When Costs Kiss Goodbye!

Image credit: Kraft Heinz loses a lot of cheese as earnings send stock plunging to …

Interesting article about an investment company (private equity firm) that acquire food businesses (Heinz & Kraft Foods) back in 2013 and 2015 respectively. The firm believed these two companies could unlock more values by using ruthless focus on efficiency. They quickly employed radical cost cutting programs.

They fired thousands of workers, shutdown factories, used zero-based budgeting model (justify cost without regard of previous year spending), remove refrigerators (pantry) in the HQ known for stocking cheese sticks, set default settings of office printers (double sided with black toner) and limit meals spending during travel to $50 a day. Guess what happened next?

These initiatives and cost program led to industry-leading profit margins in less than 2 years! The stock price went up to more than $90 in 2017! See below.

Screenshot 2019-05-18 at 12.55.51 AM

Screenshot 2019-05-18 at 12.55.21 AM

But, unfortunately, it went to nose dive after all the radical cost programs deployed. From my research, Kraft Heinz overlooked the marketing bit, product innovations for their changing customers segments and valuable employees feedback that know how to run your operations especially in different market segments and countries.

Sometimes, big brands and companies make tactical mistakes like this. No doubt long history companies tend to have opportunities to go leaner that it was; things usually get complacent after awhile.

One of the videos, check it out.

Source: https://www.cnbc.com/2019/02/22/kraft-heinz-backers-face-reality-brutal-cost-cutting-isnt-enough.html

Lessons that we could take from here are:

  1. Look at at products and services innovations as growth strategy: There are probably a host of products that could be making money or probably there’d discover that most of the products are obsolete to modern customers. For the record, Kraft Heinz launched new products such as organic version of Capri Sun and expanded its condiment businesses. They tried, probably not enough time to see it through, perhaps these new lineups will grow later.
  1. People are not measured by their salary or price tag, rather by their value brings to the business: I tried looking for some human capital development strategies when the equity firm bought Kraft & Heinz, but I couldn’t find any. Although I may not a fan of “total spoon-feed your talent because you care”, I do believe the management should consider taking longer time to lay offs to ensure the tacit knowledge is transferred to the business. You should pay high for someone that could do more and pay less for someone who can only do routine work.
  1. There’s only so much you can do with cost efficiencies: Key for growth is innovation. I’d expect big brands and companies, should invest in ruthless innovation focus in three areas. First, new products and services that reflect current and future customers needs and wants. Second, leaner processes and automation to bringdown redundancies in capital & assets deployed and reduce wastages. Third, to find market creations opportunities that will need to be invested and R&D. You can read more about this from Clayton Christensen book titled, “The Prosperity Paradox”.

Innovations are for growth. Companies need to spend and invest together with their workforce to improve capability and capacity to innovate. I do hope to see Kraft Heinz able to come out from this plunge and see this only temporarily.

Brickbats please send to donkhairul@gmail.com 

Corporate Innovation Pain Points

*First appeard on LinkedIn in April 2019

Corporate Innovation Program is the buzz word these days for very good reason. The awareness and action of many companies responding to change is getting better because “innovation” a must have agenda for top management and high level discussion including nations alike. The focus of innovation is “awakened” in the last few years so much so the word leadership has become low-key. I for one advocate leaders with big title if they couldn’t innovate their days are numbered or they should be shown the door. Run!

Innovation for it’s best intention solving pain points of the organizations, also carry it’s own inherited pain points. Well, pain points may sound negative. However negative it may sound, it is almost impossible to resolve it indefinitely before any launch of corporate innovation projects. The pain points highlighted are meant to be aware of, taken into consideration and minimized its negativity impact when possible. Let the goals of the corporate innovation be our guiding light, not the pain points. After all, no pain no gain.

Here are the Five Pain Points:

1.Departmental / Divisional Fiefdom

Fiefdom is there not for a good reason, definitely to be tear down in corporate innovation. The fiefdom stems from who owns the corporate innovation project. It could be the IT, Sales, Human Resource or CEO’s office. This way the budget can be better spent and realized, it is just the project impact is risked. Fiefdom mindset drags collaboration on its feet so much so other department rather sees the project fail than doing well. Fiefdom limits the upside potentials of any corporate innovation project.

Steve Ballmer, formerly CEO of Microsoft once said, “After all the things we want to do is aligned, the final piece of the puzzle is how we work together.” The differences of views and opinions are critical to growth, yet, there are also the stumbling block of productivity when not handled well or fully understood.

2. “Seen All Done All Nothing New” Top Management

It is common these days to include diverse at the top management line up. Diversity is key and we all know that diversity has to be worked on and build. It wouldn’t come by itself. There’s a lot of trust building, empathic engagement and sheer intolerance of incompetent senior management. Their backgrounds while may be helpful on their CV, when put to work they find themselves unable to take differentiated point of views and lack of willingness to change. They like the glory days of their past from other workplaces and using force (and bootlicks) to have it their way. New ideas shunned, opposing views silenced and change is too big to address because they have “seen all done all nothing new” mindset. They block any attempt to change by hoarding resources, veto decisions and play the upper hand with the Board or shareholders.

Top management that deter collaboration shouldn’t be in the line up at the first place. As we grow into leadership role at higher level, it is very much less about us, it is about them; our customers and our team members.

