Profile - Cheong Chia Chieh
Cheong Chia Chieh is a CEO with agility and perseverance. He encapsulated all that is positive and his unwavering beliefs to stay at the top and maneuver his organizations through the business cycle’s peaks and troughs. Today’s business conditions change by the hour, he believes that a successful businessman should be visionary, self-driven and have passion, integrity and respect for others.
Born in Ipoh, he holds a Masters in Business Administration from the Southern California University, USA, since 2001. Throughout his entire schooling and university experience, he was already an entrepreneur involving in the computer and devices trading business.
Over the past 20 years, Cheong’s strong business acumen and insights, together with his ability to balance innovation and creativity has brought him one step closer to his ambition. Fuelled by a strong desire to achieve business success, Cheong stays focused and persistently pursue his aspirations with a clear conscience. It was an endeavor that landed him on becoming an entrepreneur across the Malaysia and China region.
Cheong’s foray into the business world began in year 1994 as he founded a computer software company, named CY Computer software (M) Sdn Bhd. He then obtained recognition from the local Government for his outstanding entrepreneurship and vibrant business model. In year 1996, he was a committee member of the Malaysia Selangor State Economic Action Council where he was actively involved in promoting investments and industry development opportunities in the Selangor state. 3 years later, he was awarded “Darjah Kebesaran Setia Mahkota Selangor” (S.M.S) by the Sultan of the State of Selangor Malaysia for his contribution on the Selangor’s economy development. Besides that, he was appointed as the first and Second Executive Council Standing Committee Member of Youth Committee of the Guangzhou Federation of returned overseas Chinese.
In 2000, Cheong ‘s capabilities was recognized by the reputable Hong Leong Group, where he was offered to take up high responsibility to hold the position of Chief Executive Officer for Nanyang Online Sdn Bhd (“Nanyang Online”), new media arm of Nanyang Press Holdings Berhad (“NPHB”) which is involved in the internet and ecommerce industry. Cheong’s expertise has brought instant viability to the expansion of the organization. During his tenure with NPHB, he was appointed as Strategic Investment Consultant and the Chairman of the Group Marketing Committee as well as an Executive Committee Member of the Group Circulation Committee that oversees and manages the NPHB group’s advertising sales and distribution for its publications.
In 2004, Cheong led a management buy-out to incorporate the RedHot Media Sdn Bhd, and attributed the company’s success to RHM Axchange, a first-of-its-kind non-traditional integrated advertising brokerage model. This tremendous undertaking has bagged the award of the Asia Pacific ICT Awards in 2005 and Deloitte Technology Fast 500 Asia Pacific Company 2007 award.
Resource Holding Management Limited (“RHM”, formerly known as Redhot Media International Limited ) and its subsidiaries were formed in 2007, followed by RHM’s listing on the AIM London Stock Exchange in September 2008. Following 3 months after its listing, RHM Group completed three acquisitions including China MediaMart Information Technology Co., Ltd. (Beijing), In Motion Media Group (Shanghai) and Assucar Group Sdn Bhd (Malaysia). In 2009, RHM was awarded by the Malaysian Venture Capital Association (“MVCA”) for its IPO in 2008 amongst companies invested by Malaysian venture capitalists. In the same year, UK Growth Company Investor Ltd rated RHM as the Top 7th best performing shares in London Stock Exchange albeit challenging market outlook.
In 2009, Cheong was awarded The World Chinese Young Entrepreneurs Award by the 6th World Summit of Chinese Entrepreneurs and The Emerging Category Award of Malaysia’s Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year 2009.
In November 2010, China’s Founder Group ‘s subsidiary PUC Founder (MSC) Berhad (‘PUCF”)(KLSE: 0007) initiated merger with RedHot Asia Ltd (“RMA”), a subsidiary of RHM Group.
In 2011, while establishing the merger exercise, Cheong expanded RHM’s existing media broker business to upstream business so as to emerge as a media owner, and further integrated social media, smart phone technology and online payment into a brand new interactive social media platform which is optimized for best users’ experience.
In April 2012, RHM was awarded “The Globalization Business Development Business Awards” by Malaysian Venture Capital Association. According to Allenby Capital Limited’s AIM Asia Market quarterly Report 2012, RHM was also the Most Traded Asia Media Stock in AIM market, London Stock Exchange for 2 quarters continually. The “RHM Interactive Media” project was strongly supported by the Malaysia Science, Technology and Innovation Department through ‘Technofund’ .
In July 2012, Cheong founded RHM Capital Ltd, venturing into the capital market which offers a wide range of services including Public Listing Consultancy, Mergers and Acquisitions, Initial Public Offering, Equity Fund Raising and other corporate finance services.
In 22 April 2013, Bursa Malaysia approved PUCF’s merger exercise.
In 2013, Cheong was proudly appointed as the Tourism Ambassador of Myanmar Tourism Federation International Division. This involvement fostered better international relations between Malaysia and Myanmar.
In 20 September 2013, RHM Capital Ltd completed Macromac PLC (“Macromac’) listing (LSE: MACC) in the AIM Market. Within 4 months, Marcomac’s market capitalization increased from £10.075 Million (as at the 20/09/2013) to £ 55.4 Million (as at 08/01/2014).
On 1 Jan 2014, Cheong was appointed as PUCF Group Managing Director and the PUCF’s merger exercise was officially completed the next day. On 7 Jan 2014, PUCF held a new shares listing ceremony and it was graced by the Energy, Green Technology and Water Minister Datuk Seri Dr. Maximus Ongkili and Chinese Embassy Economic and Commercial counsellor Mr. Xuan Guo Xin.
The merger will enable both RHM and PUCF to leverage on each other’s strength and core competencies. The future of PUCF will looms brighter in as the Group continues to strengthen its existing core full system advertising services business by expanding on its three major pillars of growth which is e- Content, e-Payment and O2O social media.
It marks yet another milestone in Cheong’s business achievements and he will enthusiastically drive the new group to attain new heights with all the plans in place.
Biography - On the Road of New Economy
Chapter One: The Childhood and the Youth
I. the First Business
In 1971, NEP (New Economy Policy) was a significant policy launched by the Malaysian Government aimed for the revival of Malaysian economy for the next 20 years. I was born in 1971 in a remote small town in Ipoh, Perak, Malaysia. This was during the era which I was able to feel the impetus of our country moving towards development. From what I can recall, our family was poor and all five of us had to live in a 30 square meter room. Both of my parents were well educated amongst their peers as they were both graduates from National Taiwan University in Chemical Engineering. Despite their qualification, it was still not easy looking for well-paid jobs in Malaysia, as the Taiwanese Diplomas were not recognized in Malaysia back then. Hence it was a struggle for my parents to make both ends meet. My father was fortunate enough to have found a job in a factory processing kaolin, whereas my mother got herself an administrative job.
My father’s job requires him to work far from home so we hardly got to see him. Hence, the heavy burden of taking care of the family fell on my mother’s shoulders. She had to take care of our well-being, provide for us and took care of our daily school affairs. My mother was a very diligent woman as she would wake up every morning at 5.00 am to prepare breakfast, iron our school uniform and put a clean and neatly pressed handkerchief in each of our pockets. My mother has taught me well to do things in line accordingly and I have never failed to bring a handkerchief with me until this day.
My mother was a very wise woman; she knew that it was very important that all of us were well versed in English as she herself was put through University. She would make sure we all pronounced the letter ‘R’ perfectly. She was very strict with our school work and had made sure that we scored good grades in school. If we did not do well in school, she would be sure to give us a taste of her pinching kungfu i.e. Pinch our inner thighs or inner arms clockwise. It would hurt so much that we’ll remember the lesson well and would never repeat it again. If we were not obedient, she would make us all kneel down in front of our ancestor’s memorial tablets at home to instil remorse in us for what we’ve done. She would check on us regularly by calling us at home whilst she was at work to make sure that we were not up to any mischiefs.
We diligently obeyed our mother’s orders, we would not go out but stay at home so she could speak to us and know our whereabouts everday. This was the era before mobile phones were invented; we relied on permanent fixed lines as the main mode of communication. We were so bored at home that we would use our creativity to create games to play with each other. Once, we tried to play fireworks at home and burnt a big hole in my brother’s new clothes. Luckily, none of us got hurt. But obviously, it didn’t go unnoticed when my mother came home, so we all had our fair share of her kungfu pinch.
No doubt I was the naughtiest in the family but I didn’t get punished by my mother as often as I should have been because I did very well academically. Throughout the years while I was in the Chinese Primary School of Kampar, I was regularly elected as the Class Monitor and had maintained high grades through standard one to six. Every time I scored good grades in school, both my mother and grandfather would award me with RM50-RM100 as a token of recognition for my achievement. By the end of my schooling years in primary school, I’ve accumulated more than RM800.
My maternal grandparents were the first generation who came to Malaysia from China at a very young age. They were the first generation of our family to set foot in Malaysia. My grandfather was an outgoing old man and had made his living by running an electrical engineering business. He lived a long life of 98 years and passed away peacefully in 2006.
At the age of 9, when I was in third grade, I found out that there was a lottery game in dehydrated limes. But chances of winning were very slim. I asked myself how I could significantly improve my chances of winning. I had an idea that if I had bought a whole box of dehydrated limes, chances of winning the prize would be so much higher. So I had spent RM3 to buy a whole box of lime and managed to find out all the lotteries. I had allocated the limes and the lotteries to all my friends based on quantity and price. So everybody could enjoy the pleasure of winning a lottery prize. This was my first try in having a taste in doing business. This was my way of resource allocation and interests sharing which I have been following throughout my business (including the online Ads Exchange of Nanyang Online).
II. The Independent Life from 12
Although I had been a top student in the Chinese Primary School in Kampar, my mother insisted to send me to the Chung Ling High School which was in Penang upon my graduation, as it was deemed as the best Chinese High School at the time. The move from the small town of Kampar to the city of Pulau Pinang (Penang Island) was quite astounding to me. Before I could truly appreciate the beautiful “Eastern Pearl”, I was overwhelmed by the over populated island of Pulau Pinang. Even the schools were overwhelming. Previously while I was in my Primary School we only had a few hundred students, but all of a sudden I was in the midst of thousand students in this new High School. Everything was new to me.
It was then, I realized I had to be independent; independence was deeply imbedded in my veins. While I was able to taste the joy in freedom and happiness that came with independence, at the same time that was also the beginning of my suffering, hardship and bitterness. There were a total of 547 students in our grade but only less than 60 boarding students. I had kept in mind what my mother had told me before leaving to Penang Island. She said: “When one is at home he can rely on his parents, but when one is far from home, he should rely on his friends”. I learned to socialize and manage to make many lifelong friends, namely Yu Chor Wooi , Wong Beng Keong, Jimmy Chew, Chow Boon Tiong, Chow Boon How and others.
My mother was worried about me as I was still relatively young at that time. She would call up me up almost every day during my first year to make sure that I was doing alright, but the calls got lesser and lesser as the years went by. I assured her that I was able to fit in and adjust myself comfortably in Penang. One of the main obstacles I had to encounter while I was in Chung Ling High School was the difference in their dialect. In Kampar, the main dialect spoken was Cantonese, whereas in Penang people mainly spoke in Hokkien (Fujian). Learning the dialect had become my primary task, due to persistence and perseverance, I was able to speak fluent Fujian dialect within a year and held the post of class monitor and then I was re-elected as class monitor for the second year.
During those days at Chung Ling High School it was compulsory for all students to take part in after-school activities, which really widen my view on things and taught me the importance of co-operating with others. During the first year, I had taken part in the Red Cross Association and had learned about basic first aid as well as the importance of punctuality and discipline.
