Turn On Your Headlights

In a coaching session recently I blurted out something that I thought meaningful for top talents and would-be leaders. “Turn on your headlight”. I was coaching a very smart talent and he is in the top talent pool – grooming up to lead a division of few hundreds people. Let’s just call him Saiful.


A prolific sales person cum product manager, he tops the sales chart for months this year. Last year he won the top sales awards. The clients love him. Without him, his company will lose easily 50% of sales target. He manages the sales department right now and he is very likely to be the best candidate for the divisional head. There is only one challenge, he prefers to be by himself.

His communication has always been one-to-one. Seldom one-to-group (department level) and rarely group-to-group (department to department). As a result people have heard of him but don’t really know him. The top management felt for the divisional head they need someone that are able to do more of one-to-group and more importantly group-to-group. Groups alignment is very important to ensure sustainable revenues.

His feedback to me was “it is me to be by myself”, “I am not the drama type that love the limelight” and “I prefer to be the background person”. My feedforward to him (suggestion) was, turn on your headlight. It is an analogy.

Autobahn at night
Autobahn at night

When we drive on a runway at night usually there will be street lights. We speed up at 110 – 140 km/h with a good vision of what’s in front of us and we could pretty well read up the signages and signboards. But we usually turn on the head light right? Why did we do that since the street lights are already there? The headlights are not for us, the headlights are turned on because we would like others to see us.

Can you imagine someone driving behind you with his / her car headlights off? What comes to mind? Will you pay any attention to it? Turn on your headlights by reaching out to others.

Brickbats please send to donkhairul@gmail.com 

Three Factors Contributing to Professional Growth and Development

Some months ago I ran a short survey on Professional Growth and Development. It was a “lazy” survey where I just published it without much promotion. I wish to only have respondents that are interested to answer the survey. I gave small token in discount vouchers but the desire and “giving back mindset” by the respondents were amazing. They answered because they wanted to share their thoughts. Big hand to them. Running for 1 month, the survey gathered 130 respondents.

The main objective of the survey is to find out factors that contributing to successful Professional Growth and Development for executives and managers. I have yet to published this survey with more details. I only decided to give you some highlights that captured my lazy mind.

Here are some insights on the factors contributing to Professional Growth and Development:

1. Tertiary Education Works

Almost 70% of the respondents confessed that their tertiary education – basic degree help them to gain entry level position. You see, all we need is to enter somewhere first. That’s the goal for a start. This applies to top bracket university graduates as well, if you fail to secure entry level position in the next 6-18 months after graduation, you are going to meet some difficulties (not the end of the world though, just some difficulties).

I recently met several graduates in a workshop that have graduated from 8-26 months from local university. They took science courses such as biomedical, engineering and chemistry. They said they found the job offering mismatched their tertiary education experience hence they ignored those offers. I gave them some advise and asked each of them to write me an essay of any topic they like and together with their CV. I gave them a week and only one reminder, that was before we part ways. One week later, only 1 graduate came back and her essay was solid. She was a graduate with chemistry background.

I told her that while her degree is in science, she could easily adapt to other roles – to gain entry level position. She said, she wasn’t aware that we can “switch”, but that I don’t really want to discuss here. So now she is ready to take up entry level position – to gain experience.

2. Mentors and Coaches? Go Find Them Now!

Next, around 80% of the respondents said that they owed their professional growth and development to mentors and coaches. These people include their managers, bosses, supervisors, leaders, colleagues, nemesis, trainers and friends. These “helpers” come internally and externally on need basis. In other words, these professionals get helped. Somebody took interest of them and shape them to become successful. I believe this is true. I am personally a product of mentors and coaches. I wish to share someone’s else story here.

Have you heard of Asafa Powell? He is a Jamaican sprinter – colleague to Usain Bolt. Asafa broke the Olympic record of 100 metre in Athens Olympic in 2005. He clocked in 9.77 at Olympic stadium. The more interesting story, 3 years before that Asafa was just another Jamaican teenager trying to find a place to train himself. He has been training by himself, unlike Usain Bolt that already in sports school since young. Asafa was lucky, a guy named Stephen Francis found him and gave him the opportunity to train and be coached in his camp. Three years later, Asafa was an Olympic champ.


The above stories resonated well to many successful people. This is also true with Sir Jony Ive, the Chief Designer of Apple Corp. While Ive was already an accomplished designer from young, it was Jobs that gave Ive the opportunity to flourish further and harness his creative giants inside him. Ive thrived and build many great products including iPod, iPhone, iPad and so on. You may refer to Ive’s biography – Jony Ive, The Genius Behind Apple’s Greatest Product by Leander Kahney.


Some respondents also highlighted that parents too helped them in manoeuvring successfully in their professional journey. However, the percentage is rather small, 10-15%.

3. Hard Work and Persistence, This Goes Without Saying

As many as 95% of my proud achievers respondents said they work really hard to get to where they are now. They gave examples such as having to take up professional certification, stretched assignments, late night meetings and hectic schedule. However, their persistence paid off handsomely because they are now have become professional and live a great life.