3. Only Pedigree Can Give Ideas

In this kind of organization, ideas are treated sacred. Only certain people deemed can give “great” ideas and only selected alumnus from certain universities can voice their opinions. The pedigree culture blocks other people from participating in what matters to the organizations. To make matters worst, pedigrees get rewarded handsomely that further reinforced unhealthy behaviours among peers and employees alike.

Developmental talent programs such as top talent sometimes create this unwanted differences in the day to day operations. The waiting culture seep in where without the pedigree there’ll be no decision of moving forward. No one is willing to make mistake because of huge career setbacks might affected their standing in the company and future development. The behaviours also could be manifested in negative ways such as bullying, narcissism and abuse of authortity.

4. Customer Voices Not Heard

With all the good business strategies and goals for the customers, there’s huge hesitation to talk to the customers to get feedbacks, opinions and suggestions. By the way who supposed to do it? Some say marketing, some say IT or procurement, maybe human resource? Everyone should do it. Sometimes the organization pressuring those “little” staffs at the counters with huge responsibilities to get feedbacks from the customers. Challenge is those little staffs are receptionists or call centre agents that have little means to understand the complexities of interactions happening with the products and services from across the organizations.

Besides, they also have limited authority to do customers recovery or beyond to directly attend to customers needs and wants. The survey provided with checklist won’t be able to extract feelings and emotions of difficulties of getting the services done.

Additionally, there is tendency to lead the customers to tick surveys quickly with long winded survey because customers are always in a hurry. Not knowing their pain points, struggles or hear their stories could lead to organization that is myopic of the challenges faced by their customers. This also applies to internal customers that are using our processes to get things done.

In some organizations, the quality policy used is different to meet certain standards, such as an independent Procurement department, whereby only the Procurement is certified with ISO 14001 and the rest do not. It is a mess!

5. Tools Before Strategy

It used to be Porter’s Five Diamonds, then Organizational Development, then Agile, then Lean, the Six Sigma, then Blue Ocean Strategies, then Design Thinking, then Heart Thinking and so on. These are tools. Someone said, “A tool and a fool seldom differ.”

Organization should put their business strategies above anything else. What do we want to achieve? How do we get there? What is our value? Who should be our target customers? What capabilities that differentiate us to deliver our value proposition? These are strategic questions called Strategic Five by strategy+business knowledge portal – let’s get down to basics.

Our answers (or no answer!) to these questions will help determine the “mix” of tools you might need. No one tool fits all strategic needs of any organization in today’s environment. One thing for sure, our people and workforce needs to learn more than one tool to make them nimble, agile and empowered in decision making when interfacing with the customers. Always remember, “structure follows strategy”.

Brickbats? Please email to donkhairul@gmail.com Thanks!

Top 10 Great Ideas in 2018 from the Field-Walk

Hey, I am back after long hiatus (exactly 1 year!). Been super busy, I will make more commitment this year. One article at least per month. Let’s work it out. 🙂

This post is about Ideas that I have personally observed that were generated by participant of our Design Thinking Innovation workshops in 2018. I started compiling these ideas and take note how popular these ideas among the participants. I also have super great news that some ideas in 2017 became reality and being implemented (some at national level!), it was thrilling feeling to see this happening.

Now let me share 10 Great Ideas in 2018:

  1. Thrash for Wifi access. This idea came from Sabahan because internet cost for mobile is quite expensive to Sabahan graduates and average household. Therefore they rely (especially youth) on public wifi. The youth willing to collect thrash around the cities and in return they get wifi access (via coupons or digital link)
  2. Smoking ban in public place. This idea came from several groups during early 2018. It was laughed at and ridiculed by mostly smokers because of the wide scope of the implementation. Interestingly, now at the time of writing, smoking is now completely banned in public eateries nationwide and progressing to wider coverage by 2019 end.
  3. Open banking, share all banking data in one app or one source. This interesing fintech ideas came from several banks and customers. It used to be each bank collect their own customer data and they shouldn’t (and couldn’t) share it with other bank. For example if you are a user of credit card from Bank A, if you are applying another credit card for Bank B, they wouldn’t know. This became a problem especially if the customer is a bad paymaster of credit card Bank A. The problem later might spill to Bank B. On the other hand, if you are a great paymaster, your credit ratings improved, your data is shared with other banks, you become a highly sought customers from various banks. That’s the advantage.
  4. Trap rubbish at the river or drainage using mesh. This idea came from people in flood-prone areas. The flash flood usually happened in rainy season and caused major traffic problem. One of the problems are clogged drainages and rising water from the rivers because of thrash! While it is understandable we shouldn’t throw rubbish, I personally found the thrash sometimes from factories because of the quantities are massive. So to effectively and efficiently clean up the river, using wire or nylon mesh to trap the river would be quick.
  5. Auditors and HR staffs are from business departments and branch operations. This fabulous ideas came from multiple banks. The audit and HR departments found out 2 major problems. First, these two departments are not well liked by the staffs because of poor misperception. Second, most staffs joined these two departments are juniors hence little operations and business experiences. Consequently, most of their work deemed lack substance and lack empathy. An insight surfaced, those with experiences that joined audit and HR department tend to be more matured and heightened empathy. They also managed to convince their former colleagues to be more receptive and cooperative in bringing the business to the next level!
  6. Video conference for long distance meeting. This idea came from government officials that live far from the headquarters. Some had to travel 8-10 hours for an hour meeting. To cut time, cost of travel and health bills, the use of video conferencing could effectively and efficiently for both parties. Let’s use meeting for key decision making. Hopefully the next phase of national broadband plan in 2019 will be spearheaded faster than expected. Faster connection will definitely help!
  7. Tax break for donations by the public to schools and universities. It is true and evident the government funds to schools are getting lesser by the year due to various reasons. It is also true and evident, most parents would want to donate (and willing) to donate for schools where their kids studies. Tax is a very good tool for the government to use to invite this “money on the table” by giving tax breaks (double if possible).
  8. HR to drive innovation capabilities development. This idea came repetitively from banks and MNCs pointing that many HR “waits” for business departments request for innovation program. HR in their views still see “innovation” as technical know-how, technology-based and only for selected people. HR as the people builder needs to step up quickly grasp the big gap of innovation capabilities by launching innovation training programs and workshops because innovation today and beyond is everybody’s business.
  9. Artificial Intelligence (AI) powered & gravity dumb-bell. It turns out a lot of people want to get fit by using dumb bell (including me). The insight we found that a lot of people don’t know what kind and how much weight they should do that will effectively help them meet their goals. Using AI & gravity, user only need to buy one dumb bell of this kind and start getting fit progressively, without having to own a whole rack of those bells!
  10. Launch fintech fast to collect data. Fintech is pervasive these days, many local banks turn confused what they should do actually. They found many banks took very long time to think “analytically and holistically” so much so go to market become painstakingly long. The idea is about fast launch of basic fintech products & services for example CASA account, children account or loan application with primary purpose to collect data and learn from it before even considering the full blown product. This could make sense because by the day there are many more technology players in this area, therefore investing in sophisticated technology may not pay off in the long run. Think about it.