In my second year, I enrolled myself in boy scouts. The boy scouts motto was “be prepared”, with that I had the pleasure of experiencing the life of camping and campfire. It was then that I started helping friends to write love letters in return for RM10 as a fee for each letter that was written. I saved up the money from this and bought myself a cassette tape of my favourite singer to listen to. My proudest moment was when I had enrolled myself in the Students’ Auxiliary Police Force as I have always dreamt of becoming a police officer one day. I felt really proud and fortunate to be picked as one of the 36 members from 4,000 students to be in this police force.
III. My Four Part-Time Jobs
Living away from home had taught me to be independent and to mingle with others. Whilst working four part time jobs, the experience really taught me a lot about the society. My part time working experience had changed my view on life as it was very different from what I had experienced in school. My part time job experiences have made me a stronger person and strengthened my will to strive for success which laid the groundwork for me in my future endeavours. Now, when I am faced with difficulties, it serves as a reminder that I would be able to get past it as I’ve been through worst before.
I was thirteen years old when I landed my first part time job at the camera shop. Shortly after my arrival at Penang, I had spent all my savings purchasing a Canon model A1 camera which cost more than RM800. I then had to work to support my spending by working part time at a camera shop called Bobby Photo Center. It was there, where I had my first experience in communicating with all sorts of people from different backgrounds and social status. It was then where I was able to put my Mother’s teaching in English to good use, as English was mainly used to converse with customers. Despite the fact that I had ended up spending most of my earnings on buying films for my camera, but I had a lot of fun learning a whole lot about cameras and photography.
My experience in my second part time job was much tougher. When I started my senior high school year, McDonald’s fast food chain was newly opened in Penang. I had gone to apply for a part time job at McDonalds, however it was then in 1987 where the Malaysian economy was undergoing a great depression. Most graduates were unable to secure a job, as it was very competitive amongst graduates. I was fortunate enough to secure a part time job at McDonald’s. My time at McDonald’s had taught me the importance of English and effective communication. I was able to have an insight of McDonald’s complex management systems and it taught me how to understand the elements of managing a company.
The first aspect was the standardization of the food processed, such as French fries and fried chicken which must be prepared and cooked in a specific manner to make sure that the food quality is consistent and taste the same. The level of sanitation in the restaurant is of utmost importance; we have to obey the motto which is to clean as you go, in short “CAYG”. During sanitary inspections, not only the table top where food was prepared was checked thoroughly but all parts of the kitchen as well. This had me thinking how McDonald’s was able to be a successful fast food chain throughout the world whereas Chinese food was relatively famous but were not able to succeed in making a brand like McDonald’s. Was it due to the lack of standardization of quality and taste? Perhaps it is because Chinese culinary is a form of art, it’s different depending on the manner the chef prepares the food and taste of food varies from chef to chef. It seems as if the recipes of McDonald’s was so standardize that anyone outlet was able to produce the same quality of food as long as the manner of preparation was followed.
The restaurant had four divisions, which were the kitchen, counter, lobby, basin and store. All the employees were well managed and each had their own task to take on. The management had set three levels for the employees which were the bronze, silver, and gold stickers representing their performance. The gold sticker was meant for those who did well for their respective division. During my four months of employment I had managed to stay achieve gold level in their respective division. At the end of my employment I was able to save up to RM800 to buy myself a third hand scrambler motorcycle (with the motorbike plate: PAG 5278) which I was very proud of. My senior high school life was finally on wheels.
I took up my third part-time job in Kuala Lumpur when I was seventeen years old. I worked in a snooker centre in Kuala Lumpur. As I was new at the job, I had to endure great hardships as it required me to work from 6.00pm until the following day at 10.00am. It was then that I truly understood the life of being a working zombie. I had no sense of time whether it was day or night. I was able to see and observe so much of other people’s characters as some would lose their temper when they have lost their bets while playing snooker or some would just linger around and do nothing. With this job I had manage to earn about RM350 per shift and I was running 2 shifts a day. But there was hardly any left as most of my earnings were spent on food and travelling expenses. But I learnt that through these hardships I can increase my endurance to work and strive harder in life to succeed.
For my fourth part time experience I landed a job in Pizza Hut. I was prepared for the job given the past working experiences that I had. In Pizza Hut I was able to learn about the western table manners and different types of western cuisines such as Italian cuisine. More importantly, I had acquired the skills of being a sales person. I recalled that selling ice-cream at the beginning was tough as it was expensive during those days. But the employer had created an offer for every 10 ice-cream scoops the customer would get 1 scoop free. I had then begun to recommend and sell ice-creams to the customers, by the end of the week I had closed more than 50 sales. Many customers were so impressed with the offer that they would come back to our shop along with their friends. It was how the ice-cream had become the bestselling item on our menu.
My good friend Yu Chor Wooi had always stayed by my side through thick or thin through all of my hardship. We had been roommates since Chung Ling High School for four years. As we worked part time jobs together and we later set up our own business, our friendship had blossomed to being business partners as well. Yu Chor Wooi did well in life; he is successful in his business and is now a father of four children. He is a huge hamburger lover as he would gobble down three to four hamburgers at one go. This is probably due to his past experiences of working in McDonald’s with me.
Chapter Two: My University Life and Business Start-up
I. Running for the position of First President in Student Union in College
In 1991 I had enrolled into Universiti Pertanian Malaysia in Bintulu, Sarawak. One of the biggest changes in my life was having friends from different races and cultural background as there was hardly any non-Chinese in my previous schools, given that it was a Chinese school. I was truly immersing in the Malaysian society and cultural living. I was going through a different phase in my life; I was no longer the innocent and confused boy that was lost in the crowds of Chung Ling High School. After eight years of being completely independent and going through hardship, it had made me a wiser person. I’ve become a lot more confident and optimistic in life and that led me to who I am today.
I was actively participating in political and other kinds of curriculum activities, and was later elected as the President of the College Student Union. I was the first Chinese being elected as the College President in the University. During my position as the President, I had learnt that being tolerant and having great communication skills was fundamental qualities required to lead and create harmony amongst the community in college. Despite, being a multi-racial country we lived harmoniously as we learn to respect each other’s culture. This made me realize that I had interest in politics and longed for a career in politics when I grew older. In 1992, I had enrolled at University Pertanian Malaysia at Serdang Campus. My chosen degree was Bachelor in Computer Science.
There were two leadership parties in campus, one being the Green Alliance and the other the Blue Alliance. The leadership was held by the Angkatan Belia Islam Malaysia (Green Alliance) for 8 years. The Blue Alliance was made up of multi-racial members with 10% of Chinese students, Malays and Indian students respectively. After several rounds of campaign, we finally won the election with 2/3 majority who voted for us. I was then elected as the first Secretary General of IPKM. With this position, our party, the Blue Alliance began to fight for more rights for the minority. For instance, the New Economic Policy only allowed 10% of the Chinese students to be enrolled but we negotiated with the school administrator to increase the number of Chinese students according to the NEP quota.
We managed to organize the University Students Community Service and Communication Movement in order for university students to help those in rural areas and instil voluntary community service as well as importance in education. We decided to bring the students to Serdang’s New Village as it was a very remote place and people had little awareness on the importance of education. We divided them into four groups and had seven of our volunteers tutor the students ranging from primary school to every Sunday at the hall community hall. We also taught students how to draw, create art and craft works as well as singing.
Apart from that, we also held plays and performances throughout the program. One of the plays was entitled: “To build a Happy Community together” it was a play to educate students that money can’t buy you everything but we should all find happiness and contentment within ourselves, and the importance of family. We manage to touch the hearts of many parents who came to see the play. The purpose of the play was to bridge the gap between parents and their children, to encourage more communication. At the end of the whole program we made friends with more than 60 students in the village, it was an amazing experience as we really got to help each and every student there.
II. The Beginning of a Business Startup
Apart from the Community service movement there were other projects that we’ve done such as Malaysian-Chinese University Intervarsity Council, National Students’ Leaders Training Camp, and National University Enrolment Counseling Movement. The students were very proactive and had a lot of ideas in planning for their projects. I was an inquisitive student and was very eager to learn and try new things. I recall that when I was 12, the HSBC in Penang had started the automated teller machine (ATM). Back then people were very sceptical in taking money out from an automated teller machine as they were used to taking out money over the bank counter by showing their passbook. They were not sure if it was reliable and safe to use the machine to cash out money from the account. But I had a different view; I insisted that my mother applied for an ATM card which allowed me to withdraw money from the teller machine. I found it to be so intriguing that it is now so much more convenient to make withdrawals from the bank; all that is needed now is a bank ATM/Debit card which also allows you to make point-of-sale purchases.
At a very young age I had always been aspired to start up my own business one day. But I had not imagined that I was able to do so at the age of 22. As a student we had to ask for donation by knocking from door to door to fund our university student movements, it was very common back then. Once I had a bad experience when I had gone into a shop and asked for donation from the business owner. He had hastily took out RM2 and asked me to leave the shop immediately. The amount donated by him was so terribly little; it then had me thinking that we should be financially independent and never again depend on any external funding.
The words and mannerism of that business owner had ignited my spirit and my determination to start up my own business. I had chosen to pursue my degree in computer science that was my area of interest. After much discussion with my father, I had borrowed RM40k from him. I had put together 14 of my friends and we started a company called CY Computer and Software Limited Company starting with just RM250,000.
C and Y were the first initials of our first names of Yu Chor Wooi and mine. Chor Wooi a Civil Engineering student in University Malaya. We had great hopes for our little company as we set our mind to make it successful. It was later then that I read in a book written by Mr. Lin Yu Tang that the way of thinking is very important. The name also conveyed our wish to make full use of our mind to work and to create a nice future. I feel like I really understood what he meant and that the words of the wise man were deeply rooted in me. Our CY Company grew quite quickly as we had many ideas and had acted on them quickly. We did however face some obstacles, but we managed to get our breakthrough after selling a turnover of RM300,000 in the third month.
The supplying companies who had sold computers to our company had in turn become our clients. Later we became one of the 7 main computer manufacturers in Selangor and a wholesaler in Balakong, Kajang, Bangi and Puchong. The company was established in 1993, the year I turned 22 years old. I had made up my mind that having knowledge and innovation was going to be my foundation to start up my business venture.
III. Business Startup and Friends
After the establishment of CY Computer and Software Sdn Bhd, I then established CY Infotech, CY Computer Training Center, Motivation Aliance, Wing Onn Traveling Service and FJ Laser Disk Center. At the age of 25 my success story was published in the newspapers and I received numerous acclamations and credit for my work. Starting one’s own business is never an easy path to take, but we tried our best and with persistence we were able to smoothly deal with problems that come in our way. I recall that during the beginning phases of CY Company, both Yu Chor Wooi and I would have to deliver computers to our customers’ doorsteps by riding a motorcycle together. Computers those days weren’t as light as the laptops available now, but rather heavy CPU and monitor as well. We would need to place the CPU in between our legs at the front of the motorcycle and with the humid weather more often than not the computers would be stained by our sweat as we need to hold on to it throughout the journey. Just before we hand over the goods we would quickly rub the stain off and made sure that it is well presented to our customers.
I truly believe if I had not been bold enough to step out and brace the world by starting up my own company venture and persevere through the hardships I would not have been able to achieve what I have today. I often believe that my friends were my greatest support. During my years in college, I had acquired many friends of which I have closely kept in touch with, most of them eventually became my business partners and we practically chase after our dreams and succeeded together. My colleagues working with me at CY Company too were all my good friends. Some perceived that people work just for money but they were all here so that they can learn and put their talents to good use. I would always put myself in a position where I am able to assist them by tapping on their talents.
Our company practices the concept of human capital where we would invest in the quality of employees. We have graduates from different backgrounds; we have 30% of the employees with diploma in engineering, accounting, medical science, psychology and so on. We made sure that everyone was doing well in the assigned role to ensure productivity. In this manner we worked as a team to achieve a common goal.
