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People In Farming
Jacie Tan catches up with Stuart Thomas and Abang Dzulqarnaen, the founders of a hydroponic startup, to see what they look for in the people they want to grow with.
The first thing I feel when I pull up to Babylon Vertical Farms’ headquarters in The Garage KL is serious location envy. Built from repurposed shipping containers, it seems the perfect place for an environmentally-minded, sustainable business to grow.
‘We’re really lucky to have found this place,’ says Stuart, co-founder and finance director of Babylon. ‘It’s twenty minutes away from the city, we’re having our first vertical farm here, and we’re in talks with the owner of the café about our office area.’
‘We’re even making the most of our space by building living quarters for our team on-site,’ adds Abang, fellow co-founder and head of operations.
Stuart and Abang have known each other since their kindergarten days, with similar ties of long-standing friendship with the rest of their five-man-strong team as well. I ask the obvious question about what they think of friends going into business together.
‘They say don’t get into business with your friends, but it’s really about what kind of friends you’ve got,’ says Stuart. ‘If they’ve got integrity, then I’ll know I can trust them, and that’s what’s important to me. I’ve known Abang and Joel for years. Ollie and Eshton are martial arts students of Abang’s, and my trust in Abang’s recommendation of them has completely paid off.’
People and growth
‘The number one thing we look for is coachability – your ability to be coached,’ Abang declares. ‘You have to be willing to learn and put your belief in those who teach you.’
‘It’s in integral part of our hiring criteria,’ Stuart agrees. ‘You can hire the smartest person, but if they think they know everything already, they’re not going to get far.’
‘Whenever we approach someone new, I like to use unconventional methods to figure them out,’ shares Abang, who studied psychology as part of his degree. ‘Body language, colour preferences – all these small things enable you to judge what kind of person someone is altogether. Psychology is as real as any science out there.’
‘Babylon is a company that places heavy emphasis on HR,’ he continues. ‘It’s important to have the sensitivity to pay attention to team dynamics and working environment in order to maximise human efficiency. For example, I always recommend that we eat together as a team to foster togetherness, the way families would. The way our working space also plays a part in team motivation – this is another thing companies overlook to save cost, but you can always do it in a cost-efficient way.’
Taking risks to find fulfilment
‘Human psychology and efficiency also relate to fulfilment,’ says Stuart. ‘I have friends who work five days a week in jobs they don’t like and spend their weekends partying hard, but when Monday comes back around it’s just back to the grind for them. That’s not how you become your most efficient self.’
‘It’s not a matter of the working hours, either. There are days where we have worked for 14 hours straight. I once had to do a pitch for Babylon whereby I didn’t sleep the entire night and day before because I was preparing for it. We were working on it the whole day and I didn’t get an hour’s rest, but I felt more alive than ever. I didn’t care that I didn’t sleep because of the fulfilment I got from it, believing that what I was doing will make the world a better place.’
‘Your fulfilment needs to come from yourself, so that you can have internal control over your own life,’ chips in Abang. ‘Don’t just follow the path your parents chose for you. One thing I feel fresh grads should know is not to be afraid of failure. Don’t play it safe so you never cross any bridges to try for something better. Failure isn’t the end.’
‘It can be difficult with families who encourage you to take the safer option with your career,’ acknowledges Stuart. ‘They’re coming from a good place, but you need to decide what you want to do with your life. If you don’t take risks, it’s far too easy to get sucked into a pattern where you’re not being fulfilled.’
With their very first shipping container farm soon ready to go, and most of their team fresh out of university, it definitely will be an exciting road ahead for the guys at Babylon. Having experienced their enthusiasm first-hand, I have no doubt that they’ll practise what they preach and truly relish the hard work that comes with a fulfilling job.
Getting Ahead With GoCar
Jacie Tan speaks to Alan Cheah, Chief Operating Officer at GoCar Mobility, and Ashley Chew, Head of Marketing, about what they look for in a new hire.
GoCar Mobility’s office is pretty much what I had expected from an expanding, new-generation startup. A three-storeyed house in Bangsar, it has the open-spaced, floor-to-ceiling window and token beanbag that many have come to associate with the startup workplace. I ask Alan and Ashley what it takes to get hired, and stay hired, at a startup like theirs.
An ideal candidate
‘You have to be curious, ambitious and adaptive,’ says Alan, ‘as well as driven and interested in personal growth. We generally hire for personality and attitude rather than skills set; to me, skills are something that can be taught.’
Ashley mentions one of the designers she has hired, Adeeba, as an example. ‘She presented herself and her portfolio well at the interview. She knows about the importance of direction and corporate identity, and has done a lot of freelancing during her studies.’ On whether the other graduates she has interviewed are up to standard, she says, ‘Many of the applicants I meet are very passionate about start-up culture. They just need to apply for roles that better suit their personality.’
Both Alan and Ashley have mentioned personality as a deciding factor in a candidate, so I ask them to elaborate on this. ‘I think personality is one of the most important things about themselves that many candidates don’t understand,’ says Alan.
‘Yes,’ agrees Ashley. ‘They just come out and try their luck at any job or role, regardless of whether it suits their personality or not. For example, candidates who want to go into marketing have to be sociable, confident and able to communicate well.’
‘Candidates should invest more time into taking MBTI personality tests or even things like the love language test to find out what it is that motivates them,’ continues Alan. ‘At the interview, the best thing to do is to be upfront about your personality to that the conversation becomes more of a two-way street.’
Alan also points out that this honesty about your own traits have the potential to pay off. ‘If I feel that a candidate’s personality is better suited to a position other than the one they interviewed for, I can sometimes fit them into that role instead. More often than you think, employers have a lot of openings that they don’t always advertise for.’
On startup culture
I express my curiosity about GoCar, a startup, being acquired by a player as big as Tan Chong Group. Alan’s smile tells me that he’s probably been asked this a lot before. ‘What we’re doing is keeping the startup culture and pairing it with the structure of a corporation,’ he explains. ‘Running a business with startup culture that sticks to a startup organisation structure only works until a certain level. To go further and expand, you’ll need the structure you can get from a corporate-type organisation. As to keeping the startup culture alive, that’s why we operate out of this office here in Bangsar; we’re remaining here to build up and maintain the startup culture of our company.’
And what exactly is the startup culture that GoCar is trying to cultivate?
‘The culture we want to build here is about empowerment,’ says Ashley. ‘We want to empower our people to do all that they feel they can. That way, they can go out of their comfort zone and carry out crazy ideas.’
‘We work on the basis of “always ask for forgiveness, never ask for permission”,’ Alan says. ‘If you want to do something, go ahead and do it – it’s not going to burn the company down. We also have a very open feedback system here, and that’s how we encourage personal growth.’
Alan advises graduates who are aiming to begin a startup on their own to get some experience first instead of jumping straight into it. ‘Working with a more mature startup, or even in a corporate job, will let you see how things are done and help with managing your future expectations,’ he says. ‘Unlike some years back when a simple idea was all you needed to get started, startups are now getting more mature. In order for a business to be sustainable, the idea behind it had better be new and impactful. Don’t try to invent the wheel all over again.’
A Sneak Peek of Peep Boutique
Jaideep Patel checks in with fashion entrepreneur Wei Ni to find out about what’s new in her world.
We’ve all bought one thing or another online. It’s just so simple these days – long gone are the days of maddening traffic jams, frantic car park antics, and endless cashier lines. For Wei Ni, founder of Peep Boutique (www.peepb.com), online stores are heaven sent. And that is exactly why she endeavored to start her own online business back in 2008. Since then, she has ventured into brave new frontiers, having just opened her first physical store in Atria Shopping Gallery.
How was your transition from running an online store to operating a physical store?
The transition from an online store to a physical store has been quite challenging, to say the least. There were loads to think about before even starting up the store, such as renovations, MBPJ permits, mall restrictions, costs and staffing issues, as well as understanding how to manage both our online and offline inventory.
Another challenge I faced was the time it took me to hire my staff. The good thing is that now I've got two part-timers who are dedicated and hardworking. They won't be staying long, sadly, but they have been helping me tremendously thus far especially in keeping my schedule a little bit more open. This allows me to run around and focus on the other parts of the business.
Has it been a rewarding process so far?
Yes! I can gladly say that one of the most rewarding things about having a physical store is actually seeing people purchasing your items and walking away happy! There's something really satisfying about seeing in-person how you can change a person's day with the right clothes to match their personality.
Do you consider Peep Boutique to be a startup?
I've never really thought of my brand or business as a startup. I don't see a reason to really define it and as such never really thought about what a startup actually means! For me, it's just about doing what I love, running the business, making sure everything goes as smoothly as it can and generating enough sales to maintain a business.
What do you think about young entrepreneurs who want to start a business without having dreams of opening a physical store?