Hope you enjoy this piece. Any brickbats please email to donkhairul@gmail.com 

Happy New Year 2019!


The One Word That Make People Hate Innovation

I stumbled on my current research by accident. By observing people’s reaction. Let me explain.

Every time in my design thinking workshop I asked my audience, whether they love innovation in products and services they used, of course they loved it to bits!

They spoke about how the food delivery service such as #FoodPanda, #Ubereats and #GoFresh (among others) helped them deal with life when they need food.

Some Muslim ladies also spoke about their hijab, tudung and scarf that make them look gorgeous , beautiful and of course more confident when they work and socialize professionally and personally.

Many men also expressed their love for e-commerce sites such as Lazada where a number electrical hobbyists and car enthusiast including aspiring botanist found their haven for things they love doing.

Most of the people I met during my workshop claimed their live getting much easier these days because of all these innovative products and services integrated into their lifestyle. Of course, smartphones and apps are the most popularly quoted as innovative products and services.

When we discuss deeper, what constitutes successful innovation, there is one word that put the world a stop for a moment. This word makes everyone reconsider what they said earlier about innovation and their love of great products and services.

The word is CHANGE. Everybody hates change – especially when the change go against your will. This include my 4 months old baby when I wanted to change his diaper, come on! I am helping you getting clean lols

When we run design thinking innovation workshop for senior management (or any innovation workshop for that matter), the discussion on change is very crucial. How tolerant is the management towards CHANGE? How committed they are? What are they willing to give up? Why do they want change? Who needs change first? When do we should give up those baggages?

I found discussion on change in very key in successfully getting the buy in prior any innovation or transformation work. The senior leadership themselves must be in unison when it comes to commitment to change. Be the change you want to see, as Gandhi famously said.

In some scenario, the current situation is already bad (or it could be too comfortable perhaps?) therefore change is “easier” to instill. Oh booy, change is difficult and change is hard. Change takes effort, effort and effort. We usually got stuck in either one of these change levers, our capacity to change, our capability to change or our ability to change. Which one do you stuck the most? Which does your organization stuck the most?

Source: Who-Wants-Change-Crowd-Change-Management-Blue | Free to use … | Flickr

For those who are leading innovation in their organization, let me share good points from this book from Noel Tichy, “The Cycle of Leadership”. I love this book so much, get a copy if you will.

He said this interesting view of leadership, they are autocrats (who forcefully lead change without taking any feedbacks) and they are abdicrats (who take all the feedback without taking any decision or stand to move out). These two extremes create leadership vacuum and ultimately power failures. This need change.

Better your best!

Wait for my follow up article on this topic soon!

Brickbats please send to donkhairul@gmail.com

10 Symptoms of “DTO”

Heard this phrase before? “Practice make permanent?”. My team and I been working and practicing DT back to back with some clients, so much so we forget how much “DT” is embedded to our brain – almost permanently. We think we are experiencing symptoms of DTO. Are you? Here the 10 symptoms of DTO – design thinking overdrive:


  1. When you see someone carrying brown carton boxes, you think it is a prototype.
  2. You run to a group of people in a mall holding paper folders because you thought they are looking for Testers.
  3. You seriously believe that crazy & wild ideas are ideas worth exploring…
  4. You have Sharpie pens inside your jeans, leather bag, laptop bag, handbag, satchel, wristlet and stucked on your t-shirt!

  5. Joking around is considered brainstorming to you (except everyone else!)
  6. You doodle more and speak less, to deepen the “conversation”.
  7. Every question starts with How Might…..
  8. Sitting down makes you feel strapped to the chair, you stand up to listen.
  9. Everything you can get your hands on can be a prototype – instantaneously!
  10. You sleep on your ideas and think about it meditatively! The next day, viola!

  11. It seems no one can stop you from doing something about any problem. Who’s stopping you anyway?


It turns out there are 11 symptoms of DTO! It’s really driving us “mutts”!