My present success in business was to a great extent due to partnerships with true friends. But during the journey I have also met friends who only wanted to benefit from me by making instant cash. Starting up a business depended, to a great extent, on partnerships of true friends. From then onwards, I became a lot more cautious when choosing the right business partners.
Despite these unpleasant experiences, it did not make me long for true friendships but I was rather grateful because I’ve learnt to choose the right people in my life and to be careful with whom I trust. As the saying goes “Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me, once bitten twice shy.” As CY Company was becoming steadfast, more employees were needed to make sure that we were not short of manpower. I made sure to pick the right colleagues and paid great attention to train my colleagues so that they were able to develop to their full potential as I strongly believed that all my colleagues should grow together. I realized that to achieve a dream or a goal, there has to be a common goal to work towards to as a team.
Chapter Three: The Beginning of My Political Life
I. Becoming the Youngest Committee Member in Selangor State Executive Council Standing Committee
In 1996, I was appointed by Dato’ Tang See Hang which was then the Selangor State Senior Executive Counsellor, to be a member of the standing committee. I was to be a member of two committees which were: 1) Investment & Industrialization Committee and 2) Research & Development Committee. I was only 25 years old and was by far the youngest committee member to attend meetings with other Members of Director General of respective State Departments. In the same year I was also elected as the Bureau Chief of Hi-Tech Bureau of Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) Youth Selangor and also Exco Member of MCA Youth Selangor.
In 1996, Malaysia was actively promoting a Special High Tech Economic Zone called the Multimedia Super Corridor (also known as MSC). It was launched to transform Malaysia into a knowledge-economy based country. Under the wing of the Government, the Sri Serdang branch of MCA Youth Selangor had become the first to use the Internet. At the same time, I have formed the National Information Youth Organisation and held the post of Secretary General. It was formed to encourage the use of technology and to create awareness of information technology and to bridge the gap between the information rich and the information poor. I begin to conduct briefings and gave talks throughout Malaysia to educate the public on the necessities of MSC and the role MCA Youth to promote this new technology. We had conducted 58 seminars throughout the country in that year.
The adoption of The Computer Crimes Act 1997 to address computer crimes had placed Malaysia as one of the lead in development of cyber laws. At that time, there were no other countries in the world leading this law apart from the US and the UK. The Special Assistant to Deputy Minister of Energy, Communication and Multimedia Dato’ Chan Kong Choy had assigned me to brief the position on the development of our country on the multimedia industry when the Japanese had sent a delegate to study on our development.
The Malaysia Parliament has adopted 4 cyber laws which were the Computer Crime Act 1997, Telemedicine Act 1997, The Copyright (Amendment) Act 1997, and Digital Signature Act 1997 to prepare for the growth of multimedia industry in the country.
The Chinese business men were not aware of the modern information technology and so I had written an article, titled “Finding Answers for the Businessmen in the New Century”. I had emphasized on three main points which were:
Proposal to build an Information Hub in the northern parts of Serdang and Rawang as there is potential in growing their business. To allow and encourage the use of Information Technology as a means of delivering channel for business person to connect to the world.
To encourage young people to understand the information highway and the multimedia super corridor, this will in turn help to connect Malaysians with the rest of the world to help with the progression of the country’s economy and society. The Cyber Youth Network is a Chinese Youth Association set up to promote the use of IT and to educate young people on the use of IT.
Focus on community centres in rural areas to promote the use of IT to increase the level of literacy in suburban areas and to set up a digital library for the use of the public.
After 3 years, Serdang had become the largest multimedia super corridor hub in Malaysia with a total area space of 55 x 25 km and was the most extensive electronic commerce area in Kuala Lumpur. The main aim of the article was to educate the community on the use of IT and encourage them to move towards IT age.
II. Patriotic Merdekad under Asian Financial Crisis
In 1998 there was a decline in the Malaysian economy due to the Asian Financial Crisis. It was up until 1997 where Malaysia had kept growing at a 10% rate each year for ten years. But in 1997, the economic growth rate had dropped to about 4%. The period from July 1997 up until the beginning of 1998, the exchange rate of Ringgit against US dollars had dropped from 2.4 to 1 to 4.9 to 1 (more than doubled).
The drastic economic crisis has caused great depression to our economy. As it was nearly Merdeka Day (Malaysia’s Independence Day), when we decided to uplift the spirits of the Malaysians by creating a card named “Merdekad” to express the spirit of patriotism. We manage to get a huge support with the cards and soon it became a trend that was soon spreading across Malaysia.
We had to coordinate the launch of Merdekad with the help of the working committee and invited loads of celebrities from the entertainment and sports industries to publicize the event. It was a success as everyone was actively involved in this event. We had designed the Merdekad as a greeting card, which can be cut out from newspapers for free to have it sent to friends in light of Merdeka celebrations (August 31st) and Malaysia Day (September 16th). In addition to that, people also had the option to send electronic cards (e-card) via the internet website. At the back of each card, there was a space for companies to place their advertisements. Therefore companies had 2 ways to promote their advertisements, one being via newspaper cut outs and secondly via the internet. Companies could also print their ads on the back of the cards, of which they could benefit from not only the ads on newspapers, but also the transmission and collection of the cards. Many companies promoted home-made products, insurance service, travelling service and other consumer goods and hence they had good repayment and they supported the Merdekad project with much to gain.
The head of MCA Youth Dato’ Chen Guang Cai (Chan Kong Choy), encouraged his 300,000 members to spread the spirit of Merdeka via Merdekad project as he said that the Merdekad project proved to be very creative, meaningful and an innovative way to promote patriotism amongst Malaysians. In his opinion, the Merdekad project may lend help to the economic crisis as well as promoting peace and unity amongst Malaysians.
On August 25th, the head of MCA, Dato’ Seri Dr. Ling Liong Sik, expressed his comments on the MERDEKAD activity when he was hosting a MERDEKAD promotion. The MERDEKAD activity appeared just in time as it reignites Malaysians patriotism towards the country in the face of crisis. Apart from the MERDEKAD activity, I was actively involved in the planning and conducting other national projects, for instance the “Love Malaysia, Buy Malaysia Products”, “Buy Malaysia Products Leads to Globally Love Malaysia”. The move was to increase close ties between the government, MCA and media entities Through all the experiences with projects launches I have learnt to plan, manage and execute projects effectively and strengthening my communication skills.
In light of the “Love Malaysia, Buy Malaysia Products”, our CY Company had set up its first ever website in Malaysia selling home-made local products to the world. The launch of the website has attracted 1,800 local sellers which were interested in selling their products online. It was a great success as our Malaysian products were of good quality and the idea of having it sold online enable local businessmen to widen their business to international market.
During the launch of my project I had the great opportunity to work together with Nanyang Siangpau and it was in 1998 where I was appointed as a consultant. I had the opportunity to write a column in Chinese newspaper as a special guest in the International Business Opportunities column. It was a weekly commitment where I would need to write on a particular country’s economic patterns and analyse how the Malaysian industries are able to build ties with them, it required me to interview counsellors in the Embassies in Malaysia. I had stayed on in the consulting position for one and a half years; thereafter I had even more collaborations with Nanyang Siangpau. The CY Company had undertaken the project with Nanyang Siangpau construct an electronic edition of Nanyang Siangpau. It was there where my career in electronic newspaper had kicked off and I was the consultant for information and media.III. Direct Contact with Electronic Newspapers
The electronic edition of Nanyang Siangpau was first launched by its employees in 1996. However, to upkeep with the pace of fast growing internet, the e-Nanyang Siangpau needed expertise and more man power to revamp its outlook. When I had undertaken the task to revamp the e-Nanyag Siangpau I knew that this was going to be big as it had the latest and most reliable news to date. Taking that into consideration, we had decided to set up a “Real Time News Page” it allows real time update on current news. That point in time, real time news update was already well known in other countries. But in Malaysia it was yet to catch up, hence it was a very fresh concept that people could now gain access to updated news via the Internet and not just via television and newspaper. We were able to launch it successfully with the reputation of Nanyang Siangpau as a reliable source of news.
We did not limit the chance of advertising with e-Nanyang Siangpau, we allowed advertisement to be published on it for 7 days for free. This move attracted a lot of companies both local and abroad to advertise with us as they too would like to do a trial run if advertisements would succeed. We had an experience of the advantages of the internet as it allowed borderless communications and allow endless transfer of information. We knew that there was a chance in widening our framework in e-business. The next celebration to come was Valentine’s Day and we quickly took the opportunity to launch the project which allows people to place their love messages to each other in one of the column in e-Nanyang Siangpau for 30 days for free and on the physical newspaper for 7 days with no charges. The free of charge love messages online have proven to be a success as it attracted many people to utilize our services.
The successful collaboration with Nanyang Siangpau provided me with another great opportunity, to assist Nanyang Press Holdings Berhad (NPHB) to establish Nanyang Online and to manage and execute the plan for the road of new economy and make overall plans for the road of new economy.
Chapter Four: The Beginning of My Online Career
I. Holding the Position as CEO of Nanyang Online
In 2000, I duly accepted the invitation of the former Group Managing Director of NPHB to start up Nanyang Online and hold the position as the CEO. It was by far the biggest challenge in the life of my career. The new media field seemed so fresh and fascinating to me. I have been keeping up with the progress of Nanyang Siangpau for years as I can still recall when my father was at home, he would often flip and read through the pages of Nanyang Siangpau as it was the only reliable sources of news back then. Hence, Nanyang Siangpau brought back some of my childhood memories.
Whilst growing up I had more options of newspaper which I can choose from but I still had the preference of reading Nanyang Siangpau as it has some sentimental value to it to me. Although I had collaborated with Nanyang Siangpau in the past, I can’t help it and tried hard to contain my excitement as I walked into Nanyang’s office on 3rd floor where I’ll be seated as the CEO of Nanyang Online. There was a great sense of joy as I was able to be a part of Nanyang Online, working for a newspaper company that held a special place in my heart.
We were designated to an empty space in the administrative department and we started from scratch with purchase of computers, desks and decorations. I believe that everybody who has been to a newspaper office would feel that such a place is quite different from other places, just the same as I feel. While I was busy with the bits and pieces, I managed to grasp every chance to realize NPHB, the closest partner-to-be and could have.
The running of a newspaper company reminded me of working in an ant colony. There are a lot of steps in the process. Teamwork is very important as there are many workers in every department, who diligently do their work to meet the deadlines. The working environment at Nanyang was really fast paced as everyone had their own responsibility and workload which made meeting deadline quite a struggle if there is no teamwork. It was a common sight to see journalist and photographers pacing in and out of the office, as they have the latest news on hand and it is always time they are fighting against. When it is time for me to leave work, another chaos would unfold itself in the office as printing needs to be done quickly so they can send out for delivery on time to different parts of Kuala Lumpur.
After having several sessions of conversations with the Senior Managers of NPHB, I was able to gauge the relatively high cost of newspaper publication. The whole process of publishing newspapers requires the combination of work between the interviewing department, editing department, issuing department and lastly the printing department. The other divisions also required their input before the actual publication of the newspaper. Every department had an important role to play as they are racing against time, should there be any fault in any division it would ultimately delay the whole process and would have an impact on the sale of newspaper.
When the news is finally published and available to the public, the whole staff in the newspaper department would be on alert mode. For instance, when the annual state budget is announced the first newspaper that publishes the news first above the rest would be the far better publisher amongst the rest of the competitors. As my job first job was in Information Technology industry, it was a very fast paced industry as technology is always changing and advancing, now in comparison with my job in media industry which was rather similar as they are both fast paced industries. I was eager to find out and challenge myself on my how well I could perform in media industry.
