7 advice from my 10 years of working

2018 marks ten years since I joined the workforce. As I reflect on my career of ten years, it was interesting to see the effect of my decisions and the career risks I took. It was also interesting to see how my friends and peers, knowing how they were in school/university, have done things differently – and how some have achieved career success faster. These are seven things I noted, some are my own advice and some are what I observed people who had rapid success in their first decade of work do:-

1. Keep In Touch With Everyone
The working world, regardless of where you are in the world, is a mix of who you know and what you know – what differs is that in different countries, these two elements appear in different ratios. Although my career has always been based in Malaysia, I’ve had plenty of opportunities to interact with global investors to know this to be true. Information is power and you would never know who would be of help to you in the future. In this day and age of social media, keeping in touch can be easily done by dropping a birthday message on FB or wishing seasons greetings on Whatsapp. Of course, as the world is so small, keeping in touch only works if you yourself maintain a good reputation.

2. Join A Society/Club and Widen The Type of People You Socialise With
In my time doing YCM, I observed that work has this unconscious effect of narrowing the types of people you hang out with. An example of a lesser extreme would be wanting to only network with people in your industry (bankers with bankers, oil&gas with oil&gas people, etc) and a greater extreme, only wanting to network with people in your own company (where even attending external events, you herd together). To me, this limits your understanding of how other industries and how the world works in general.

My advice would be to join and be active in a society regardless of its type – may it be work related, community based society or even a political party. From my experience, joining societies provides an opportunity for you to meet people (and you learn the most surprising things from unsuspecting people) and participating in its organisation provides you an opportunity to learn useful skills in a safe environment: leading peers and depending on your society, understanding how to build brands, managing event and even fundraising. Some of the best people I’ve met were through my involvement in YCM.

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YCM hosting YBhg Dato’ Sri Nazir Razak, then CEO of CIMB as part of our Special Series
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Hosting YBhg Tan Sri Mokhzani at my cafe, Double A Cafe, as part our mentorship program

3. Keep Good Notes That You Can Refer Back
There have been a number of times where I find myself in a discussion referring to a point (either related to something I recently learnt or something I learnt from a previous employment) I knew I had noted down before but couldn’t find – either I didn’t know where it was in the same notebook or it was in a different notebook altogether (from a previous employment). My work notebooks were organised by dates and not topics so it was not easy to flip back to find the last time a particular topic was discussed. Not forgetting notes often get jumbled with To-Do lists.

While there are many ways to organise notes, I find using Microsoft OneNote effective. You can organise your content by tabs (which can be your different projects) and pages (which can be content from a particular meeting). Together with a Search function and separate To-Do checklist, its easy to keep your notes in check.

4. Have A Hard Skill. Make sure you are professionally known for something and if possible, certified.
It is not sufficient for you to just be strong in your know-who. It is important for you to be strong in your know-how. I believe one should always have a skill and be professionally known for something – corporate finance specialist, HR specialist, urban planning expert, etc. In the corporate world, you should pursue a certification – getting yourself certified is the easiest and perhaps best way to be known for a capability – CFA, PMP.

Do not mistake tenure of service in a function or an industry as indication of competence. I’ve met my share of individuals who have worked in an industry or function for a number of years but when probed, their understanding is surface level as their work is somewhat transactional. Be conscious of what you are learning daily and make sure you understand the core business of your company and read up on the latest in your industry – as an example, when asked about where oil prices will go, a HR staff should not answer “I work in HR, I don’t know what my company does or what oil & gas is about“.

5. Have an opinion
While this sounds obvious, you should, where possible, have an opinion about everything. This is easier said than done. Most outstanding individuals I’ve met are great conversationalist who are able to speak on just about anything – able to speak about national and current business issues to the serious crowd, able to speak about arts and culture when they are put with artsy folks and even able to speak about the current celebrity gossips when placed with the gossip gang.

Having an opinion requires you to be able to connect dots together and good first step is always to be diversely well read – my personal mix is The Edge Weekly, TIME and Pancaindera (those who know will know).

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Alia and I featured in Women’s Weekly as couples working together

6. Build Your Personal Branding Effectively Through Public Speaking
Most of my peers who are successful quickly in their 20s are those who excel at personal branding. In my opinion, the most effective form of building personal branding is public speaking. In a society where many are too shy to speak up, it is common, as a first impression, for one’s charisma to be quickly interpreted as a sign of competence. People who ask questions at forums, volunteer for speaking engagements (e.g. becoming MC or moderators) or speak for a cause are those who are best noticed by their peers and the public as outstanding individuals. This then leads to career opportunities.