Brickbats please send to donkhairul@gmail.com

or visit us at www.designthinking.com.my 

The Innovation Sandwich

“We have plenty of great ideas. We went to many conferences, pitch to variety people and talk to potential customers. But in the end we know we got to eat the innovation sandwich. Out innovative ideas was just the meat right in the middle – leaves it much to be desired.”

This one comment of many feedbacks from managers and talents that I received from the people that I work with in workshops. Several times I had heart to heart discussion with some of them on how we could take corporate innovation further, all they say “the bosses should be willing listen to us sincerely.

The situation they are in can be paraphrased in the words of Ed Catmull of Pixar, “Give great idea to mediocre team,they will screw it up. Give mediocre idea to great team, they will either fix it or come up with something better.”

Listen to this bosses, when the team is made of great people, all bosses need to do is to encourage and give confidence. Although some ideas aren’t similar,bosses got to play long in corporate innovation game. When your team is encouraged and motivated, they would want more, this is when you drive them.

There are situations when the team said “Bosses always push in their ideas and they pursued it to respect bosses wishes.” This is when the innovation team becomes the Innovation Sandwich – victim of the situation. Their energy drained, unfocus and worst they burned out. Energy wasted.
Brickbats please send to donkhairul@gmail.com

The EIGHT Leadership Beliefs

Leadership is both art and science. It means it is unique to that person yet it can be learned methodically from one person to another. My journey to learn about leadership is about the same, i saw what my leaders do and i follow. I practice the good ones and congruent with my own values that I appreciate. In the process I also learn to let go some leadership characteristics that I found later to be excessively manipulative and with prejudice. Besides, through reading and observing how other leaders and followers interacting, I learn a great deal as well.

Now, I have learn to form up my own leadership characteristics and styles that I call Leadership Beliefs. There are EIGHT of them, I have to do a deep thinking to really extract out these beliefs. It is deep seated inside me and direct the way I respond (sometimes react) to situations in my own life and see the world. When I apply them it looks natural to me, nevertheless I do hope to refine them over time. The reason I do this is to codify these beliefs so I can remember during challenging assignments and projects. Nothing beats writing it down and drill it into the mind!

“Leadership demands us to make tough choices.”

1) Powerful conversation can change life

I always look for different and powerful conversations in my life. I had a number of them although not many people are open for it. Powerful conversation makes you think and usually push you to greater heights. Words can be life changing.

2) Have a vision, it’s very important. What’s your WHY?

Simple statement that we call vision can help you believe in what you do in trying times. Without, I find myself go with the flow then drown in the “busy-ness” of day-to-day things. Have your WHY, then your How and What will follow suit.

Here’s my WHY: “I am the source ENERGY to CREATE MORE and BETTER touch points for leaders to create more and better touch points to make the world a better place.”

3) Develop people and yourself

It is easy to give someone opportunity, however to provide enough support to make that someone successful or excel a different matter altogether. Often, as leaders the opportunity we give is work in disguise but we also need to relentlessly ensure the work get’s done. I am in the opinion that only with sheer commitment to develop ownself can a leader gives more to develop others. Leaders are readers.

4) Do leap when behind

Sometimes, I get assignment that is spiralling down and waiting to go bust. When this happens, i don’t wait or go by the books. I push things and step on some people toes along the way (sorry). Some people like to see something to fail and you happen to be there. The goal is to make the leap, because playing catch up not going to make it.

5) Free up knowledge

This is my life tagline. I am not a fountain of knowledge (too strong a word to describe me) but i know i have something extra. A lot of knowledge is either too deep in someone’s brain or the organization’s bureaucracy, it is wasteful and a sin to let this continue. Knowledge gives power and we can make a difference in the market place.

6) Think big, start small

You probably noticed my blog’s tagline carries this. I love to dream about something big, and i also have learned the hardship to do something big. Thus, i believe starting small would allow room for improvement and creativity. During the small stage, i usually spend a lot of time experimenting and testing hypotheses. The moment it’s ready, scaling up would just about adding resources. This belief also lead me to introduce significant innovation in products and processes throughout my career.

7) Be situationally pragmatic

Dealing with many people from different levels and in many situations demand great communication skills. While some leaders suavely good at this, i tend to stumble. I used to get carried away when i had conflicts with co-workers and colleagues. Surprisingly, i had very few problems with my leaders/bosses. The rule of thumb is to relentless be honest and pragmatic. As the equilibrium point moves, so does your pragmatism.

8) Stay hungry, stay foolish

I borrow this from Steve Jobs. I even wrote something about it in this blog, read here. I suggest you read from that post. Another learning from this belief is to run my own race. Sometimes when things don’t go my way, i get entagled with perception trap about how the grass is greener on the other side ( it’s always had right!). So, when that happen i have to realize quickly that my time will come and i just have to be patience with my mind and hands open.


Brickbats please send to donkhairul@gmail.com


PTMBD_Interview with Dato’ Hj. Ameer Ali bin Mydin of Mydin Holdings Bhd (Part 2)

6.     What has to be done to increase employability and career advancement in this industry?

In this industry, if you can’t work hard enough please don’t join.  If you love your weekends forget about it.  It’s really a 24/7 job you know.  You are on call all the time, just like a doctor on duty.  To make it successful you got to have positive attitude and must love to serve.  It pays well too!  Some people just have it, some don’t.  A strong passion, have interest to know more about the market like customers trend, suppliers and know what’s happening around us.

