It’s Never Too Late

As you get older, life would have served you various challenges and made you taste failure, sometimes repeatedly. The mind is such that once you fail too often, you grow to tell yourself that “maybe this is not for me, maybe I can’t do this, maybe I need to aim a little lower, why are all my friends more successful than me”. You will apportion blame, saying things like “it’s because of my full time job I can’t do this, it’s because of my spouse and kids, I can’t do that”. In growing older, you can in fact, become your worst enemy.

It’s a vicious trap that many of us will fall into sometime in your life and it’s important to have the courage to prove yourself wrong. There is no achievement too late or too difficult. People have such great capacity if only they learn not to succumb to their excuses – a small change to your daily routine can achieve great results.

To say, “be positive! think positive thoughts” is easier said than done. I believe this trap can be overcome by having regular and new achievements that you can reflect upon positively.

Getting past 30, I found myself thinking I may fall into a routine of mediocrity, same thing different day.

Realising this, in September I challenged myself with three things: to pick up a traditional martial arts which I can commit long term (wanted to overcome this Gen-Y problem of unable to commit), to pick up an instrument and to get myself professionally certified. I ended up deciding on Kendo (I’ve long wanted to learn a sword based martial art), piano (I’m my teacher’s oldest student) and studying Project Management Professional (PMP – something useful for my career). All these deserves it’s on post!

To me, it’s important to pause, reflect and set new goals from time to time. And your goals, like your dreams, should scare you. Only then do you know you are doing something worth doing.

3 months in, I find myself feeling more fulfilled and more motivated as a whole. I’m looking forward to many more months of me pursuing my new interests and see how far it will bring me! If you are feeling unmotivated, my advice is, go find yourself a new challenge, perhaps something you have put off for some time.

What’s Your Skill?

“I’m not happy here. I’m keen to explore new job options. If you hear of any good opportunities, do let me know”

“Yeah sure. So what’s your skillsets and strengths and what are you looking for in general?”

“Right. So I’ve been in consulting for 5 years. My core strength would be strategic thinking and strategic communication. I guess in that sense, I’m a good fit at many places”

“So I take it you’re a…generalist?”

“Yeah.”

I’ve had a number of conversations such as the above. Executives having worked for a number of years and unable to pinpoint a skill. Being able to pinpoint a skill is important – in an increasingly competitive corporate setting, knowing your skill is a matter of personal branding and ensures continued relevance.

Inability to identify a skill is especially prevalent among management consultants who work across many industries who are thus unable to develop a strong competency in an industry or a function. I have also met people in industries who fall into the same trap, and oftentimes these are people who spend too long in roles dubbed “strategic planning” and “business development” (these roles are important functions of a company but if you are a new graduate in these departments, you often can’t absorb much due to lack of perspective).

I was a management consultant at a global consulting firm for 4 years before I transitioned into an industry. I observed that it is not uncommon for your peers and your management to quickly form a label of you, based on your competence. The guy who has worked in a bank for some time has a “Finance” label, the guy who has worked at site for some time has an “Operations” label, the marketing guy, “Marketing”. To senior management, your label becomes the basis to what you are being consulted. The unfortunate truth is, management consultants who transition into an industry often have “???” as a label. People may acknowledge that your paper qualification makes you one of the smartest people around but they don’t necessarily know what you are good for.

To clarify, in no way am I discounting skillsets such as strategic thinking and strategic communication. These are important aspects of problem solving and while it is true these may be your strength as a management consultant/strategic planner, oftentimes people in the industry would not want to accept that they have weak problem solving skills and it is more probable for your ideas to be discounted on the basis of industry inexperience.

I firmly believe that everyone should have a skill they can strongly associate themselves with professionally. Ask yourself this question, “professionally, what do my friends know me for?” and hopefully your answer includes a hard skill, may it be finance, urban planning or construction. Another way to do this is if you were to write your short profile on LinkedIn, what would you write about – what are your skills and what are you passionate about professionally?

If you find yourself unable to identify a skill, my advise is to identify an area of growth you would like to pursue and grow into it. Invest time and deep dive into the content. If there is a certification in the field, get certified (e.g. PMP, CFA). And in this age of social media, promote your professional personal branding – speak about the topic on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram and let people know what you are professionally passionate about.

Stretch yourself and whatever your passion may be, be known as an authority in it and hopefully, more professional opportunities will present itself to you.