While going through this, they also admitted experiencing some breakdowns and frustrations. Taking it positive, go slower at times and having strong support from loved ones boosted their morale to go further.

The drive home the point, from this insights it is clear to all of us that while most of us may have the innate ability and super resources to work hard, we shouldn’t discount the other 2 factors i.e. tertiary education and mentors and coaches.

Firstly, get good grades if you can. If you can’t or you are not qualified into tertiary education it is ok. Now you need to find mentors and coaches to learn about the workings of life. You need to learn about the trade. Yes you may be strong, why not waste your energy for something else? Go find mentors and coaches.


It is ok to ask for help because no one knows everything. Right? For young executives and graduates, my advise is to always be mindful of people that could become your guidance. Be willing to have interest in people and talk to them. For the seniors, reach out to the young because they actually are curious whether your seriousness is towards them or to someone else! 🙂

Someday I wish to read your story and when I looked back I thanked you for allowing me to be part of it. “The thing is, it’s very easy to be different, but very difficult to be better.” – Jony Ive

Behavioural Change Using Design Thinking

Innovation is a tricky business. It is tricky because you are NOT going to get it right the first time. Yes, it upsets a lot of people in the quality and production departments. It boils the blood of the financial controllers and accountants. Innovation also going to frustrate your marketing department because of the changing consumers mind. Typical change management framework and processes might have to change, as well.


On the flip side, innovation has hues of greatstuffs. It enlarges the possibilities that you initially thought a constraint. It motivates your sales people to try something out of the box. It triggers your vice president’s thinking to reimagine the service you provide to new customers segment. Innovation celebrates fail early and fail often (of new things) because persistence will always take us to greener path. Innovation generates new revenue streams and give you the confidence that things are not so bad after all.It gives breath of fresh air to get unstuck in mind-numbing headquarters strategy presentation that has become so out of touch from the customers. Innovation unleashes the creative potential within us all. Innovation offers window for behavioral change in all organization around the world.

There are many ways that we can innovate – from the very basic and chaos creativity skill such as “randomness – just think of something great” or “just throw stuffs there and see what happen” to the most complex and quantifiable research on creativity. One technique that I wish to share is using design thinking method. There are several versions of the method, the one I have competence and experience is from the d.school Stanford University and Hasso-Platner Institute (click here to know more). I have been a practitioner and great fan of innovation and creativity tools, but design thinking transcended all other tools.


Design thinking helps uncover something that was unknown. What you are doing is rediscovering what you already have. It enlarges our capacity to imagine, be creative and build upon big ideas. Creative energy is one of our most precious resources – said Tom Kelley in his book, PDF – Creative Confidence. Using design thinking, we can address a wide variety of business, personal, customer, social and complex challenges in creative new ways, said David Kelley (Tom’s brother) of IDEO.

The CEO of ideacouture, Idris Mootee in his book, Design Thinking for Strategic Innovation said that design thinking is “disruptive and provocative by nature because it promotes new ways of looking at problems”. I find this very true. I had one client who attended my workshop on design thinking said she never thought that it is possible to look at the problem in this new way before this.

Jessica runs an insurance company and the “customers” that they always have in mind is the new subscriber of their insurance. However, in the course of the design thinking workshop she jumped out and said I have been focusing on my customer all wrong. My actual customers are the claimants. That’s where the “pain points” stuff happen. No wonder she said, that sales have been dwindling because in the market their actual customers have been very unhappy about her company.

Another example I came across is from entrepreneur development centre. They have been running programs after programs to build entrepreneurs. As part of the program, the entrepreneurs were later can offer services to the centre. So its a great deal and worth going through the program. However, after some time there are less people attending and the entrepreneurs somewhat hesitant to offer their services. This is unusual. They dig deeper using design thinking method during the workshop. Apparently the issue stemmed from the account department. The entrepreneurs were paid very late (more than 6 months) and when they get paid using cheques, there are always errors and misprints. As an entrepreneur myself, cash flow is king. They “fired” the entrepreneur development centre as their customers.

In a book, Stories of What Works – Solving Problems Using Design Thinking published by Columbia Business School, there was one story from Dublin that captured my attention. A story about public old folks centre. This centre provide shelter and subsidized food for senior citizens. While most of the senior citizens enjoyed meeting new friends with enlarged social circle, the food served there wasn’t to their liking. Same old same old. Fortunately, after some time the centre decided to do something innovative and brought in a team of design thinkers. The project is called the The Good Kitchen. (video below)

One anecdotes that stand out to me was the design thinking team found out that all the “cooks” were “chefs”. These are real chefs that had superb experience working on cruises, 5-star hotels and can cook really well. However, when the management decided to be “overly efficient” with the ingredients they buy and “strategically plan” the menu for months ahead, the chefs said “not much we can do”. Besides, the chefs can no longer do food styling, seasoning and other details hence the bland and boring food. After rounds of workshops with the stakeholders – municipality, mayor, senior citizens and so on, they decided to make small change with big impact. They changed title “cooks” to “chefs” to reflect the actual experiences and skills. This boosted morale and dignity of the senior citizens. They dressed the chefs well and they started to redesign the menu offerings. In short, they re-imagined the kind of food service that is more apt and caring to the senior citizens.

