15/2019 – Three funerals and a wedding

Over the last three weeks, my wife and I met relatives and old friends quite frequently. Due to a bizarre twist of fate and bad timing, we were involved with three funerals and a wedding.

The first funeral was due to the passing of my university mate, GH Lim who was in a coma for a few months since he fell and knocked his head. I did not have a chance to say goodbye.

Two days later, my wife’s elder sister Fong was admitted to hospital and later passed away from sudden heart failure. Two funeral wakes within two days. Just when we reached home to rest for the night, news came to my wife that her dad who is 92 years old was bleeding internally. He was immediately warded in the ICU and over the next few days his condition deteriorated to the point that he needed palliative care.

My second son’s wedding was just 10 days away. Invitations had been given out months ago and overseas guests and friends had already booked their flights to Malaysia. Venues and menus had been booked and deposits paid. What were we to do if my father-in-law passed away before the wedding? Major dilemma for the family in view of our Chinese customs and pantang culture.

Dr Chong understood that the wedding had to proceed and he was trying his best to keep my father-in-law alive and at the same time easing his suffering. The family had consented to his suggestion of non aggressive interference should my father-in-law suffer further setbacks.

The key was to keep him comfortable till his last breath.

Somehow the old man survived. He must have wanted his grandson to have a joyful celebration on his big day. The morning after the wedding dinner, Dr Chong removed the dialysis machine and other apparatus, moved my father-in-law out of the ICU back to a normal ward and gave him some medication to keep him comfortable.

Within 24 hours, he passed on, serene and contented.Hence three funerals and a wedding within three weeks.There are some lessons to be learnt from this series of extraordinary events: In my speech during the dinner, I advised my friends of the same age group to engage a younger doctor to care for them.

No doctor should die before their patients. I also mentioned that I have chosen Dr Chong to be my physician for palliative care. His wife, Rachael, is my oncologist. She is keeping me alive and when my time comes, he will keep me comfortable. More importantly, Dr Chong will keep my family calm and well informed. When faced with inevitable endings, family members suffer more than the patient.

A good palliative doctor will be able to ease the pain of seeing the loss of loved ones.

I did advise my son that his wife is the boss at home just as my wife has shown she is the rock of the family. Together with her siblings, they have looked after their ailing parents and sister for quite some months, taking turns to visit doctors and hospitals practically on a weekly basis. Yet she tirelessly helped my son to organise his wedding and put on a brave front through the many wedding events.

Our Asian culture of filial piety should be nurtured and carried through future generations. Just as your parents loved you unconditionally from young, it is your duty to look after them when they are old and the cycle continues. Just don’t break the cycle for you might not be loved by your own children when you are old.

To the young entrepreneurs, when faced with setbacks and unexpected losses, always stay calm and collected. There will be occasions when unfortunate events happen beyond your control and you have no solution in sight.

Do not get frustrated, let the events unfold and you will just have to ride through the storm. Just remember that after every storm, the sun will shine and the future will again look bright and promising. Just be resilient.

Is our beloved country ailing and sick? The race and religion diseases have permeated into the fabric of our multi racial society and no antibiotics have been found and used.

The future looks bleak as the politicians continue to divide and rule based on racial sentiments whereas some fake religious leaders continue to poison the innocent minds. Self interest is the name of the game.

If this country is heading towards an inevitable end, does the nation need palliative care? If so, this nation need a young physician fast, for the good old doctor has run out of suitable prescriptions. Worse still, wrong prescriptions have been dispensed and many organs have deteriorated and unable to function anymore.

The head is spinning, the body is malfunctioning and the heart is bleeding. Hands are tied behind the backs, the legs are weary and the pockets are empty. Good doctors should not play with their patient’s lives. What we need is a young physician who cares to come forward to save the nation.

Even if the nation is dying, the good doctor should still try to provide suitable palliative care to heal the national divide, ease the people’s sufferings and soothe our minds. The nation would rather be in the good hands of a young caring doctor than a self serving experienced old doctor.

That is my personal preference if given a choice. What is yours?

