Helping businesses move forward

Keen business insights: (from left) Chia, Soon, Yip and Kuan at the panel discussion.

PETALING JAYA: Small and medium enterprises (SMEs) had much to learn at the recent SOBA LAB, with speakers highlighting innovation, agility and digitalisation as key aspects in building business resiliency.

RHB Bank Bhd SME banking head Yip How Nang, for instance, stressed on the importance of keeping an eye on the future, especially with the Finance Ministry forecasting a strong gross domestic product rebound of 7.5% in 2021.

He said, “The question is, are you ready to take advantage of this rebound as a business? Whatever your decision is - whether it is to save or invest - always have an eye on the future.

“Do you have the infrastructure or the financial flexibility? Is your current capacity sufficient if your sales suddenly jumps up by 20%? Each SME needs to do a review on their strengths and weaknesses, then decide on whether to save or invest wisely. You’re the only one who knows your business well enough to make that decision.”

Yip was speaking at a panel discussion during the SOBA LAB, which was moderated by SME Association of Malaysia national council member Datuk Grace Chia Hui Yen. Themed Road to Recovery in Restoring Business Sustainability, the panel also featured Digi SME business division head Steven Soon, Credit Guarantee Corporation Malaysia Bhd (CGC) chief business officer Leong Weng Choong and PKT Logistics Group Sdn Bhd chief marketing officer Kuan Eu Jin.

Ong:SOBA helps bring brands to a larger audienceOng:SOBA helps bring brands to a larger audience

In addition, Kuan noted that SMEs should be preparing for the next recession.

“Right now, you probably need to be in survival mode for the next couple of months, but the key element is to have a strategy or business growth that is not just anchored on one segment that is vulnerable to recessions.

“Besides knowing what industries you’re going into, if your industry is very cyclical and impacted by economic cycles, make sure you’re not too reliant on it. Try to diversify your business segments, ” he opined.

Another element he highlighted was constant communication with stakeholders such as employees, customers and suppliers.

He added, “One thing that my chief executive officer (Datuk Michael Tio) did very well during the movement control order period was communicate constantly with employees and customers; being the voice of calm and confidence. That helped a lot in keeping the company moving forward.”

Dr Yeong:Try and find opportunitiesamidst crisesDr Yeong:Try and find opportunitiesamidst crises

Soon, on the other hand, believes that there is a clear message for SMEs to adopt and embrace digitalisation in the “now” normal.

Drawing from Digi’s experience, he said businesses should call upon different teams to work together to prepare all the necessary digital tools to reach out to customers, which would in turn open up new opportunities for business.

“The benefits of digital adoption in your business, especially for SMEs, outweighs the costs, ” he said.

He added that the first priority of businesses is to invest in sufficient products or raw materials to manufacture their products, followed by ensuring that they are able to reach out to their customers. Lastly, he said that it was key for SMEs to conserve cash and control the operating expenditure.

He explained, “Go into operation processes, identify those that are labour-intensive and bit by bit, go into digitalisation.”

The session also featured the success stories of past SOBA winners, including Steel Recon Industries Sdn Bhd (SRI) director Alison Ong, Poliklinik Shaik Sdn Bhd director Datuk Dr Ameen Shaik Mohamed and DF Automation and Robotics Sdn Bhd director Dr Yeong Che Fai.

Dr Ameen Shaik:Be brave, be fast andlearn from competitorsDr Ameen Shaik:Be brave, be fast andlearn from competitors

The three entrepreneurs also shared their strategies and solutions in tackling business disruptions arising from the Covid-19 pandemic.

For Poliklinik Shaik, it was a tough time as the business was only achieving 10% of its pre-movement control order revenue, but it was Dr Ameen Shaik’s quick thinking to seek an out-of-the-box solution that helped it tide through.

What he did was come up with an arrangement where the clinic’s staff delivered medication and offered services by bringing healthcare to the customers’ doorsteps to boost its revenue, which he said was an effective move.

“Be brave and change your business, change the way you do your business. We cannot be doing things the way we used to. We have to find pockets of opportunities. We have to be fast, we have to look at our competitors, see what they do and learn from it, ” he said.

The same was the case for DF Automation, with Dr Yeong and his team brainstorming an innovation to open a new vertical amidst the pandemic.

He shared, “We have been in business for eight years serving the heavy industries, but none in the medical industry. We reviewed our business. We’re a robotics company and frontliners at the time lacked personal protective equipment - robots can help them do simple stuff like deliver food to patients or conduct autonomous sanitisation, so we built a robot called the Mak Cik Kiah robot in seven days for a hospital.”

Ong, conversely, believes that SMEs should focus on company fundamentals such as managing expenses and ensuring a broad customer base.

“It goes back to two company fundamentals that we rely on, one is managing expenses. Identify what is necessary and what is nice to have, for instance, how much impact does your investment in marketing have in driving sales?

“The second business fundamental we always had was having a broad customer base. We spent a lot of time and resources over the past 20 to 30 years to build international standards - certifications and approvals - for our products, ” she said.

Ong said that winning SOBA helped to bring the SRI brand to a larger audience, especially with the media coverage it received post-event, while Dr Yeong shared a different perspective.

He said, “Through SOBA, I started speaking with a lot of other entrepreneurs and learnt that there were a lot of ways to structure business models. That added a lot of value for me.

“It was a very good platform to focus on doing business, because I was only focused on innovation (previously). Joining SOBA made me realise that we have to start building up capabilities in other areas as well.”

Themed Recovery, Reinvention and Restoration, this year’s SOBA LAB consists of five sessions. The upcoming SOBA LABs will take place on Sept 23 and Sept 30. E-mail to sign up for subsequent SOBA LAB sessions.

Organised in conjunction with SOBA 2020 as part of the education element of the awards programme, SOBA LAB was designed to arm business leaders and entrepreneurs with the necessary knowhow to take their businesses to the next level.

SOBA 2020 is organised by SMG with Digi, PKT Logistics Group and RHB Bank as main sponsors, Credit Guarantee Corporation as co-sponsor and the Malaysia External Trade Development Corporation as official trade promotion partner. It is endorsed by the Ministry of International Trade and Industry, supported by Bursa Malaysia and audited by BDO with dimsum, 988 and Suria as official media partners.

Submissions for SOBA are now open. Locally incorporated enterprises not part of a multinational or listed group with foreign equity not exceeding 50%can participate by completing the application form online via or submitting the hard copy to the organiser at Menara Star, Petaling Jaya. The deadline for entries is Dec 4,2020.

For more information on SOBA 2020, call The Star Events Business Unit at +603 7967 1388 ext 1871 (Lily)/ 1104 (Shamenei) or visit

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