II. The Nanyang Online Born in the Dotcom Bubble Burst
I was full of energy and had hopes to do well in Nanyang Online but the dotcom bubble burst. All of the internet based companies became a “box office flop”. We introduced ourselves to others by distinguishing ourselves from Nanyang.com, as it was only one product of the company. However, only a number of them were able to tell us apart from Nanyang Online and Nanyang.com. As NASDAQ collapsed, as though everyone saw this coming, they smirked when they saw our name cards. It was fortunate that the former boss saw it coming and named the company Nanyang Online instead of Nanyang.com. Dotcom was, in fact, a capital fever, a trap for companies. After the burst of dotcom bubble, Nanyang Online kept growing steadily since we had not planned to earn money hastily. We were careful with our spending in beautifying our office.
What was the difference between online companies and dotcom companies? Firstly, is that online companies would consider the balance between the investment and the return at the very beginning, or get return after investment at least. The most common mistake dotcom companies made was that they seldom consider the returns of their endless investment. They paid too much attention to the outer look and appearance as it was necessary for getting investments. But “online” meant different things, which include communication cables, telephone lines, optical fibres and any kinds of media. “Online” means a platform of information or an information highway.
The main function of information highway is data transfer and the processed data is called knowledge. Data transfer, or information transfer, which has been occurring for thousands of years. Ancient people used beacons, doves to transfer information. Now we use emails which can reach every corners of the world. So “online” refers to the infinite and borderless information highway.
Nanyang Online owned a broad platform and was able to make use of the whole information highway. The question lies in how we operate in this endless information with new economic methodologies? In my opinion, a reliable company in light of new economy should emphasize on its contents. During the crisis in dotcom companies was that they had not paid enough attention to their content but appearance. If observed closely, most managers of the dotcom companies had technical background while the managers of the successful online companies were businessmen and do not have such knowledge. When people are doing business, they pay close attention to the sales volume more than the advanced techniques. That is the right way of doing business. Under the group management, the new economy had brand new room for survival. A big credit to the group management, Nanyang Online had started off steady, as the leaders of the group paid great attention to the rate of investment. Hence every cent was spent cautiously, which in essence is the basic element of business. Generally speaking, companies of new economy, like Nanyang online, possess click and mortar. Click means new techniques while mortar means tradition. Nanyang Online is a company of new economy, but we ran and managed the company somehow in a traditional manner. The new ideas and the old ones coincide in this company and created the spark which resulted in a new work culture with mixed tradition.
III. To Win by Quickness
The competition between media lies mainly to act quickly and to stand out from the rest. The first newspaper company to deliver the news to the readers will prevail. However, the lifecycle of the newspapers can be very short as it can be decided in a several hours. If readers are able to obtain the news from other sources beforehand then the news published later would add very little value. The NPHB owned Nanyang Siangpau, China Press and Life Publishing Company, with altogether 2 newspapers and 17 magazines, which made it the biggest Chinese publisher in Malaysia. Magazine publishing costs a fairly long time to produce and the lifecycle is relatively longer. But nobody would read dated magazines, not to mention dated newspapers.
Radio broadcasting has its limitations as it is unable to provide graphic images or rich contents and they cannot be played repeatedly. However, e-newspaper has been able to overcome such shortcomings as e-newspaper is indeed paperless and need not cost any transportation fees. The only thing is the reader must have access to the internet and internet needs to be easily accessible. The e-newspapers were growing fast and there were a few big players who were pioneers such as Tomorrow Times in Taiwan, sinchew-i.com of local Sin Chew Daily, which were the electronic editions of Nanyang Siangpau since 1996 of China Press.
The keynote to success with e-newspapers was the speed to reach the readers before anyone else does. Hence it was important for Nanyang Online to be able to fulfil each of those hurdles.
At the very beginning, I recalled that we had defined being fast in a narrow sense which meant we were taking it literally that whenever Nanyang Online was able to grab the first headlines above the rest, we would be overjoyed. But this sort of success in fact bears little value. When Nanyang Online was newly established, we did not spend much in purchasing computer software in great quantity hence most of our news were cut and then later paste onto the e-newspaper manually. Our editors had to work hard to compete with the rest of the competitors. Although it may sound rather amusing, but that was indeed the only way to compete with others during the initial period of Nanyang Online. The economy was not favourable and it was difficult to make a living. We soon became aware of such games and stopped in a few weeks. But soon we fell into another trap.
IV. Products First or Marketing Strategy First
Nanyang Online was a relatively young company. We had 40 employees in the marketing department and the editorial department. Hence, the biggest part of investment was spent on just these two departments. I was the team leader of the marketing department whereas the head of the editorial department was Manager Rao Zhengtang, who was experienced in the newspaper industry. How do companies of the new economy operate? Or rather how can one make money via cyber space? What products are we selling and to whom? The size of the market was still unknown. All of these questions can be answered by taking Nanyang Siangpau as an example. But we were not going to follow the moves and we wanted to step out on our own as Nanyang Online. There were too much empty talks. Almost every other day another internet company was established. Through the new nobility’s talk, people couldn’t obtain anything useful. In fact, many of them had jump on the wagon in this industry by convincing investor about the potential of the internet. Many were able to gauge the concepts on internet business from magazines and all sorts but none of which were practical enough to be introduced in Malaysia.
This was a crisis as nobody knew what consumers in Malaysia wanted from an internet company. Nanyang Online was able to at least satisfy the market demand for news in Chinese. Nanyang Online and Nanyang.com shared the brand of Nanyang Press Holdings Berhad, the oldest newspaper group in Malaysia. So the customers we first aimed at were the avid readers of NPHB.
Based on such circumstances, Nanyang Online had the added advantage than those hastily established companies. I got to know more of the others in the same trade as I put myself out there by attending opening ceremonies of other similar companies. With most ceremonies I was welcomed at luxury halls, with dazzling presentations, and welcomes by flocks of officials, journalist and young managers. The speeches made in these ceremonies were petty talks bearing no substance. They had newly decorated offices, up to date computers, and amazing facilities and neatly dressed young men but they didn’t know who their target audience were or what products they were actually selling. It seemed as though there were no careful considerations, assessments or planning done before establishing these companies.
The fabulous NASDAQ had changed many people’s mind-sets. Everyone had rushed themselves into this industry in fear that they might be left behind whereas many opportunists stepped into this enviable industry. There were also some senior business leaders on such occasions, who would express their worries about this crowded feast. I preferred to speak to them as I learnt a lot from their advice and past experiences.
In their eyes, I was a CEO below the age of 30, and that I was no different from any other young men. But I could proclaim with pride that I had run my own business through hardships. New economy or net companies were new to many people as I observed the situations carefully and kept improving Nanyang Online. As Sun Tzu once said in the Art of War, the general who wins a battle makes many calculations in his temple where the battle is fought. He pointed out the importance of planning and meeting. The policy making meeting before the launch of Nanyang Online and Nanyang.com was under a lot of tension.
At that time, Nanyang Online belonged to Hong Leong Group. I had a clear mission which was to ensure the company recorded profits. The operation model and strategies could be described in words, but the practical work was very hard. There were two departments in the company, the marketing department and the editorial department, both had different opinions. I had to listen to both of them while making a firm stance. We faced discrepancies in our view, whether the product was suitable for the markets or the marketing strategy should be based on the existing product. That was, in fact, a chicken-and-egg situation.
The existing product we had was almost the same as the electronic Nanyang Siangpau, which was the biggest support for the time being and in the future. But if we confirmed that Nanyang Online was only the developed version of electronic Nanyang Siangpau, we would eventually fail in the end. We had to plan for the future of the company in long run. I had thought about the possibilities of different choices between marketing orientation and the product orientation, which meant turning into a successful e-newspaper by responding readers’ demands and then to decide with marketing strategies. We needed a trial run to know what works and what does not. The marketing department began by doing research on the marketing planning of the electronic edition of Nanyang Siangpau and creating solutions while the editorial department ran our business with the operation model of the e-newspaper.
A newspaper, whether it is traditional or electronic, it cannot prevail without wide publicity. This was what I had told the editorial department. The first big event, which the editorial department had to face, was the UMNO election. As an e-newspaper, we must distinguish ourselves from the traditional paper newspapers when we were conducting interviews. We had to find interesting headlines to attract readers and the market.
The distinctive point of e-newspapers was the speed, it is up to date and instant, to coordinate the interview for the UMNO election, we set up an electronic interview team, the first was among local Chinese media. We also managed to invite Datuk Tan Chai Ho, the Deputy Minister of Ministry of Energy, Communication and Multimedia, to host the promotion ceremony. The momentum of work was conducted brilliantly.
The work of the electronic interview team was not very complicated. As soon as they got the first-hand data, they typed it into portable computers and emailed it back to the company. The editors in the company received the emails, added titles and put the news on the internet. The Nanyang Online was not officially launched hence the pages can only be viewed by the employees of the company. The outcome was a success. There were no major mistakes and in comparison with the other news website, we were much faster and more accurate.
This success brought Nanyang Online towards e-newspaper. The official launching time, delayed due to several problems but was quickly resolved at once. With the pressure from the higher management we could not wait any longer. Hence we decided to launch Nanyang Online on 6th June 2000, with a well-planned marketing strategy.
V. The Battle between E-Newspapers
Although we launched the website with the concept of e-newspaper, there were too many competitors. A lot of news websites both in Malaysia and abroad were backed up by huge capitals. They were designed beautifully with vast information and search functionality. But our local media was still lacking and we could not compete with our foreign peers in terms of our online expertise.
In Malaysia, the direct competitor of Nanyang Online was sinchew-i.com and the electronic edition of Nanyang Siangpau. As we were given different names, we had to find distinctions between us. The investors of Nanyang Online were very prudent and did not lavish on unnecessary things before we proved to make profits, therefore we did not purchase any latest software systems. All the employees had to work slowly and steadily with the company’s progress. Nanyang Online highlighted real-time news and experienced competitive challenges with competitors. Nanyang Online had distinctive features such as eight featured channels, namely business, education, science, fashion, entertainment, literature, religions and travel.
The original plan was to design the 8 channels in the direction of independent portal sites. We only had 8 editors working for us and they had put in all their efforts as they had to do everything by themselves. This included interviewing, writing, designing online activities, looking for sponsors, extracting existing data of Nanyang Siangpau, and designing web pages. They had become very versatile and competent under my directions. They were also young and energetic as they were all only 25 yearsold.
Similar features were found on Nanyang Siangpau. As mentioned above, Nanyang Online had to be different from the electronic edition of Nanyang Siangpau. We had to be more creative and richer in content and we focused on real time news. Despite all that, Nanyang Siangpau was still the best source of news unless we were able to invest into building a strong team to gather news. The outcome proved that our choice were right. Before the establishment of Nanyang Online, intelligence warfare had been fiery. I had received news that the chief editor of another news website judged that our religious feature channel would only accelerate our doomsday. But it turned out that this featured channel was the most popular channel. Then other local websites followed thereafter. So when we were trying to confirm market trends, we had to take into account other people’s needs in many ways. With these featured channels, and attractive real-time news, Nanyang Online had a wonderful beginning and was seen as highly readable and a brand new digital newspaper. The editors had worked really hard, and reaped their hard work with joy.
Would You Advertise On Our Website?
“Would you advertise your product? What about on a news website?”
The colleagues in the marketing department tried everything they could but the results were not satisfactory. Nanyang.com was an electronic newspaper. We were affirmed that the policy of attracting advertiser to advertise with us was the source of revenue, just as the traditional newspapers did. Before the advertisers’ picked the media channel they would want to advertise, they would compare the sales and the channel reach. As for electronic media, the number of hits was key. That’s why we had cut-throat rivalries for hit rates at the beginning. The more hits meant the more readers and we had the advantage in acquiring advertising customers. However, net advertisements were not as popular as the traditional newspaper advertisements and these two kinds of media cannot be viewed in the same manner.
