RECENTLY my good friend from Singapore requested to meet up as he was coming to KL. As we have been friends for some 30 years, I could sense that he had something on his mind as he had asked for a quiet dinner just between the two of us.
As it turned out, halfway through dinner, he went quiet and suddenly said that his eldest son got married a month ago but other than a simple lunch between the two families, he did not organise any major wedding dinner for him. He apologetically explained that the newly wed couple had requested for no wedding dinner and instead wanted to spend a three-week honeymoon instead.
His dilemma was that he is the eldest son in a Teochew family and his mum is still alive and as such, it is his duty to host a wedding dinner for his eldest son. In fact, it should be a big dinner to celebrate such a happy occasion. Instead, since the father-in-law had no objection to his daughter’s request, he reluctantly agreed and ended up paying for the honeymoon trip plus a 15% down payment on a two-bedroom flat for the young couple.
Such was his belief in holding on to traditions that he had to explained to me in person when a phone call would have sufficed. I appreciate such subtleties and that explained why we have been friends for such a long time despite some tough negotiations over the years in doing business together.
If you have been long enough in business, you get to meet all kinds of people, from the honest to the dishonest, from the lovables to the despicables etc. I believe the key ingredient to a long lasting business relationship is mutual respect.
Simple acts like being fair and letting your suppliers make some profit, paying and getting paid on time, keeping to your word and treating all stakeholders with respect goes a long way towards building a good reputation for yourself. And respect is earned not given whether you are the boss or the staff. Maybe that explains why politicians are left with few friends when they leave office!
Then just the other day while on the golf course, just I was about to take my second shot, my phone rang and upon my saying a curt ‘Yeah’, a young man’s voice came across my phone ‘Hi Thiam Hock’. I am so and so from there and there. Did you read my email that I had sent to you? When I answered ‘Yes’, he just went on and on about all the services that he can offer to my companies that I had to curtly cut him short to say ‘No need and no interest’!
It broke my concentration as I could not decide whether to hit a fade or draw shot. I ended up hitting a fat shot. I was disturbed as only my friends or my seniors call me by my name, Thiam Hock. Perhaps I have been friends with this young man in my past life?
Anyway, later that night over dinner, I asked my eldest boy who had just started working this year on how he addressed his boss. He casually said that at different times and situations, he address him as Boss, Mr and by name. I was horrified.
Was he not taught from young to call all seniors, Uncle, Aunty, kor kor and chia chia? What western values has he learned from six years of studying abroad? Looks like I have to call his boss to request for a private meeting. I will probably blame it on poor parenting and loose western values.
So can an old fashioned entrepreneur with traditional values survive in this new world of millennials? Or is there a need for the weary entrepreneur to adjust to the new reality? To start all over again with a new perspective in managing different cultures and different values? My answer is Yes and No.
Yes because we are living in a fast changing world where the digital economy is gaining prominence. You will need to depend on the millennials to take your company into new uncharted territories. More so in Malaysia where one group of millennials have adopted western values and the other group adopting Islamic values. You will have to do business in a digital economy where your traditional values converge with Western and Islamic values. A massive mish mash of values that will give nightmares to marketeers and business strategist.
No because I believe some traditional values which has survived the last thousand business years will still be valid going into the next thousand years. Only this time, you will be building a business relationship over an interface rather than face to face. Less personal relationship is required so there will be less need to give face or having to save face. But you will still have to face the fact that more trust will be required since you will be dealing with unseen faces over the net and the stakeholders or customers can only be fooled once and no more.
No because if you do not treat all your stakeholders with respect, you will not earn any respect in return. Without respect, your relationship with your investors, partners, suppliers and customers will be short lived. And as all of you know, short lived relationships are costly to acquire and unprofitable whether in the old or new economy.
I would love to see the young entrepreneurs learning some old traditional values for a change. It is too much to expect only the old entrepreneurs to change to the new economy when the old economy is still dominant. Maybe a compromise of set values can be established between the generations.
To start off, if you are a generation or two younger than me, you can call me Uncle or a simple Mr Tan will do. I have been called by worst names than that so be rest assured, I will be very appreciative of your kind gesture and will reciprocate with great respect. This is a fade shot.