Getting strategic with new ideas

  • Business
  • Saturday, 25 Jan 2003


IT was one idea after another that led Trevor Ang to set up his own business called ATB Idea Shop. For years, Ang had been fascinated about new ideas, new ways of doing things, new processes. So when he hit on this big idea of starting his own business selling the ideas he had collected over the years, he decided to go it alone with the help of friends. 

And so ATB Idea Shop was born, with Ang at the core, and these three buddies lending him their thinking caps whenever a problem calls for their expertise. 

For some 15 years, Ang had walked the corridors of the corporate world. He spent 10 with American Telegraph and Telephone (AT & T) in California and five with Siemens in Malaysia, mainly as a marketing strategist. 

Ang is still a strategist today. While that sounds bland and insipid, his ideas are far from conventional, his methodology, different, and his working style, unusual. 

And if he pulls through this life changing idea he has of running a business the way he is running his, he would have changed his own life. And the life of his friends.  

Ang sells ideas, the way pizzas are ordered over the telephone. 

“Not just over the phone, but the Internet (,” he corrects as he outlines his ideas in his Subang Jaya house in Petaling Jaya. 

For some 40 years, Ang has thrived on ideas and creativity. In every country he ever studied or worked in, or visited, the trips inevitably became a journey of discovering new ideas as he talked to people and observed the culture of another.  

And Ang jotted them down in a little book. Today, he has three little black books filled with cryptic jottings that only he can decipher and interpret. 

Flipping open one of his little black books, he invited, “Go on. Pick out an idea and I'll explain it.” 

One particular entry jumped out – jail baby food. That seemed intriguing enough.  

“In some countries, young adults think it macho to be jailed, to have an encounter with the law. They deliberately get into all sorts of activities, vandalism being one of them, just to flirt with the law so that they can tell their friends about their exploits. 

“To reduce the prison population one country dishes out baby food, blended and all, served in baby milk bottles. What’s so macho about having baby food from a milk bottle? 

“The rationale – if you want to be treated like an adult, behave like one,” Ang says, who travels around the world collecting ideas, talking to people and making observations. 

“Jail baby food is a solution that looks at the crux of the problem. Although it is a social issue besetting a government, like any problems, corporate or otherwise, getting to the root of it helps. Having a jail term or prolonging it, treats the symptoms but does not address the root of a problem,” says Ang. 

Moving on to a client in the Klang Valley, he says for years, it employed mostly ex-army personnel. The result: employees were treated like soldiers, they were ordered around, they followed orders and no questions asked, none entertained. The bigwigs ordered their managers, and their managers, the rank and file. It was basically soldiers in corporate suits.  

“They forgot they were in the civilian world. We went in, had a couple of meetings, and provided a simple solution of having a family day, a simple and effective solution to remove the psychological barriers,” says Ang. 

“Some ideas can be ordered, like one orders a pizza. Others require us to talk to the management and staff to get to the root of the issue.” 

The bottomline – motivated staff leads to better productivity and efficiency. Most solutions, says Ang, lies in processes.  

He says: “Every car is built with a certain number of parts, some of which are crucial, others are frills. In the corporate sector, some processes can be eliminated, others can’t. Or maybe the order in which things are being done can be changed.”  

“This could be in the way of marketing, branding, promoting, creating awareness for a product or service. Or simply, to recreate a new way of doing things, always with the view to increasing productivity and efficiency,” Ang says. 

The ultimate objective, he says, is to improve the bottomline.  

Ang works with three partners, all of them experts in their respective fields. They do not have fancy offices in tall tower blocks, and they contact each other via the phone or through e-mail. 

“If I have an issue dealing with mergers and acquisitions or human resources, I make contact with Azim, if it is corporate communications and advertising, it is Felix and if it is logistics and warehousing, that’s Rodney’s area.” 

Azim Pawanchik, an organisational change and innovation expert, is a consultant in whole brain technology and is licensed to analyse how people think to discover which part of the brain they are using most. He is currently the principal consultant in Alpha Catalyst Consulting. 

The other two partners are Swiss Felix Heinimann, a strategic marketing and corporate communications expert.  

Heinimann was previously the vice-president for strategic marketing and corporate. He subsequently set up his own corporate communications agency.  

Singaporean Dr Rodney Wee's area is in logistics and is currently the chairman of the Johor branch of the Malaysian International Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Micci). 

For some 15 years, Ang has been trying to get people to think out of the box, or without it. He's still at it.  

“I'm an idea facilitator and always have been. The difference is, I'm now on my own and my ideas are for hire,” he says. 

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