The images of traditional newspaper had rooted deeply than electronic newspapers in the hearts of people, not to mention Nanyang Online was still relatively new at that time. The popular newspapers in Chinese, like Nanyang Siangpau, Sin Chew Daily, and China Press and others had existed for many decades already, and they had already gained the advertisers’ trust. People would rather read their physical newspaper whilst having tea at home, on their couch. Moreover, back then not many places have access to internet and limited time to access which was one of the disadvantages of e-newspaper. Hence advertisers often take these points into consideration when advertising with e-newspaper.
In addition, the advertising space allocated on the e-newspaper was very small and inconvenient for readers.
We chose to collaborate with Nanyang Siangpau and China Press by providing package sets for advertisement on Nanyang.com, Nanyang Siangpau and China Press Newspaper. Although we did get some improvement with the internet advertisement but it was not the sort of income that would be our main contributor. In the meantime we had put forward another product in the market. It was known as the Nanyang Celebrity List which set special individual personalization for celebrities. But the response was not quick enough even though it had great potential.
Chapter Five: The War on the Internet
I. My viewpoints on the New Economy
We often hear the phrase on new economy. Some non-businessman often asked me what new economy is and whether it means to sell computers and mobile phones. My answers were always that new technology does not represent new economy. New economy is the improvement of business operation model accompanied by the advance of the time. To speak plainly, new economy means some new operation methods. New economy is not something empty. The economy must rely on traditional enterprises.
If there were no foundation of traditional enterprises, there would not be “new” economy. Some conservative enterprises might consider new economy as alien forces which do nothing but threaten the original orders. But in my opinion, the new economy and the traditional economy compete with each other, but also complement each other. Let’s take banking industry as an example; banks should be classified into traditional enterprises. But banks must step into the new economy and change their operation models. In the past, there were no ATM cards, no internet banking or other methods of investments. But now banks provide trusts, insurances and so on. This is a model of new economy.
After I got into the media industry, I often tried to find more operation models to repackage the traditional enterprises in more efficient, more cost effective ways and endow them with more added value. This is a model of new economy. For example, the newspaper distribution network might be the most efficient logistical system, which was much better than the Malaysian post system. A newspaper distributor only has 8 days of holiday in a year while the employees of the post system enjoyed every Sunday and every public holiday. There were some places where only newspaper distributors would go. Meanwhile, distribution of a roll of newspaper cost only RM0.20 while the cheapest mail cost RM0.35. I thought that there were many ads in the newspapers. So the clients would need distribution channels. So our strong newspaper distribution channels could be made use of. We could distribute newspapers as well as other items provided we could agree on the condition, i.e., to put ads on our media. Of course, many details of this big plan still need rethinking and planning. But what I wanted to express through this distributor-to-central-logistical-system case was that operation models of new economy could raise traditional enterprises’ vigour and values by reorganizing their resources and optimizing their management. As a media company of new economy, I think the function of Nanyang Online was repackaging and reusing the existing resources to make it more vigorous and more valuable.
II. The Goal of GM3 and From B2C to B2B
I was often told that I like to “talk big”. At the same time, other friends said that I am energetic and dare to think and act. I have always been the type to speak frankly and express myself no matter what other people thought of me. I think that people must try their best when they are young as it would be vain to regret it when you are older.
After the initial chaos and different kinds of trials and errors, I brought forward the ultimate planning, named “GM3”by the whole company. I demanded the whole company to bear the meaning of GM3 in their minds as I hoped that all of us could fight towards the same goal. GM3 was the first goal I set for Nanyang Online, which stood for “To be the Authoritative Global Multimedia, Multi-Dialect, Multi-Channel Chinese Content on demand”. This was a great goal grounded in globalization. But we didn’t lose our own features. One of the most important elements in GM3 was the Chinese market and the demands of the Chinese communities. Thanks to our former boss who had very high expectation of Nanyang Online, we dared to set such a high goal. GM3 was the global goal of Nanyang Online. It was not difficult to understand rich media of Nanyang Online. We did limit our business in providing net news but also provided information in Chinese to all kinds of media like Chinese newspapers, news agencies and satellite TV channels. We brought readers the most comprehensive and latest news.
Such a magnificent plan, that was exciting and breath-taking, but we needed to plan in detiail. It brought endless possibilities of our development. The imperative point in this plan was that we stressed on multi-dialects instead of multi-languages, which was also originated by my former boss. He thought that Chinese from different areas might not be able to speak mandarin. Some news in Cantonese, in Minnan dialect or in Hakka would be more popular in certain region. This was a very unique idea. To achieve our goal, I imposed three conditions: Nanyang Online must form alliances with the top Chinese media in the world, with the most popular broadcast network and with the most advanced technology suppliers.
At home base, Nanyang Online aimed to be a portal website providing local news and e-commerce and to be the first choice both in Singapore and Malaysia. The ideal situation would be that the ISPs pay for the rich multi-information we sell. Wang Yung-ching, the “God of Management”, had said that the companies that don’t make money are immoral. I agreed with his view. Many of the employees joined due to trust in me and the company. As the head of the company, I must be responsible for the future of the company and the well-being of the staff. The company abandoned B to C and turned to B to B. We no longer dealt with customers but companies. We reduced the cost of the editorial department and stopped competing on hits.
During the process of grouping, we did not give up any opportunity of increasing the popularity of Nanyang Online and Nanyang.com. We cooperated with all kinds of organizations, including religious organizations, bookstores, radios and even Reuters. We cooperated with Radio 5 and FM 988 to provide news flash of the stock market and news briefs. We arranged certain employees to do this job. Some of them complained that such job was too trivial. But we must strive for every chance of exposing ourselves to raise our visibility and to earn more business partners. Once, we had a very rare opportunity to host an international dialogue on high-technology between the delegates of Monte Jade Science & Technology Association (West Coast), which was initiated and invited by our Malaysian premier Dato’ Seri Mahathir, and the practitioners of local high-tech industries. We held that dialogue successfully, which inspired us a lot as a new company. We live webcasted the whole process with advanced technique on Nanyang.com, which was the bridge between local high-tech companies and international practitioners and also the trend indicator of high-tech economy. We stressed on the publicity build up when we were still focusing on B to C. When we turned our attention to B to B, we still paid great attention publicity build up for a better image and position in this industry. We were not like the net companies invested by foreign capitals, which had international brands. When people saw Nanyang Online, they would only be reminded of Nanyang Siangpau but not the service and the power of Nanyang Online.
I often tell a metaphor about durian, the king of fruits which does not look pretty. If there was no one to introduce and promote it, its taste would have never been discovered. We put in a lot of effort to build the image and broaden the market, enterprises started to notice us. Telekom Malaysia was one of them and we got our first big project, called the Blue Hippo Website.
III. Five Economic Models
The cooperation with TM was a turning point of Nanyang Online. We were responsible for the news in Chinese supplied to the Chinese channel of the Blue Hippo, Emerald Palace, who shared the same news resource from NPHB with Nanyang.com and 988 FM, though specially processed. This situation reminded me of a documentary about soybean milk. Besides Soybean milk, the soybean could also be made into soy bean pudding, bean curd, dried beancurd, soy chips and soy powder. The Chinese people have made full use of soybean. This documentary reminded me of the information industry. You just need to make full use of the same raw materials. The lifespan of a piece of news was so short. But if we could repackage it and provide it with entertainment and more media channels, we would create many more business opportunities.
I saw the media and publishing industry was facing transitions. The fast growing digital environment changed the business models. Through digital techniques, the live news from the same journalist could be shown in different channels, or even shown throughout the whole world with the help of satellites. Therefore, merges occurred in the media industry in America and Taiwan. The same news and information was repackaged and sent to different channels. This way, the operation cost was greatly reduced and the competitiveness was strengthened, and more business opportunities obtained.
In fact, every part of the media industry was changing to conform to the changes of business models. Thus the competitiveness and position of media companies also changed. Generally, the commercial economy was not the same as before. When profit margins narrowed down due to the increasing cost, the company must make breakthroughs and find more ways for revenue. I put forward five economic models of which Nanyang Online could maintain revenues and cut cost. To sum it up, Nanyang Online was holding a handful of soybean of information, out of which we prepare it differently.
The first model was that Nanyang Online brought out information while gathered and classified information and content to satisfy customers’ needs. The information came from different channels, like Nanyang Siangpau, China Press and the 17 magazines of Life Publishing Company.
In the age of information explosion, if media could classify readers by different interests, it would be a blessing for customers. Different community would show special interest in specific information. We could classify customers with the same interest and provide them with what they want in common. For example, a reader of financial channel must be interested in finance. Then the financial channel would naturally classify similar customers. Here we could have another opportunity for ads. If a company’s target customers were a certain group, Nanyang Online would establish a platform with relevant information to attract these potential customers and then we could provide publicity channels for that company, which meant that they could advertise their products here. Before the first anniversary of Nanyang Online, I had set up eight values for the company. The most effective one was multi-opportunities for profits. With the joint efforts of the diligent staff, we made it through the first year.
IV. The First Anniversary of Nanyang Online
The first anniversary of Nanyang Online was the beginning of another trip. The editorial department and the marketing department discussed over many times to find out the top ten achievements during the first year and announced them. When we reviewed these ten achievements, we recalled many things. From zero to hero we have come a long way to achieve what we have; many young people devoted themselves into this career. We listed the ten achievements as below.
First, we formed world-class mega alliances. Nanyang Online had gone abroad and made strong alliances with net media and communication companies. It had kept pace with the internet. We had strategic partners like the top news agency Reuters, Bridge News, the third biggest website Lycos Asia, the biggest telecommunication provider TM (Telekom Malaysia) and Celcom.
Second, we were the first choice of news websites for Chinese readers in Malaysia with 99% users. Nanyang Online was the designated media partner of Chinese network and was chosen as the principle Chinese news websites by Internet Service Provider Jaring.my; 99% users in Malaysia chose TMnet and Jaring, so we were naturally their choice.
Third, we clarified our marketing positioning. Clear marketing positioning made Nanyang Online outshine competitors in the field of new economy. As a new-born Chinese media of new economy, we shifted from a content provider to a media integrator. We expanded a sizeable and profitable market; our turnover reached RM2.6million with a paid-up capital of RM2.5million.
Fourth, Nanyang.com had a readership of 1 million people each day. Its readers came from over 90 countries. The content about technology and human nature became net readers’ favourite. Fifth, we launched the overwhelming Knowledge Society Campaign. Over 50 thousand teachers and students attended this project which aimed to cultivate high-tech talents. This campaign was supported by the National Information Technology Council (NITC) and jointly conducted by the government of Selangor. We planned to popularize this project into every school and family.
Sixth, we conducted the Nanyang.com Malaysian Exhibition Tour. This exhibition was held in 12 places including Klang, Penang, Kuantan, Malacca, and Johor Bahru. This exhibition attracted thousands of people. Seventh, we promoted culture and education by Mr. Tan Kah Kee‘s spirits of “Donating All the Possessions to Set up Schools”. We made connections with cultural and educational organizations at home to make more people benefit from high-technology. Eighth, we built the first electronic interview team, the pioneer of Chinese media of the new economy. Datuk Tan Chai Ho, the Deputy Minister of Ministry of Energy, Communication and Multimedia hosted the team’s introduction meeting. Each one from this team brought rich and colourful reports to readers which fully met the standards of news, i.e. updated, accurate, and precise. This granted them with the best reputation.