Many Malaysians I meet don’t consider themselves as natural public speakers, regardless of language. If you’re one, my advice is to work on this skill – practice in front of a mirror, talk to yourself and be comfortable with your voice.

As a note, while public speaking is a powerful form of personal branding useful to the working world, there are other forms I have observed that could be effectively used – like passionately speaking about a cause on your social media accounts – blogs, FB, Twitter, Instagram.

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My day job: Presenting to Chief Secretary to the Government of Malaysia and other VIPs

7. Plan and Review Your Achievement
Time has an unforgiving aspect where if you don’t keep track of it, it will just pass you by and before long, 10 years would have passed. Although I don’t take new year’s resolution so strictly (like my resolution to lose weight is from 2015 and keeps getting carried forward), at the start of the year I would have a mental conversation with myself asking “what would I want to achieve this year?” and come December, “what’s my biggest achievement this year?”. I believe as you look back at your life, you should be able pick an age and recall your biggest achievement of that age – like, what’s your biggest achievement on the year you turned 25?

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Double A Cafe won Best F&B Set at the 2016 Boss Awards

How Property Developers Cheat You

To most, buying a house may be the most expensive purchase you make in your life.

And it is in purchasing a property that many would find out that they have been cheated.

In Malaysia, in purchasing your property, at most times you are only provided two reference documents to base your decision which will cost hundreds of thousand or even millions. These two documents are: (1) floor plan and (2) artist illustrations. The next time you visit a property booth in a mall or go to a property expo, see what they give you, it’s just these two documents.

What most don’t realize is that these items are not binding and that is how and why many get disappointed. When homeowners, after waiting 3 years for their new condo or house, get a poor product and gets upset, the property developer would tell you it’s not binding.

You are upset that your lobby is not equipped with quality furniture per the artist illustration. Developer will tell you artist illustration is not binding.

You are upset that the condo changed name from a expat-friendly English name to a Malay one. Developer will tell you the local authority now requires a name in Malay. Developer will tell you that in your SPA, there is a catch-all clause that says developer is empowered to do anything to deliver the product (and tell you this is industry standard). The developer will not care that a different name in Malay may make the property to be perceived differently in value.

You are upset that the overall quality of the condo is poor – surfaces are not coated with sufficient paint and/or common area not completed. You suspect the developer is rushing the handover to not get hit by LAD (the fine paid to end buyer for not finishing project in time) and tell you – “if you have a problem, raise it with the architect, they gave us the CCC, to us that means it’s good to go”. Better yet, they spin the story by further lying, attempting to confuse customers by saying they have 2 year defect rectification period. Think about it, it’s in the name, defect rectification is to rectify defect, not to give you an incomplete product to begin with.

In truth, the most expensive purchase you’ll ever make is subject to the good will and integrity of the developer.

You may be inclined to tell yourself, let’s buy from a reputable developer, a listed property developer, a developer whose management are in REHDA but these are not sufficient assurances. I have heard to listed companies whose CEOs are in REHDA and their product is appalling. The association is represented by industry players and if the players have established so well the means to cheat the game, how do we protect the buyers?

This is a problem that appears at every price range – from moderately priced homes to luxury ones. When deep pocketed owners of luxury units are short changed, they have the resources to pursue the issue legally but you will be surprised to know that upon consultation with a lawyer, they would be told that almost no action can be taken on the developer. The level of collusion between developer and architect and other players is strong.

What I would like to see is the property development industry in Malaysia to grow to be more consumer friendly. Consumers are making the biggest purchase of their life – it’s only fair that the authorities set expectations higher for property developer. Perhaps periodic updates of the unit progress should be made mandatory (not just the bank telling you the loan has been disbursed). Perhaps a better mechanism for end buyers to contest a cheating developer should be in place.

As of now, the best advice I can give is perhaps for you to buy from a GLC developer (with the government equity in majority). From my experience, GLC developers are more inclined to eat into their profits and spend more to deliver a good product.

Here’s wishing to a more mature property development industry.

What makes a good Malaysian CEO

I had a chat recently with my colleagues at Young Corporate Malaysians and we spoke about ‘what makes a great CEO?’ and ‘what makes a great CEO in Malaysia?’

I noticed immediately that one’s view and expectation of a CEO varies on what stage you are in your career (this observation shows that a good CEO needs to be many things – a different person to different staff groups. The common adjectives were mentioned: visionary, teamplayer, driver, empathic, timely decision maker, able to decide when to be what kind of person. 

I have worked for nine years and I’ve spent my nine years in three distinctly different types of organisation. I have worked in a global management consultancy, an entrepreneur set up headed by a Malaysian billionaire and also a Ministry of Finance owned government linked company. My understanding of what makes a great CEO comes from my experience in these companies.