One final story is from a high school counsellor. His school has been doing a lot (which school doesn’t ?!) to find ways to discipline the students. They have tried many ways including some forms of corporal punishment but somehow it makes things worse. How much more corporal punishment needed? As a counsellor, he knows this won’t work.

During the design thinking workshop, an idea sparked. He prototyped the idea instantly in class and he received outstanding reviews from his colleagues in the workshop. His idea was to ask every student on their wishes of how to make the school better and harmony so everybody is safe with each other. He told me later, at the initial actual implementation he said the students were surprised by the change of “regime” but they contributed anyway. Simple things are being implemented for example, the students wish the teachers could smile more. Next, extend the lights out at 11 pm instead of 10 pm because most of them prefer to do homework at dormitory instead of study room. Another, weekend outing to start earlier at 8 am instead of 10 am so the students can spend more time with their family and friends outside the school. Simple stuffs that worked. The students are happier and less discipline issues occurred, somehow.

Brickbats please send to donkhairul@gmail.com 

Five Things I Learned About Top Talent Leadership Development

My recent work with top talent was very interesting. They are mid level managers from several organizations. Some were grouped together and another dispersed in their own role while going through the program with me.

These are top talent. They earned their spot through the their experiences on the job while scaffolding their growth. They are very talented and some are opinionated. All of them went through several screening processes before being short-listed into this program.


The insights I got here worth sharing. Here there are:

1. True Leaders Show Up

Apparently there are a lot of us want to be a leader. We like the attention given to a leader. Some crave for it from distance.

However, not many willing to show up and hustle their way to become one. Most expect someone somewhere “recognize” them as “leader material”, in other words, they are offered to be a “leader”. Please don’t be mistaken, being a leader doesn’t equate of a promotion at work. Yes, for a promotion you need someone to offer you however, there are many leaders become one without a title – said by Robin Sharma. In other words, anyone can be a leader.

This person I call Jim is very interesting. When engaging him in a group he was very quiet and a follower type. He sometimes talk about his idea but yeah all he did was talking. However in our private coaching session, he projected himself as “leader-material-that-yet-to-be-found” by someone in his organization. He reminisced about his past when his colleagues and bosses often talked about his achievements at work. He usually observed others from afar. However when asked why did he not act like one in the group, he said he had his moments so he feels others should have their moments now. That’s the reason why he “stepped aside”. Jim was making excuses. This kind of strategy may backfire if you want to be seen as a leader. True leader shows up.

2. Leader Knows and Expresses Quality

“You know it when you see it”.

This is how sometimes we used to describe quality in a person or a thing. As an adult most of us have seen lots of things. We have experienced several setbacks and winning some battles at the same time. We met so many people with varying characters and qualities. Some we like, some we don’t. In summation, we roughly know in general whether a person is with substance or whether another person is just a BS. The only thing we don’t do sometimes is to show it.

This person call Randy was given a task to evaluate his colleagues assignments. Randy has been in the organization for 15 years and he’d seen a lot. Some of them are his new colleagues and from the rumours these new people are the bosses allies. So Randy gave full marks without considering the quality of the assignments. In the private coaching he was asked why he did that. At first Randy was shocked because he didn’t realized he was observed. He thought people are not watching. Later he confessed he did that because he wanted to please the “future bosses”. Randy substandard mindset actually is a self-sabotage. He is scared to evaluate other people. He wanted to please people that he doesn’t know enough, although he has wide experience in his work and in the company. Leader should express quality.

3. Proper Selfishness Is Okay

The word of Charles Handy, proper selfishness theory means

“That in order to truly be ourselves, we need to serve others.”

A leader must go beyond his own domain and reach out to others. He usually acts even without being asked although it may cost him economically (within his means) and sometimes to the detriment of his personal life (especially his family members would say how come you always do things for others?)

This great man I call Harris is such a guy. In an open team setting, I could see him attempting to show up and offer his wealth of experiences. Although some time he successfully did it, most of the time he ended up hesitant and follow the crowd. There were cases when his team lost in games we play, although they had great chance had Harris jumped in and steer it right.

In the private coaching, he explained that he is worried that people might think of him as trying to show off and to gain merit points. Although he admitted no one has spoken to him directly in that way, he “felt” he knew it from the look “in their eyes”. This is true to most of us where we sometimes overly thinking of what others have to say. Proper selfishness is okay.

4. Some Top Talent Not Leader Material

You see most leaders in many organization these days grow up from top talent pipelines. Typically they excel in their formative education till tertiary. Some come from Ivy League universities or top scorers. Later they are groomed in a well designed top talent development program before being promoted into rotational roles paving path to leadership position. The thing is, we know the big challenge with top talent is the way they carry themselves with people. Often, this top breed find difficulties working with others. In some cases, they loathed having others around them. In the word of Marshall Goldsmith,

by the time we reach teen years our minds are already shaped of how we see the world.

Throughout our youth it get reinforced and become our identity. By the time we reach the workforce we already a “complete” person carrying our own “tainted lenses” around.