Ninth, we won the First Malaysian WAP in Chinese issued by Malaysian Book of Records. Nanyang.com, the only wireless news network in Chinese in South-eastern Asia, led the Chinese media in Malaysia to step into a new era of wireless media in Chinese. Its content diversification could bring mobile users the latest news in Chinese always and everywhere. Lastly the tenth, we held the international dialogue on high-tech between a delegation of Monte Jade Science & Technology Association (West Coast), mainly Chinese, invited by Malaysian premier Dato’ Seri Mahathir, and the practitioners of local high-tech industries. Nanyang Online and Country Heights Holdings Bhd (CHHB) hosted this dialogue, in which the delegation and more than 500 local practitioners of high-tech industry took part.
V. Content is King
I have a friend whose ancestor came from Java. I had a very special opportunity of tasting the traditional cuisine from his hometown, Nasi Ambeng. Rice and over ten kinds of dishes were put on a big plate, around which four people sat and ate with hands. He is an old friend of mine, so I could enjoy such delicious food which was only prepared for close relatives. I was surprised with each mouthful. This big plate of food was cooked with many kinds of ingredients and complicated cooking methods. I got to know later that the women in his family would purchase the materials several days before the cooking and spend almost one whole day preparing the meal.
I was quite impressed by the abundance and the cost of this meal. My friend said with a smile that the plate would be nothing without the cost and the dishes no matter how big it was. If there is no rich content, the portal would be nothing. The practitioners often say that content is king, which indicated the importance of the contents. No websites can live without sound and rich content. Luckily, that was just our advantage. In the eyes of Chinese media, rich content is the main condition towards diversified development. Nanyang Online owned resources from the two big newspapers of NPHB and the 17 magazines of Life Publishing Company, so our content was just like a “Man Han Chuan Xi”, a full, formal banquet, combining Manchurian and Chinese delicacies. You could consume whatever you wanted.
This was why Nanyang.com has over 4 million readers in over 100 countries in the world and the number is still rising. I believe that we can attract more strategic partners only if we can keep our content rich and diversified.
To provide more professional information, Nanyang Online started a series of training schemes since 2001, including Star Journalist Scheme, which was originated from “STAR Concept”. S meant Smart, T meant Talent, A Aspiration and R for Reliability.
I didn’t start my business in the press, so this scheme made many people surprised. But as reader myself, I knew very well what I wanted from news reports. I wanted to cultivate all-rounder practitioners in the press industry, who could do many things including knowing basic interviewing skills and language abilities, mastering how to operate advanced multimedia tools like digital cameras, laptops, PDA and so on so that they could send back the news as soon as possible under any conditions.
Good news should be instantaneous. Nanyang Online was a net media company, so the colleagues of the editorial department were characterized by penetrating market and strong sense of responsibility. When September 11th (911) incident occurred, they returned to their duties immediately, reporting with pictures and texts, they worked round the clock. They sent information to our customers with the fastest speed. Their professional ethics won my appreciation. No matter how the operation model changed, the basic rule of thumb remains content is still king. Content was our base and our brand. When the colleagues of the marketing department were working hard for the revenues of the company, the colleagues of the editorial department tried their best to protect the brand and image of the company to meet customers’ demands.
VI. Make Technological Tools for Modern People
After I left school, I found many friends who were football fans. When 2002 World Cup began, many were disgruntled when football match was going on during working hours as they were not able to watch it. It has gone to an extent that admired the jobs of waiters in the cafeterias who could do their work while watching TV. The products of Nanyang Online, sport Star electronic magazine (e-Mag) was born out of demand. All the subscribers could get the latest news of the matches through mobile phones or pagers. Nanyang Online continued to develop financial e-Mag, which was also warmly welcomed.
The new trends of media were packaging and recycling. Before e-Mag, Nanyang Online provided content to strategic partners, like Emerald Palace, the Chinese channel of Blue Hippo. Blue Hippo was the main website under TM, which meant that the diversification of Nanyang Online had been accepted by TM, the biggest media company in Malaysia. Besides, other strategic partners shared information with Nanyang Online, such as international news agency Reuters, Moneyline Telerate. We worked together to put forward online news and caused Nanyang Online to step into the Asian market of Chinese media. After I made an overall view of the trend of media, I raised the concept of MVC3O, which was more specific and complicated than GM3.
This concept was originated from the pyramidal triangle relation of media, i.e. the three-dimensional communications between readers, information and media. How to find more possibilities out of these three factors? I figured out a new business model of Mobile Virtual Community, Commerce, and Content Operator，MVC3O for short. We made the 4 main parts of print media to publishing, issuing, producing and advertising electronically.
First of all, content and community could be grouped into eCirculation. Circulation network was one of the most important things for a newspaper. The broader the circulation network, the better it would be. For media industry, circulation was just like the market for common goods. What was eCirculation? We delivered content on the internet, basically from Nanyang.com, to different media, like WAP, pagerMag, or to the strategic partners. In other words, we repackaged the existing contents with high-tech methods and sent them to different users. We made different technological tools for modern people.
As a result, no matter what kind of technique tools our customers were familiar with (internet, WAP, PagerMAG, GPRS), Nanyang Online was able to provide them with news always and anywhere. That was also the main goal of e-Circulation. After that, between the content and the commerce came the eAdvertising. It went after the eCirculation and provided ads spaces for different companies on different platforms like the internet and the pagerMAG. The ePackaging, which was the most profitable one, was between the Community and the Commerce. The Commerce provided content about their products and services to consumers and concluded final transactions.
VII. The Legend of RedHot
I had a female classmate in the high school who liked to create pranks on others’ business. Some trivial things might become huge scandals after her doing. If you went to her to demand for an apology, she would ask you for a fee with a grin instead. The fee was, was of course, also a joke at the same time. But it turned to be the big headache for the marketing department. If we were not careful with the ads and publicity expenses, we would fall into a bottomless pit. It was possible to spend a lot of money but get nothing in return. In the age of information explosion, consumers face hundreds of ads every day. Seldom ads can work immediately unless they are made with special content with a lot of money and top stars or celebrities. Even those who would spend too much money also have to advertise themselves. It is a dilemma for them.
At the same time, there are many ad spaces wasted every day. The newspapers which belonged to NPHB, like Nanyang Siangpau and China Press have fixed spaces for ads. But those spaces were not filled up daily. On certain days, some mundane news was used to cover the blanks. It was a total waste. How could we make use of this space? One day, I had lunch with a friend who was a marketing manager. He was depressed as his company was cutting back on advertising and promotion budgets. He asked me what type of ads were the cheapest and whether there were any ads spaces that were free. I was thinking about the problem of the wasted ad spaces and answered yes and my friend was overwhelmed to hear that. He asked me to find a solution for him. I had to accept this request and thought about it. I realised that I had stumbled upon another business opportunity unexpectedly. The solution was only suitable for those companies that wanted to be listed in the stock exchange. Usually they have budgets for ads and promotion for garner more publicity and investments. I found that it would be possible to collaborate with them by exchanging our advertising and promoting capabilities for promoting their stocks.
In this way, the companies would not need to spend cash on ads while the media companies would not waste those ad spaces and would save cost. The stocks would usually surge after the companies go public. In the meantime, Nanyang Online could get revenue by selling the stocks. I discussed this plan with some banks and financial institutions and had positive responses. It was considered very feasible. I concluded that we could also use ads spaces for other products and services. Then I had an idea of Ad Exchange, where the clients could pay with goods or services but not by cash for our ad spaces. In this way both sides would benefit from the discount. We could offer advertisers all kinds of media for their ads in Malaysia and they could choose the form freely. We established a carrier for this plan: RedHot Exchange.
What kind of effect should the RedHot achieve? When I was young, my mother loved to go grocery shopping until the end of the street, the store had many kinds of goods. The store lady was good at marketing her goods as she would persuade you to buy more things than you had planned and gave discounts if you bought more. If you were not satisfied with her goods, she would also tell you she had other types of goods, which would attract you to come back the next time.
Our idea of Ad Exchange would also show our advantages in marketing, just like the lady in the grocery store. I did not want our customers to think that this product was a simple card. I wanted to show them the whole concept of a marketing mix and its diversification. The colleagues of the marketing department made one standard sales talk as soon as they were told about the idea. “Sir, welcome to join our unique RedHot marketing mix, which can help you develop your market by introducing your goods to the public in the most efficient way. Of course, the first thing we would recommend to you was the RedHot Ad Exchange. It performs many functions, like discounts, bonus credits, customer management and so on. We would advertise and promote their products periodically. The ad can be designed according to your logo, concept and marketing strategies for the best effect you want. As the number of clients increase rapidly, your products will definitely be publicized effectively. Moreover, we provide ad services on the traditional media. Our ads platform including the 2 dailies and 17 magazines of NPHB, from which you can choose freely. Whatever ad platform you need, you could find it on Nanyang Online.
Our own customer management system, DCLP, can collect and analyze the data of your customers, which can help you target your customers more accurately and win their hearts. If you would like to maximise your products or prefer more vivid promotion methods, we can also hold on site promotion activities for you.
And if you wish the customers to know your products deeply, we could also arrange special interviews and make personalised brochures.
You can join the RedHot Mix by M-Cashier mechanism and pay by credit card after calling us to ensure your benefits. RedHot Ad Exchange integrates all the functions mentioned above. It can even be used as a credit card. Of course, everything is dependent on your requirements. I heard the whole talk smilingly and gave them full marks. Soon we put our ideas into practice. And we integrated some other media partners in Malaysia, like New Straits Times, China Press, Utusan Melayu, the 19 magazines of Life Publishing Company and some other magazines, TV3, 8TV and some outdoor advertising companies.
It was a good chance for companies that they could advertise their products on any media they like without paying cash. So this plan gained great popularity. Nokia, DiGi, Haier, our clients came one after another. Soon, the goods range included telephones, computers, automobiles, real estate, insurance and many others. In 15 months, the trading volume through our platform amounted over RM20.02 million. Now there are over 2,000 RedHot firms selling our products and services.
We continued to come up with new variety of RedHot card, such as VIP card, China Press Smart Card, overseas Chinese Insurance Card and so on. Up to year 2003, we already have 500 thousand RedHot Card holders. I think the key of the success of RedHot card was that it solves the three big problems traders often face, all of which I had experienced during my early career in CY Company. The first one is the capital. Companies use to pay by cash, which often led to cash flow problems. But now our clients can pay with their goods instead of cash. For us the media, the ad is as good as cash for the clients’ goods. So cash is no longer a problem. The second one is the low gross margin, which was caused by price war. Now we have the know-how, so the gross margin would not be too low. The third is bad debt. We do not lend out money, so there is no bad debt to us. Just as we have these weapons, the RedHot scheme developed very quickly. In July 2004, RedHot became an independent company and was at the same level with Nanyang Online. Then I had another conclusion: brains and creativity creates business opportunities everywhere.
VIII. Constantly Innovative Media Technologies
While I led the colleagues of the marketing department to fight for our market shares, I also paid a lot of attention to the development of new technologies. A wonderful mobile and wireless information system had always been the goal we fought for. I believe that only the constant technological innovation can ensure our leading position in the media industry. It’s interesting to review the history and to look into the future. Now let’s review the history together.
1100: Chinese invented printing.
1450: Johannes Guterburg set the first print newspaper.
1791: America legitimated the freedom of speech.
1811: Friederich Koeing and Andreas Bauer invented the steam printing machine.
1832: William Bullock invented the rotary printing machine.
1920: The first radio station was founded in Pittsburgh.
1936: BBC established the first TV station.
1950-60: Colour TV was invented
1960: Cable TV was invented.
1980: The first satellite TV station was founded.
1990: Internet came into being.
1994: Digital text, sound, graph and video came into being.
2000: Possibilities existed on all the platforms anywhere and anytime.
There are possibilities on all the platforms. By reviewing the history of media development, from the first Nanyang Siangpau in 1923, the forms of media have been changing. Readers choose different channels for information and the most advanced channels which can provide the latest news are always readers’ favourite.