It’s entirely possible to start your business without even thinking of having a real store. In fact, starting an online store is so much easier especially in the early stages as there isn’t a lot of capital involved. However, sustaining it is a different story!
Do you have any advice for people who want to bring their products to the masses?
First of all, you have to be consistent – with the products you put on sale and with the prices you place on them. Secondly, you should only offer products that can interest people, and price them in a way that is appealing to them. Then, you can start building your customer base.
Kaodim – Consider It Done!
Sharlyn J speaks to Carissa Gan from Kaodim about their company culture that drives the team to get things done.
Out with the old and conventional, in with the new and innovative! Who said that work and fun couldn’t coincide in the same equation? Being a part of Gen-Y, I am all for a fun and uplifting environment which encourages professional growth and personal development. Efficiency and success can be achieved too, with an element of fun!
I was on a mission to uncover the distinct differences between a corporate company and a startup company. I figured the best way to feed my curiosity was to speak to Carissa Gan, Senior Content and Community Executive of Kaodim. Kaodim is a startup company that functions as the #1 services marketplace in Southeast Asia.
What does a typical day look like at the office?
I typically start my day at work about 9.30am – I sit at my desk and check my inbox for emails with pending replies. I always do my best to reply to emails promptly. Tardiness is not attractive! When it hits noon, we usually head out for lunch as a team. Team leaders will call for departmental meetings whenever necessary. But one thing is for sure, there is always a constant flow of work to be done! Around 3–4 in the evening, we’ll pop by one of the cafes to grab our dose of caffeine before heading back to the office. Generally, we have a very chill working environment.
What is your favourite part about working here?
I love the culture. I love the people. It feels like a big family of different personalities. My two bosses have very different characters, which makes things very interesting at the office. They aren’t intimidating or unapproachable, which can be typical characteristics of most bosses. Instead, they’re ever-ready to help the team overcome any difficult situation and they provide a good amount of space for professional growth.
What gets you most excited about your company’s future?
I foresee a lot of potential in Kaodim’s growth as a company, and I am definitely excited to see our hard work and effort contribute to the bigger picture of impacting the Malaysian community. It truly is a great pleasure to be a part of the content department in leading the team to greater heights.
You mentioned briefly about the culture of your company; could you elaborate on it a little more?
We have an internationally diverse team. Kaodim is made up of passionate and capable individuals from various cultures and races! Lunch is always cool because we get to sample all kinds of delicacies, especially with a plethora of options that appeal to our tastebuds. Also, we have monthly town hall meetings where we gather to tune in for updates of the company and the direction of the next season to come! Transparency is definitely one of the highly prioritised values in our company.
Another really amazing culture we practise in Kaodim is the culture of empowering one another. We don’t hardpan on mistakes and failures, but instead focus on one’s potential and room for improvement.
What are the two most essential attributes to be a high-functioning team member in your company, and why?
The ability to multitask is extremely important. In our company, we take pride in our teamwork. There are times where multiple projects are run simultaneously and if you are unable to multitask, it could get very messy and stressful.
The next is the ability to self-motivate. Sometimes you are given timelines, but other times, you’re given the liberty to set your own deadlines. If you’re unable to plan your time out effectively, the workflow and collective team productivity will be affected.
A word of advice for fresh graduates that you wish you received when you first graduated?
Don’t be too hard on yourself. Be open. You will wear many hats in a startup company. It’s fluid and ever-changing – which might be intimidating if you’re unable to adapt quickly. It takes time, and sometimes mistakes happen – big mistakes, even. Take my word on this, do not take these things personally. Instead of stressing out when a mistake is made, you should pick yourself up, move past it and continue pursuing greater things. This piece of advice isn’t confined to just graduates of a certain vertical, it applies to every single individual. Being too much of a perfectionist is a bad thing, but if applied correctly and in controlled amounts, I believe it can contribute to the company’s excellence.
The Art of Tinkering
gradmalaysia.com checks in with Trushna Patel, founder of Tinkerberry.
With so many small businesses mushrooming in the Klang Valley, we at gradmalaysia.com were naturally a little curious about people who seem to be guided by their entrepreneurial spirit. It made perfect sense to us to seek a few of them out, and share their stories with our readers.
Trushna Patel is one of them. A businesswoman by day and business broadcaster by night, she launched Tinkerberry (www.tinkerberryspa.com) with the hopes of recreating the spa experience at home.
‘Tinkerberry was born out of my penchant for making and trying out handmade skin and hair care products. At the time, I had been dealing with a bad skin breakout and wanted to swap my skin care routine to an all-natural one. My initial idea was to create ‘Spa in a Jar’ - a line of bath and body products that are clean, simple and preservative-free. The prospect of it got even more exciting when I started researching online and saw the wide array of such products in overseas markets, and very few in the local market.’
Tinkering with an idea
Trushna’s personal skin dilemma was a blessing in disguise as it led her down the path to starting her own line of bath and body products. But she confesses that it was a painfully time-consuming process at first.
‘The hardest part was formulating the recipes, which I began sometime in June 2014. This process alone took almost 2 years! We were trying batches after batches of formulations, just to get the products right. What sets Tinkerberry’s products truly apart from the rest, is that our products are formulated to be ‘self-preserving’. This means that our products can actually last a few months without preservatives. They are also designed for those with allergies or sensitivities, mothers-to-be, or lactating mothers who need to watch what they apply to their bodies. We are fully transparent about the ingredients we use.
It was also just as tough trying to secure the specific ingredients we wanted, some of which we have to source from overseas.’
Another challenge, she adds, was testing the market. ‘It was hard to know if there was a demand for an all-natural, preservative free range of bath and body products. There is a high demand for these sorts of products in the US, UK and Australia, but every market is different. Furthermore, there aren’t all that many purveyors of handmade natural products in the Malaysian market currently. That being said, it gave me the first mover advantage. This meant that I could make and sell unique products that are not in the Malaysian market.’
The fruits of labour
Trushna’s efforts and dedication in maintaining the quality of Tinkerberry products bore fruit when she was offered to showcase her products in M+ Natural Remedies outlets in Bangsar Village, Atria Shopping Gallery and Da Men Mall. This meant that she could no longer view her business as a purely online venture.
‘The transition from running an online business to showcasing my products in actual stores was tough! The perks of having an online store is that there isn’t any physical inventory. We just make our products as and when they are ordered. But selling in a physical store means that we have to ensure there is always adequate inventory. This means multiple trips to multiple stores to deliver the products, and naturally, more paperwork!’
‘As for marketing, we have to come up with brochures and exciting displays to help us explain the brand and the products. But having Tinkerberry products displayed in physical stores is a boon, in a way. Customers can have a feel of our products prior to purchasing. This is something they can’t do if we only offer our products online.’
Two cents’ worth
As with any endeavour, passion and dedication play a big part in ensuring success. Trushna agrees with this notion. ‘Be in a business that you are passionate about. You can be passionate about the products or an idea, but don’t do it for the money or the name. Running a business is a lot of work and takes a lot of patience, especially if you are new to it. Passion and the interest to keep learning is what that is going to keep you afloat.’
And like all things, there is a learning curve as well. Every business is unique, and has its own story to tell. ‘There is no one-size-fits-all strategy for a successful business, so be patient and be willing to learn. You never know if the idea you once thought was “too out there” will be the idea that will bring you success.’
An Exceptional Event
Suria Soo discusses on what it takes to be a successful event entrepreneur with Hoe Pik Lin.
A good event is like a good musical piece where different components come together and blend harmoniously. In event-speak, these components include the venue, food and beverages, sound and light, staging, entertainment, decoration, door gifts... And the exhaustive list goes on, in ad infinitum.
Prepping for the event
It is commonly known fact that event planning suffers from Murphy's Law which states that 'anything that can go wrong, will go wrong'. There is bound to be some bumps and folds along the journey. Hence, according to Suria, event planner of My Signature Events, 'To avoid stumbles, a good event planner has to conduct detailed planning to ensure that they have covered all their bases as well as research the clients' need. It is time consuming but it is also worth the effort to be prepared.'
However, even with the best-laid plans, there are certain challenges and issues that will set you back from achieving the event's goal. Suria has identified some of the common problems that every event planner has to look out for:
One of the bigger issues faced by event planners is communication, or in most cases, miscommunication. It is vital for an event planner to have good communication with his or her clients, team and suppliers. 'In this case, good communication would mean acquiring and giving out clear details to the parties involved to avoid setbacks,' explained Suria.
Another key concern for event planners would be the pricing of the event. Each client has their own sets of demands and expectations for each event that is held and it is important to make things clear and charge them a price that the both of you are comfortable with. 'Never slash your prices as, in the long run, it will only amount to an unsightly debt. Plus, it drags down the standards of the industry,' advised Suria.
While event management might have a reputation of being glamorous, it is also a taxing and demanding industry. An event planner must learn to deal with the high stress level and find a proper work-life balance. 'Some of the ways to boost your stamina and maintain good health include having good quality sleep, eating food that gives you energy, being adaptable and taking some time to travel.
