There are numerous books and articles written about entrepreneurship and entrepreneurs. There seems to be an insatiable appetite for success stories and discovering what make entrepreneurs successful. I carry the same appetite to learn from them when I first started as an entrepreneur over 20 years ago. What make them tick? What are their secrets of success? What got them started? How did they do it? Did they happen to be in the right place at the right time? Are they just lucky? Or they have special skills? Or do they know the right people?
Well I guess over the years I have come to a conclusion that great entrepreneurs has a little bit of everything mentioned earlier but I also realize that certain qualities stands out.
In this article I like to share what I learn from four entrepreneurs that I admire and three of whom I have the opportunity to consult for their organization. This is not a list of qualities that you must have in order to succeed like them. It is a list of common traits I happen to realize they share.
The first person I have great respect for is Mr. WK Wung the founder of Sugar Bun, one of the first successful food franchises in Malaysia that eventually becomes listed in the Stock Exchange. I had the opportunity back in the 90s’s, to work with him and his management team helping them to set up a customer service corporate culture. Another person who is very low profile and an unassuming gentlemen is Mr. S.S. Chiang the founder of Bonia; an organization which I did strategic planning for, 18 years ago and continue to carry out periodic strategic reviews and management development since then until today. Recently I started working with the very inspiring and interesting Mr. Michael Lim, President of Natural Environmental Products who is the person behind the well- known brand; Diamond Water Filter. To this list I like to add another person who I had not have to opportunity to consult for but got an opportunity to spend a wonderful afternoon in the quiet poolside of Sutera Harbour Resort, Sabah, listening to his success story; the world famous Jimmy Choo. So what make these entrepreneurs great?
1. They all come from very humble back ground
It is quite amazing when you realize that people who came that far in their entrepreneurship journey actually started with very humble back grounds. Mr. Wung was a teacher and he started an ice cream stand under the escalator of a mall in Kuching in 1979. He grew it from that one store.
Bonia started in 1974 by Mr. Chiang in similarly humble backgrounds and went on to become a listed company in 1994 whilst Michael used to work in the wet market helping his father who is fishmonger. Jimmy Choo left go to England at the young age of 15 to become a shoe apprentice. None of them are highly educated nor come from a background of successful entrepreneurs. I am inclined to believe that this commonality of background creates humility and more importantly a hunger for success.
2. They have a vision and they build brands
They see things before other people do. Steve Jobs shared a insight when he talks about Apple’s ability to be ahead of the game and related it to ice hockey; “There’s an old Wayne Gretzky quote that I love. ‘I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been. And we’ve always tried to do that at Apple. Since the very very beginning. And we always will.”
Mr. Chiang must have seen that when he started growing the Bonia brand from the back streets of Kuala Lumpur to Bonia Group has a network of over 700 sales and outlets and 70 boutiques throughout the world including countries like Singapore, Malaysia, Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, China, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, Brunei, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Oman, and Syria. And an annual sales turnover of over RM360 million is no small feat. It started of with a vision and a foresight to build a global brand.
Similarly Michael’s vision of becoming a global player in the water filter business is inspiring. Already the Diamond brand is recognizable in many countries including Hong Kong and China. Needless to say Jimmy Choo is in a class of his own in terms of having a vision and building a brand
3. They are very passionate about their business and are very hands on
Interestingly in my interactions with them I come to the realization that it is not really the money or profits that drives them to build these successes; they are simply passionate about their business or their products. Money and profits are just rewards of their efforts. Hearing Jimmy Choo talks about shoes or Michael sharing with his team about their corporate mission; you can feel their passion and their focus. Most of them are very hands on; from Mr. Wung who would himself work at the Sugar Buns store as one of the serving staff just to be in touch with the frontline to and to be a role model for his work force to Michael who would personally run his legendary marathon training sessions for the Diamond distributors. When you listen to Jimmy Choo talks about how he started and how he works on his shoes you can feel his passion and how hands on he is.
4. They believe in building people and sees potential in others
All these entrepreneurs build teams and in particular Mr. Wung and Michael are firm believers in people development. They have a great desire to build their people and sees potentials in their team. They speak of their people with pride and have a genuine interest in their work force. I recently met the author of a bestseller titled “Love ‘em or Lose ‘em- Getting good people to stay”, Beverly Kaye. What a great title for a book and how true this is in today’s environment. I am still perturbed by the term “self-made millionaire”. Almost every successful person that I know of, works with others and hardly ever ‘made it’ all by themselves.
5. They have BIG dreams and set very high standards
Michael set very high expectations for his team and so would Mr. Wung but they went on to show their team that it is possible. Mr. Chiang sets up Bonia to be global from day one and would drives his team to that big dreams. They set high standards and would not compromise on standards or quality or be mediocre. They drive their goals hard, their people equally hard and not all their team members can last.
6. They remain humble and they ask for help when they need help
Their humility even when they are successful is impressive. Their unassuming and quiet nature is contradictory to the larger than life Donald Trump entrepreneur character. They listen, they are willing to learn and they are willing to ask for help. Michael reads voraciously in spite of his very busy schedule while Mr. Chiang would ask questions that most successful entrepreneur would assume (or pretend) that they already ‘know’.
These are people I learnt from and continue to learn from. I thank them for the inspirations and enlightenment.
Note: The above are written based on memories of my interactions with the people mentioned. Some of these interactions are some time ago and hence any errors in data or details are regretted.