In 1996, the internet began to insinuate its power into Malaysia and reading news online became a fashion. A new channel for news was formed. Nanyang Siangpau founded its own website at once. Then the beginning of the 21st century saw the WAP send news to anybody with a mobile phone easily. Nanyang Online became the first media company who offered WAP news.
Recently, Nanyang Online started its collaboration with Reuters to offer real time football news and financial news through PagerMag and eMag, which created another fast channel for real time information distribution and fully manifested the concept of advancement with times. With the constant development of technologies, the media industry also developed rapidly. But for Nanyang online, there were four things which would never change, i.e. customers and communication inclinations, focus on brand power, the wonderful mobile and wireless information system and skills in mobile commerce transaction.
To be more specific, the communication with the public can ensure our knowledge about their needs and the business opportunities. Nanyang Online was linking firms with the public, so we had to be very clear about buying inclination and trends, otherwise we would give the wrong direction to the advertisers. Luckily, Nanyang Online masters the information with calculation of hits and the CRM system of the RHIMS. Good reputation and brand was also the necessity of a successful firm. Nanyang Online bears the brand of NPHB. Of course, our efforts were never overlooked. On the skills, in mobile commerce transaction, Nanyang Online can find business opportunities on all the media platforms. So it will keep growing by striving forward.
IX. Project Hope
The Chinese community was the base of Chinese media. No matter how fast Nanyang Online develops, it could not exist if we do not rely on the Chinese community. The Chinese square characters link Nanyang Online, the media of new economy, to the ethnic sentiments. Repaying the Chinese communities and schools and contributing to Chinese education has always been what I had intended to do. At the beginning of the Nanyang Online, I started the Knowledge Society Campaign, which is still on going as we speak.
The slogan of this project was “Cross-century Knowledge Network” with two objectives, one was to popularize information education and to increase the interest of Chinese students’ in information technology; the other was to teach students how to surf internet wisely and safely. How do we distinguish between healthy and unhealthy websites and other dos and don’ts when browsing the internet? We wanted the students to benefit from this activity. This activity took place in 50 schools annually. Supervised by NITC (National Information Technology Council) and supported by Nanyang Siangpau, Mingguan Pelajar Nanyang and Bulanan Tunas. Dato’ Han Choon Kim hosted the promotion ceremony on Feb 10th, 2001. This activity found an echo in all the schools throughout the 13 states of the whole Malaysia.
We set up a special group for this activity and edited two text books for the class. During the one-hour-long class, we taught student how to surf the internet safely and conducted redemption games by handing out the prizes sponsored by Mingguan Pelajar Nanyang and other sponsors to the students who took part in the activity. When we carried out the Knowledge Society Campaign, we realised that the situation in rural areas were different from the urban areas. In urban areas, students have basic computer knowledge, so they can easily understand. In the rural areas, some of the students have no idea about internet at all, so it took us a long time educate them with the basic knowledge about the internet. The colleague in charge of this activity told me that he learnt how difficult and how great the Project Hope in China was. Our colleagues thought that it would be very challenging to teach the students there, but it also brought us a sense of accomplishment, which urged us to work harder. What more, when Nanyang Online issued the campaign for caring about Chinese communities. We donated hundreds of thousands to make web pages for 100 branches of Persatuan Belia Xiang Lian Malaysia so that we could build closer and more diversified relations with Chinese communities.
Care brought hope. We fought in the cold commercial world of new economy while we felt warm and rewarded by the Chinese communities. This was the most pleasant part in the career. Later, Nanyang Online launched the activity of Nanyang Senior’s Happy Internet Road. From Chinese communities to the seniors, Nanyang Online has kept repaying the society and we will insist it in more ways in the future.
Chapter Six: Reflections on My business Life
I. the Definition of Success
Up to year 2003, I have been engaged in business for more than 10 years since 22. I would like to share my business experience and the reflection on my life with all of you. I went back to my hometown recently and heard my elders gave the thumbs up to the son of one relative. He was said to have a successful career and live a prosperous life. I knew his son from childhood days as we had played together. I would always like to make friends with peer entrepreneurs. So I managed to contact him and asked him to have tea with me and chatted.
As soon as we sat down, he began to talk about insurance. He kept talking on that topic. He talked about the merits of insurance, the advantages of his insurance policies. He told me how his wife and him worked day and night and got rewarded as the best agents and wanted to buy a house in Damansara and a car. He said pressure was a kind of drive for him. During our chat, he answered at least 20 calls nervously. I calculated for him during that time and my conclusion was that if he could manage to buy the grand house and the limo, he would probably have to spend most of his life paying the mortgages for them. Is it a successful life? Some people compromise their principles for the material rewards. I don’t want to criticize this kind of attitude as we all have our own criteria to succeed. As for me, I would not think material comfort is the ultimate criterion of success. I think one man can be successful only by influencing his industry, the society or even all mankind. So a successful man may not be listed on Forbes richest list. Some Nobel Prize winners make huge contribution in their own fields, but they may not be rich. Some other people are famous and listed on the rich list as his company makes a lot of money, but they may be ruthless, unscrupulous and may not be accepted and respected by the society.
My criterion of success is how much contribution one has made to the society. One can do many things in his life. In my business career, I was a computer hardware vendor, managing director of sole proprietary companies, and CEO a listed media company. I think all of these were highlights in my life. In my past years, I made money and also lost a lot of money, which were only bits and pieces of my life. The most important thing for me was to learn from my experience and to understand them in order to never repeat the same mistakes again. I need to avoid repeated mistakes in the future and scale new heights. I think I have not been successful because I don’t have a listed company of my own. I think a listed company would be a new milestone indicating a new journey for me. And I wish it could bring reform to the society and innovation to our industry. Success will come. But it is more important to build my business steadily now.
II. Insight into Human Nature and Things
Once I had a business dealing with a big client. I had heard that although this client was very fussy, if he was well impressed, the deal would be closed easily. From the beginning, I paid close attention to everything about him, especially the details. After several conversations, we became good friends and closed the deal smoothly. I could tell his favourite food, his tastes and so on without asking him. When I told others about this, they all felt surprised.
The keen observation and thinking abilities are the essential conditions which people can beat their competition in the society. For young people, it is important to have the ability to observe. Many geniuses have inexhaustible inspiration because they are quick to observe and pick up on the surroundings around them.
According to my past experiences, media was a whole new field before I entered into NPHB. In 1998, Nanyang Siangpau asked me to hold the post of information and media consultant to help them to improve the state of the newspaper.
That was the first time I truly researched into the media industry. After that I understood how the media industry influences human civilization and how important the Chinese newspapers are for the Chinese communities in Malaysia. I felt great responsibilities on my shoulder and I began to learn how the media works and what the market demands. Instantaneous was the basic demands for media. So I issued the real time news, the first among the Chinese media in Malaysia and Singapore, we achieved big success for this. After I mastered how to classify the information by net technology, I put the classified ads and information on the net so that the readers can find them easily.
From that time, I reminded myself that I must pay close attention to all kinds of incidences and I can learn many things about people and things with my acute senses. In the matter of business, it is crucial for businessmen to be aware of how others’ think. Besides, about the must know about the business clearly, such as the whole conditions, the procedures and so on. Only by this way can one understand the ins and outs as therer a reason to everything. Another key is to know about the tools around you, such as computers, automobiles. One must know the operation methods and functions. From the tools one can benefit a lot in their work.
Acute sense enables one to think more deeply. As businessmen of the new economy, we must be active to dig up new things. When a new product appears in the market, we should try to understand it and get to know how it came about and what the selling points are. Only never-ending thinking and exploration can drive our industry forward with the tide.
III. Social Networks Equal to Business Opportunities
For businessmen, social networks are important. Although the world has stepped into the era of internet, businesses still depend on the one’s personal and commercial networks. Because of networks, we save many unnecessary troubles when negotiating. Promise is a debt. Mutual trust has always been the Chinese merits in business. Just look around, you can find many enterprises around us become successful and big because of their credits. The broad social network is one of my most powerful equipment. The base of social networks is one’s popularity and good image. A successful businessman can be described as “skilful in dancing with long sleeves”, which indicates that one must know how to advance and retreat and make sure he goes into every detail in human relations. After all, one does business relying on others. I always treat others with sincerity. True words are the most touching. I believe that only sincere and truth can move people. And I have won many friends in this way from my school life till now. If I cannot do the work, I would say no. But if I had made a promise, I would do my best to fulfil it. However, my sincerity may be taken for granted as you can never predict how others may treat you. When I encounter such things, I reminded myself not to take it to heart. I have known a friend for ten years. During the ten years maybe we are not happy with each other for two months. But can the two months kill the ten-year friendship.
We should view everything from a macroscopic perspective and should be broad-minded and farsighted. It is unnecessary to care about those trivial things. In the business world, it is also important to be confident. Confidence can bring you trust from other people. A person without confidence cannot possibly convince others. One must express the ideas confidently, which can make the business easier.
My subordinates and I also trust each other. The team spirits in Nanyang Online is the best I have ever experienced. This is also a great achievement to us. When we are faced with difficulties, we kept concentrating on our common goals and did everything we could within our capacity to resolve the matter. I often said that a company’s potential lies in its business model and its people. For entrepreneurs, this is a different era that we are in now. In the past, one could be successful if he could win contracts or the power of agency. But now things have changed under globalization. Entrepreneurs are facing competitions from the whole world. One can succeed only by relying on an elite team and not solely reliant on a good CEO. The time of individualistic heroism has passed.
The best team means that every member should be a specialist. Team spirit form is our common goal, with which smaller goals should be in line. If not, the team must make adjustments and make sure all the team members work towards the same goal. It involves emotional management and people management. From social networking to team spirit building, the knowledge about people can never be thoroughly studied. However, it is a must lesson for entrepreneurs.
IV. Never put off today’s until tomorrow
Every Chinese child must be familiar with such a phrase, “An inch of time is worth an inch of gold; yet you cannot buy an inch of time with an inch of gold”; “Tomorrow and tomorrow, how many tomorrows are there? One can never do anything, if he keeps waiting for tomorrow. Children seldom understand this at their young age. When I was in junior high school, I enjoyed much free time without much restriction from mother. I escaped from school to play Mahjong and poker with classmates. Luckily I felt tired of this kind of life and then began my part time job which lasted through my teenage years.
The balance between work and study was also important to me. I could not sacrifice my studies for my part time job as it was not worth it and my mother would be very disappointed. But it was my dream to earn money. So I learnt how to manage my time. I set study schedule and insisted to finish the class on time every day. My grades were always at the top of the class, and I was chosen the class monitor for years, organized activities for the class and for the schools. I kept that habit after I entered university and started work. Everybody is surrounded by some trivial things. But there must be something important for you. Can you keep doing the important things every day? Or will you postpone it just because they are not so urgent?
I read Nanyang Siangpau every day no matter how late I come back home, because it is my work and also my way to know the society. I make analysis about the message I get as soon as I receive it and give quick responses. In the modern society, it is so advanced and people communicate so often that chances are transient. When you are watching and waiting, the chances have been grabbed by those who analyze and act quickly. I admire the young people in the May Fourth Movement in China as those high-spirited and vigorous young men thundered the fate of the country. They were really hot-blooded. I think young people should follow their spirits and enthusiasm.
So, try to never put off today’s work until tomorrow, but that does not mean that one must finish all the work needed to be done in a day but one should seize the opportunity at any moment in time.
V. The Good or Bad Decisions
On the road of starting our own business, we often meet frustrations and cannot do our business smoothly forever. But we must remain calm. Life is unpredictable, so we must be able to adjust our mood at any time and learn from the past mistakes with rapid thinking. In 1995, I had started my own business of CY Company as a computer hardware supplier. This company was supported by some small capital from friends. Although the business was running well, we encountered the danger of life and death: we were in financial difficulty, which was possibly caused by the lack of long-term plan and too much account receivables. Anyway, our company was in a crisis.