To me, one attribute not mentioned often enough when talking about the context of Malaysian leadership is this – that to be a good CEO you need to be an effective lobbyist. An effective lobbyist is defined by having a good degree of influence on private sector leaders and a real access to political leadership (I say ‘real’ because many GLC CEOs can say that in their company structure leading civil servants or ministers are board members but in actual fact, he/she doesn’t have the relationship to pick up their phone to call the person to push ideas). Malaysia is a country where the balance tilts in the favour of who-you-know over what-you-know. CEOs of multinationals in Malaysia and private Malaysian companies alike need to be effective lobbyists to be able to cut through red tapes and participate in lucrative government opportunities. CEOs of GLCs need to be effective lobbyists to drive ‘transformation’ (the popular word now) and drive results. 

Too often I see GLCs hire smart individuals – those with the right work experience and academic grounding but with very little influence. CEOs such as these are able to craft, or sit with consultants to craft frameworks, ideas and envision a transformational change but after paying millions of dollars to consultants to craft these, the CEO is not able to access political leaders to present these great ideas and influence it to execution or not having access to other private ‘big boys’ to finance it. 

If a CEO does not have this influence, he or she is no better than a manager. I often stress to young corporates that I meet, value your professional relationship and that you will never know who can be of help to you. The cost of keeping in touch is low – it comes in the form of sending a text or card during major holidays (Raya, Chinese New Year, New Year). This simple gesture goes a long way and may benefit your career in the long run. 

Transforming Community Center

TRANSFORMING PUSAT KOMUNITI / COMMUNITY CENTER
1) A few weeks ago, I first visited my friend’s new cafe in Singapore called Brothers In Fine Food. It is located in Tampines West Community Club (CC). It was then that I was first exposed to how the Singaporean government is rejuvenating their CC to be a center of activity for locals.

2) In the Malaysian context, the CC is equivalent to our community center / pusat komuniti. It is run by the local councils, e.g. DBKL. Some examples include Pusat Komuniti TTDI, Pusat Komuniti Bangsar.

3) Singapore realised a few years ago that while the CC was created to be a center of community activity, it achieved little as it was only a place for people to play badminton and basketball. This is the same case with Malaysian Pusat Komuniti today, with the addition that we host weddings at our CC.

4) To Singapore, CC is to be a center of community activity where the community is often HDB dwellers (affordable housing) and affordable living is important.

5) Singapore rejuvenation strategy was to bring in known F&B brands (McDonalds and Starbucks) to attract the masses to come to the CC. The CCs were then equipped with more activities, such as dance studios and free-to-play piano and have daily showings of movies and live sports. Outlet spaces were made available for other F&B to set up.

6) The CC enforces a very strict rule where all outlets that open in the CC will have a price cap per item – it needs to be affordable for the community!

7) Rent for outlets are cheaper than other commercial areas, encouraging entrepreneurship.

8) The result of it is today, many CCs are bustling centres of community activity.

9) I believe this CC transformation is a worthwhile initiative in Malaysia given that infrastructure is done – many neighbourhood already have Pusat Komuniti.

10) With coordination, I can imagine a similar concept done, e.g. In Johor, Pusat Komuniti to have KFC as main tenant to attract crowd (it is JCorp owned anyway), with additional spaces for classes and F&B outlets – all with a price cap.

 

“Do not become the person you dislike”

On Saturday 5th December, I attended the inaugural Lean In Malaysia Summit. For many years I have been part of Young Corporate Malaysians (YCM) where we too organised summits. With that in mind, I know the challenge of organising a summit of big speakers and I must say, I was very impressed with Lean In. From the format of the opening sessions (no seats, TED style), I was impressed with the combination of the speakers’ charisma, the format and the quality of the participants where the energy of the summit was well retained throughout the day.

The speakers were great and speaking on the topic of women empowerment, all raised very valid points which made great points for reflection, especially for men.

One of the points that I felt worth discussing was a point raised by Raja Teh Maimunah, which was “Do not become the person you dislike.”

This point may sound like common sense but unfortunately, it is not uncommon for people to succumb to this trap given the environment.

I recall speaking to my colleagues who handle clients from private companies and authority bodies on unreasonable demands. Stories that came out include how a breakfast meeting arrange for 2 people had the client inviting his whole department forcing my colleague to pay for them, another was how when my colleague visited the client, the client announced to the department “Ok kontraktor dah sampai, bolehlah dia top-up Touch N Go kita” (“Ok the contractor is here, now he can top up our Touch N Go cards for us”). A more common one was how clients who are invited to workshop (read: going to the workshop is part of their work), can demand business class travels and 5-star hotel rooms as ransom to not going.