Special Officers – What’s So Special?

I recall a time when becoming a Special Officer (SO) was the coveted job of graduates. In student body circles such as UKEC, among others, becoming a SO to a Minister or a CEO of a big company became the aspiration of its Chairman. Student leaders in Malaysia are no different.

Becoming a Special Officer is sexy – it’s a validation that a person of power acknowledges your ability over your peers, that you are smarter, more proactive, more driven. It entails an unprecedented learning access to seasoned influential individuals and as you stand at the fringes of power, you wield for yourself a degree of influence. And with influence comes power and respect.

I myself was a Special Officer for 3 years and as I reflect on my career, these are five (5) things I observed about the Special Officer job and how it has affected my career:


1. All Special Officers Differ In Job Scopes (and Usefulness)

The title may be general but from my experience meeting other SO, all are different. Not just in who they report to (e.g. a Minister or a Corporate Person) but in what the job scope entails. If a spectrum could be drawn of their job scopes, at one end would be those who are only additional hands and feet to their bosses and at the other end, owners of unassigned portfolio. So you’ll meet some SOs who do special projects that others in the organization can’t or won’t do and you’ll meet some SOs who just simply carry bags.

2. Power is Intoxicating and Damages Your Humility

SOs are often bestowed by others the respect deserving of their boss (people treat you as if you are the Minister or CEO themselves) and over time, you will fall into the trap of telling yourself that this respect is earned, that you deserve it. People who retire from positions of power often remark how the loss of people respecting you is one of the hardest thing to adjust to. SOs who leave their job without going to something bigger or have not created a reputation beyond their job may find themselves stuck with an ego of not wanting to report to a less powerful person and simply thinking I’m too good for this.

3. It’s a Ceiling Job

For most SOs, it’s a ceiling job. Some SOs are fortunate when their organisation structures their career path that becoming SO automatically becomes a stepping stone (e.g. fast track promotion). For most however, SOs are left to figure out what to do next. The ones who are strategic are able to maximise their influence and find something better as a next step, like a Ministrial SO who gets a political position and makes a career as a politician.

SOs need to be smart to be able to have sufficient influence over their boss to be able to frankly speak to them about what’s next for them. E.g. After 2 years of working 24/7, make me a HOD or CEO somewhere. The worse ones are those who make a career being a Special Officer, deliver little and can’t transition.


4. Limited Hard Skill Growth

Yes, Malaysia is a country where who you know matters more than what you know. And the job of an SO means you get to meet people of power and influence on a daily basis. I personally believe the most effective executives (political or corporate) in Malaysia are ones who have a strong network, good access to influencers and at the same time, grounded in content and ideas. As SOs mostly coordinate, they almost never go to the level of detail that enables them to develop a hard skill. If you simply know powerful people, can open doors and coordinate between working level and your boss – what skill do you sell on your CV and what are you employable as?

The more proactive SOs are the ones who are aware of this dilemma and request for a portfolio to own and deliver, who possibly takes courses and professional qualifications (PMP, CFA) to strengthen one’s skill and are perhaps smart enough to use his influence and work on an opportunity himself, may it be for private growth and gain or for social purposes. Because at the end of the day, unless you transition to become an entrepreneur, CEO or HOD somewhere, you almost always need a hard skill to bank on.

5. Understanding How the Country (and World) Works

One of the biggest personal takeaway from my SO role is understanding how the country works – how business and politics, power and influence intertwine. Some aspects of this is disappointing to realise, like why the best ideas don’t win, but the maturity gained in understanding how things work means you know how things could and should be done. Prior to becoming a SO, I was a management consultant for 4 years, fresh out of university.

As a professional, we were good at what we do: understanding global mega trends and having efficient work ethics. But more often than not, my then colleagues and I care little about how governments work, understanding why business we consider cronies are the one’s leading the change and understanding what it takes to make a difference. We were just too engrossed making Powerpoint decks.

In general, I advise fresh graduates not to take up offers to be Special Officers. Despite the glamour and power associated with the job, joining as a fresh grad is an easy way for you to be delegated to do menial transactional work as your boss (and even you) would not know your strengths and weaknesses. One should always, where able, start with a job that provides rigour in a hard skill, work at a place that provides training and feedback. Should you be considering the offer to be an SO or if you are already one, you should think of the transferable skills that you would want to develop so you may have a clearer future after your stint.

