

Very much like the humans of yesteryear, the Chinese civilisation which started some 5,000 years ago believes that a full life cycle of a human being is 60 years, as evidenced by the five times 12 years of the Animal Zodiac Year calendar. Between war, famine and the lack of medical care, the Chinese of yesteryear must have statistically worked out that a human being can survive up to 60 years.

Having been born in the Year of The Rat back in 1960, I would have survived my intended full life cycle this year. Being alive any day and month after July will be a bonus to me. I am contented and now live a life without regrets. Life goes on. We just have to keep moving on.

Having spent 35 years of my life in the trading and distribution business, my companies have been sole distributors of many brands from so many different countries. The principals (brand owners) come in all shapes and sizes, from small set-ups to major international companies. Small companies come with small problems and big companies come with much bigger problems.

Like any business relationship, there are ups and downs, good days and bad days, but above all, if both sides approach the relationship with integrity and honesty, most of the problems can be resolved. I have lost many agencies and have also dropped many agencies. There are so many reasons for the termination of a distribution agreement – poor performance from either side, products not being competitive, difference of opinion on how to manage the market, etc.

To the young entrepreneurs who have decided to take on exclusive distributorships, the distribution agreement is the most important document in the relationship. Treat it like a pre-nuptial agreement. It will come in handy during the divorce proceedings. It is all about damage control when a relationship breaks down – the financial and emotional cost.

When our company lost the Revlon agency some six years ago, we had to downsize our operations, as Revlon was contributing to almost 30% of our total revenue in Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei. We had to downsize our Singapore team by half and refocus our efforts on our own brand, Silkygirl.

The emotional side was more difficult to resolve, as when we took over the Revlon companies in Malaysia and Singapore back in 2000, almost all their staff stayed back. In a way, most of the team were still very attached to the brand, as we were the team that was responsible for rebuilding the Revlon brand, growing the business year-on-year for 14 straight years.

The divorce proceedings were deftly handled, as the Americans stick strictly to legal terms as per distribution agreement. The cosmetic counters, merchandising trays and materials and balance stocks were handed over to the new distributor, we were compensated and the Revlon business continued like before.

My partners were flabbergasted as to why we were not compensated for the 14 years of hard work spent on the brand. I had to explain to them that we had made good money from the Revlon agency. We learnt about brand development and brand marketing from an international agency and we successfully built our own brand while still managing Revlon.

No regrets. Life goes on. Let’s move on.

We have a Chinese saying – “In business, if we are able to pick it up, we must be able to put it down”. Think strategically without emotions and you will survive just fine.

Gone are the days when most of my distribution arrangements were based on friendships and relationships. At 60 years of age, I am considered a dinosaur in this disruptive business world. The principals have changed too.

It is much more difficult for me to understand these young export managers who are impatient, with short-term visions and below-par field experience. And there is this elusive issue of integrity and honesty.

Now, at the tail end of my life cycle, I have much difficulty in staying relevant to the new ways of doing business. Either the young ones do not understand me or have labeled me as an irrelevant Komodo dragon.

Nevermind…life goes on and I have to keep moving along. Maybe I will just do business with my old friends, where a handshake will do and the distribution agreement is locked away until termination day arrives and we try to make some small money together. Just for old time’s sake.

To the young entrepreneurs, every time you sign an exclusive distribution agreement, you have made a vow to do your best for the brand, to treat the brand like your own and to love the brand while you are still in the relationship. Until death do you part.

If the principal agrees with you, all is good. If not, get your divorce papers ready and stop your relationship sooner than later. Like all marriages, why continue suffering? Sort it out and move on.

Life is too short…only a five-by-12 cycle. My next stop will be Galápagos Islands where Charles Darwin based his theory of evolution on his observations of the endemic species on the islands.

Komodo dragons and iguanas…always good to be at the top of the food chain. Life goes on.