This lady call Carly is such a person. She is a product of top local university. She did very well in her academic years. According to her, she was supposed to go to USA for her tertiary education, however due to financial crisis, she only managed to complete year one before called back. She completed the remaining years here in Malaysia. In private coaching with her, you can tell that she is very proud of her achievements as a student and a career woman. After about 30 minutes into our conversation, she looked at me and said actually she hardly had any conversation like this with her colleagues or direct reports. She said she find these people are “not able to match her calibre and intellectual capacity”. She also mentioned that lately her bosses have been favoring other candidate for regional role although she hit her numbers well. There’s a saying, as you grow further in organization or in life, the only significant thing that matter is how you treat other people.

5. Leader Roles Sleeves, Ideas Are Cheap!

I hammered this many times in my program, ideas are cheap! Ideas are cheap! You can’t make money with just ideas, no matter how brilliant it is. Ask any innovators and inventors, they stumbled many times on their initial ideas. Moreover, often the things they commercialized later on is very likely something they never thought before. As a leader, we need to know that we need to milk ideas and then put the ideas to test. Some leaders, because of their position or role, throwing ideas from left right centre. Ideas after ideas and expect others to pick it up. Worst, they have this idea that their direct report should be of the “same wavelength” with them and should know how to fly the idea.

This person call Peter is a direct report to a director. Peter’s boss, is such a person. The boss will come in the office and throw in ideas. Call Peter to his room and try to win Peter with his idea and expect it fly the next day. When Peter failed to do so, his boss get very angry. He said that Peter is unable to think outside the box – even after various training sent.

In a design thinking ideation, we brought his boss to participate and we could see him in action.

However, through our design thinking guidance where we get them to try out some creative tools and active collaboration techniques, we could see that Peter and his boss could work on really well – they become great sparring partner. They work on simple prototype and test it around. It is a real hard work for any idea to win the marketplace. We leaders, lets role our sleeves.

I hope these sharing has been insightful and helpful.

Brickbats please send to donkhairul@gmail.com 

How 25 Teen-Trepreneurs Succeeded And Left World Leaders Perplexed


This is actually a title from a book that I recently bought at a discount. I love discounted books and I have been very lucky that this book is one of the books that I bought at significant ROI – at least 1,000%. I have bought several other books with similar ROI – Fifth Discipline (Peter Senge), Origin of Brand (Al Ries) and Good to Great (Jim Collins). These are great books and I was very lucky. Coming back to this book that I just read, the actual title is “How 25 Teen-Trepreneurs Succeeded and Left World Leaders Scratching Their Heads”. It is actually a compilation of entrepreneurs stories by Sabirul Islam – very prolific young entrepreneur. Check him out.

“Anger, frustration and a serious call for change. This is the reaction of today’s youth on being labelled ‘the lost generation’. But are the youth of today really a lost generation?” This is the opening of the book at the Introduction page. It captures the very essence of “perception” of youth around the world today. I remember attending Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES 2013) in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, where youth entrepreneurs around the world were a significant force. They are mostly from 3rd world countries and developing nations. Their “solutions” to social problems around them are very straight forward and inspiring. There was one African youth whose business is selling thumb drive softcopy of text books. Another Bangladeshi entrepreneur selling organic fertilizer – which he gave me a bottle to try out. Are they a lost generation?

This book by Sabirul Islam contains 25 interviews of successful youth role models who are true leaders of youth in their fields and have achieved extraordinary success in short period of time. They are the ambassadors of true grit for youth around the world to emulate and get inspired regardless of color and creed. The spectacular part of all these 25 teen-trepreneurs are all under 30 years old! Are they a lost generation?

millenial age children

Let’s find out some of the key highlights (in Q&A format) from the interviews. If you want full stories, I suggest you get this book yourself. 😉

1. What drives you as an individual to continue to do what you do?

“Knowing that I will be making a difference and serving others. The passion to pass along the things that I have been taught. The freedom and flexibility I create in my life by not working for someone else and creating the foundation for a financially secure future.”- Alexandra DiRuscio Cooper (Founder, Your Life Our World)

2. How have personal development programs helped you?

“They’ve had huge impact on my life. When I attended the first program at age 15, I was still a bit reserved and unsure who I was, trying to fit in. But that one event is what I credit that help me to break through. It opened my eyes what I had been missing out because I was playing small, I was holding back and I was uncertain. I gained confidence and determination.” – Alexandra DiRuscio Cooper (Founder, Your Life Our World)

3. What are three most important attributes you’ve developed as a young entrepreneur?

“Persistence, organization and solid critical thinking.” – Ben Weissenstein (Founder, Grand Slam Garage Sales”)

4. If you were the President, what would you do or what would you change to encourage growth in youth entrepreneurship?

“I’d have lots of programs to teach entrepreneurship and also to give seed money to aspiring young entrepreneurs. There are a lot of entrepreneurs who, with little funding help could really get off the ground.” – Ben Weissenstein (Founder, Grand Slam Garage Sales”)

5. What is the best solution for youth who have tried but failed to get where you are today?

“Try again, again and again! Find your passion and desires in it! If you want to a very successful business just find a very huge problem you see and try to solve it for everyone.” – Boris Kolev (Founder JT International)

Its not just jobs, its about passion.
Its not just jobs, its about passion.