Personal Motivation

7.       Who is your role model?  Why?

My father is my only role model.  He is 83 years old and he still goes to work every day.  He is very discipline, I got some of his qualities and I feel blessed.  If I want to see him on weekend I usually go on Sunday.  Let say I promise to come at 10am, and I am late by 10 minutes.  You know what?  He is gone to the shop by that time.  That’s my father.

Let me tell a story about him.  You know, sometimes we go to mamak shop to eat mee goreng.  He normally orders a mee goreng with extra lime on side and a glass of warm water.  You know what he will do? He takes the extra lime and squeezes it hard into the warm water – now he got a free lime juice.  He always feels proud of that, why pay for something when you can use what you have to get it free.

8.       What are the Key Success Factors (KSFs) to be successful in this industry?

I will comment on overall, not just in this particular industry.  These simple rules of KSFs are applicable to all human beings, if they want to be successful in anything they do.

  1. Work hard
  2. Put a lot of discipline
  3. Money doesn’t grow on trees, spend wisely
  4. Be honest, punctual and keep your values intact
  5. Educate yourself
  6. Open your mind and heart
  7. Learn about your own strengths
  8. Wake up early and work diligently
  9. Understand risk and return
  10. Listen more, talk less

 9.       What is your next milestone?

 I can’t say I am going to retire, because I haven’t been working yet.

Staff wise, their turnover quite high.  It is hard to keep people these days, but I want to make sure when they leave they must become better.  They must be able to add value to that new place.  As we fondly called ourselves “Mydinised”, we have some qualities that others don’t have.  Only then they can carry themselves to greater heights.

In our type of business, it is also important to have good staff relations.  I sometimes go to their wedding, visit some of them at hospitals when they are sick and so on.  Whatever within my reach I’ll do it.

Market Growth


10.       This business is very competitive.  Can you share the latest trend/update in the hypermarket scene the last 3 years?

The business is getting more competitive than ever.  Now people come shopping daily especially at night.  They come by the droves.  We sometimes have to close late because they just like to see around.

But on the other hand, some customers prefer smaller shops.  Not too much walking and so on.  You probably notice our mini market, MyMydin.  It’s not a new model, but definitely a rebranded model and more organized.  In housing residences, medium sized community and near public amenities.  We try to franchise them, so the franchisee can also benefit from the growth.

As for the country develop, convenience becomes very important.  We can also see the government is taking multi measures to make sure the economy is healthy.  Things such as monopoly, subsidy and controlled items can be bad for long term business outlook.  A law is a law, but sometimes hard to implement.

Thank You.

Brickbats please send to donkhairul@gmail.com

PTMBD_Interview with Dato’ Hj. Ameer Ali bin Mydin of Mydin Holdings Bhd (Part 1)


1.        What is your current role?  Tell us a little bit about your background and Mydin’s

I am the Managing Director for Mydin Holdings Berhad.  I have been with Mydin for about 55 years, that’s my age.  Mydin started as a family business, still is but now run professionally.  We are the 3rd generation from humble beginning in Kelantan.  Many people are surprise the business started from Kota Bharu.  Today the strategy is called “niche”, we’ve been practicing it long before marketers coined the word.  The business started as an ordinary pasar malam stall then became store and stores.  We have several stores in Terengganu and Kelantan, and at that time there was none in Kuala Lumpur.  I was so called “activated” around 22 years ago when I got back from study from US.  I first worked at a Merchant Bank then.  I set up the today’s well known Masjid India Emporium.  It’s just a small store.  If you have been there you know what I mean.  In fact that was the store that got us here today.

In US, I studied Chemistry.  I furthered until International Business Masters level.  I think education is very important and one should always continuously learn.  I am so blessed to have my parents that care so much about education.  So when I came back I quickly got a job.  I didn’t bother going back to US for my graduation ceremony because I think it won’t make any difference since I already secured a job here; and the fact I have to spend additional flight tickets just don’t make sense.  We need to practice good spending from young.  I worked in corporate world around 8 years and decided to join my father’s business.  In US I used to work as waiter and “sanitary engineer”.  All fresh graduates or growing up adults must get their hands dirty because a lot of learning can be gained in the process.  As for me, getting my hands dirty is my second nature!

But you see, there is always risk when you run or join entrepreneurs like my father.  So I did part time first.  Though part time in labour, I was full time in efforts and thoughts.  Since my wife was working, I have some insurance to cover monthly overheads.  As a manager in a bank, life was good.  When I decided to join the business, my life changed.

2.       Highlight your/Mydin’s three best achievements thus far?

You see, it is not easy being local.  Somehow it applies everywhere around the world that being local means you are inferior.  Therefore one of our biggest achievements is to be able to become the largest local hypermarket operator.  Although we may not be the first, we are the largest.  Our edge is our ability to change and keep up with the shifting customer needs.  Those who don’t change perished.  As Darwin once said, “It is not the smartest or the intelligent wins, but the one who is most responsive to change”.  We have to keep changing to stay relevant with time.  While doing that, we also need to make sure to hold our values.  It takes a lot of discipline to do that.

Secondly, as a result of our ability to change and grow, we are able to give back to society.  You know there is this story about a boy and a Ferrari.  Most people see being rich is bad and what more driving a Ferrari means you are filthy rich but there was this boy looking at the Ferrari and when asked if he wanted to be rich so he could buy one for himself, he said No.  I want to be rich so I can afford to buy it to give to others to make them happy.  Morale of the story, it is perfectly OK to make money and be profitable in business.  But you do it not by depriving people, cheat customers or drive wages to subsistence level.  You run your business honorably.  Business creates jobs and jobs move the economy.  Here we have a sensible profit target; means we don’t stretched too thin or shoot our own foot.  We go long term.