 

A New Adventure – Fluff Bakery KL

Yesterday we opened the doors of Fluff Bakery KL for the first time to customers as part of our trial run. Alhamdullilah it was met with great response. It’s humbling to see how much support we get from our friends, family and the public in bringing this cupcake shop to life, bringing them from Jln Pisang in Singapore to Jln Tun Mohd Fuad 2 in TTDI, KL!


Fluff Bakery KL is led by 5 entrepreneurs – Syaira & Ashraf (Mrs & Mr Fluff respectively), Nina, Alia and myself.

I wrote before how in the many things I learnt being an F&B entrepreneur, one of it is that you should have multiple partners to manage the workload. This venture is a validation of that – 5 entrepreneurs with varying business experience with complementing knowledge of business and networks working together.



I long believe that you should be conscious of learning something new everyday. That is how you know you’ve made the most of your day. Any entrepreneur who have had a physical shop will tell you they will have wish lists for their next shop – most likely lessons learnt from kinks from the first shop! Fluff KL is it for me – a second shop where I am able to make sure things work better, aesthetically and most importantly operationally.



I once told Alia that as a fellow Taman Tun boy, I would love to have my next shop in TTDI and it’s with great satisfaction that I am able to open Fluff in TTDI!

It’s been a great journey getting the shop from bare to what it is today. Thank you for the support, from the pop ups to our first shop sale and we are excited to be able to fully open to the public! See you then and do say Hi when you come 🙂

YCM CEO Series 67: Tan Sri Abdul Wahid Omar

For YCM’s 67th CEO Series, we had the privilege of hosting Tan Sri Abdul Wahid Omar, Chairman of PNB. 


I’ve hosted YCM many times enough to realise that different people resonate to different styles of leadership. I have learnt that the leadership style I admire is one steep in humility, decisiveness and a person of good moral character, evident in what one speaks about and how one reacts to things. To me, Tan Sri Wahid ticks many of these boxes and he is easily one of the corporate figures I admire. 

In his talk, Tan Sri spoke of his family background and shared his ambition and journey. He spoke about how he thinks the accounting profession is one of the more versatile professions in the corporate world and of his early ambition, to be a CFO in a listed company. He fulfilled this ambition at age 37. 



Tan Sri shared his lessons learnt in personal leadership, corporate leadership and management. These principles I believe, make for great personal reflection regardless of where you are in your career, a young executive, middle manager or even a CEO:



Tan Sri’s advice on personal leadership is something all of us can reflect on and I echo his points on need to be articulate, need for leaders to go to the ground (“gone are the days CEO can just tell people what to do”), that you don’t need to be loud to be heard and that you should focus on doing a good job on your tasks and not worry about your next career move – your reputation will precede you. Tan Sri’s lessons learnt on management principles are valuable reflections for both senior management and entrepreneurs/businessmen alike. 

As part of his presentation, Tan Sri reminded us of the importance of the Rukun Negara and he emphasized the last point of the Rukun, which is Kesopanan dan Kesusilaan, that we as Malaysians should remember we live a multiracial multireligious community and Good Behaviour and Morality is required of us. 


In his final words, Tan Sri imparted advice to the crowd in the form of six points. Of note, Tan Sri spoke of embracing the attribute of Integrity, Competency and Humility. Lastly, he spoke of the importance of gratitude and you should be grateful, especially to your parents.


It was an inspiring evening session with Tan Sri and I’m looking forward to see how he transforms PNB.

6 things I learned after 2 years as an F&B entrepreneur

I became an F&B entrepreneur slightly over 2 years ago, when my wife and I decided to open Double A Cafe.


As an introduction, my experience in F&B are with cafes – dealing with coffee, cakes and hot kitchen. Cafes are increasingly becoming popular here in KL, you hear a new one opening almost every month. Owning a cafe is exhilarating and it’s like street-cred, it’s the new cool. What people don’t tell you is that, if you are small business with limited cash and you plan to be hands on, owning a cafe involves being exhausted a lot (imagine being on your feet for 10 hours a day for 6 days a week). It is your passion that will drive and sustain you. What people don’t tell you is that while new cafes open every month, cafes close down every month too. If you plan to open a cafe because you want to create a hang-out spot for your guys or you want to look cool and not because you have a genuine love for coffee or cooking, my advise is: Don’t Open A Cafe.

