The current economic climate is riddled with challenges and uncertainties. Falling global oil prices, introduction of the GST and the tumbling Ringgit in combination have made the past year a challenging period for business owners. There is no handy manual to refer to in times of crisis. Access to a reliable pool of knowledge would provide a useful reference point during difficult times.
The BFM Enterprise Breakaway provides one such useful reference point. Every year since 2011, BFM 89.9 (the “Business Station”) has hosted the BFM Enterprise Breakaway, their flagship programme curated to connect business leaders who can share their wealth of experiences, lessons and learnings. The 5th edition of this programme was held recently.
This year’s BFM Enterprise Breakaway saw a tremendous turnout. With the tagline “Unlock your Growth Potential” the programme served as a convenient platform for participants to learn real world experiences, innovative strategies for growth and the key ingredients needed to successfully expand. The participants represented a wide cross section of industry sectors from “one-man shows”, fledgling start-ups to well-known companies with strong brand presence.
Thailand’s Sandwich King, Srivat Varavetvuthikun, Founder of Srivat Sandwich shared his stories of resilience and perseverance even when all looked hopeless. Adelaine Foo, Founder/CEO of The Otomotif College, showed how her desire to address social challenges drove her to set up the college when she was just 28. In her own words, she wanted to uplift the social standing of blue-collar technicians by creating “enough respect for automotive technicians and get them the pay that they deserve”.
Helen Read, Founder of Ms. Read, explained in her quiet humble manner how the 1997/98 economic downturn provided her business the opportunity to set up her first outlet. Since then through prudent financing and internally generated funds Ms. Read has organically grown to 19 outlets with the 20th about to be launched soon. For her product quality is her most important assurance to her customers.
Joshua Liew, Co-Founder/COO of Espressolab, expressed his intention to grow his business through the licensing model and his desire to let the masses enjoy quality coffee within their community through innovative customer experiences. Dato’ Chevy Beh, Founder of Asian Healthcare Group Bhd., in turn emphasised the importance of engaging with strategic investors who stand to gain from the business over the long term, and how an individual entrepreneur’s track record (or personal brand) can influence the type of investors he/she can attract.
Budding business startups recognise a gap in the market and have to be agile and reshape their business innovatively to survive. Entrepreneurs such as Lee Ching Wei (Group CEO/Founder of iMoney) and Farouk Meralli (CEO of mClinica, the Philippines) reiterated the need “to know what you don’t know” and that good ideas are plentiful but basically useless unless executed successfully.
Digital marketing as a tool for growth
There was a high proportion of SMEs in the audience and it was highlighted that 40% of Malaysian SMEs have yet to establish a digital presence, and only 10% offer credit card facilities. Businesses including SMEs cannot afford to ignore digital marketing as a tool for growth. Equipped with the right know-how there are ways to exploit existing e-commerce platforms which are gateways to markets overseas.
An online marketing map showing descriptive elements and words around online marketing concepts.
Perhaps the highlight of the day’s programme was the session with Endeavour Malaysia, a non-profit organisation which is part of a worldwide movement that selects and supports firms with the potential to scale-up, create wealth, jobs and a culture of mentorship.
Afzal Abdul Rahim and Azran Osman-Rani, both Mentors of Endeavour Malaysia, led a lively panel discussion on the rigours of the selection and mentoring processes, reminding the audience that oftentimes business leaders are overwhelmed by the day-to-day running of their businesses and are content with generating profits that they overlook their own potential to hasten growth.
Kian Hoe Seah CEO of Heng Hiap Industries and Endeavour mentee, admitted he was focused on the R&D aspect of his technology recycling business and contented to such a degree that he lost sight of the need to upscale. The other Endeavour mentee, See Wai Hun, Founder/CEO of Juris Technologies, disclosed that the mentoring process is less about number crunching and more about developing a vision/mission and the means needed to execute them. At times tweaking the variables only slightly could impact output significantly.
Afzal Abdul Rahim commended the resilience of entrepreneurs who have gone through and survived the “school of hard knocks”. He further questioned the need for funding and incentives to be offered so easily as this could lead to the slippery slopes of breeding mediocrity where businesses lack the resilience to face global competition.
Entrepreneurs are constantly required to sharpen their skills, learn from their mistakes and failures or learn from other entrepreneurs. For these reasons, the Business Enterprise Breakaway programme will likely continue to attract strong interest in the years to come including probably from a sizable portion of local SMEs.
According to Malaysian External Trade Development Corporation (MATRADE) SMEs account for 99% of all business establishments in the country, but just 19% of Malaysia’s exports. The Government’s target is to grow SME exports contribution to 23% by 2020 as to grow is to survive.