6. In today’s world, what would you ultimately is more valuable, education or experience?

“The most valuable is education through experience. We have to define what we mean by the word education because I think experience is a key part of education.” – Boris Kolev (Founder JT International)

7. You seem to have had many jobs before you became the successful entrepreneur, at what point in your life did you realize that jobs weren’t your way forward?

“What I wanted was spare time doing my own thing, work with my own hours and be passionate about what I was doing – do something I loved. It’s hard to do when you have a job. I cant stand people telling me how much money I am going to earn and hours I am going to work. It’s my life so I am going to decide.” – Carly Ward (Founder, Young Entrepreneurs Society)

8. How has social media helped you to become a successful entrepreneur?

“Social media has been an integral part of my business. I have got some friends of Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. I can reach thousands people with social media. My mentor actually found me on LinkedIn. He is a successful entrepreneur and an angel investor. I got random message from him, “I like what you’re doing, can I help in any way?” and three months later he was my mentor and a non-executive director of my company.” – Carly Ward (Founder, Young Entrepreneurs Society)

9. How did you come with the idea to develop the multi-bucket carrier and what was your vision behind it?

“When I was 16, I noticed that people in Africa mainly women and children were walking in distance carrying two buckets of water. One of their shoulders and another on their hands. Using local materials I design multi-bucket carrier that can carry up to five buckets of water. I later distributed the instructions how to make it for local people to produce themselves.” – Emily Cummins (The Serial Inventor)

10. What have been the major challenges that you’ve faced when developing your products?

“The major challenge was my age. Initially some people looked at me as a younger person but when I showed them I what invented they find it very refreshing especially at my creativity. I also had to convince my parents that I was very capable to go to Africa on my own.” – Emily Cummins (The Serial Inventor)

11. How has travelling helped you to become the inspirational figure that you are?

“I believe the fastest way to inspire someone is to be inspired. The fastest way to inspire yourself is to do what you love and invest in yourself to feel alive. For me I gain that through travelling. I love to fly and be in the air, experience new culture, be in transition, meet new people and be stretched out of my comfort zone. It’s where I find perhaps my greatest appreciation for each moment.” – Emily Gowor, The Word Artist

12. Are the youth of today good enough to be world leaders?

“People will believe whatever they want to believe. People who consider youth to be unfit to be the world leaders are firstly, judging based on their lenses. Is there a rule about what a world leader should look like? If there is or was, I didn’t learn it in school. I haven’t seen any two leaders following the same script. Someday we will be old as well and new youth generation will come.” Emily Gowor, The Word Artist

13. What would you say unique about yourself?

“I consider myself a normal kid. The only difference is that my extracurricular activity has been business instead of sports or music. I helped my mum’s business since I was nine years old.” – Jason O’Neill, Founder, Pencil Bugs

14. Who has provided the most support to you during your journey as a young entrepreneur?

“My parents definitely are my biggest supporters. Without them there would not even have been a business. I sometimes hear other young entrepreneurs say that they run their business alone but that is usually not true. It takes a lot of help from many people to make someone successful. Even the most successful adults have people on their team.

15. How did you manage to pull yourself out from poverty in Brazil?

“The only way you can leave poverty and negativity behind is by being able to rise above your circumstances with your mind first. You need to be self reliant, especially if you have no role models. Leave the bad influences and friends behind, and make replaced them with books as companions. Set goals and not give up easily until you achieve what you want.” – Pedro De Abreu, Co-Founder, Moofaces

16. What are the change society needs for youth at young age?

“It is important that youth and society in general to open their eyes around them. Stop being so self-centered. It seems many focus on unimportant things such as hair, make up, clothes and adults are always concern about money and what their neighbours or friends have. We also judge others (youth and adults like) too quickly. We need to focus on the good in each of us.” Cassandra Perkins, Founder, Global Voices Reaching Out

I have purposely selected the questions and answers to provide breadth of the context and topics. Check out the full interview in this book. “How 25 Teen-Trepreneurs Succeeded and Left World Leaders Scratching Their Heads”

In conclusion, I don’t think our youth is a lost generation wherever they are. In fact youth today is a force to be reckon with and I think we should embrace them with open arms. I also believe the more senior generation that has greater responsibility should reach out more to youth and groom them further through providing various opportunities including the basic such as time and thoughts. Its more than enough for a start.

Brickbats please send to donkhairul@gmail.com

My MBA Chronicles and Lessons

The way I understand MBA is simply a more elaborated degree on business. This may not be the academic definition, but that’s what you are supposed to get when you complete your study. It is rich with tools, techniques and theories on different facets of business and management. While you may not learn how to open up your own business, you definitely will leave with greater understanding on the important elements needed to grow, manage and run a business profitably.

If you are a manager, MBA will give you that edge to see the big picture of your own department and how it is closely related to the entire organization and the business environment. If you decide to open your own business, the knowledge you learn still applicable.