Here it is, six things I learnt:

1. Buy things second hand. Some things you can upgrade.

For a small business where cash is limited, you need to be aware that cafe business requires somewhat large capital (a good estimate of a set up cost of a cafe in a shop-lot would be ~RM250,000). Because many cafes close down on a monthly basis, always be on the look for good bargains for equipment. Coffee and kitchen equipment have a lifespan of 5-10 years and many cafes don’t get far past their 1 year mark before closing down hence equipment should be in good condition. Often, when cafes close down, you can get bargains of up to 50%.

In Malaysia, you can find bargains in Mudah.my (search for Coffee Machine) or on the Facebook groups Barista Club Asia or Malaysian Chef Connection for notice of cafe closure.

2. Don’t rent a place thinking it will boom. It is better to rent in a mature area with proven traffic. 

Rent will make up a significant portion of your monthly fixed cost. It is tempting to tell yourself to rent at a relatively new area as it has a slightly lower rent and telling yourself it will be a matter of time before this place will boom (the common lies you will tell yourself include thinking occupancy of condos above are picking up, your shop is near LRT/MRT etc). My advice is to not fall into this trap – yes perhaps the place will boom but you won’t know if it takes 6 months or 6 years and you won’t last that long. It is better to pay RM10k rent for a mature area with strong purchasing power for your products than going to A new development and paying RM7k. The absence of traffic will kill you.

3. Don’t rely on traffic as a revenue. Supply. 

Relying solely on foot traffic is one major reasons why many cafes fail. Traffic is unpredictable and the cafe game is a volume game – if any given day you have no traffic, you make no revenue and you are still paying for staff with low productivity. Whatever it is you choose to be known for, may it be coffee, cakes or food, create a new revenue stream by supplying – you can get a head start marketing this by having a good social media account. Getting your staff out to deliver to nearby offices makes more money than them just sitting in the shop.

4. Work on your marketing early. Build social media influence.

Unless your cafe is situated in a heavy traffic area, it is a good idea for you to work on your social media presence early – even before you construct your shop. Malaysians are heavy users of Facebook and Instagram and these platforms play a big role in influencing customers / foodies to come to your shop. If it’s possible to get some, endorsements by instafamous folks will carry a long way.

5. Sometimes, putting yourself in your staff’ shoes is not a good idea. Someone needs to clean the grease trap.

F&B is a physically demanding job – it involves a lot of standing, discipline to come in on time and doing the kind of cleaning that you usually don’t do at home (like cleaning the coveted grease trap). One trap I see many owners fall into is letting things slide with their staff – the ‘kesian’ mindset. You may think you are practising empathy when you tell yourself, wow they work this much and get paid so little, let’s not be so hard on them – empathy has a time and place and this is not one of it. Your business is not a charity, it needs to make money and people must do what you expect of them for your business to thrive. Yes you will have rebellious staff who do not want to do what they are told – my advice is one bad apple spoils the vibe for everyone. In a small business where many legal aspects are not well understood by staff, it is a good idea to explain to your young staff the grounds for you to terminate them and do not be afraid to issue warning letters and firing them.

On that note, F&B is the kind of business where you should trust in your hiring instinct and give trust to your staff first, until they break it. Else you will be checking the cctv every 10 minutes. People have the capacity to perform and impress you given the right conditions.


6. Have multiple partners. Having 50% in a successful business is better than 100% of a failing business.

As much as you are passionate for your cafe business, you still want to have a life outside it. Putting “everything you got” for something like a cafe, where returns are not guaranteed, is not a good idea – both in regards to time and money. It is much better if you can find partners and friends to do this with you. If you have 5 partners, what this means is you spend 1/5th of the expenditure and if you negotiate right with your partners, you work 2 days a week and not 6 or 7 days a week full shift. It is better to have a small share of a successful business (and retaining your sanity) as opposed to full ownership of a failing business. If you are telling yourself on the get-go “I have a good idea for a cafe and I don’t want to share the profits of this brilliant idea”, tell yourself it’s all a big IF.

As a final word, if you are set on having a cafe, it already means you are an entrepreneur which means you are driven. The key thing is to be prudent and execute.