Published: https://www.thestar.com.my/business/business-news/2019/09/14/three-funerals-and-a-wedding

15/2017 – Merdeka! Merdeka! Merdeka! (Unpublished Article)

(Not printed in Starbiz)

If there is a Facebook page for Malaysia, I would have typed ‘HBD Malaysia!’ just two days ago. Having to be in London for medical treatment sucks when you miss two important end August birthday celebrations, that of my daughter and my country. My daughter just turned 20 and must be looking to the future, full of hope and aspirations.

My country just turned 60 which in our Chinese culture is considered significant and important. The Chinese people believed that when a person reaches the age of 60, he or she has completed a full cycle of life. Based on Chinese astrology, twelve animals with five natural elements: metal, fire, water, earth and wood results in a 60 year cycle. Following the 60th birthday, the person begins a new life.

Assuming Malaysia starts a brand new cycle, a new life, what kind of Malaysia would you like to have at the end of the next 60 year cycle?

As an entrepreneur, would you like to build a company or a brand that lasts at least 60 years and beyond? As a student of marketing all my life, there is nothing more satisfying than building a brand that can last through generations. It could be a product brand, a company brand or personal branding.

If you look at all the brands that has lasted for more than 60 years, the standout feature has always been brand integrity. A brand that is honest and have strong moral principles will survive through a history of turbulence and changes. A brand that is fair and consistent inspires loyalty.

Nothing damages a brand faster than the trust deficit syndrome. All the good work on building brand loyalty will disappear when a trust deficit problem is allowed to perpetuate with no solutions in sight. If you are a good brand manager, you must be able to identify the problems and offer quick solutions to restore the integrity of the brand. Examples would be to recall defective products immediately, acknowledge problems and apologize etc

Malaysia as a brand is suffering badly from the trust deficit syndrome and I am not even talking about politicians from both divides. As a citizen consumer over the last twenty years, I have seen branding issues with the independence of the judiciary, independence of the media, constitutional rights and lately the independence of the Force.

Since independence, the Malaysian brand was built meticulously and it became famous for being a harmonious multi racial country. Poverty eradication through Felda agricultural schemes, free education, efficient and hard working civil service and a capable Parliament and Cabinet of Ministers. A safe and fair environment provided by an independent judiciary plus a loyal army and police force helped the country grow into an industrialized country within forty years.

How much brand damage has Malaysia suffered over the last twenty years? As citizens of the country, we should be the managers of the Malaysian brand and we have failed in our most basic duties of brand management. We should have taken immediate action then when the integrity of the brand was eroded by the actions of the few in power. Instead, we have allowed the problem to perpetuate and now we have a brand image that is corrupted beyond recognition, a brand without an ounce of integrity left.

To all the great brand managers, how do you resuscitate a damaged brand? Do you discard it and start a new brand instead? Or do you believe that it is easier to keep the old brand image, do a post mortem, re strategise and re build? Whichever route you choose, just remember to restore integrity back into the brand DNA. To do that, you will need to scrap the bottom of our political vessel to find the last few decent and righteous leaders. Or maybe appoint new untainted ambassadors for the brand. Inexperienced ambassadors might actually be good for the brand as they do not bring old corrupted ideas and your advertising campaign will bring fresh hope to the consumers.

Rebuilding a national brand is not an easy task. It requires loads of hard work and dedication. Restoring integrity to a national brand is even more difficult. You have to identify all the problems that has tainted the brand integrity and remove these problems once and for all. These problems could be people, actions, policies and whatnots. Sometimes, brand managers have to be ruthless and decisive when it comes to the issue of brand integrity. No compromise.

Personal branding is not just for famous people or very successful entrepreneurs. As an entrepreneur and a human being, what kind of brand image have you built for yourself? Are you a person of high integrity? Trustworthy? A man of your words? Or are you known for your punctuality, smart dressing and charming disposition? Are you shrewd and pushy? Or just smart and fair?

Politicians believe they have the best brand image. They portray themselves as Guardian of the Galaxy, looking after the best interest of the people they represent whether it is their well being or religious needs. As a brand manager, I do believe that is the right brand image they should adopt. The smarter politicians who understands branding will be able to put up with this charade quite comfortably. Most politicians brand fail in the first instant, showing a glaring lack of integrity and worst of all adding stupidity to their brand image.

Nevertheless, most politicians will go down in history, their brand recognized and remembered for one goof or another. Some National leaders will be remembered for their outstanding contributions to the nation whilst some will be remembered for receiving outstanding contributions from the nation.

