Your core values are the cement that will hold your company together during rough times. A great company culture will endure anything.
MY ENTREPRENEURIAL journey started very early in life, from the moment I arrived in Australia. Back then, it was common for young Brits to travel to Australia on a backpacker’s visa.
I decided I wanted to stay longer and deferred my degree at the University of Edinburgh to stick around for a year.
I took up a sales job in an office and six months later, I was running the company (Appco). My mother was skeptical when I told her as it was quite hard to believe that a 21-year-old was running his own office.
I ended up opening and managing five offices across Australia in Brisbane, Sydney and Perth and deferred university for another year. However, I couldn’t stay in Australia forever as my visa eventually ran out. But I knew I didn’t want to go back to Britain just yet, so I set my sights on Malaysia and booked my flight.
I arrived in 1995 and immediately went to work. At the time, Appco’s business of selling services face-to-face had never existed in Asia before.
I’ve always liked the ease in which business can be conducted here. My first Appco office was set up on Jalan Loke Yew. Within the same year, we had opened a second office in Damansara Utama, and within two years, we had six offices around the country.
Things seemed pretty smooth-sailing until the 2003. That year, we lost a major client. I was forced to go back to square one and re-think my approach to the business. I didn’t have a framework upon which I could build a sustainable-growth business.
We began rebuilding the business, and by 2007, we had reached a turnover of RM8mil. It was around this time that I was introduced to the Rockefeller habits.
I see myself as a consensus-driven leader who will always reach out to ask everybody’s thoughts while having plenty of my own. But that alone was not enough. I needed to get everyone on the same page. I devised our core values, complete with acronyms (makes it easier to remember!) and implemented it immediately.
Last year, we hit RM250mil. After many expansions and contractions, we are firmly established in our new headquarters at Menara Axiata, with a presence in seven Asian countries. Around the region, we have 2,500 people working on sales alone, plus hundreds of personnel in support roles.
Our core values, known as PICCCSA, of accountability, integrity, taking on challenges, passion, self-improvement, celebrating achievements, open communication and respect helped us stay aligned to our goals.
Keep in mind that a company’s core values must constantly be promoted and refreshed in everybody’s mind. You can do this by organising events and get-togethers around your core values. Your core values are the cement that will hold your company together during rough times.
Losing money, but more importantly, losing good people, is what prompted a change for me. There is no management book that can teach you everything you need to know. It was my mistakes that helped me grow.
People ask me what I would change if I could, and I say, nothing at all because if I changed the bad times, I wouldn’t have learned. It’s also easy to lose yourself when you’re at the top. I was fortunate to be exposed to YPO when I attended an event in 2007. Being there had the most extraordinary impact on me.
I went back to the same event for three consecutive years before I decided to join in 2009. I don’t like being the smartest person in the room. If you happen to be that person, you need to move rooms. Being a part of YPO ensures that this never happens to me.
I’m kept grounded and real by sitting next to people who are worth billions of dollars and have exceptionally wise things to share.
Being in the organisation is like having your very own compass. It’s humbling.
While I consider myself a serial entrepreneur, I also understand the importance of having a break. However, I’ll also say that when I was out there building my company, I never even heard of the term “work-life balance”.
I’d say don’t try and do everything in a day. Decide beforehand if today is going to be a work day or family day.
On leadership, I believe the measure of a leader’s success is being good on a bad day. Everyone’s good on good days but the true test is whether or not you can manage your company during a decline. Can you keep inspiring people when things are tight?
Making sure that you show up every day even through bad days or months, not too happy and not too sad, will ensure your success.