Suiting up for the occasion
To be successful in event management, one should possess the following qualities:
It is important for one to have the right attitude when it comes to managing an event as one has to deal with large groups of people. Having a good attitude and positive approach would ease the process for all parties involved. Adding to that, Suria further explained, 'It is also not just about being polite but one must also have the discipline.'
Always remember that what might seem like another event to you could be a life-defining moment for your client. And when your client places an important event in your hands, it is only fair and professional if you make the best effort to be responsible for it. Meeting deadlines is paramount and possibly the key responsibility in any event.
In spite of its reputation − celebrities, red carpets and classy venues − event management is not all fun and games. The glamour is only one side of it, the brighter side experienced by the clients while the event management team has to deal with the challenges given to them. Only those with persistence and dedication towards their work can survive the hectic work of event management.
It goes without saying that you should have a passion for the industry. Event management might be an exciting industry but it is definitely not your average nine-to-five job. Due to the unusual work hours, stress and pressure − especially when deadlines close in − is a given fact. Thus, if you do not have the passion for it, chances are that you will collapse under immense stress.
Top 3 Qualities To Excel in Hospitality
What are three of the most important criteria you should have to make it in the hospitality industry?
The hospitality industry offers a fast-paced, varied career with hours that are less regular compared to other fields of work. What are some of the qualities that you will need to excel in this sector?
It goes without saying that you will need – not only good – but exceptional interpersonal skills to survive in the hospitality and tourism industry. As the front-liners of the industry, you will be in constant contact with your customers; hence, it is important that you maintain a good rapport and relationship with them. Good service is the lifeline of the industry after all.
This industry requires a good deal of commitment from its staff as the work hours are often unusual next to the normal 9-to-5 job. You might be required to trudge through graveyard shifts and deal with demanding customers while remaining professional and committed. Not exactly an easy feat but that is part and parcel of the job.
The hospitality industry often requires you to work in teams and seldom do you find yourself going solo on your day-to-day work. Hence, graduates who can work well with others and be a productive team player are highly sought after by the industry.
Cloud Computing – Flexible Infrastructure To Support Dynamic Business Demands
Cloud computing is the solution to help to achieve an agile, efficient IT infrastructure that responds quickly and flexibly to the changing demands of business, explains Kumaraan Arumugam of Dell Malaysia.
With the ever-increasing dynamic demands from business nowadays, IT has been challenged to provide an effective IT infrastructure that can scale quickly to meet this and maximise the utilisation of IT investments. This can be achieved thru an evolutionary approach through virtualisation or a more revolutionary approach by building an infrastructure from scratch.
The cloud is a model for enabling convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources (eg networks, servers, storage, applications, and services) that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service provider interaction.
The Value of Cloud Computing
Cloud computing enables IT organisations to respond faster to the needs of business, while driving greater operational efficiencies.
Cloud computing delivers IT as a service. The main features of a cloud include:
- Virtually unlimited processing and storage capacity
- Abstracted, pooled resources
- Elasticity (the ability to scale up or down easily)
- On-demand, self-service provisioning
- High level of automation
- Consumption-based billing.
It can be in the form of:
- a private cloud, operated and hosted by an enterprise IT department or by an external provider is for the exclusive use of and accessible only within an organisation
- a public cloud of an external provider, which is open to any number of organisations and individual users on a shared basis. Using a public cloud minimises initial capital investment and combines agility and efficiency with massive scalability
- a hybrid cloud that spans both of the above, linking private and public clouds to provide access to extra resources when the private cloud hits maximum utilisation. A hybrid cloud might also split computing by tier between private and public clouds. For example, the database may reside in the private cloud while the application server is located in the public cloud.
A true cloud has three key characteristics:
- flexible costs on a pay-per-use basis,
- the ability to elastically scale capacity up or down,
- geographic and hardware independence.
There are also three cloud service models:
- Software as a service (SaaS) - gives web access to applications hosted on a service provider’s infrastructure. A wide range of applications can be delivered through a SaaS model, such as customer relationship management, collaboration, email and enterprise resource management.
- Platform as a service (PaaS) - a software development and hosting environment made up of development tools, databases, middleware and infrastructure software.
- Infrastructure as a service (IaaS) - enables the system administrators and developers to self-provision the compute, storage and network resources they need to deploy and run applications and operating systems.
Maximising Existing Resources
After years of data center growth and IT evolution, many businesses are left living with complex, overgrown computing platforms that are chronically underutilised. These systems take up valuable data centre floor space, depreciate quickly, consume large amounts of power and cooling resources, and can cause management headaches.
What’s more, the IT resources in the typical data centre are locked into silos that are dedicated to particular applications. This rigid architecture makes it hard for an IT organisation to quickly adapt or respond to changing business demands, and it makes it difficult to share resources throughout an enterprise — to increase utilisation and improve efficiency.
Cloud computing enables an application to take advantage of idle or excess computing, storage and network capacity that is shared with other applications. The cloud is one of the keys to avoiding overprovisioning and enabling efficient load balancing among computing resources.
As organisations move toward cloud computing, they typically evolve through three phases.
Implementing virtualisation is the first step, followed by accelerating and expanding its use. The final phase is interconnecting the data centres to create a single resource pool and private cloud; this phase might also include utilising compatible public clouds if appropriate. The resulting hybrid infrastructure provides true on-demand computing in an environment designed for maximum flexibility.
Cloud services create significant cost and business model advantages — helping to reduce capital and operational expenses, enhancing business agility while minimising risk, and enabling resources (and personnel) to shift from simply keeping a data center running to pursuing strategic business goals.
Graduating in the field of Information Technology with exposure in virtualisation technology will be the stepping stone leading into the cloud world. Knowledge in storage management technology, networking and IT security could certainly help individuals gain a well-versed understanding of the cloud framework.
Other relevant competencies include having the knowledge and certification in ITIL framework as well obtaining the certifications in the fields of virtualisation, networking, IT security and storage management. Exposure and experience in these areas can help one become a domain expert within the cloud framework.
What Employers Want In IT!
gradmalaysia talks to some key employers in Malaysia’s ICT sector to find out what employers are looking for in graduate recruits.
In the fast-moving, fast-evolving ICT industry, the hunt is on for employees who are able and willing to adapt and learn on the job to improve their skills and grow as their companies do.
Today, ICT graduates have the advantage of their skills being in demand in practically every industry – even those that may not be immediately obvious, such as banking, retail and consultancy.
‘For PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), the challenge is to recruit graduates from non-accounting backgrounds, such as business information systems or IT graduates for our specialist units like the Risk Assurance Services or Advisory teams,’ said Salika Suksuwan, a senior manager at PricewaterhouseCoopers. ‘Typically, graduates view PwC as an “accounting firm”; those without accounting degrees may not be keen to consider our firm because of that misconception.’
Those who can, do
Academic achievement and degrees do catch the attention of recruiters, but what employers are really looking for is the ability to think critically and effectively apply what has been learned in university.
‘We are looking for soft skills and the ability to think on your feet,’ said Pauline Ho, Partner at PwC.
‘Understanding the basic knowledge within the framework is crucial, but understanding the in-depth process and the mechanics of ‘how-to-do’ is more important,’ said Nichollas Tan of HP Malaysia. ‘Knowledge can be learned as long as students commit to their work and are proactive in managing problem solving.’
Graduate applicants today expect to take charge of their careers – and employers are willing to accommodate them.
‘We find that they typically place importance on their training and development, particularly coaching and mentoring,’ said Salika. ‘They are also keen to work overseas and like to be mobile. They also tend to appreciate other aspects of their work life, for example corporate responsibility initiatives.’
On the flip side, however, employers have noted a tendency for young employees to job-hop. As organisations invest a lot – in terms of both time and money – in the orientation and training of new recruits, this lack of company loyalty has become a key issue and challenge.
‘The typical lifespan for a graduate to work in an organisation is around two to three years, and then they move to another company,’ observed Nichollas.
Sharon Anthony agreed, ‘They need to understand that a career is something that has to be built over time, and not one that is “served on a silver platter”.’
Speak up to stand out
In today’s globalised economy, communication and interpersonal skills are as important to employers as technical knowledge.
However, most organisations find that students lack competence in skills such as confidence; interpersonal skills, eg command of English; the ability to engage with hiring managers ie ability to articulate; being innovative and being proactive.
Nichollas explained, ‘These often are key constraints where most organisations cannot find a suitable fit.’
Graduates’ poor command of English is a particularly key concern among employers today. ‘Suitable employees with relevant knowledge are easy to find, but there are some challenges in terms of their command of the English language,’ said Susan Anthony of T-Systems.