These irreversible deeds will be remembered for the next 60 or 600 years.

Happy Birthday Malaysia. See you in your next life.

12/2016 – Let your children decide on their employment choice

Saturday, 27 August 2016

MOST parents in their 50s are looking at retirement options when their children starts looking for employment after their studies. There is this transition moment in our family circle of life where the baton of employment, career or business is being passed to the next generation.

The older generation after 30 years of slogging, looks forward to easier passing of days without the responsibilities and worries whilst the younger generation looks forward with optimism and high hopes of securing a good career ahead.

As an entrepreneur with businesses and investments, my natural instinct is to rope them into the family business, if any, as any typical old generation Chinese businessman will do. But I made up my mind some seven years ago when my first born started his A Level, that my children will make their own choice whether they will prefer to seek employment elsewhere or participate in the family business. It will be their choice and decision and I will support whole-heartedly whatever decisions they will make. Seven years later, I still have the same conviction.

I had this feeling that the business world and environment will be much different with all these globalisation and technological advancement and the businesses that I was in will be operating in a much more competitive and disruptive world order. This has proven to be true.

The traditional brick and mortar businesses are under tremendous stress to keep up with new disruptive technologies and new business ideas.

My children will have to learn new skills and insights and they definitely will not be able to learn from my traditional family business unless I had instituted changes to my existing business to join the new business order. But I did not know how.

So it is better that they decide on their choice of employment in whatever industries they choose as long as they are working for a forward looking company who is able to embrace the new technologies that are changing the business order across the global markets. And if they do decide later, after some years of working experience, to venture out as an entrepreneur, I will also support them.

Assuming they are up to it, with the right attitude and skill sets.

Not everyone is capable of being a “successful” entrepreneur. It is easy to start a business, call yourself a founder and entrepreneur but chances of being successful is limited to the capable few. For most cases, you are better off building a good career in a good organisation rather than struggling in a small-scale business for the rest of your life.

If you planned to be an entrepreneur, just make sure your business potential is scalable to a size that will earned you nett, double what you would be earning in a good job. Or else it will be a waste of time. The thrill of being your own boss wears thin over time when you are not doing well financially.

I have many friends who have done very well in their corporate careers and they seem very happy when we do meet up. They definitely look younger than me, with less stressful lines, a radiant and happy face. Compared with my aged face filled with wrinkles and scars of agony suffered through the years. Was it worth it?

With the wisdom of hindsight, I am now able to advise my children on their decision making process on whether they should be a corporate suit or to go on their own. My only guidance to them is whatever choice they make, just ensure their actions are productive and contribute towards the well-being of the economy. Don’t be lazy, do good where you can and be as good as you can be. Then start a family. Circle of life starts again.

The only career that I totally discouraged my children from is the job of a politician. Good politicians are hard to find nowadays. Since integrity left the politicians, good virtues and honesty followed. What is left is a shell of a conniving and corrupted politician using whatever means he or she can to stay in power supposedly representing the people’s interest.

All over the world, the politicians together with religious and racist bigots have caused total mayhem to our daily lives. People are divided by race, religion and skin colour. Nothing makes sense anymore. Throw in lots of money into a politician’s hands and we have absolute corruption across the ranks. Cash is king. Everybody can be bought. And I mean everybody.

What is really sad is the complete breakdown of morality and integrity of the politician. The few genuine politicians who stand their grounds based on principles of justice and fairness to all are few and far between. Eventually, they too will be engulfed by the all pervasive influence of corruption.

To the younger generation joining the working community, my only advice is to pick a job that fits your personality and your skill sets. Make sure you enjoy the job. Get some proper working experience under your belt and you can evaluate your options in a more leisurely way.

You will know when there is a calling for you to become an entrepreneur. You will be unhappy with your job, your bosses irritate you, there is a burning desire that has just lighted up in your belly, a brilliant idea suddenly appeared and you feel that you are now ready to be an entrepreneur. Are you?

From experience, it takes a long time for an entrepreneur to make a big fortune. If you do not have the patience, I recommend you a job that makes money faster than an entrepreneur.

Be a politician.

Published: http://www.thestar.com.my/business/business-news/2016/08/27/let-your-children-decide-on-their-employment-choice/

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

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.

