Saturday, 3 March 2012

See opportunities in adversity


ON YOUR OWN By TAN THIAM HOCK

I HAVE been having fun. Good fun. Five trips in the last 30 days. Holidays, business meetings, visiting my kids and watching the Il Divo concert in Jakarta with my wife. So my apologies to the readers who wrote in and have not received any reply from me.

One of my trips was to visit our supplier in Bangkok. I was pleasantly surprised when he said that his company did very well last year despite the tsunami and earthquake in Japan and the three-month flooding of Bangkok. He picked up additional Japanese customers who lost their regular suppliers because of the tsunami. Luckily for him, his factory and surroundings were not flooded, so again he picked up new customers.

No businessmen can predict how natural disasters will affect their business. There is a major element of luck. Good luck or bad luck.

I was also amazed that his company has been growing steadily through the years of continuous political turmoil in Thailand, frequent change of governments, street demonstrations, riots and street bombings. Still, it is business as usual. Especially for tourism. Their airport was crowded and immigration was horrendous. In comparison, the KLIA felt like a ghost town.

Over dinner, he explained that except for southern Thailand, the rest of the country has a homogenous society. No racial or religious issues. Only corrupted and power crazy politicians. I felt comforted. We are not alone.

All Thai companies and citizens have equal opportunity in business and education. So generally, entrepreneur wannabes can participate openly in almost every sector of the economy without government interference. Except for those businesses hijacked by politicians and their cronies. I comforted him. They are not alone

I have always joked with my Singaporean business friends that Malaysian entrepreneurs are much, much more creative than theirs. We have to be sensitive to additional external issues like religion, race and government/political business units. And only then, we start worrying about our business at hand and our real business competitors.

Singaporean entrepreneurs just have to be hardworking and efficient and they will make a good living. How boring it must be for them.

My good friend from the Philippines has gone through more hardships in his business life than all the other Asean counterparts combined. Political upheavals, natural disasters, warlords, gangsters, corrupted armies and an economically poor consumer population. But he is always wearing a smile on his face and treats each setback as a natural unavoidable event. As a devout Catholic, he feels God is always testing him.

To all those entrepreneur wannabes in Malaysia who are not sure of the type of business that you want to invest in, my advice is to go into a business that is not dominated by GLCs, a business that will not create issues with religion or race, and avoid investing in potentially natural disaster areas.

You will be stupid if you invest in residential and industrial properties in flood-prone areas or near toxic waste plants. God forbid if there is a major flood or an accident in an industrial toxic waste plant, you will be an unlucky owner of properties in a ghost town.

It is important that entrepreneurs understand the political and economic environment that your business operates in. This will greatly reduce the element of luck in your strategic planning and give you more certainty in forecasting the trend. Like my Asean friends have demonstrated, there is always opportunities in adversity or unnatural events.

For those who are looking for business opportunities, the coming 13th General Election is a big pot of gold, just in case you are not aware of it. Media companies are rubbing their hands in glee at the potential additional advertising revenue forthcoming.

Printers of outdoor materials and posters are preparing their raw materials due to short order cycles. Soft-drink and mineral water suppliers are salivating at the sharp spike in consumption. Caterers will make a killing handling all the kenduris. Coffee shops in sleepy towns, hotels and motels are prepared to raise prices at a moment's notice.

Then there is the cash handouts to the general population. Consumption of economic goods will increase substantially. Money supply in the economy will double. The general election is expected to contribute an additional 1% to our GDP growth, a point I am sure that has been accrued in our Economic Transformation Programme.

Malaysian entrepreneurs must learn from our Asean counterparts. See opportunities in adversity. Prepare for natural disasters or unnatural events. Stay calm when your environment is in crisis. Trust your luck. And you will do just fine.

The writer is an entrepreneur who hopes to shares his experience and insights with readers who want to take that giant leap into business but are not sure if they should. Email him at thtan@alliancecosmetics.com

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