‘It is very important that a potential candidate communicates and expresses himself or herself well, especially during the interview,’ said PwC graduate recruiter Reuben Phillips. ‘Presentation and leadership skills are also very important. Students who are well-read and keep abreast of current events would be one notch above the rest.’
Employers cited extra-curricular activities during university as a great way to build up the sought-after ‘soft skills.’ Including these in a CV will frequently make an application stand out to recruiters.
‘We look at their involvement in extra-curricular activities and project work with many people, leading a team etc during university, and whether they assumed roles of increasing leadership and responsibility in these,’ said Sharon Anthony.
‘Those who are more active in university have better skills in project management,’ Pauline pointed out. ‘Students involved in group projects display leadership skills – even if they are just a team member.
Being A Successful Online Entrepreneur
Johan Ooi and Ivan Kok, Co-Founders of HeppiFace, explain what goes on in the mind of an online entrepreneur.
Have you ever felt that you do not want to spend the rest of your life working for someone else?
Are thoughts of starting up your own business or working under your own terms keep popping into your head?
If your train of thoughts are somewhere along these lines, chances are, you have the ‘entrepreneurial’ blood in you. Entrepreneurship is the process of starting a business or organisation on your own, including developing short and long term business plans, risk evaluation as well as successful execution of the said business.
Sounds like a truckload of work doesn’t it? When venturing into a new start-up, you need all the help you can get, and one of the best and most effective resources that you can utilise is social media.
The lifeline of social media
Why is social media vital for modern businesses?
- Creates brand awareness
- Allows for two-way communication
- Immediate customer service/support
- Precise audience targeting (organic/paid)
- Recruitment opportunities
- Flexible sales promotions
- Availability of data on measurable trends to study the market
Social media should be the first, FREE marketing platform for young entrepreneurs to start their business because:
- most of them are already adept at using it
- almost all young associates are already inside the social media world and more seniors are tapping into it
- they have a fair chance of competing with the corporate companies
- it encourages them to be creative and innovative to stand out amongst others.
Social media helpline
If you have not noticed, the online world caters extensively to those who live to realise their dreams. The following are top five social media programmes available for young business ventures.
Fast and easy way to create images for use in social networking sites such as Facebook and Pinterest via the available templates.
Manage multiple social media accounts under one platform and organise data for ROI measurement.
Easy way to create powerful marketing campaigns in social media platforms.
Easy way to build conversion optimised and mobile responsive landing pages (particularly useful for online advertising).
Online email marketing solution to manage contacts, send emails and track results.
Tips for the successful
The one thing in common among successful people is that they have principles or guidelines that they work by. As such, HeppiFace, a consulting and training agency specialising in social media, shares the HEPPI framework with graduates who are serious about capitalising and using the Internet as a rice bowl.
Headstart – Have a plan: determine the values, objectives, audience and strategies needed.
Enhance – The business page or website has to embody your business vision.
Promote – Get the word out! Have a marketing plan that allows you to utilise all available platforms to reach your target audience.
Posting – Practice the 70-20-10 content rule: 70% consists of valuable content that is relevant to your business, 20% consists of sharing others’ contents and 10% consists of promoting your products or services.
Insights – Make use of available data. Being able to keep track of and analyse online statistics is a plus point as you will be able to track and record your business progress.
10 qualities all entrepreneurs should have!
Passion – This is what keeps entrepreneurs going!
Explore – Always be on the lookout for opportunities!
Understand the market – Study and stay on top of current and future market trends.
Willing to learn – Be ready to accept new things!
Making sacrifices – Be willing to put yourself in uncomfortable situations to come out with extraordinary solutions.
Taking risks and accepting failures – These two are the main elements that will make you a better person.
Financial management – Learn how to manage business and money!
Persistence and consistency – Understand that entrepreneurship is a long journey. Learn to preserve till the end.
Be appreciative and optimistic – Be happy with what you have now and always think for a better tomorrow.
Social capital – Be sociable because the people you meet may present opportunities that will bring your business to the next level.
Malaysia As A Halal Hub
gradmalaysia.com provides an overview of the global opportunities in Malaysia’s halal industry.
Official estimates put the global halal food and beverage business at US$641bil a year. However, the worth of the overall global halal industry – which includes pharmaceuticals, herbal products, cosmetics, healthcare and other FMCGs, Islamic investment, banking, tourism and takaful insurance – is said to be US$2.3tril (RM7.59tril).
In the Middle East, Shariah-compliant halal cosmetics constitute a US$2.1bil industry, with a stunning 12% growth per annum. Even China has over 100 million Muslims, providing huge opportunity for local companies to cater for the needs of this market, according to Asia Shangtex president Datuk KW Chee.
As pointed out by Datuk Seri Jamil Bidin, CEO of the Halal Industry Development Corporation Malaysia, during the 5th World Halal Forum 2010, the halal industry is still largely dominated by countries like Australia, Thailand and Brazil. There are few players from Muslim majority countries, which is why efforts have to be made to enhance Malaysia’s reputation as a halal hub.
Malaysia provides one of the most globally recognised halal certifications, accrediting processing plants in Australia, theUS, Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, South Africa, New Zealand, Thailand and China. Malaysia is also playing a very active role in efforts to standardise the halal certification process across the world, using guidelines drawn up for the proposed four-module Global Halal Standard. Once the single standard – which has been pursued by various organisations including the World Halal Council, the International Halal Integrity alliance and the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, for the past 10 to 15 years – is achieved, it will be less complicated for halal food manufacturers to comply with global market requirements.
Meanwhile, Malaysia should capitalise on its existing worldwide reputation as a halal hub to capture immense business opportunities for Malaysian products and financial services to enter the Middle East and other members of the Organisation of Islamic Countries (OIC), which have the potential to reach one billion Muslim customers across the globe.
It is also a good opportunity for Malaysia to showcase some of its best culinary products. As Liow Ren Jan, CEO of local halal food manufacturer Sri Kulai points out, ‘With frozen, microwaveable and ready-to-eat Malaysian meals, we can export our popular Malaysian dishes overseas. It’s like having a Malaysian restaurant in a nice microwaveable packet.’
Halal Food Industry
The Government has placed a lot of efforts into promoting the local halal food industry. Through its e-Halal portal (www.Halal.gov.my), for example, applications can now be made online, and enquiries or complaints can also be channeled to the respective regulatory bodies to check on the Halal status of any food processing company. It also publishes how applications are processed and approved for certification, along with a list of companies or restaurants whose halal certificates have been withdrawn. To date, over 5,700 products and 1,000 premises have applied for halal certification.
In Sarawak, the Tanjung Manis halal hub is expected to produce RM5bil worth of halal food products annually for export over the next five to ten years. TanjungManis has attracted some RM9 billion in investments from 11 companies, six of which are Taiwanese. These companies will venture into aquaculture, biotechnology and modern farming.
Elsewhere in the region, Thailand is poised to raise its current value of halal food exports from US$2.5bil to US$3.1bil annually within the next five years.
Potential to Attract Foreign Investment
Datuk Dr Raja Mohamad Abdullah, chairman of the Muslim World Biz 2010 exhibition that was held in Kuala Lumpur, believes it is time to leverage on Malaysia’s internationally recognised halal certification as a niche area. To achieve a higher FDI inflow from other OIC members, he said, Malaysia has to introduce drastic measures and reforms to improve the business climate and introduce investment incentives for local and foreign investors. This requires building adequate infrastructures and investment in modern technologies to enhance their productive capacity.
Saudi Arabia, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, Malaysia, Indonesia, Iran, Syria, Kuwait, Egypt and Pakistan account for 75% of intra-OIC exports to all member states. However, Malaysia’s trade with these major OIC countries accounted for only 10.3% of the total trade of US$280bil in 2009.
Meanwhile, Taiwanese company Sea Party International Co Ltd has become an important player in the development of Tanjung Manis, having invested an initial RM60mil. France-based halal company Glon Grope also expressed its plans to set up an integrated poultry project in the East Coast Economic Region (ECER).
Malaysia must work hard to grow its reputation as a halal hub, including liberalising industrial sectors for foreign participation, encouraging R&D for innovative halal products and push for global adoption of halal standards to facilitate trade.
FMCG Stands Strong
Thinking of entering the FMCG sector? Read on to find out more about its resilience as an industry.
The fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) industry is an important business segment for any country’s economy. It spans a myriad of product categories, which include food and dairy, consumer electronics, household products and garment manufacturing, to name but a few.
In Malaysia, some of the bigger multinational FMCG companies that have become household names include DKSH, Unilever, Nestlé, Colgate-Palmolive and Dutch Lady – just to name a few.
Locally incorporated firms have also started to make a name for themselves in recent decades due to the burgeoning demand for consumables as a result of a rising population and changes in consumer demand. Local outfits comprise companies like WIPRO UNZA Group, which makes personal care products; garments manufacturer Hing Yiap Knitting Industries; and Spritzer, the brand behind the famous local mineral water label. Then there’s Top Glove, the world’s largest rubber glove manufacturer.