Thirdly and personally I think the greatest of all is being able to hold the family together.  Now as third generation, some family businesses cannot pass by the third generation according to conventional wealth theory.  We put in lots of discipline to achieve to this level.  As you know we have several family members in the business.  There are pros and cons having family members in the business but we make it every clear all of us bound by standard corporate rules.  They have to clock in for work, fill up leave form when going on leave, certain amount of annual leaves and work within working hours.  There are challenges, but after all we are humans.  We have to have a lot of empathy, and discipline.

But there are some exceptions to the rule.  We don’t allow our children work in the business until they work somewhere else for at least 5 years.  They need to “earn” their stripes somewhere else before coming back to the Kingdom.  It is also good where they can bring new ideas upon returning.  Some may ask why 4 years, well when you don’t have a measurement, any measurement would do.  At least 5 years.  I have my son now running his own business, ice cream business.  He’s doing well.  We chat a lot and both of us enjoy it.  You should check out his ice cream truck – he also does event management.  My daughter composes song and music.  We want them to be independent and learn to value money and hard work.

3.       What is your leadership and management style?

I think it’s more important to listen than to talk.  As a leader, we have to lend ears often.  It is not going to work when you tell someone “do as I say not as I do”.  You got to lead by example.  You need discipline to pull this through.  Not easy but it gives long term value.  People will follow you, and it’s contagious.  As a leader, we need to be honest, punctual and show highest integrity.  When you do that, people will want to be part of someone who lives up to his talk.

When managing, I also learn it is important to keep the separation between management and staffs.  It helps decision making.  A leader cannot afford to become too emotional.  When you work, as a leader you got to delegate, not abdicate.  I know some leaders sabotage their own staffs just because they outshine him in front of the customers or other staffs.  You got to learn to let go and push the boundaries further.  Another thing, as a leader we need to learn to honour time.  Don’t keep people waiting just because you are the leader.  Show some respect to other people’s time.

In group, as a leader you need to put ego aside and deal with the issues at hand.  You got to separate people and issues or ideas.  Ego is dangerous, it hampers decision making.  You feel good and powerful but nothing gets done.

4.       It is not easy to run hypermarket business.  What is the three biggest challenges managing hypermarket business like Mydin?

Like I said being local is tough.  It’s kind of funny when I found out about it.  People have reservations.  Sometimes they wondered whether we can compete with the giants of hypermarkets.  Local customers somehow trust foreign brands more than home grown like us.  But that was it.  Now we got strong footing in major cities and communities.  Therefore you have to get people to believe in you.  Of course good PR can only last for short while; we have to live up to our promises.  For example if we say our prices are wholesale price, then we got to make sure we deliver that.  So far Alhamdulillah, we managed and the result shows.

At Mydin, we believe in organic growth.  Slow and steady.  We got nothing to rush about, after all the business has been around as long as I could remember.  So, organic growth is in our best interest.  Growing up is not easy, a lot of challenges.  We are around 54 years old this year.

Our strategy is to make sure our frontline is as strong as our back end and vice versa.  Getting people to work with us is very competitive, and to retain them is even harder.  Therefore HR side, it its very challenging.  I think the reason is simple, a lot of people hesitate to work on weekends, and they lose niceties during the weekend.  But they are those who love to work and we value them greatly.  They are doing great service to the country.

Organizational Issues

5.      What are the top three important jobs that are needed in hypermarket business?

Well, every job is equally important.   It’s just some are more critical than others.  Let’s take a look at a security guard when you come into the hypermarket.  Let say he doesn’t smile when you check in.  You will not feel comfortable and it may spoil your entire visit here.  Even a security guard is an important job in our type of business.  The secret is to have a winning team that work with each other.  The goal is the same; to please the customers and make them comfortable.

The more critical job in our business is buyers.  So far the key buyers are the family members.  They are non other than my brothers.  In my type of business, if we don’t buy right stuffs forget about selling.

continue to Part 2

Brickbats please send to donkhairul@gmail.com

Knowledge Worker – The Essential Skills

Today’s world is not short of knowledge. In fact this profession called knowledge worker coined by Martin Feregrino in 1959 is in its strongest momentum now. The explosion of knowledge since the dawn of 21st century proves Peter Drucker’s prophecy that managing knowledge worker is the biggest management challenge. “Success in the knowledge economy comes to those who know themselves—their strengths, their values, and how they best perform.” – by Peter Drucker who popularized knowledge worker in his scholarly article; Managing Oneself. Knowledge economy is big business. It cuts across almost all small and big businesses across all industries old and new. Entrepreneurial business for example is created out of knowledge economy. Most emerging economies are driven by entrepreneurship. It liberates the country and it democratizes the economy. You can see this in African continent and Latin America emerging economies. I love entrepreneurship!  Anyone who has knowledge wins in the marketplace.  But who is knowledge worker? What they do? How to be one?

Truest perception on Knowledge Worker

“Knowledge workers in today’s workforce are individuals who are valued for their ability to act and communicate with knowledge within a specific subject area. They will often advance the overall understanding of that subject through focused analysis, design and/or development. They use research skills to define problems and to identify alternatives. Fueled by their expertise and insight, they work to solve those problems, in an effort to influence company decisions, priorities and strategies.”