What MBA is not? It will not make you a genius or superhuman manager or business owner. Let’s get that part right. Because you must realize that every business consists of various determinants and people that make the business successful or bust. You still need to collaborate, communicate and connect with people (customers included) to be successful.

“Always work hard, be honest and be proud of who you are.”

My MBA chronicle was a funny one. I came to AeU one day to find information and signed up within an hour. Simply because I know why I want an MBA. Having an MBA will make me a better manager, resilient person and knowledgeable being. In less than 2 years, when I graduated I got exactly just that and earned a 1st class MBA. I am very proud of what I have achieved.

Let me share few lessons and ‘pantang’s of my MBA journey:

1.       Do not skip any classes

Often we treat ‘going-back-to-school’ for MBA like ‘going-back-to-school’ when we were in the university. Wrong thinking and a sure fail strategy. MBA is rich with reflective moments that you may not personally experience. You gain these insights from your tutors, professors and classmates. While you can easily read the theories from the textbooks or in AeU case from the digital library or Learning Management System, the contextual understanding and applications is crucial.

2.       Read your textbooks and ask questions

If you are the ‘need-feeding type’, you are likely to remain ‘poor’ after attending all the required classes. For those who read you are likely to have questions because often we won’t understand what the authors are trying to tell us. Take for example Strategic Planning on Porter’s Five Forces. When I first read it I don’t get how Mr Porter’s tool can help me in managing a business. Only during the class, further questioning and with my tutor’s in depth explanation with some case studies I picked up the essence.

3.       Plan your assignments and submit on time

Assignment is a taboo word and shouldn’t be spoken openly. Because the whole classroom might stare at you apprehensively. Not many of us take assignments seriously; some even say you can “goreng” last minute. Don’t take their word for it because they probably priming to borrow your assignments later. Read the questions early, think critically to find the relationship of the questions to your work and write it down in points form. Once you have all this, find time to get it summarized and support it with additional academic materials or references. Trust me, you will be able to submit on time.

4.       Build relationship with your tutors and professors

You should envy these tutors and professors for their knowledge bank and insights. It takes years of hardship to accumulate such experiences and knowledge. One that I never missed to catch is Dr Hussain on Managerial Economics and Project Management. He is the walking library because he is a practitioner in business world. Another is En Khaeruddin on Strategic Management, another practitioner that has gone through the thick and thin of running an international company.

5.       Borrow books as many as you can

Never underestimate the power of your school’s library. Although AeU provides textbooks for your courses and access to premium journals, I love books more. The library is updated with many new books from new thinkers and authors. AeU also has series of exclusive publications and magazines such as The Economist, Harvard Business Review and business magazines. I’ll be back to borrow some more soon.

6.       Be prepared to miss few weddings and company events

This is one of the tests on your commitment. While you may missed all these events, never make any excuse you did it because of your study. Learn to catch up with these important events, colleagues and loved ones after you attend your class. They will still appreciate that you actually still care and remember them. J

In return of all the ‘pantang’s you adhered, you will complete your study successfully and be a better person. More doors of career opportunities will open up your way and life will improve exponentially. You will get invited to more events, win more friends and business partners and achieve your life goals.

p/s: In between those ‘pantang’s, learn also to tolerate to sceptics. Remember to run your own race and shy away from those who belittle you. Cheerz!


MBA – 2009/11

Asia e University www.aeu.edu.my

Any brickbats please send to donkhairul@gmail.com

Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish

Some said this mantra originated from Steve Jobs, yes the Apple’s. In one of his keynote address to Stanford graduates graduation ceremony in 2005, he reminded the audience about the importance of being ‘hungry and foolish’ as his key success. That was basically it.

What’s more is, I fully subscribed to that mantra and agree unilaterally. Let’s not talk about entrepreneurship although it is a subject that I love to talk and write hence we are not talking about setting up your own business. It is good if you already have a sustaining one or planning to set one. I would like to address the young working class, just like you and me. People that rely on jobs; have bosses, supervisors, customers, colleagues and face daily job challenges.

You know it is very easy to get distracted at work. Sometimes the job that you are currently doing is something you hate the most. That’s why we invented hobbies. Or it may not be the job you thought you wouldn’t do 10 years ago before you join this working class. I have friends who come to me and said, “I don’t know why every time I get a job, it’s always with similar if not the same problems”. Do you feel the same? Let me tell you one thing, even if you are in heaven right now you are likely to complaint. So, it’s normal to be a little bit analytical and critical of own job and its challenges.

Reality of Jobs

Recent surveys in America and Europe about jobs are driving into the same conclusion. The young working class nowadays do not have enough competencies to perform or take over senior people jobs. That’s what the seniors are saying. You can read this post and find out more on this ‘perceptual difference’ between the young executives and seniors. Nonetheless, what I have always believe is that many of today’s jobs are ‘new job’. These jobs are not around 20-30 years ago during the time the seniors climbing their corporate ladder. Therefore the idea of new skills needed to perform today’s job seem foreign to many of them and us. But let’s not discuss too much now, check out some of these facts derived from that survey.