It would appear that since the FMCG industry is all about feeding the basic needs and wants of consumers, the industry is fairly shielded from the current economic slowdown.
‘Yes and no,’ said an industry observer. ‘While increased competition (as a result of shrinking demand due to the economic slowdown) has made it difficult for new entrants to enter the industry, the bigger more established entities are able to formulate strategies to ensure their survival in economically challenging times,’ he elaborated.
In other words, companies which had already hurdled barriers of entry and carved themselves a nice slice of market share before the crisis should be well-positioned to survive the current economic slowdown.
Why work at an FMCG?
According to experts, it’s a stable industry. Writing for the New Zealand Food & Grocery Council website, Tim Morris of Coriolis Research stated, ‘There’s a saying in the industry that goes “everyone has to eat”. To this I would add “and wash their clothes and brush their teeth.” Unlike some industries, such as automobiles, computers, and airlines, FMCG does not suffer from mass layoffs every time the economy starts to dip. You may put off buying a car, but you don’t put off dinner. This lends FMCG a level of job security unknown in other industries.’
Generally, experts also opine that the industry is one of the best for fresh graduates to gain a host of experience and knowledge, as it exposes them to many different business segments such as marketing, sales, finance and consulting – all at the same time.
The opportunity for advancement, hence higher salaries and better perks is also high in the industry – so long as you are willing to put in hard work – as there are so many parts to the FMCG value chain.
Where are the jobs?
Jobs in the FMCG sector vary in function. A search of popular job web sites shows that fresh graduates have a host of job types to choose from in this sector:
- Sales executive: you will generally be in charge of generating new sales and maintaining your company’s existing customer base.
- Key account executive: in addition to the above you must plan and implement sales and marketing plans as well as provide consultation to specific clients.
- Purchasing executive: you must develop purchasing strategies and plans for identified categories of purchase (eg raw materials) to ensure cost-effectiveness and quality. You will also be in charge of enforcing adherence to purchasing processes, policies and procedures in order to protect the company’s interests.>
- Brand executive: you are generally responsible for the development, co-ordination and implementation of marketing ideas. In other words, you will have to come up with new products as well as participate in decisions on the pricing, distribution and overall branding of the products.
Executives will go on to become managers in their various capacities, depending on their ability and tenure of service. Generally, basic salaries for fresh graduates starting work at FMCG MNCs can range from anything between RM2,000 to RM,3000 and can go up to above RM10,000 in five years or so. For smaller firms, salaries are a tad lower, but generally commensurate with the hours of work put in, according to an employee at a small FMCG company in Kepong.
Opportunities For All In FMCG
The business of keeping the consumer happy involves various roles played by different individuals from multiple departments within FMCG companies.
Over the past 20 years or so, fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) have developed to become a major part of our lives. As more products become available and packaging goods to make them look attractive continues to be big business, hypermarkets, supermarkets, mini markets and superstores all over the world take full advantage.
FMCG products are expected to be consumed within a short span of time; the idea for the manufacturers being that the consumer will then purchase more of the same product. Manufacturers must maintain a constant supply of the product to ensure that the consumer always finds it on the shelf; retailers must constantly observe their customers’ preferences and buying patterns to make sure to stock the products that they want to buy.
How FMCG companies work
Years before a box of washing powder or a bar of chocolate reaches a supermarket shelf, it is formulated, tried and tested by professionals in the research and development department of an FMCG company.
This is really where the life cycle of a product begins and the individuals who work in this area usually have a specific degree in the relevant area, eg chemical engineering or nutrition. Degrees from such disciplines will provide them with invaluable knowledge that can be put into practice to create new and interesting products.
While the product is being tested the finance department, and naturally the management of the FMCG company, will be deciding on the feasibility of the whole project, and whether there are enough finances to manufacture and release the product into the market. For this area of work, you should be equipped with a good accounting or business management degree. As a junior, you will begin by learning from your superiors who will hopefully have sound market knowledge.
Once the product is ready to be launched, the marketing, brand and sales departments take the lead. These personnel are under a lot of pressure to bring the product . Individuals with various degree backgrounds are often encouraged to join these departments as they are believed to be able to contribute to the well being of the product. Hence, you could have a degree in psychology, mathematics or foreign languages and find yourself very welcome in any one of these departments.
Marketing Manager v Brand Manager
Companies like Procter & Gamble, Dutch Lady and Unilever are good establishments for graduates to join and move up in if they are interested in taking up a career in marketing.
In these organisations, marketing managers are responsible for understanding the market in which they operate. With this in mind, marketing plans and strategies are often put in place with the help of all the staff in the marketing department. Budgets are important and these need to be determined annually to give the brand and sales staff an idea of how they can carry out their tasks effectively.
The marketing department usually has various brands in its care and this is where individual brand managers come in. Each of these brand managers has the task of looking after the brand and ensuring that it is properly marketed to the consumer. More often than not, marketing managers and brand managers work with advertising agencies, public relations houses and event management companies to promote the brand and make it a success.
Right at the forefront of an FMCG company are the sales executives. These individuals can have a degree from any discipline before joining the sales force of such a company. You need to have determination, drive and staying power to excel, especially when the going gets tough. Sales executives are invaluable to brand and marketing managers as they are the ones who have the closest connection with the retailers and consumers, and are able to give up-to-the-minute feedback on the brand’s performance.
Moving up in retail
The most favourable of the various types of retail sectors you can look into once you have graduated would be the food and fashion outlets. Retail chains like Jusco, Tesco and Carrefour do encourage graduates to join them in their marketing, finance, administration, purchasing and human resource departments. You need to have a relevant degree to be employed in any of these departments.
More importantly, you need to understand that working in a retail environment entails serving customers and keeping them happy at all times. This involves everything from looking into the logistics of a brand to its window display, just to make sure that customers keep coming back.
Many retailers – including Starbucks, Borders and Secret Recipe – welcome young fresh graduates. The employers hope these individuals will enjoy working in the retail environment and later move up to managerial positions. Naturally, they will be given training and encouraged to pursue higher education. Among the supermarket retailers, Jusco has made a name for itself in the area of keeping its employees content by offering them long-service awards, employee benefits and constant recognition for their hard work.
No limits to opportunity
A career in the FMCG or retail industry promises to be exciting simply because these are work areas that deal with the lifestyles of consumers. As long as new products are invented and the world revolves around innovation, you can be certain that there will be opportunities in these industries.
Finance Beyond Banking
A career in banking and finance doesn’t always mean having to work in a bank! Nik Yazmin Azman of TalentCorp explains your options.
Take some time to think about what you think your options are in banking and finance. Do they all involve working in a bank? Do they all pay well? And, more importantly, where do you start to get to where you want to get to?
The first thing you must realise is that learning doesn’t stop the moment you graduate. University learning is merely the first step – your education, whether you’re a finance, or engineering or even mathematics graduate, is meant to give you the tools you need to do your work, but you will still need to learn how to do it, and to do it well.
The first few years of your career should be about picking up a broad base of skills, and learning about different industries and sectors. You are expected to pick up most of your technical skills at this point – the ability to read and critique financial statements, to understand the generic inner workings of a company’s finances, and also to start developing your interpersonal and communication skills.
There are, of course, different ways to acquire this knowledge. Joining an accelerated training programme with a bank is one. Spending time in an auditing role also has significant value; it is an arduous and thankless job but don’t underestimate its value in sharpening skills, teaching discipline and technical grounding.
It doesn’t hurt to pick up a professional qualification while you’re at it – depending on where your interests lie, you have options spanning various chartered and management accounting courses. These include the aggressive Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) and also options like Islamic Finance Qualification (IFQ), Chartered Islamic Finance Professional (CIFP) and Certified Islamic Finance Executive (CIFE) which are scarce and in high demand.
The banking and finance sector itself is multifaceted – each sector has subsectors requiring specific skills and knowledge. The key in succeeding within this sector is specialisation, and ensuring you find a career path that has the greatest compatibility with your abilities and interests.
BFS Sectors At A Glance
- Dealing with cash management and internal financial issues.
- Requires basic financial analysis skills, interpersonal skills, and tax and legal knowledge.
- Important to know your company’s products, both in breadth and depth.
- Easy to become complacent in a routine, and effort must be made in order to shine.
- Similar to corporate finance in terms of roles, but with greater size, scope and pace.
- Career path is not for the faint-hearted, and much is expected of those that take it.
Islamic Finance and Banking
- Spans all areas of corporate finance, commercial banking and investment banking.
- Knowledge of Islamic aspects of banking crucial, but currently scarce in the market – leading to great opportunities for progression.
Corporate finance practitioners are interested in the management of funding, whether debt or equity. Positions exist on both the corporate side (big companies more so than small start-ups) and also on the financial advisory side, including Mergers & Acquisitions (M&A) specialists.