One thing that fascinates me is how people think and how people, over a course of time, can change in their thinking and behaviour. Naturally, I asked my colleague, what triggers such an extortionist mindset? My colleagues unanimously agree on this point: it’s what their bosses do and it becomes validation for them.

I believe fresh graduates new to the workforce are impressionable and the younger generation have a default strong sense of justice and what is right and what is wrong. However, when one enters an organisation and remains for a long time, the values of the company (both positive and negative), what is perceived to be acceptable, overwrites one’s own values. Here, the fresh graduates and younger staff see the act of bullying contractors for personal gain as a perk of a senior position. Even if they may think this to be a dirty thing to do when they were younger, when promoted to positions that be, they tell themselves “my bosses did it and everybody is doing it anyway, when am I going to reap this benefit?”

While the above is about professional conduct, another point worth mentioning is on religious observation. A colleague told me how in his early days of working in a non-Muslim majority company, because he feared justifying long lunch for fear of being thought lazy and incompetent, he simply did not go to Friday prayers, which in hindsight, he regretted.

I personally believe that the workforce should not force you to change your beliefs. There are many underhanded values in the professional world today and if the young professionals turn out to be just like the past generation, what hope is there for all of us? If you look at your bosses and you cannot see yourself becoming like them in their professional conduct, you know it’s not the right place to grow and it’s about time you think of leaving.

 

 

 

6 things I have learnt after 6 months as an F&B entrepreneur

Twelve months ago I was working a corporate job, working in the CEO’s office of a large organization based in Johor Bahru. It was then that I decided to venture into F&B by opening my first café, Double A Café. When the café opened six months ago, it was timely and opportune for me to leave my corporate job and I did so.

I was formerly a management consultant who later transitioned into the oil & gas / real estate industry managing from the CEO’s office. I believe in hard work, proactivity and high performance. At the same time, I believe in humility, empathy and doing the right things the right way. Given what I believe, as a food entrepreneur for 6 months, I have learnt much – about the industry, about the social situation in Malaysia, about jealousy, about friends and most importantly, about myself. The following are the six I want to share.

  1. The F&B business are filled with people generous with advice

When I started my business, I approached it like how I approach my work in the corporate world. All aspects of the job needs to be identified so we may manage risk. I started my business not knowing many things –  I didn’t know how contracting work works, I didn’t know different types of wood, I didn’t know what a greasetrap was and hey, I didn’t know how to cook. I had friends who have friends in F&B and I was pleasantly surprised how the café fraternity in KL and JB are generous with their advice. (To those who want F&B advice, you can come see me at Double A :D)

 

  1. Don’t let business affect friendships

In starting a business, it is tempting to take comfort in the fact that you have friends here and there who you may rely on. Friends who may be your customers and friends who may be your suppliers. One of the things I have known about money, even before I started this venture, is that money can destroy friendship, maybe even change that friendship into unnecessary feeling of hate and anger. You may learn that your friend who becomes your customer is a consistently fussy and complaining customer. You may learn that your friend who is your supplier may choose not to supply to you anymore because it is not convenient for him. When you are in business and you are stress about managing costs and maximizing profits, things like this may make you feel bitter about your friendship. Take a step back and I tell you this: your friendship matters more than such squabbles, just because they are your friends does not mean they need to support your business. It is not their job to make your rich.

 

  1. The reality of F&B – our national leaders need to do better with cost of living

As a former corporate person who was interested in current affairs, discussion on how the economy is poor, how income levels are poor and how the poor is poor is common. All this is done amongst groups of people who are paid well above urban poverty level and these concepts we discuss about, have no face – we actually know no individuals who fit this bill. We talk about ‘urban poor’ but we actually know no one who is an urban poor who we interact with intimately on a daily basis. Being an employer in the F&B world, I was taken aback by F&B industry standards on pay, how low the salaries are and what they are to poverty levels. As my staff explains to me the realities of their lives, the hardship they have to accept to be their life, part of me is angry and disappointed with our national leaders for not managing cost of living better.

 

Examples would be recent policies – GST, toll revision, public transport price hike. All done while income levels stay stagnant. The salary they earn is worth less as they can buy less things and what it means is the poor gets poorer.

