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Sunday, 30 October 2011

The accidental entrepreneur

LOOKING back at the last nine years, here are the hard facts I have had to face:

1. Before SPM, I was too lazy to study hard as I knew I had the financial backing of my parents. I never thought about how lucky I was, or how much they sacrificed to put me through college;


All great journeys start with small steps, and I hope anew everyday to have the courage to take themANAND PILLAI

2. I finished SPM with dreams of being a hotshot engineer in Silicon Valley riding the dot-com bubble. Of course, I knew shockingly little about what any of those things really entailed; and

3. Up till recently, my knowledge of the world – its problems, its people, and its culture – was severely lacking as it was shaped by commercialised Western television and the Internet. Although I grew up in Malaysia, I had little exposure to folk from other social classes.

My journey began at the dawn of the millennium when I completed my A-Levels and went on to pursue an engineering degree at Northwestern University in Chicago, the United States (US). It was very, very cold there – minus 20 degrees Celsius at times.

Three years after starting college, I was a radically changed person. I realised that my true calling was to devote my life to work that was meaningful to me, and that I did not enjoy engineering in its traditional sense, although I graduated with a Bachelor in Industrial Engineering and Management Sciences.

Upon graduation, I was determined to find employment in the non-profit sector and secured an internship at an organisation that provided food to the homeless in Chicago.

Although I enjoyed my work immensely, I was not able to remain employed there due to my US work visa situation. I had to decide if I was to return to Asia to work in the development/non-profit field, or pursue a corporate career in the US, which was the only way to secure a work visa at the time.

The allure of a large pay cheque, sharp grey suits and expense accounts eventually won me over and I accepted a management consulting position in Philadelphia. I worked there for two years and went on to become a manager at a global pharmaceutical company in Princeton, New Jersey, making more money than I ever thought possible.

Fortunately, throughout my corporate career, I focused on learning from my work environment and saving as much money as I could while pursuing other interests after work hours.

After three years in my cubicle, I left the corporate world and began to work on my own entrepreneurial ventures in Philadelphia and other cities. I wanted to be a small business entrepreneur because it would allow me to live a lifestyle that I cherished. More importantly, I would be able to pursue work that would be meaningful to me – personally and professionally – without being held accountable to someone else’s whims or the profit motives of owners or investors.

Over the years I discovered (due to a combination of part-time work and meeting new people) that my passion lay in “social business”.

This is the model of running profitable, successful companies which at its core takes into account the 3 P’s – people, planet, and profits.

This effectively combined my interests in the traditional business world with providing a social benefit to the communities I worked in.

My entrepreneurial ventures include partnering with an experienced real estate investor on low-income housing in Philadelphia. I also developed an education consulting business where I worked as a career counselor for 20-somethings who were trying to find their place in the world. Most importantly, both endeavours were entrepreneurial in nature and very meaningful to me as they met the objectives I wanted to achieve in my professional career.

After spending close to 10 years in the US pursuing further education and work opportunities, I recently decided to move back to Asia.

Spending time with my family, pursuing meaningful business ventures in Malaysia, and exploring and enjoying my native land was a calling too strong to ignore.

I intend to continue my work in real estate and career guidance here, but also focus my energies on other business ventures including sustainable tourism, fitness, and nutrition – all passions of mine.

As I pause midway through my life and look back at life after SPM, I realise that the road I took was one that I never expected to be on, but I am eternally grateful and humbled by the opportunities I have had. I intend to live the rest of my life building upon that foundation.

I constantly remind myself of my primary goal – creating positive change in the world. All great journeys start with small steps, and I hope anew everyday to have the courage to take them.

Finishing school is a fun time but for most of us, it is a time for some serious thinking about your future. The Star Education Fair’s Options After SPM talk is a good place to help you make your choices easier.

This story is published in What’s After SPM? available at MPH Bookstores.

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