Roles include financial analysts who look at the well-being of the company from a market perspective, and treasury functions that focus more on cash management and internal financial issues. M&A specialists, in particular, require broad skills encompassing financial analysis and strong interpersonal skills, as well as jurisdictional and regional tax and legal knowledge which may affect deal-making.
Commercial banking offers various opportunities, by virtue of the wide scope of its operations – from front-end client facing work, to credit management and operations. The key to succeeding in the commercial banking environment is to know your products – this is usually why commercial banks have very demanding management training programmes. The biggest challenge in commercial banking is to remain hungry for success – it is easy to just get comfortable and settle into a routine. To succeed, you need to outperform others to get noticed.
Investment banks (IBs) offer the most glamorous and lucrative career paths, but at a very high and intense price. IBs are concerned with large-scale transactions involving securities – buying, selling, or exchanging of large chunks of shares between two parties, be it in willing agreements or hostile takeovers. This career path is not for the faint-hearted – those intending to do well are expected to learn, adapt and work at a fast pace. Roles in this space include trading, client management, and other work similar to those required in corporate finance. In fact, some corporate finance practitioners see IB as the next step up in their career progression – doing what they’ve been doing at the company or mid-market level and extending the size, scope, and pace to the bigger market.
Islamic Finance and Banking
Islamic finance and banking spans the three previously discussed aspects of finance and banking – Islamic finance specialisations exist in corporate finance, commercial banking and investment banking. In essence, those practising Islamic finance and banking need all the skills of their conventional counterparts, as well as knowledge of the Islamic aspect of a transaction. This combination of skills is highly prized due to scarcity in the market, and bankers and financial practitioners who have this specialised knowledge are able to out-earn and overtake their peers very quickly.
Outside these four big sectors, various specialised opportunities exist with private equity and venture capital firms, as well as hedge funds, financial planning, insurance, and of course, the oft-downplayed public accounting sector. Take time to learn about these sectors, and match them up with yourself as a person. Above all, be passionate in what you do and always be hungry for more.
Remember, if you only do what is required in your job description, you will never outgrow your role enough to progress.
Preparing For A Career In Banking
Banking is a tough old world, but Kellee Kam, Managing Director of RHB Capital Berhad speaks to Ng Juan Hann about how to make it in this demanding and challenging career.
Kellee Kam knows what it takes to succeed in the arena of banking.
In an eight-year career with RHB, he has taken on increasingly strenuous positions of responsibility, from general manager of Group Finance and Group CFO to his current position of CEO and Managing Director of RHB Capital.
Kam thinks that employers themselves have become more enlightened with regards to qualifications. A law graduate with an MBA and a Master of Arts from the United Kingdom, he believes that employers are now willing to accept a wider range of disciplines compared to when he first joined the workforce in 1998.
He said that your degree is important because ‘it’s a tangible outcome of your attributes…but it’s not the end-all of the selection process’. The process now aims to test the ability of the candidate to grow into the job; for example, the candidate’s social, analytical and communications skills.
When asked about the relevance of qualifications such as economics or banking, he said: ‘If you had a very relevant qualification but you did badly, it’s going to hamper your chances (of getting the job).
‘What’s important is what you’ve done during the period you’ve been in university and through your formative years’ – for example, showing initiative through doing an internship, or other extra-curricular activities that would enhance your career prospects, skills or attributes.
Kam believes that ‘skills we (the employer) can teach, we can learn, but as for your own personal attributes and attitude, by the time you come to the workforce, you are who you are’. He said employers spend a lot of time now looking at attributes instead of only skills.
Of these attributes, an ethic of hard work features high on the list. However, hard work without an objective is just spinning your wheels, said Kam. He tells graduates to be ‘mindful of the objectives you’re trying to drive’.
Respect is another, as it shows a level of maturity that is needed for this line of work, an appreciation for the customer, your colleagues, your peers and your team members.
Kam believes that selflessness breeds professionalism, as nothing should stand in the way of discharging your duty to the customer. If faced with the question of putting oneself or the organisation first, he said, ‘as much as possible you should always say, put the organisation first’.
And where all attributes are equal, it’s your level of preparedness that will get you the job. He advises graduates not to take interviews lightly, saying that ‘interviewers can sense when you’re just shopping for a job, versus you wanting to be in there and having prepared for it’.
‘If you believe a life in banking and finance is going to be the life for you, take an interest in reading what’s happening in the economies around the world,’ recommended Kam.
Preparation shows that the graduate truly desires the job, and that in itself is important. According to Kam, the job becomes progressively easier if the graduate actually likes what he or she is doing.
Kam listed out several areas that graduates could choose to go into. A popular area is investment banking, as ‘everyone wants to be an investment banker, although the reality is it may not be suited for everybody. It depends on your personality’.
In reality, there are several roles within investment banking itself, from the front office people ? who ‘meet clients, spend time with them, understand their issues and bring them the correct solutions’ ? to the back office, the ‘technical guys who craft out all these interesting structures and schemes’.
Ten years ago, Islamic banking was relatively obscure in terms of career opportunities. Today, ‘it’s one of the fastest growing sectors in Malaysia, which means that the demand for Islamic banking skills have hit an all-time high’.
Another area of banking which is still obscure is that of risk management, an area that ‘very few graduates consciously pick’, said Kam. However, bearing in mind the financial crises of 1997 and 2008, risk management ‘has taken a huge leap in terms of being an incredibly viable area to build a very solid career’, Kam believes.
When it comes to competition, the banking sector is harsh in two ways. The business environment itself is unforgiving and competitor organisations are constantly seeking to outdo each other.
Secondly, there is a large pool of talent vying for a limited number of jobs. Part of this is due to the better-than-average compensation that the banking sector pays. Kam admits that ‘the financial sector generally pays better as a whole’.
But it doesn’t get easier. Kam warned that ‘as you move up the ladder, the opportunities get less and less’. Truly outstanding performers become department level heads within six to eight years, managing 30 to 40 people, and would potentially be running business lines within 15 years.
Asked if this process is results-oriented, Kam said, ‘Yes, always. That’s the only way.’
Kam offers encouragement to determined and hardworking graduates wishing to forge a successful career in the industry.
However, these words of encouragement are tempered with the fact that candidates should be prepared for a significant amount of hard work to achieve those standards of excellence.
Building Your Future
Hoe Pik Lin speaks to Sam Tan of Ken Holdings on how to construct and sustain a future in the built environment industry.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I read civil engineering in University College London (UCL) and later pursued my qualification in law. I trained for three and a half years in London as a civil engineer and was attached to ARUP Consulting Engineers, one of the foremost civil engineering consulting firms in the world. Their engineers were involved in many major iconic projects – Olympic Beijing National Stadium, Beijing National Aquatics Stadium, Millennium Bridge, The Gherkin and other monuments. The organisation proved to be a good training ground where I was exposed to world-class thinking, cultures, standards and best practices.
How and when did you know it is the right profession for you?
I probably knew from very young what I wanted to do. I have been exposed to the business from a very young age and part of my holidays were dedicated to site visits to understand what my father did, and what projects he was involved in. I soon realised that I liked it and believed that this is something that I would want to do in the future. I believe that equipping myself with legal knowledge would really help in the business and that has been proven right. In some way, I have had a much longer time than most to reflect on what I would like to do and how I could equip myself for the role that I want to play.
Can you share some highlights about your job?
One of the highlights of my job is that I am able to do different things all the time and that keeps my job from being boring. I am involved in a large range of projects, which include both landed and high rise properties for residential and commercial projects as well as the development of hotels. In Malaysia, we have had many projects which allowed for the introduction of new concepts, trespassing of boundaries as well as setting of new standards in Malaysia, especially in terms of green building standards, innovation and creativity.
I have many projects that I take pride in but perhaps KEN Rimba is a good example. KEN Rimba is the first multiple award-winning green township in Malaysia. We had the highest ratings for green buildings, both high rise and landed properties within this township. And yet, we are still able to make it affordable, and I believe that is the trick and also the toughest thing to achieve.
What is the toughest thing about being in the built industry?
Getting the right talent is a challenge for everyone, whether it is for our in-house team or for the consultant groups that we engage with. It is always a challenge to find committed people as they are few, and far between. We need a lot of young professionals with the tenacity to see their ideals through as most construction projects take three to five years to complete and require great commitment from its personnel. Creativity, innovation and a mindset of value creation has to exist because we are actually delivering a product to our clients. After all, a product can only be considered good if it can add value to the people, and if it has no value, it will not be sellable.
Another issue is that, construction and material costs as well as wages are always on the rise but the quality and productivity do not always rise in tandem, although it should. There is nothing wrong with the mindset of ‘earning more and working less’, though I do not believe sitting at a table for eight hours a day indicates productivity. Instead, it would be more advisable if you are able to be proactive and complete the task in four hours, but still deliver the same results.
