Malaysia went through a historic moment recently. President Barack Obama visited our country and he was the first serving US president to do so in 48 years. For those who had the opportunity to meet him, it was an unforgettable experience.
I mean, how often in our lifetime do we get a chance to meet a head of state face to face, let alone the most powerful man in the world.
Although I was not one of those who was given this privilege, his visit reminded me of a time when I did get to meet a head of state in person.
One day, in the company I used to work for, I was given a very daunting task. My US-based company’s CEO and founder was scheduled to visit Malaysia, among several other countries in the region. He would be having an audience with the prime minister of Singapore as well as the president of the Philippines.
My task? I was to get him a meeting with then Malaysian prime minister Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.
When the task was first given to me, I did not think it was possible to accomplish.
Yes, my CEO was already meeting the heads of state of Singapore and the Philippines. Surely getting him an audience with the Malaysian prime minister would not be too hard? It was and I will tell you why.
Firstly, while my former company had a strong presence in both Singapore and the Philippines, in Malaysia at that time its name was still relatively unknown and insignificant.
Secondly, both the invitation to meet with the premiers of the two countries was initiated by my US headquarters directly and not by the local offices.
As Malaysia was still considered as a nascent market for our company at the time, there was no such initiative from HQ.
However, my country manager decided that perhaps we should try to get this meeting through our own efforts. After all, as in Obama’s case, since the company’s operations started in Malaysia more than 20 years ago, our CEO has not visited.
We wanted to make his visit a historic moment for him, for us and for our customers too. As the office in Malaysia was still considered small, the chances of us obtaining this meeting was low and we all knew that. But we went ahead with the mind-set that if we did not try, we would never know.
It was challenging of course. As the marketing manager for Malaysia, it was up to me to think of ways to position the company and my CEO sufficiently well in order to convince my country’s prime minister to meet him.
When one way did not work, I tried another. I went through all possible channels I could think of. Some rejections from certain quarters came swiftly. While the correspondence with some other quarters disappeared, never to see the light of day.
Then one day, almost six months later and just as I was about to give up, a fax arrived from Putrajaya. We got the meeting!
My country manager was astounded. He did not think the meeting would happen, but he thought it would be good to just let me try. My company’s HQ was similarly astounded.
No other country’s office has managed such a feat before without any support from HQ. How did the small Malaysia office achieve this? Till today, I do not really know either, although I have a few ideas.
And then the eventful day arrived. I was at the airport with my country manager to receive our CEO as he arrived in his private jet. We sat in cars with police outriders leading the way to Putrajaya. As I walked with my CEO and country manager into the prime minister’s office, I knew this was a momentous event I would not easily forget in my lifetime.
So my message to SMEs and entrepreneurs? Don’t let the size of your company stop you from trying the seemingly impossible. Secondly, don’t give up. Because there is always another way. Lastly, all of us entrepreneurs can have our own historic moment in business. What will yours be?
- Recently, Jeanisha was asked to apply for a prestigious award. Looking at the names of past winners, she knew the chances of her company winning were slim. But if she didn’t try, she would never know. Share your historic moments with her at email@example.com.
- The views expressed are entirely the writer's own.
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