Saturday, May 24, 2008

Back in Malaysia

Back in Malaysia for the World Congress for IT 2008 in KLCC Convention Centre. I must admit that i do feel a bit foreign in my own country. Partly because I have never lived in Kuala Lumpur before and had been out of the country for the 11th year and counting.

However, I have been keeping up with the progress of the nation and its politics. I find that this song is very apt in the fragility of our government's state at this moment. Sung by Malaysian artistes for Unity.

And yes, it does tug me on my patriotic side.

Enjoy it Malaysians !

Saturday, April 12, 2008

A Chance Encounter With Olivia Lum of Hyflux

Yes, I have had the most fortunate chance encounter with Olivia Lum, the lady who built, grew and brought Hyflux to the world map. I remembered vividly it was around the year of 2004 or o5 when I met her while I was working as a Production Engineer (Supervisor) with Schering-Plough Ltd.

Olivia, was invited to by Nanyang Technological University (NTU) , my alumni for a talk on entrepreneurship to a bunch of engineering alumnus on the topic of technopreneurship. "Technopreneurship" is a word coined by the Singapore government to entice more engineers, technical graduates to venture into entrepreneurship.

The event was held in the NTU Alumni Town Club at OCBC building, Raffles Place. Olivia came into the room with no fanfare, typical business like with a mission and just in time for some quick hand shake before taking her seat right in front. In a room full of almost men, (majority of us were engineers so you don't get that many women) , she did stick out with prominent. Best part was that was no Power Points, so you know she would be speaking off the cuff in another words right from the heart.

She began by telling us about her life story and you can't help to be fascinated by what she has gone through. I will attempt to summarize it here in bullet points and as far as my memory can recall. Olivia, if you happened to read this blog, do correct me if I am wrong.

  • Olivia was an orphaned and raised by a stranger whom she known as Grandma in a town call Kampar , Perak. (Kampar is a very small town, approximately 1 hour drive from my home town Taiping. Majority of the folks there are not that well off in Malaysian standards)
  • Being poor and to help make ends meet, she started hawking at her school canteen.
  • Olivia did extremely well in her Malaysia public exams which prompted one of her school teacher to advice her to pursue her education in Singapore. ( for any less mortal, even those with proper family support, we would have thought it would be out of reach because of the high school fee , to be paid in Singapore dollars while our parents were earning ringgit , value at half the Singapore dollars.
  • Olivia, with almost no money in her pocket, boarded the train and headed straight to Singapore. She lived with good Samaritans who were willing to give her boarding while she knock on schools who were willing to admit her into their A- Level courses. ( i remember she telling us that she approach every single one but the entrance dateline was over and she was soon running out of money, but she persisted until she found 1 who was willing to make exception) Singapore, you need to make exceptions to find gems like these!
  • Olivia self supported herself through out her 2 years Junior College , finally got admission to National University of Singapore as a Chemical Engineer.
  • Again, she self supported her education working as Insurance agent and several other jobs. (What struck me most was when she graduated, she had bought a flat, HDB and a car ! Who would have thought that was possible ? A lot of graduates today, still buy their first flat with their parents money as down payment ! Imagine she doing that back in the 80s ! )
  • Olivia then started working for GlaxoSmithKline (GSK ) a pharmaceutical company at their Water plant. (For those who were not in the industry before, in the drug making industry, clean water is paramount to the production of all drugs. It is the key ingredient in ensuring drugs produced are safe for consumption and the US Food Drug Agency, FDA is has a very stringent guideline. IT was also at this stage, the idea of HYFLUX was born !)
  • After spending 2-3 years at GSK, Olivia decided is time to venture out. She went ahead and sold not just her car but her flat as well to capitalize HydroChem - the birth of HYFLUX. ( I remembered she saying that, she gave it a long hard thought about selling both that asset to risk it in being an entrepreneur. Money , she knows will come back but would the journey be worth it? And her answer was that "If I ever want to help anyone else who is poor or unfortunate, the only was is for be me to in the capacity to help , meaning to do well in business and make the money to help") The rest was history.
  • HydroChem ( HYFLUX) was started a the Industrial Park at Tampines, by 3 partners, Olivia being 1 of them and they started off selling filters as an agent. In order to get the agency, Olivia approached the principals and told them, she will only take commission for the revenue she made. So there is no risk on their end.
  • Of the 3 partners, 2 of them eventually dropped out. And Olivia continued to press on to make Hyflux what it is today.
  • Hyflux was in China right after the Tiananmen Square incident in 1991. She went straight to Shanghai, having no network or any of the business association or government body to help her. She carved the market up from scratch.
After sharing her life story and that of Hyflux , she opened the floor for questions. I will not forget that forum as I asked a question and her reply did not answer my question specifically but it continues to provide answers to all my questions in my career as a sales, business development executive and finally an entrepreneur until today .