Engineering Employers: What They Want
OYL Group, British American Tobacco (BAT) and Shell Malaysia shared with gradmalaysia what they look for when hiring fresh graduates.
1. Do you think graduates these days have the knowledge and skill sets that are necessary for them to succeed in their careers? What kinds of knowledge and skill sets should students make sure they should have before they graduate?
OYL: Generally, new graduates have the fundamental knowledge and skills to perform to standard requirements in industry. Nevertheless, most of them do not have the necessary in-depth knowledge and people skills to be successful in their careers yet. Apart from good academic qualifications, we are looking for graduates who possess the following characteristics:
- people skills
- continuous improvement mentality
- decision making and freedom on the job.
BAT: While excelling in academic pursuits is integral in launching their career, graduates in this day and age should place similar importance on garnering knowledge beyond the lecture halls. Being in university is the best time to develop yourself as an all-rounder. You should have honed your leadership skills by getting involved in associations and events, or developed your presentation skills by joining a debate team.
Shell: There are several elements that shape the progress of your career, and as a graduate sets out in this journey, the ability to think on your feet, communicate and work effectively with others and most importantly, deliver comes to mind as clinchers of the deal. These are behavioural skills that can only be polished with practice. Hence, it is vital that, besides focusing on academic achievements, graduates should participate in activities that will nurture the development of the skills mentioned above. Extra-curricular activities on campus, internships and also community based activities can provide graduates with the opportunities to address conflicts, challenges and work with others.
2. What types of knowledge and skills do you look for when you hire new graduates for your firm? What aspects of their academic experience do you consider most important?
OYL: We are seeking graduates with a strong academic background, preferably in mechanical and electrical/electronic engineering. Good interpersonal skills are a prerequisite.
BAT: We only employ graduates aged 25 years and below for our Management Trainee Programme, hence academic qualifications are important to meet our rigorous screening procedures. Factors that will help land you a spot in the programme are a CGPA of 3.0; upper second class honours or equivalent degree; and active involvement in and leadership of extra-curricular activities. It doesn’t stop there, of course. You will still have to show us what you’re made of during the interview process.
Shell: An academic qualification indicates two things. Firstly, the quality and depth of the knowledge acquired and also the propensity to deliver a given assignment or as we would say it in Shell, the sense of achievement. Academic qualifications are therefore very important.
A postgraduate qualification on the other hand is very much dependent on the nature of the job. A Master’s or PhD would very much be required for a role in research or product development, where detailed expertise in a certain field is required but in most other scenarios, a good degree should suffice. An MBA qualification however, would be better after a few of years of experience as the graduate would then be able to relate theory to the realities of work much better.
3. What specialisations in your organisation’s field are emerging or becoming more popular?
OYL: Among our group of operating companies in Malaysia, one of our core competencies is in the area of research and development. Graduates who like to innovate in the area of new product design and systems will find it a rewarding challenge to work in our Research & Development Center.
4. Is it difficult to recruit suitable employees from fresh graduates today? Please explain.
OYL: Getting the right person for the right job is becoming a big challenge for HR managers in many companies. Graduates with good potential are looking for something more than just an offer of good salary package to them. With many ‘employers of choice’ out there looking for good people, candidates now have the luxury to pick and choose employers that are able to offer them what they are looking for. Good working environments, challenging work and opportunities for future career growth in the organisation are some of the offers that can attract them.
BAT: The toughest part about recruiting management trainees is the identification of the crème de la crème of graduates today. We seek graduates who are analytical and are able to think critically, as opposed to those who regurgitate facts to pass examinations. On top of sound reasoning, we also seek maturity and the ability to articulate your thoughts clearly. Hence, the talent pool is scarce due to a mismatch in what we are looking for and the characteristics of graduates out there.
Shell: Although Shell recruits graduates from diverse background ranging from business and IT to sciences and engineering. Shell has a higher recruitment target for engineers. Among engineering graduates, we do see a gap in petroleum engineering as we don’t have many undergraduates in Malaysia focusing in that area.
5.What kind of expectations are you seeing in graduates today? Is this a positive or negative trend?
OYL: We appreciate dynamic young graduates who always meet and exceed our performance expectations. For those who have high ambitions, we provide various continuous improvement programmes to satisfy their learning ego; job rotation is one of the options. This will allow them to pick up more skills from other departments. We believe by providing job rotation our young graduates will be better equipped with multiple skills and knowledge necessary for them to advance more rapidly in their career path. We have plans to identify and groom potential candidates to become managers in fewer than 10 years.
BAT: We do see a recurring trend in the expectations of the management trainees we have hired. They prefer to work in a stable, multinational organisation which offers an abundance of developmental opportunities and speedy career progression, should they demonstrate excellent performance. They are more aware of what they want out of their careers and we view it as a positive trend.
On the flip side, graduates of this generation also have some expectations that are misaligned with the corporate environment in this day and age. They expect to be highly remunerated but have difficulty when put into situations which require them to perform what they feel are menial tasks, despite the opportunities to learn. They prefer to be involved with enormous strategic projects that are deemed more challenging. While there is nothing wrong with that, they should at least be able to master the basics beforehand.
Shell: Graduates of today are more certain of what they want out of life and if put in a situation would opt to pursue their life goals more than anything else. What’s important is how an organisation bridges the generational gap and is able to manage set of values effectively.
However, we may see a shift in focus, as graduates of today face up to the reality of the current financial crisis. As such it will be interesting to understand their response to this phenomenon.
6. Do you have a preference for overseas graduates or local graduates?
OYL: Based on our past dealings with graduates from local and overseas universities, it was found that both have different characteristics. It is not for us to say who has the winning edge to become better or more successful. Overseas graduates tend to have a wider scope in their views, whereas graduates from local universities are very strong in their academic accomplishments. Both have equal chances to become successful when guided systematically from the start of their career.
BAT: British American Tobacco Malaysia is an equal opportunity employer. Testament to that are our current management trainees, who come from local and foreign universities. We feel there are no distinct advantages of graduating from either local or overseas educational institutions as we would rather assess our graduates based on their individual qualities.
Shell: The difference between an overseas or local graduate depends very much on the university and the attitude of individual itself. The advantage of studying overseas is the fact that one is exposed to different ways of thinking and hence is better equipped for a globalised environment.
However, if an overseas undergraduate limits his or her social network and does not maximise his or her opportunities to interact and learn from others, he or she will not be any different from a local graduate. Instead, local graduates who make the effort to cross boundaries and learn, would fare better and add more value to an organisation.
7. What advice would you give to a student who is seeking employment at your firm?
OYL: The growth of the organisation depends on the growth of the people. In order for the organisation to become the best in the industry, the people have to want to become the best in their own fields. We are looking for these unique and individualistic graduates who share the same passion and vision as the management.
BAT: Be prepared for a multiple stage interview process, inclusive of a whole day assessment centre.
Shell: We do hire an average of 100 graduates a year in Shell Malaysia, out of which 70% would be engineers or disciplines relevant to technical aspects of oil and gas. We have details on our requirements and the assessment process itself on our website and I would urge potential candidates to spend as much time there as possible to understand the organisation and its people.
A Tale of Better Communication
Tan Khoon Yeow from BDO Malaysia shares how changes in corporate reporting will affect the accounting and auditing world.
Accountants and auditors usher in 2017 with trepidation as the profession braces itself for the dawn of a new era of corporate reporting. This is courtesy of the triumvirate implementation of the Disclosure Initiative, new auditor’s report and sustainability reporting.
These changes were born from the desire of capital market participants to obtain better understanding of corporations as well as communication of value by corporations to various stakeholders. They mark a paradigm shift for the profession to explore contemporary communication methods to improve understanding of corporate annual reports.
The Disclosure Initiative was initiated in 2013 by the International Accounting Standards Board (IASB) and presented as a central thrust of ‘Better Communication’ by the Chairman of the IASB in June 2016. It represents a facelift of financial reporting as an effective communication tool, as opposed to the current ‘tick-the-box’ approach of voluminous disclosures and masqueraded financial performance reporting.
With the Disclosure Initiative, corporations would now only need to disclose material information in any order that is most relevant to shareholders. Financial statement discourses are thus effectively decluttered in a 4R approach: Remove, Reorder, Regroup and Re-emphasise.
This Initiative would hopefully address the needs of users of financial statements for simple, non-jargon disclosures to accompany the primary financial statements in a manner reminiscent of a student reading poetry by William Shakespeare.
New Auditor’s Report
Synonymous with the term ‘Key Audit Matters’ (KAM), the new auditor’s report unveils the mystery surrounding the black box of auditing financial statements. It attempts to communicate risk assessment and responses of the auditor arising from the audit to shareholders.
Published as a final standard in January 2015 by the International Auditing and Assurance Standards Board (IAASB), the enhanced auditor’s report has often been hailed as a silver bullet to influencing the perceived value of auditing across jurisdictions that have adopted this new approach.