“Knowledge workers may be found across a variety of information technology roles, but also among professionals like teachers, librarians, lawyers, architects, physicians, nurses, engineers and scientists. As businesses increase their dependence on information technology, the number of fields in which knowledge workers must operate has expanded dramatically.”


In my opinion, a modern knowledge worker has to have at least basic degree and few years of work experiences to back up that knowledge. But look, in Malaysia there are more than 250, 000 graduates churned out from the universities and colleges every year. After 5-10 years, these graduates should already have some level of knowledge to be considered knowledge worker. By that time also the country has already produced nearly 2 million graduates!! They are the prime movers of the economy. The big bulk of them are Generation X and Y. Yes, by definition they can even print their degree honors on their business card but that;s not enough if they just follow orders eg. “do as I told you so” mindset. We don’t want that. We want prolific knowledge worker. Someone who is different in attitude, distinctive in character, constructive in thinking and most importantly skilful communicator.

Most knowledge worker is highly qualified by education standards but most of them also unable to express themselves in professional setting. They are not a skilful communicator at work place. They sometimes pleased people to stay keep their jobs. It robs their opportunities to shine by speaking up their mind. Some of them  are not problem solver and they find it difficult to relate themselves to people. Even though many studies proved that Generation X and Y are more expressive compared to previous generations, majority did the opposite at work place. Some are vocal but unable to collaborate with others. Too clever by half. They think they know all and they become PITA as expressed by their previous generations supervisors or bosses. 😉 Some commented the structural design of the organization as main cause. Of course organization has its own dynamic. Although a valid reason and justified but what can knowledge worker do by themselves to overturn the situation? What skills they need to acquire so they relate better with people and be prolific knowledge worker? What skills they need to learn so they can capitalize on their knowledge and serve the customers better? How to become the bridge for people, ideas and plans? How to become great problem solver? How to be a great specialist? How to capitalize knowledge? We need combination of various skills and we have a match up; Consulting Skills. (Check out this video to know what Consulting is NOT.)

Consulting skills made of three skills:

Technical skill — know-how and how-to knowledge in areas of expertise

Interpersonal skill — ability to connect with people

Consultative skill — ability to give advice, solve problem and manage situation

The technical skill is easily acquirable from formal education and later deepened by work experiences. However the other two skills don’t come quite naturally and depending on type of jobs you attached yourself to. For example an engineer is very unlikely to get expose to interpersonal and consulting skills in the first 5-7 years of working. Some may even take longer. However as they move up they need those 2 skills direly. Unlike a sales person they may acquire the interpersonal and consulting skills in the early years and slowly gained their technical competencies much later in work life. That’s where sometimes sales engineers, project engineers, scientists, researchers and other experts fall in the trap and become unskilful communicator. A skilful communicator usually gets ahead faster. Especially in today’s world where we meet people more than sitting doing desk work.

While it is perfectly ok not to acquire consulting skills in your right now (you can contest that), it can be stressful when you are unable make yourself heard. In other words, soon all your knowledge may become self fulfilling prophecy because you just don’t have the skill to express it. Now, does that sound disastrous? In today’s world knowledge is abundant (read Google!). However the ability to manage and communicate that knowledge skilfully is what would make hell of difference. In fact, many small consulting companies are built on their abilities to reach vast yet niche information and present in the way understandable by their clients.

In consulting skills, there are 5 main things you need to know and do. There are:

  1. Know and play your roles
  2. Listen well
  3. Solve problem
  4. Relate to people
  5. Present succinctly


Know and Play Your Roles

Generally there are 6 main roles of a consultant:

  1. Strategist — able to think strategically and provide direction
  2. Facilitator — able to coordinate things together and nudge towards goals
  3. Coach — able to impart knowledge and improve performance
  4. Influencer — able to effect decision, character, ideas and behaviour of someone or something
  5. Problem Solver — able to connect ideas, innovate and entrepreneurship to solve issues
  6. Administrator — able to organize people, ideas and plans well

The one liner above is self explanatory and key idea about what the roles are. As much as I want to add more into the description, I suggest you read from other sources for more detailed explanation or just Google up. The above is adapted from Peter Block’s Flawless Consulting.

Listen Well

Listening is hard, hearing is easy. Attentive or active listening is a lot harder. It takes practice. The purpose of listening is to be able to understand deeper meaning inside what was being said. Listening is not just taking and following orders but rather understanding the full context of the information. The tricks of good listening are to shut your third voice and ask questions.

Third voice is a voice in your head when you hear someone talking. You know the voice that is judgmental, critical and perceptual but hidden inside your brain. All of us have them. Some people just have it louder and because of that other conversation becomes secondary – they stop listening. To shut it off is to consciously tell yourself to focus. You must genuinely want to hear that conversation between you and your customer or partner. Alternatively you may practice concentration technique during your meditation.

For example when your client is telling you his problem, you should focus on the client and issues at hand. Instead many start to throw their judgment and react to those problem statements instantly without clarifying the matters carefully. They thought they are being objective and responsive. But you see, we deal with people and people have emotions. Usually to not sound complaining, people like to lace their true feelings so it looks like a problem of something else (usually related) but actually about something else – but buried deeply inside their heart. So you got to listen.

Then, after you listen for some time you have to ask questions to clarify. Use 5W1H (What, Where, Why, When, Who and How) questions method and you will soon realize you get to the heart of the matter. From here you will roughly have clearer picture about the situation and can respond better.

