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Positivity, the Determinant of Success?

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Datuk (Dr) Kelvin Tan spent his childhood days in the small township of Bagan Datoh, in the state of Perak, where the main economic activity was fishing and the cultivation of coconut. It was a simple life where one could easily slip into contentment but Kelvin’s drive for a better life kept him less than satisfied.

In 1986, at the age of 28, he took the bold step of uprooting himself from Bagan Datoh in Peninsular Malaysia to Tawau, Sabah. Here he began the establishment of TSH Resources as a key local commodity player. Over the years, Kelvin transformed the company into a leading efficient regional oil palm plantation player with both upstream and downstream activities. Today, Kelvin has 28 years’ experience in the industry and TSH Resources is a multi-billion ringgit corporation.

The Group has achieved a total oil palm landbank in Malaysia and Indonesia of approximately 125,000ha with many palm oil mills as well as refineries. Since 15 years ago, due to Kelvin’s desire to grow the business and also scarcity of available land in Sabah, he ventured into another uncharted territory, Indonesia, to expand TSH’s business in oil palm plantation. Many would have argued for caution but his desire to expand drove him ahead. The landbank is located in different parts of Kalimantan and Sumatera of Indonesia. Despite headwinds and great challenges, the young Kelvin was unfazed. His early acquisitions of good and strategic lands have proven to be wise and successful investments. To sustain long-term growth, he realized the necessity of creating a good and systematic management platform. Starting a training school was the first step and he went on to develop a management team to sustain his aspirations of increasing TSH’s plantation footprint in the region. With his steely determination, TSH has achieved great success in its regional expansion. In 2013, Maybank stamped its recognition and approval when it ranked TSH as having ‘The Best Crude Palm Oil (CPO) Yield in 2013’.

Kelvin’s leadership and astute business acumen paved the growth of The Group to current overall staff strength of approximately 14,500 employees, top line growth to RM1 billion and established the foundation for further growth.

Owing to Kelvin’s leadership and stewardship, the group has one of the youngest age profile of oil palm plantation in Malaysia, setting the stage for continuity of growth in years to come. In year 2013, TSH was awarded the Best Performing Stock by The Edge Billion Ringgit Club Awards and this was followed by the Highest Profit Growth Company award in 2014. These awards are again a testament to Kelvin’s farsighted business model.

It was upon the success in Sabah and Indonesia that he was tasked with the job of turning around Innoprise Plantations Berhad. He was made the Managing Director in year 2006. Innoprise was once a struggling enterprise and today it is completely well planted and a profitable outfit.

Kelvin’s business experience is not only limited to regional but also international. He was instrumental in the listing of Ekowood International Berhad on Malaysia’s Main Board in 2004. Ekowood has offices in Luxembourg, Spain, China and USA today. The brand name is well-recognized internationally despite its Malaysian origins. Kelvin believes in creating value and branding; being awarded the best Engineered Hardwood Floor in UK in 2002 showed he was on the right path. Other accolades include Superbrand Status 2005, Best Brands Hardwood Flooring 2007- 2008 and Consumer Hardwood Flooring 2013-2014 from The BrandLaureate. His local, regional and international success has won him The Brand Icon Leadership Award by The BrandLaureate Premier, 2014.

Today, Kelvin is the Chairman of two public companies – TSH Resources Berhad, Ekowood International Berhad and Managing Director of Innoprise Plantations Berhad.

Kelvin has done his fair share of service to the industry and nation. At the age of 40, he was appointed by the Ministry of Plantation Industries and Commodities as Chairman of the Malaysia Cocoa Board, a federal statutory research and development agency, for eight years from 1997 to 2004. During his tenure, the cocoa industry made a great shift from a plantation-based to an industrial-based. He encouraged further downstream processing to create more economic spinoffs, employment and value to the industry.

While Kelvin has grown his business, he has never forgotten the importance of making a positive difference in employees’ lives – be it through the provision of housing, medical, education or social facilities. Moreover, he has always believed in enabling his employees to tap as well as grow their potential. Kelvin is always grateful to the people who have played a role in his success, and encourages his staff to grow professionally as well as personally. Kelvin believes in channeling his employees’ productivity and passion by engaging his team’s energy and skills. As the business expands, he believes that the combination of sound business relationships and technical skills will set the platform for continuity of growth for TSH.

A similar balance can be seen in the Group’s business activities too – Kelvin believes that the environment and bio-diversity can always be improved while still maintaining a strong economic performance. The Group’s Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) activities focus on developing the local communities in which it operates. It funds social and educational infrastructure in these areas while also providing business opportunities. Kelvin’s emphasis is on the sustainability of communities.

Recently, he has also worked with Sabah State Forestry to regazette 100,000 acres out of 300,000 acres in its Forest Management Unit to be permanently conserved for biodiversity and research purposes. He was conferred an Honorary Doctorate in Philosophy (Agroforestry) by the University of Malaysia Sabah in year 2006 as recognition of his contribution in this often-neglected area.