 

  1. People: Hire everybody on probation and put everybody on contract

People are not your best assets. People in the right positions are. Even though budget is tight and timing is crucial, putting together a team that is aligned towards your vision is and should be your priority. When I interview people, I always set my expectations upfront. I tell them that I want them to be happy at work, passionate about F&B, show initiative and proactive. Truth is, just because you clarify expectations upfront and just because they say “yes sir, I can be all that”, it doesn’t mean they will be. Also, never ever give people a higher starting salary thinking that they will be more motivated to work – it doesn’t last and eventually they will just be costly. People who are a right fit will ease your stress and those who are not, will drain the team’s motivation and affect your establishment’s ambience and for a shop that depends on customer service, that is crippling. Firing of course, is a difficult process – mentally for both you and your staff. My advice is, start everybody on probation (long, like 3 months) and hire staff on contract.

 

  1. Starting a business requires great optimism

I started this business using money that I saved and there wasn’t much float or working capital left when the business is launched. I was fortunate as the business was launched to a great success. Traffic was good and we received great attention from the Instagram community and mainstream media. However, over 6 months, it wasn’t all that rosy. Some days are slow to a point where you wonder if your competitors are stealing your customer and some days are so slow you wonder if your projections to break even is realistic. I learnt that you need to teach yourself to be optimistic (if you already are, be more optimistic) and you should always remind yourself of the enthuasism you had when you decided to start this project of passion.

 

  1. If this business venture is meant to be a side project, get a manager on Day 1

Before I started my venture, I read an article about succeeding in F&B start-ups. One of which is the need to have a few co-founders. Having a few co-founders means you can be assured that motivation among manpower is always high and depending on how each are empowered, decisions can be done fast. I started my venture knowing this and knowing that I do not have the luxury of having multiple co-founders. Its just my wife and I. We also started this venture knowing that we would eventually go back to full time corporate work.

 

As people with no experience in F&B, we figured processes ourselves (e.g. how cash box, floats and accounting works) and we manage all ad-hoc emergencies ourselves, from not having enough milk to suppliers not delivering on time. I took 5 months off work and my wife took 1 month off work to get this venture started. It is stressful. There’s a lot to figure out and some things you would only know work after rolling it out and making mistakes. My advise would be to hire a manager with experience running an F&B outlet from Day 1. While this may sound like a costly option, I sincerely believe this option works best. It works with the seniority complex among staff (i.e. I’ve been here longer, I know more), it works at freeing up your time and it works at enabling you use your time strategically – instead of calling up the milk man, you can call your leads on a potential collaboration.

 

Ultimately, I have learnt a lot over these 6 months and these are only some that I feel worth sharing. Like many things that involves your passion, my last advice is simple. If you are already thinking it, do your feasibility study and if it works out ok in your head, go ahead and do it.

 

Rethinking Drama Melayu

I had a great first day Raya, with lots of:

Family. Fun. Food.

Great conversations were all round, and the most notable was that on drama Melayu . My cousin-in-laws and I were discussing about drama Melayu: who we thought were the pretty actresses (don’t worry, my wife was in the discussion so she approves), who are the handsome actors (my wife’s answer is an actor who is not that handsome pun), silly lines and crazy plots.

From the line “Abang dah balik?” when the husband has just arrived to “Abang dah makan?” when the husband is eating, we were poking fun at the silliness of it all. Then one by one all these silliness were slowly validated – how between us we know people who ask their husband/in-laws “Abang dah balik?” to how we know of people who are in business who arrange marriage their daughters as a business deal to merge companies or worse, bosses and colleagues who are engaged in extramarital affairs.

To me, drama series are so addictive because they are believable to different segments of the community – they are hence a window to seeing societal problems. Drama series are also powerful medium to convey intrinsic messages – people who watch drama series often believe the societal scenario shown and reinforce and revalidate their beliefs. If this is true, I believe instead of showing plots such as poor families being cheated by rich families, this Datuk gaduh with that Datuk and daughters being married off, I believe positive messaging should be enforced.

Plot messaging for drama melayu should me more strategic, to showcase a certain government policy or to reinforce certain positive behaviour amongst the Malay communities (the key demographic of drama Melayu). My ideas, as an example of showcasing policy, would be if the government is trying to encourage human capital migration to Iskandar Region, they should have a drama series showcasing the Iskandar lifestyle (imagine settings where the rich live at Puteri Harbour, working in Singapore or owning businesses in JB). As for reinforcement of positive behaviour, have TV series that showcase the virtues of hard work, honesty, integrity. A drama setting revolving around sports is best, or please, have a better police TV series than Gerak Khas. (On that note, remember Jaguh Jaguh in the 90s?) As an additional note, comic readers would recall how Japanese comic books are excellent at using media to reinforce youth mindset.

What do you think? Is this a better proposition than the story of how rich people squander and cheat poor people only to have the poor person’s fortune changing suddenly to exact revenge? If you make being rich so undesirable (because of course, all rich people are bad), what’s the incentive to work hard to have more money?