Solve Problem

Once you have understood the problem, you can now attempt to solve it. Some people called it solutioning stage. You see, at this stage it is possible to know what exactly happening and you may also have shaped own opinion about the issue. Right? You also should already have some ideas on the limitations and expectations of each of the stakeholders. It’s up to you how you want to package the solution and recommend to your client or partner. In this article I will outline the thinking behind solutioning so it can help you a little bit.

  1. What is your view of the overall project?
  2. What do you want from the client?
  3. What are you offering the client?
  4. What do you think the client might want?
  5. Are the key clients will be in the room?
  6. What problems do you anticipate?
  7. What’s Plan B or C?

There was a client who asked how to provide solution when the process itself took 7 steps? I prefer to dissect the mini steps so you don’t missed out anyone of them. Once you are familiar with these steps, with practice you are likely to be able to solve problems in less than 7 minutes! 🙂

Relate to People

This is hard to do, because you need to have contact with people. You need to build relationship by building trust. People don’t give out trust easily even among siblings. There was a line in Godfather movie goes like this, “Your father did business with him but your father never trusts him.” Firstly to build trust, you first got to give it to someone you wanted to build trust on. Then you are authentic. You have to be genuinely interested in people and try to be less judgmental. Yes, people have motives but still you will find someday that they are people that you can relate to if you care enough about them. You don’t have to friend everyone!

Therefore for you to practice consulting skills effectively, you have to throw away that false judgment on people and start connecting. Otherwise you will constantly have preconceived ideas about everybody including your customers. That’s bad for business. Worse, you start second guess every move you make.

Another way to relate to people is by sharing the same thing. In sociology it’s called shared symbols. People with more shared symbols get together easily and for long time. Recall your secondary school alumni, how many of you still feel connected to old boys association? How many of you feel disconnected with your workplace? Build shared symbols with your customers and people around you. You also create them for example by sharing hobbies and sports. That’s why golfing works to build trust because you are together under hot sun to enjoy the game. (That’s what golfers told me!)

Present Succinctly

When you have developed enough all the above, this final skill will come quite naturally. You know, in sales customers buy because of the sales person and buy more because of that sales person too. Products and services these days are hard to differentiate. Therefore your ability to present well matters greatly. When you present you need to focus on the message. I am sure you have seen some good advertisements where the message is simple and single. You got to do the same. Make sure all your key points are directed back to the message you want to project. If you want the message to be about “getting approval”, make sure your points are all related to that.

Presentation in technical, you have to give more attention to U-A-S. You (U), what type of presenter you are. Some people a little quieter presenter than the rest. Just be yourself. When you are your own self your confidence shot up. If you think you are an introvert, you need to act out during your presentation. On the other hand, if you think you are an extrovert, you need to tone down a bit.

Then you need to look at the Audience (A). You have to know who is coming or what your audience type is. While they may be several types in a big hall, they come there for only one reason and very much related to the title of your presentation. One thing to remember, you can’t please every audience but you must always please the majority of your audience. Don’t waste their time if you don’t have anything they want to hear. Always ask yourself the key take aways you want to remember after your presentation.

Finally you also should pay attention to Situation (S). This concerns the place you are going to hold your presentation, the mood and settings. If you have to come early for set up, please do so. Don’t rush your presentation day and don’t come too early because it makes you tired. No one likes to wait too long. It drains your energy. A simple advise, prepare your own tools. 🙂

So when put all these skills together there is one additional thing you need to remember. You need to ask yourself whether all your answers and plan for the above align with your business goals (that you have set earlier). You must be able to manage all these skills to carry you through. You begin with the end in mind. Got it? But how to know whether your goals are solid? Here are some tips:

  1. Is it consistent with your strategy or higher goals?– you need to check whether your business or project goals supporting your priority.
  2. Is the goal self reinforcing? — you need to have business goals that you can work on within your own resources and resources that have been allocated to you.
  3. Is the goal robust enough? — you need to ensure the goals are big enough for you to make significant change for the project or business.

By practicing these skills you are already practicing consulting skills. Of course more practice will make your skills sharper and leaner. When you first begin expect to get yourself reeling on the entire thing. But keep pushing yourself and don’t stop until you sane. Don’t give up because you have given up a lot over the years, so why not making a commitment to this from now onwards? You will soon realize even as an engineer, researcher, scientist, lecturer, manager, director or any other job you will be able to pull it through by being more consultative. You will feel more accepted in the market, your sales will go up, your customers are happier, your colleagues see you as a great executor, you get more things done and you will be a lot happier. You have just capitalized your knowledge and expertise! 🙂

p/s: Knowledge worker rocks! we move the economy and we will be the very people that drive innovation. 😉

Brickbats send to donkhairul@gmail.com

A 90-Minute Plan for Personal Effectiveness – Tony Schwartz – Harvard Business Review

Hi all,

Occassionally I get something useful for myself and I love to share it with you all. This is one of it from Tony Schwartz. I love effectiveness and efficiencies at work and personal. I have used this technique long before I found this article, I think its great. I thought i was being practical given long list of things that I should be doing, but without really focusing, uninterrupted and knows excatly what to do, I can waste the day just by being ‘busy’ but dont deliver things.

I hope you enjoy reading this bit and hope it gives you a thing or two on how you can live better and more productive. Cheerz!

A 90-Minute Plan for Personal Effectiveness – Tony Schwartz – Harvard Business Review
via A 90-Minute Plan for Personal Effectiveness – Tony Schwartz – Harvard Business Review.