8 Cafes to visit in Bangkok

The Bangkok cafe scene is thriving and if cafe hopping is on your to-do list while visiting the beautiful city, here are my recommendations:

Firstly, some general tips. A lot of the cafes are in the Phrom Pong, Thong Lor and Ekkamai area and the area is well serviced by the BTS. Traffic can greatly consume your time when moving around Bangkok by car hence I recommend familiarising yourself with BTS and staying at a hotel near one.

Because we can only eat so much in a day, I recommend exploring by districts as it’s much easier. My district hop recommendations:

Phrom Pong – EmQuartier is connected to Phrom Pong BTS. The high end mall is home to Roast, D’Ark and Vanilla Cafeteria.

Thong Lor – Audrey Cafe, After You and The Commons

Ekkamai – Phil Coffee Company, Ink & Lion, Kaizen Coffee Company

As a note to coffee drinkers, Thailand grow their own specialty coffee beans and many cafes try to showcase these local specialty grade beans. If you are looking for new coffee experiences, do ask the servers what’s being served (either espresso or filter) and look out for Thai beans.


1. Roast (nearest BTS: Phrom Pong & Ekkamai)

Roast is a must go when you are in Bangkok. They currently have 2 outlets, one in EmQuartier and another in the uber-hip The Commons. The EmQuartier branch is easily acccessible by BTS as the mall is connected to the BTS. The Commons is about 15 mins walk from Thong Lor BTS and Roast is on the top floor. While the menu is the same and while EmQuartier is more accessible, The Commons is where the cool and the hip hang out, which should be on your list.

I tried both the brunch and dinner menu and both are great. Coffee is from Roots Coffee and filter beans include beans from Thailand.


2. D’Ark by Philip di Bella

D’Ark was listed as one of the top cafes in Bangkok in 2016 by Thailand Tatler. Located in EmQuartier on the Ground floor. I had brunch here and it’s interesting to see poached eggs done with a slightly harder yolk – it’s great nonetheless.


3. Vanilla Cafeteria (nearest BTS: Phrom Pong)

Located in EmQuartier, Vanilla Cafeteria’s range of dessert is superb and definitely made to share. My recommendation is the Chocolate Nutella Crepe – a large chocolate crepe stuffed with vanilla ice cream, cream and fruits. The crepe itself is delicious and the filling and portion is a bonus.


4. Audrey Cafe (Thong Lor)

Audrey Cafe is a Audrey Hepburn inspired cafe and my recommendation is to visit the one in Thong Lor. The decor is very Breakfast at Tiffany’s, with splashes of mint green and decor reminiscent of that era.

Audrey Cafe does both Western and Thai dishes and I always find a fusion of the two particularly interesting to try. I had Tom Yum Spaghetti at quite a number of venues while I was in Bangkok and to me, Audrey Cafe does it best.


5. After You (Thong Lor)

After You is a dessert cafe and it’s been around since 2007. There’s quite a number of outlets but my recommendation is the one in Thong Lor as it’s situated very near The Commons and Audrey Cafe. What originally made the shop famous is its Shibuya Honey Toast – fluffy thick sweet toast served with two scoops of vanilla ice cream and rich amounts of honey – I recommend that. As a dessert, the Shibuya Honey Toast has a balanced sweetness which allows you to eat one bite after another non stop. Another recommendation is the Mango Kakigori.


6. Phil Coffee Company (Ekkamai)

Phil Coffee Company is in the Ekkamai area and it’s located among houses. It’s a 10 minutes walk from the Ekkamai BTS. They roast their own beans and coffee is generally good – I had the ice cappuccino and the beans I was served had clear chocolatey nutty tasting notes. A surprisingly satisfying drink it’s their Watermelon Bubblegum Soda, after the 10 minute walk to get to the shop, this drink is a definite thirst quencher.

7. Kaizen Coffee Company (Ekkamai)

My personal favourite. Kaizen is located in Ekkamai and it’s quite a walk from the Ekkamai BTS – my recommendation is if you are just going to Kaizen, take uber.

I always assess a coffee shop or cafe by its range and quality of product, vibe and customer service and Kaizen excel in all. Floor staff are super friendly, they engage (and speak good English) and make great recommendation. I had nitro coffee there and it’s the best nitro I’ve ever had.

8. Greyhound Cafe

Greyhound is among the pioneer of the Bangkok cafes and it’s well established – you can find a Greyhound in most major malls (EmQuartier, Central World, JAvenue).