Moving forward, auditors are required to include in their reports KAM arising from their audits, as well as expand elaborations on the going concerns or the ability to continue operating in the near future of corporations. KAM refers to matters of significant risk and judgment encountered during the audit that requires further attention by the auditor, thus enabling shareholders to place themselves in the shoes of the auditors and understand the practical challenges faced by auditors.
Introduced by the Bursa Malaysia in October 2015 as the next generation reporting tool after previously requiring corporate social responsibility (CSR) disclosures, sustainability reporting revolves around the underlying triple P (People, Planet, Profit) elements that are not comprehensively communicated within financial statements.
Central to the idea of sustainability reporting are the identification and prioritisation of material sustainability matters across three themes: environmental, economic and social (EES). Whilst financial statements could encompass reporting of economic matters in terms of profits, it is well understood today that profits are not the only yardstick of measuring economic matters to corporations, thus leading to the need for sustainability reporting.
It is widely expected that the seismic shift from traditional CSR disclosures to sustainability reporting would encourage corporations to embed transformational and strategic sustainability matters as part of corporate strategy and stewardship.
It is also envisaged that the implementation of sustainability reporting would gradually set the tone and base for the introduction of Integrated Reporting (IR) in the future as another comprehensive communication tool.
With the lockstep introduction of these changes, aspiring accountants and auditors would certainly do well to embrace broader knowledge beyond International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) and International Standards on Auditing (ISA) as the profession marches into the realm of uplifting communication of corporate stories as value added for the benefit of stakeholders.
A Bright Future For Accountants
Datuk Mohamad Nasir Ahmad from the ACCA talks about the real need for qualified accounting professionals, regardless of what state the global economy is in.
Demand for qualified accountants is expected to remain buoyant and may even increase over the next five years, pointing to positive job prospects in a bleak global environment with record unemployment rates.
This was the major conclusion derived from Accountancy: The Future Outlook, a research report developed jointly by the ACCA’s business intelligence unit working with the BPRI group. Their research was based on telephone interviews with more than 750 CFOs, partners and senior finance executives conducted during December 2008 and January 2009.
Generally, CFOs, partners and senior accountants predict buoyant demand for qualified accountants over the next five years, with almost two-thirds of those surveyed expecting demand to increase. A little more than a quarter expect demand to stay the same and by far the smallest percentage – less than one in 10 respondents – anticipate falling demand.
Many reasons account for the expected increase in demand for qualified accountants. Business and economic growth, whether positive or negative, is cited as a key factor.
Many respondents based in the Asia Pacific region foresee industrial growth – bothdomestic and global –particularly in developing economies such as China, India and in the Middle East triggering greater demand for qualified accountants, regardless of the current global economic downturn. Demand in these countries may be further compounded by a perceived shortage of qualified accountants, noted a respondent from a Malaysia-based accountancy firm.
Ironically, shrinking economic growth may also fuel demand for qualified accountants. Some respondents predicted that a tougher trading climate will make the financial insight provided by qualified accountants even more valuable. Tighter controls on spending will need to be matched with greater creativity in generating income streams, which is an area in which accountants specialise.
‘Demand for qualified accountants will increase because we are going through a recession,’ commented a respondent from the South African public sector. ‘Businesses need to keep their eye on the ball with regards to expenditure of income and general liquidity.’
The trend towards the convergence and standardisation of accounting and reporting standards around the world is similarly stimulating increased demand for qualified accountants. As the adoption and updating of International Financial Reporting Standards gathers speed, qualified accountants will be needed in increasing numbers to help organisations interpret and apply these complex standards.
Tougher laws on compliance are also driving demand for qualified accountants. The accountancy and business environment is becoming more Byzantine, whether due to additional regulatory burdens, global competition or innovation in business finance and transactions, and more qualified accountants will therefore be needed to help organisations operate successfully.
According to Accountancy: The Future Outlook, there is a growing global expectation that accountants must go beyond technical competencies to fill relatively complex roles with strategic, advisory and risk management dimensions. A respondent from a Malaysia-based accountancy firm said that there is ‘a greater push for smart accountants [who are] not only looking at numbers but also involved in other decision-making within the organisation.’
These wider expectations reflect the challenges facing today’s organisations, particularly their need for intensive risk management and forward-looking analysis in order to ensure sustainable business. Survey participants see accountants as becoming strategic advisers to the business, rather than backroom number-crunchers focused myopically on day-to-day accounting.
Conversely, in some developing accounting markets there remains a strong, ongoing need for more qualified accountants who can demonstrate even basic accounting skills to plug the perceived shortage of skilled accounting expertise.
In other words, successful accountants of the future will need to develop holistic business and financial skills such as those highlighted in Accountancy: The Future Outlook while honing essential technical competencies.
Well-rounded skills required
Topping the list of skills expected to be more in demand is enterprise risk management, which aims to manage risks by taking an integrated view of all the various uncertainties that exist across an organisation.
Strategic scenario planning and skills in improving the use of data and knowledge, both of which relate to an organisation’s ability to make effective decisions, are also expected to be more in demand in five years.
Likewise, increased demand is foreseen for project modelling and costing skills. By applying data within sophisticated models, skilled accountants can generate information of real use when evaluating potential investment decisions thereby ensuring that scarce resources are applied effectively to maximise returns.
Skill in the area of intellectual capital accounting and management is also expected to be in greater demand, reflecting the increasing importance of intangible assets.
In addition, ‘softer’ skills such as communications are becoming increasingly important as accountants are expected to communicate effectively in order to nurture relationships within business and with stakeholders.
Although new and expanded skills are expected of accountants, they must go hand-in-hand with traditional accounting and financial skills. Indeed, many respondents – more than a third of the total – do not expect any financial skills to be less in demand in the next five years.
What this research ultimately reveals is that organisations in a risky, uncertain world need a well-rounded hybrid accountant armed with technical competencies as well as strategic, analytical and softer skills in order to enable sustainable business success. These accountants will be ideally placed to advise organisations on strategy and decision-making, capitalising on information drawn from accurate data and informed by broad business knowledge. Looking ahead, prospects seem upbeat for qualified accountants who have the opportunity to step up and take the lead in driving future business success.
Once Upon A Time: An Introduction To Creative Copywriting
Lifelong writer Jaideep Patel guides us through the peaks and the valleys of creative copywriting.
OK, it may be a stretch to say I am a lifelong writer. However, I did start very young: my first ‘article’ was published in The Star when I was 7. And I still write for a living. That (and the fact that I’m quite terrible at many other things) has brought me on an interesting career path as a writer.
But enough about me. Let’s get on with business!
What is creative copywriting?
Creative copywriting is half art and half business. The art aspect involves the clever use of storytelling and creativity to turn marketing communication (messages that are meant to promote products or services) into an easily digestible message. In most cases, these messages are entertaining, provoke thought and illicit laughter. Good copywriters have the writing skills to make people react the way they want them too.
On the other hand, there is a business aspect that comes into play. This ‘business savviness’ of copywriting is a skill that can be practised and perfected over time, as you become more and more accustomed to writing for different types of companies, who invariably function in different industries and deal with different types of products and/or services.
In a nutshell, creative copywriting is writing artistically but for a business goal. The term call-to-action (CTA) is important, and all good copywriters know this. What do you want your words to result in? Do you want people to visit a website, or register for an event? Perhaps you want them to sign up for a free rewards card membership.
What does a copywriter do at work?
Copywriters are generally tasked with the following:
- writing copy (taglines, radio jingles, scripts, advertorials, etc) that is engaging and relevant to the target audience
- brainstorming ideas and concepts with an arts-based partners eg art directors, graphic designers, etc
- making revisions to ads or campaigns as per the instructions of the clients
- presenting copywriting ideas both internally (to colleagues) and externally (to clients)
- conducting research on clients’ products and/or services, target audiences and competitor products and/or services
- liaising with voice-over talents for radio ads or talents/celebrities for videos and TV ads.
Where do copywriters work?
Copywriters generally work in:
- advertising agencies
- full-service marketing agencies
- media production houses
- digital and new media companies
- employer branding firms
- radio and television stations
- government departments/agencies.
Many copywriters work full-time as in-house copywriters in companies across various sectors, while other copywriters work on a part-time or freelance basis.
What is the salary and career progression of copywriters?
Fresh graduates who start off on this journey normally start off as junior copywriters, where the starting salary is in the region of RM2,000 per month. It might seem to be on the low side, but good copywriters usually move up the ranks very quickly. With about two years’ experience, your salary may double. Senior copywriters with over five years’ experience can earn up to RM10,000 per month.
Other factors come into play as well. For example, copywriters who work in teams that win industry awards such as the Kancil Awards and Effie Awards, etc will see greater career progression. However, only a handful will be lucky enough to be in these situations.
What are the qualities required to be a good copywriter?