Will share that in my next post with you guys !

Friday, April 4, 2008

How Life Imitates Chess

"Why must I lose to this idiot" Nimzowitsch, a Chess Grandmaster

I was on my way to Shanghai on a business trip and had always make it a habit to grab a new book to read on the plane, both on my way to Shanghai and back. This time, I am looking for a book that will simulate my strategic thinking, in view of my new found role as an entrepreneur & CEO of the enterprise.

Boy, I found the book "How Life Imitates Chess" by Gary Kasparov. I used to be a Chess player who has represented my school, my zone ( you represent a zone when you have beaten other kids at the zonal level) and was competing at the District level (one level before State) as a 11 - 12 year old kid. And Gary Kasparov was the reigning World Champion at that time and I followed his battle with his all time nemesis Anatoly Karpov, fascinated at his mastery of the game and his opponent. Anatoly challenged him to the title several times but never won.

Sadly, I never pursued my talent in Chess, primarily I don't have the patience to wait for my opponent to think and spend hours agonizing on 1 single move. I was very much the aggressor like Gary, take no hostage, attacking , aggressive and taking charge player.

And after reading his book, I was pleasantly surprised by what he has said. I am still the same old kid who showed that behavior on the chess board today. Right up to now, I believe that if you take the initiative and be bold, you can achieve what others need 5 years to do in 1. Thus, I am not a person who thinks that years of experience is the most crucial element to success. If anyone is going to hire or promote anyone based on the fact that he or she has worked in that field for a certain amount of year, that is not the person whom I am going to work for.

Partly, the reason i am now venturing out is to prove to young people, people with dreams and above all myself that my principles are right and will stand the test of times.

Nevertheless, the one thing that really struck me in this book is the word quoted by Gary from Aaron Nimzowitsch , "Why Must I lose to this idiot. " In many sense, these words are bold words to say and in my upbringing we are not supposed to portray such arrogance. However, most of the time, I have that sentiment in my heart the same words when I met such people. Now I know it is not arrogance but being truthful to yourself.

Being bold, if you are truthful to yourself has a certain magic. Magic that will create in you dynamism and confidence. Confidence which will take you through the bad times , the good times and the trying times. Being bold on its own does not mean being reckless, it means telling yourself that you will do all in your might, prepare yourself to the hilt, work hours and hours to beat that idiot !

And for all stages of my life that "idiot" came in many different forms. I have always make it a personal goal to win in the best way I know how. Being bold, aggressive, taking the initiative and taking charge ! Just like the boy on the chess board !

Perhaps, my readers, you might discover yourself on the chessboard as well.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Begins with a First Step

" A Journey of A Thousand Miles, Begins with a First Step " Mao ZeDong

So say Chairman Mao and you can't agree more with him. Everything begins with the single first step which most people hesitate to take. It is almost always a step that will take them away from their comfort zone, away from familiarity, away from security.

I am happy to announce that I am finally living my dream - an entrepreneur in my own right. We have started business officially in January 08, and Thank God ! Our Orders Book /revenue is looking strong and we should be able to ROI within the very first quarter.

I once read that Fear is the only that we should fear. Overcoming that is what a country like Singapore will need to nurture an entrepreneurship environment. That alone, cannot be taught. However, I do believe it can be influenced. But that "fire" in the belly can only come from within.

Being a late Generation X - early Generation Y, I have always harbored to take my first step,however perhaps due to my Chinese origin, I have also not been overly impatient. Plan was always in the book but I have also learned the key to everything is "Preparation & Timing"

养兵千日,用在一时 - Preparation of the army takes a thousand days but deployed in a single moment.

My thousand days has been filled with preparation as a Pharmaceutical Production Supervisor whereby I have learned Operations and Leadership, a Business Manager with a SAP Partner in Singapore and a Business Development Manager in Greater China whereby I have honed Strategic sales, Business Development skills.

Now is the execution of that single moment.

In Him.