1. A growing number of people are remaining healthy and active well past the traditional retirement age ad want to carry on working, whether for the money or for the fun of it. That create problems for younger workers.

  1. Workers will have to take responsibility for their own future. The pleasure of the having traditional working role were the certainty of a parent-child relationship. You could leave it in the hands of the corporation to make the big decisions about your working life. Now the world is moving towards adult-adult relationship which will require each one of us to take a more thoughtful, determined and energetic approach to exercising the choices available to us.

  2. In some countries, unemployed youth will be given allowances as long as 40 weeks (incentives) for them to cover basic needs which otherwise if not provided can cause social problems such as criminals.

  3. Getting the innovation engine going again is essential to reducing structural rate of unemployment.

  4. The mismatch between the skills demanded by employers and those available in the market is a reflection both of bad choices by students, who have not thought hard enough about what will help them find a good job and of education systems that are too often indifferent of needs of the labour market and too slow to change even if they try.

Yes, I cover a little bit of here and there from more than 10 pages report. What did you get from here?

You Are On You Own

Basically to survive, young executive needs to take charge of his own life. This is not what they use of doing. Having pampered by their nurturing parents, many of them clueless when asked to become agile, resilient, creative, imaginative and working in a team. Although not all of them, but too many of them. It is common today to generalize the young ones to be ‘like that’.

Some of them are very lucky because they have parents who have access to more things thus their outlook are different. Of course not all of them successfully rearing their children, some actually spoiling them because of less time spent at home to look after their boys and girls. Therefore my advise to young executives that they need to start looking for knowledge that they passion about. Something they would want to do for free because it will then become their latent skills.

Say you are in large corporation, you should always raise your hand and push your superiors to give you more jobs and tasks you can develop stronger willpower, depth of skills and be a team player. Because many young executives resist extra jobs, just by doing a little bit more you can become ‘hero’ by your boss. Ask for training and continuous education. Another trick is to learn how to connect yourself with the seniors. These people have strong knowledge and wealth of experiences that take years to accumulate. Tap on this young man!

Get ready to dive into sea of opportunities
Get ready to dive into sea of opportunities

Seek The Experience

I told more people lately, they need to be explorative and be a seeker. You got to chase that experience and make the best out of it. Experience will not come to you, sorry. You need to immerse yourself into it then only you get to see that world. Although many NGOs and associations today are fighting for greater activities, incentives and policies by the government to change education system, introduce entrepreneurs program, provide micro-financing and pass small business laws, you can always do something about it by yourself while waiting.

It is common today to see young executive job hop from one place to the other. Although many of y bosses disagree with this, I think it is not the job hopping causes trouble it’s more the why job hop. If you do it because you want to gain new experience, learn new skills and beef up your network. You are just as hungry for greater things; and joy. Nonetheless, bosses are right too because too many young executives job hop because they don’t like the job, want more pay and benefits and worse unable to perform as expected. They have escapism mentality and run away from responsibilities.

One of the things I tested is to go to another job that will force me to learn critical skills in business. Skills such as project management, sales, strategy formulation and relationship building. What I did was I seek a project manager and consulting job. In 3 years I learn a lot about this trade and accumulated solid experiences in the areas I wanted. But mind you, it is also important for you to identify what are skills needed for you to be where you want to be.

These are the three skills needed for all young executives; selling skill, relationship building skill, and managing skill.


Don’t worry if your boss, parent or colleagues try to talk you out when you want to move to other job.  You must stick to your higher plan and accept the fact these people or employers are your vehicle to get to where you want to be. Even if you make mistake, it has nothing to do with them because they told you so! 🙂

What’s more important is to keep the relationship fresh. I don’t believe in winners take all mentality, and bipolar mindset. Maybe you have experienced working with some narcissistic bosses, be nice to them and just walk out with dignity if you plan to leave the company. Remember to always give your best wherever you are. Give more and share more, you don’t lose anything. You are actually building social capital and goodwill. You are going to need to use it someday.

To drive home the conclusion, it is all about you if you want to be successful or at least survive in working class. Sometimes it pays to keep your jobs long, but in today’s economy the job may not want to keep you that long. Always be alert and able to pick up new skills. Invest in yourself including your intellect. One of my friends say that it is who know, not what you know. I disagree. Knowing what you know make you a leader and always one step ahead; but please don’t be ignorant. It pays to be a little selfish as Charles Handy used in his book, ‘The Hungry Spirit’; proper selfishness.

Stay hungry, stay foolish. 

Brickbats please send to donkhairul@gmail.com 

New Interview with PTMBD_Huza Radzi

I’ve been thinking of how to make my blog more meaningful so I personally will love to read it over and over again. I want something natural and unique which is hard to find. Suddenly i got this idea to interview some of my friends, ex-bosses and clients. Of course these people are ordinary in the way they look but they did (and still continue doing) extra ordinary things with their life. They have changed my outlook about life. Some I directly worked with, some are through my observation seeing how they do things. They are close to me to the extend i can call them and have a quick chat on anything including business. I started with my partner in Indonesia, now I have a long waiting list of what’s next to interview. I am glad to have them around and to have my life path crosses with them 🙂 I don’t know what to call it, i put it simply “People That Make Big Difference” in short (PTMBD).