14/2015 – When is enough, enough? (Unpublished article)

(Author’s note: This article was not published in The Star)
Saturday, 25 July 2015

As the days draw nearer to my 55th birthday, I am undecided on withdrawing my entire lifelong savings from the Employees Provident Fund. No it is not a matter of trust. My issue is with yields. Can I get a better yield than what EPF is giving me? And it is about timing. And perception.

As an entrepreneur for more than half my adult life, I have never considered EPF as my main source of retirement income. That would be a failure mentality of an entrepreneur. I am supposed to make enough money after 32 years of entrepreneurship to retire comfortably.

But money is money and this is my money, saved over 32 years. And I do thank the EPF for managing my money well, growing it with decent compounded interest.

But there are signs of concerns that changes are forthcoming in the way EPF is being managed at the moment. Or is it just my perception?

The recent attempt to suggest extending the withdrawal age to 60 years does not bode well for me. With my terminal disease, statistically I have only a 5% chance of surviving beyond 5 years which means I might not be around to collect my lifelong savings.

EPF is already propping up the entire stock exchange in Malaysia and with more than RM 2 billion inflows a month, yields on a percentage basis of total funds will diminish as good investments are hard to come by. The investment team will have to work much harder and look beyond Malaysia for higher yields.

Loans to 1MDB (and its companies) is just a small portion of its funds and it is guaranteed by the government. Or is it? However a large portion of its funds are invested in Malaysian Government Ringgit Bonds and unless the government goes bankrupt, the investment will be rock solid.

Unlike Greece, Malaysia can print its own money and technically speaking like USA will not go bankrupt. The main worry will be the devaluation of the Ringgit due to excess printing and supply to the market. Then our money is worth nothing versus world currencies.

But we have a solid and reliable Central Bank which has governed our monetary policies so well over the years. But is our Central Bank still reliable? Is it managed by professional technocrats or is it managed by self serving politicians? Perception of credibility is crucial to a national institution like a central bank.

So what can I do with my EPF withdrawal?

At best, I can get 4.2% per annum on a Fixed Deposit with a commercial bank. I should invest in our stock market but my brokers tell me the index is over valued at the moment. In my younger days, I would have plonked the whole sum into my trading business either expanding or extending my product lines.

But times have changed. So has my perception of Malaysia. I am confused at the moment. Very confused. Is anybody managing the country? Are the laws of this land equivocal? Ambiguous and subject to personal interpretation?

If as a local businessman, I am not comfortable with investing in my own country, what more do you expect from foreign investors? The current political climate in our country is not conducive to attract new investments. The game of perception played by all political parties have got to stop.

Anybody and I mean anybody who is guilty of any crimes must be brought to justice. Only when our Judicial branch is perceived to be independent of the Executive and the Legislative, the investment confidence will return to this country.

To all the young entrepreneurs, you should include analyzing political risk in your considerations when you start a new business or when you intend to expand overseas. This charade happening right before you can happen anywhere especially when the politicians think they own the country and can do anything they want.

Thread carefully when you invest overseas. Always have an exit plan in mind. Always remember personal safety is top priority. You might have to leave your assets behind when you have to leave the country urgently so minimize your fixed asset investment. Multinational companies like Proctor & Gamble even leased computers and office furnitures so you will find minimum assets in countries where they trade.

My advise to you is to avoid corruption deals with government officials and politicians as the penalty is high. With an active social media and strong anti money laundering acts, you will be caught sooner or later either as the main actor or as an accomplice. Either way, you are burned for life. No amount of money is worth the shame it will bring to you and your family. And money is poor compensation for loss time in jail. Furthermore it is worth less by the time you get out of jail.

So start your entrepreneur journey the hard way. Play proper, play smart and play clean. You might make a lot of money, you might not. But I guarantee you will have a sense of satisfaction that you have done right and you have done well. How much wealth and savings do you really need to retire comfortably anyway?

So when is enough, enough?

I guess that depends on the individual really. Some ladies would be thrilled to death just to own a LV bag, some are not satisfied with even 10 Birk bags. That’s ok. As long as you have bought it with your hard earned money.

As for me, I have enough of this political charade.

I hope the righteous will triumph and the truth will prevail. Enough is enough.