At that time, some friends gave their advice which helped us to survive through the bad time. I learnt to make use of bank financing. That was the first lesson I learned in my life. The second profound lesson was to learn when to stop in business. In 1995, I invested in the IT industry following the .com tide and founded smartschool.com. There was an attempt on the takeover of its name with a quotation of RM250,000 which was enough to buy for a small modern house.
I thought this quotation was too low and asked for RM1million. The result was that I lost the chance. Now when I review this decision, I think it is foolish. Decisions can only be judged good or bad but not right or wrong. And that was a bad decision. But I learned how to judge whether a decision was good or bad and that timing plays a very important role in any business. One of the magnates, whom I have known and cooperated with, Tan Sri Quek Leng Chan, was and is a good decision maker. In May 2001 he sold Dao Heng Bank. Right after the deal, the world economy went down. If he had not sold the bank in time, he could have lost a lot of money. The price difference would be so high that the bank could not have made that much money in 20 years times.
I believe that Tan Sri Quek Leng Chan has made a lot of good decisions in his life, which led to his success today. Many of the top ten richest people in Malaysia were not born with a silver spoon. They fought hard and obtained their wealth. Your parents give u a healthy body and a mind, which are the most valuable gifts. Whether we can make full use of the bodies and mind depends on our own efforts and opportunities.
All of us make good and bad decisions. Just face the results bravely and don’t make the same mistakes. Business skills are not born but trained and accumulated. Failure, hurt and setbacks are necessities for the accumulation of experiences.
When .com just appeared, many young IT specialists rushed into this field. But they were technology specialists but not businessmen, the two of which are quite different. A specialist without business experiences can hardly make money, which has been proven by the failure of many .com companies. Businessmen can only succeed by doing business under certain rules. At that time, to survive the company and to comply with the variable circumstances, we changed our operation models almost every day. In such an emergency, I did not just simply ask the employees to give up their scheme but shared with them the trend of the big environment by showing them the data so that they could fully understand the necessity of adjustments.
Nanyang Online bailed out due to our knowledge sharing and clear understanding of the situation. It is sailing to a better future. Fighting in the new economy is the whole process of my own business. I would like to share it with more people not only for helping those new comers but also for finding more like-minded people to create a better future of the new economy.
Chapter Seven: Nanyang Online on the Road of New Economy
I. The Competitive Advantage of Malaysia
Recently, International Institute for Management Development published the Global Competitiveness Report. Malaysia ranks No. 4 among the other countries, far beyond some developed countries. It is very good news for our country. Although the regional economy is slowing down, I still believe that true entrepreneurs can still find the exceptional advantages of Malaysia. Compared with the past, the situation has changed. The conditions and environment for Chinese businessmen are much better now. In the 1970s to 1980s, when the new economy was just beginning, the aboriginal received better treatment. Today, some of the old policies still exist, but Chinese businessmen suffer less now. Now, our fellow Malay citizens like doing business with the Chinese citizens, because we have seen the business whole world and not only in Malaysia. We aim to be a global company to do global businesses.
Some people asked me how the new economy would develop in Malaysia. I think it will have a very bright future. At present, the telecommunication companies are the most prosperous, which influences the mainstream of the new economy. The fastest part of new economy is data transmission. From the perspective of operations, media industry is on a higher level for it focuses on information transmission. All the industries related to data and information transmission should set foot on the road of new economy at once.
New economy is a production pattern which makes use of the existing resources, gives more momentum to the economy and makes more profit. In the past, TM was a government department. Now it invites stars as spokesmen to generate higher sales for its internet products. It can also collect money for you and provide other services. This is the big change in its operational model.
In Malaysia, the new economy faces both a problem and a chance. The problem is the lack of resources. Why new economy can develop so fast in America? It is because America, the largest capitalism country, owns a large amount of capital. Any creation can find supporting fund easily. Yahoo and NASDAQ are the most typical examples. NASDAQ is the springboard for new economy as it is the most ideal place for raising funds. Any companies of new economy who want to strengthen and expand themselves must go there for financing.
The biggest challenge in Malaysia is the weak capital market. However, the government has begun to push forward its relative measures and initiatives. Our premier Dato’ Seri Abdullah Badawi had announced the financing market stimulation plan. For example, the accessibility into the stock market would be easier. The board lot was reduced from 1000 shares to 100 shares, which made it easier for the retail segment to buy stocks, just like the Americans. These policies were good for the financing of Malaysian companies and endow them enough capital resources to develop their new economic models.
What is the advantage of Malaysian new economy? Malaysia owns a small economic system, which is the best place for the trial of new economy. Many new things flourished after their trials in a relative small scale.
This was not a bad thing because the failure in a big market would be disastrous. The reason why NASDAQ collapsed was due to the creation of the new economic models that entered into a big market before their feasibilities were studied. In a small place like Malaysia, we can cross rivers by feeling the pebbles on the river bed with smaller risk. Whereas in a larger market, you would feel as though you were in a vast ocean.
The new economy is an unprecedented cause. Crossing rivers by feeling the pebbles was inevitable and a practical strategy.
II. The Road of the New Economy
I think Asia will find a silk road of new economy which will connect the 1.3 billion Chinese population with the south-eastern market of 400 million people by media companies of new economy. What shall be of this road? One of the principal functions of the media of new economy is to explore the market and find new customers. China has now become a world factory for mass production. The sales of its products in south-east Asia will depend on media. In the ancient times, Chinese goods were carried across the deserts on the back of camels. Now they can go anywhere across the South China Sea by the information highway.
In my opinion, products from China are fit for this place as they are inexpensive and consumable. On top of that, the quality of the products is constantly rising. From manufacturing to design to brand strategy, the products from China have great potential. Now Nokia produces its mobile phones in China. But soon China would produce its own mobile phones. Who can open the market for them? The answer is us. The new media led by Nanyang Online aims at the whole market in south-eastern Asia.
Under this situation, the industries that benefit the most are packaging and marketing. The whole south-eastern Asia has lost its position of prominence in manufacturing gradually. If a foreigner is advised to open a factory in Malaysia, he is cheated as his products could be produced with half of its cost in China. So the future of Malaysia lies in creative industry within the servicing industries.
The service industries include creative industry, logistics management, packaging services, marketing and so on. For example, if you want to do business of calculator manufacturing, you do not need to make calculators yourselves. You can go to China to find the goods with the best quality, slap on your trademark, package them, set the marketing channels and sell them as your product with your own brand.
I think every region has its own unique values. We just need to find out what the values are, make use of the advantages to create infinite business opportunities. A global entrepreneur should not be restricted to a narrow view. Their accumulated wisdom and their specialties can be used to explore his business anywhere.
Let’s take a look at South Korea, which has revived from the 1997’s financial storm. They have found their own ways. Their national characters, such as robustness, patriotism, confidence, teamwork and so on, made contribution to their revival. But the most important thing was that they did not surrender to its regional circumstances.
So is Nanyang Online. Although the macroeconomic surrounding is bad, the turnover of Nanyang Online keeps moving up from 1million, 4million to 8 million this year. Our goal of 2004 is 16million, which has been fulfilled. Although the economic environment is bad, we did not complain or whine. The whole team acted zealously. I demanded our staff to strive together for a better future. If we were limited by regional environment.
III. The weight of Nanyang
I believed that Nanyang Online is not an ordinary company. One can feel its weight just according to the name.
Nanyang, a word of historic significance, manifests the blood and sweat of the overseas Chinese. Besides Nanyang Siangpau in Malaysia, there was also a magazine and universities named with Nanyang in Singapore. It represents the process of the overseas Chinese exploration of new life in the new world.
Online company is a good form of company. Nanyang Online is the crossroad of history and future. From the last century, overseas Chinese have put in much hardship in order for a better life, better environment and new causes for over 100 years. In the current high-technology era, we would adopt Mr. Tan Kah Kee‘s spirit and carry on fighting in the cyber space world.
The future of Nanyang Online would be divided into several periods. Our short-term ambition is to be the leading Chinese media of new economy in Malaysia or even in the whole south-eastern Asia and also the No 1 in the field of new economy. I think we have achieved this goal. Then we will be the undisputed Chinese media in this region of the whole south-eastern Asia and continue to carry forward the Nanyang spirit, which is the overseas Chinese strenuous spirit showed in the process of exploration. With this spirit, we will be able to broaden our overseas space, which is the prospect of Nanyang Online. Nanyang Online has not failed the shareholders of NPHB. They have seen the fruits of their investment, which I can guarantee that they will reap more profits moving forward.
Nanyang Online has not failed the responsibilities for the whole Chinese community. We found a new road of economy for them. Our operation model and achievements are satisfying. From the perspective of economics, we need pioneers in our race. Newspapers shoulder the tasks of speaking for the public and inherit cultures. They cannot just only pay attention to businesses but also to the social responsibilities. It is time to bring them into the new models. From the perspective of culture, we have been working hard to protect our roots. In the market, telecommunication companies, financial companies and media companies hold each other up. The former two are huge. They have capital running into tens of billions. The Chinese media has the smallest capitalization. Therefore we must find a way so that we can develop ourselves in a healthy robust direction in order to avoid to losing our independence or to be taken over.
Mergers and acquisitions happen both in Malaysia and abroad. The stronger part always dominates. If NPHB were taken over, our direction would certainly be changed and we would only be a Chinese content provider.
So we must rely on ourselves if we want to sustain our Chinese roots. I think the constant development of Nanyang Online and its growing market capitalization are meaningful, because we are propagating our roots.
IV. The Future of Nanyang Online
When Mr. Tan Kah Kee founded Nanyang Siangpau and “Donated alll his possessions to set up schools”, his principle was to spend most of the money earned in repaying the society. The operation model and the principal of Nanyang Online were closely related to the development of the society. The criteria to succeed in a media company are the respect and support you garner from the society. The more we repay, the more respect and support we shall get, and the bigger the market will be.
Nanyang Online has been striving to fulfil its responsibilities as a social citizen. Every media company with moral standards should keep repaying back to the society, which, in my opinion, is the duty of a corporate citizen.
We must be aware that one company could not survive at all if there was no society. Especially for the Chinese media, our existence is heavily depended on the existence of growth of the Chinese group. We shoulder the responsibility of linking the history and the future, so we should repay the society more. The media company must keep close interactions with the society as we cannot live on our own.
This repayment method is a concrete way of interaction. Our Knowledge Society Campaign repays the Chinese schools; our web pages made for the clan associations repay the clans; the Nanyang Senior’s Happy Internet Road activity repays the seniors. We also plan to repay the whole Malaysian society, including Chinese communities and others. The cause about culture and race can also be profitable. The cause which can bring profit and contribute to the society at the same time is the best cause. Education and media are both big national businesses. NPHB, founded by Mr. Tan Kah Kee in 1923 and listed in 1989, is a part of our culture and national business history.
Economy, culture, education, we can find infinite business opportunities in all of these areas only if we devote our efforts to do so. With the interaction of business and the cultural and national causes, we should be clear about the overall direction of Malaysia and what we should strive for. Currently, we can see the strong rise of China’s economy. Our premier Dato’ Seri Abdullah Badawi has visited China twice, from which we can see how important China is to Malaysia. It is vital for us to continuously build the bridge for the economic and cultural communications between the two countries.
When you understand this big premise and the overall direction, you will be clear about the future and needs of our nation and country. Following this direction, we shall push forward the popularization of Chinese language to help all the ethnic groups in Malaysia to communicate with China. We shall do whatever we can to spread the information and the needs of our society through all kinds of channels.
(Written in year 2004)