And i recently finished an interview with Huza Radzi of Westin Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. This guy is remarkable. We used to work together where he was my boss. We worked at Lafite Restaurant, Shangri-la Hotel Kuala Lumpur at the beginnning of the New Millenium, 2002. I met this guy by chance but the job was by recommendation from my ex-insurance agent. Lafite, is “d” place to be in Malaysia, particularly in Kuala Lumpur because of it’s prestige. It used to offer classic French fine-dining menu coupled with long list of some of the most prestigious wine in the world. When i worked with Huza, I was only a waiter and later sommelier to be! Hah! With the Lafite team, we’ve experienced a lot of events. I missed Le Cirque which was done the previous year before i joined. But i enjoyed working on Dom Perignon where we invited the Chef de Cave of Dom, next was serving Chateau Lafite Rothschild by the glass (we sold many of them!), Christies event with Michael Broadbent (Senior Consultant @ Christies London Wine Department), Torbreck event with David Powell (a year before the Torbreck of Barossa Valley famous for its 98 points “RunRig” in Wine Spectator Review), Winemaker from Stellenbosch, South Africa (which i’ve forgotten the name), Adelphi Restaurant from Australia (now called Ezard from the chef’s name, Teage Ezard (that year this restaurant won some recognition internationally), Ritz Paris (the Best Palace Hotel Paris and the place where Auguste Escoffier was the Head Chef in that hotel) and many more events. I was there for around 2 years, and look how many events did I went through? Huza was the man behind all these wonderful events. Seriously.

One day i decided to leave and chasing other career. I want to be a corporate man and hence i left the hotel business. Huza asked a meet up few days before my departure and we had a very long chat for 3 hours in a private room next to the best in KL wine cellar, the room is called ‘Oenotheque”. Cool name right? After that event, i told myself this guy (Huza) is truly different person and from that moment onwards we keep each other updated until i so called invent this blog. I asked Huza, i wanted contribute back to the F&B industry but i dont know how. I think Huza can do it, but he is also clueless where to start. You see, F&B in Malaysia is not as grandeur as in Paris, London, Hong Kong or New York. Its still growing, slowly but surely. We also lack body of knowledge about the leadership behind it. Since I am in the business of leadership, marketing and management i give it a head start.

I am in my final stage of the interview script. The interview session was conducted over lunch in Kuala Lumpur. It lasted for nearly 2 hours. I edited the script for crisp and proper context. We talked a lot of things from business, personal and some off the record. We shared experiences and i am truly glad to be doing this. i hope this interview would give somehow contribution back to the F&B and i really hope to do more about this industry within my own capacity in the near future.

Watch out my latest post “Interview with Huza Radzi of Westin Kuala Lumpur” soon. Cheers!

brickbats please send to entreprenovator@gmail.com

Coaching as Strategy

I have written some entries on this blog about coaching, but I think coaching as a subject deserves more than that. I will not brag about what others say about coaching because that will be repetitive and meaningless for you. I will write my experience in coaching and how you can compare and contrast with what you already know, so you can benefit from the “aggregated knowledge”.

To me coaching is a synergistic relationship by 2 parties to achieve different goals on the same platform. The platform is coaching relationship. The purpose of coaching has 2 clear qualifiers.

Firstly if you are in an organization that runs coaching program, that is formal coaching. And on the other hand if you have coach or coaches outside the organization that you have relationship with. If you are in the organization, the program is quite straight forward and usually very structured. You are going to be assigned with a coach or coaches (depending on your organization) and the HR will give you few documents to start, engage, proliferate and exit. In between you are going to have few get together sessions to monitor your progress and attend your issues with the coaching relationship. Besides, the HR will also monitor your coach to ensure the coaching goal is achievable and fruitful. Most of the time the coaching goals for this type of coaching program is very objective.

For the second type of coaching program, the nature of it very interesting. Simply because no one actually telling each other, “we are now in a coaching relationship”. It is like you having a relationship with someone without any declaration of the role to play. Most of the time, the role player will play their own role quite naturally. The moment the players know their role, it will be very easier and much fruitful because you are more open to issues and deeper conversation.

The coaching that demands more emphasize is the second type. The ultimate reason for this is because, there are a lot of business people and entrepreneurs like you are hungry for guidance. But you don’t have anyone to turn to. It is like you are the last man on earth, but no woman for you to live with. Not because no one is interested, but because there are none of them! How could that be possible? In current world, this is the case.

Because of the meteoric growth of businesses such as small businesses which created lots of entrepreneurs, the world supply to accommodate the need of this group still low. But you don’t have to overly worry because soon it will be fixed. 🙂 This type of coaching focusing on playing each other’s strongest strength. For example a food chain owner is very good at running his food business, but may not be capable of setting strategies to go beyond. This is where business coach will come into help. A professor in marketing may sound perfect in his lecture, but if you give him a product to market he may flounder. Peter Drucker once said, “I am a loner and a management thinker. If you give me a business to manage, I don’t think I can do it.” This is to illustrate how much we need each other to be better.