He has a chair in University of Malaysia Sabah Forestry Faculty to carry out biodiversity and environmental studies and research. Many of his valuable inputs have contributed to success of various projects.

Staying positive is an important attribute for one’s well being and success, according to Kelvin. Being constantly optimistic and having a positive attitude will allow us to become more devoted to our goals. Not forgetting that staying positive is good for our mental and physical health and the good vibes will be passed to those around us.

With a positive attitude, one will develop strong self-esteem which is an important attribute that leads to peak performance. He further adds that liking and respecting oneself are fundamental principles of success and happiness and it is vital to feel fully alive, as it will automatically allow us to determine our values, strive for mastery and know what you want.

Having spent nearly three decades in building the business, Kelvin is grateful to the people who have played a role in his success. They have shed light on a path that he acknowledges he would not have been able to walk alone. Even though he has achieved certain important milestones in his life, success for Kelvin is always a constant journey.

Leadership is not just about what you do, but how you inspire, encourage and empower others to do with trust. Therefore, it is always important for a leader to take ownership of what they say and practice what they preach.

Datuk (Dr) Kelvin Tan is a winner of the Asia Pacific Entrepreneurship Awards 2015 Malaysia – Special Achievement Award. The Awards were held on 27th August 2015 at InterContinental Hotel, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Callum Connects

Jonathan Oh, CEO & Co-founder of Supplycart

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Jonathan Oh’s enquiring mind and love for learning has led him on an entrepreneurial journey, with him starting Supplycart which helps businesses manage their offices better.

What’s your story?
I am a person that just can’t sit still. I was always intrigued by how the world spins and how people connect. Spending a lot of time outdoors, I had an affinity with exploring new paths, thus leading me to become a serial entrepreneur with experience in creating, operating and building new companies. I am a firm believer there is so much to learn in the world and I love talking to people about ideas, what they are passionate about and what drives them.
Starting off my career in the medical industry, I realised I had a flare to create something that mattered, something that impacted other people’s lives. After exiting my first company in 2014, I continued my journey with two other ventures with a purpose to look towards impacting businesses in the region together with like minded individuals, and here I am.

What excites you most about your industry?
Being able to part of the SME tech industry and seeing how technology is moving SMEs to go digital to improve workflows and efficiencies is an exciting space to be in. Users are consumers. More and more, they are familiarising themselves with using technology in their everyday lives. We foresee the SME space to be the next area where adopting new technology would become vital for any organisation to remain relevant. As I have dabbled in this industry for close to nine years now, I am really looking forward to working with more people in the business community to make a change.

What’s your connection to Asia?
Born in Malaysia, I had the opportunity to go abroad and I realised there was so much to do back home. Spending time in Melbourne, Australia for a couple of years and recently Silicon Valley, it has provided me with experiences and insights into the difference a multicultural community can make. It also made me aware that Asia is still a very culture driven economy, as each country has its unique differences. I believe that the time is right to be in Asia now. We are a growing economy and a lot of exciting stuff is happening in this region.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Malaysia. I believe Malaysia is still a very attractive destination for business as it’s close to other neighbouring countries within the region and travelling between the countries is easy. There is also proper infrastructure in place, an affordable cost of living and a sizeable pool of talent. The government also has numerous initiatives for technology companies to apply for MSC status that permits companies to hire foreign companies without restrictions. Malaysia is the perfect launchpad to start growing businesses regionally. From a culture perspective, we are multicultural, which promotes diversity in business and language is never a barrier here.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
“The difference between a businessman and an entrepreneur; one does a markup and the other creates value.”

Who inspires you?
I would say the people around me inspire me. I wouldn’t narrow it down to a particular person but lump it up with family, workmates, entrepreneurs and friends. From my eyes, everyone has a certain drive, a certain glow and strengths that sometimes they do not see, and that inspires me. I believe the journey to success is never alone, it’s with people.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
Something recently that blew me away, made me realise, visually about how much time I have left. I was reading and stumbled upon the writer doing this. This might sound morbid but I drew a horizontal line and started plotting the year I was born all the way up to when I think I might go. It showed me that I have spent 25% of my life growing up, I am going to spend another 55% of my life working and the final 20%, maybe retirement. It got me remembering all the milestones I have achieved and to be thankful for and above all, how I want to spend the 55% of my life doing what matters the most.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I believe that I am exactly where I need to be because of the experiences I have had before. Thank god for the journey so far. It has been filled with ups and downs, new experiences and people along the way these have moulded me. I guess a small thing, if I had my time again, would be to pick up playing a musical instrument which I think still possible now. You are never too old to learn anything.

How do you unwind?
Unwinding for me would be spending time with my family and my two little boys. The little ones are such a bundle of joy. Reminding myself to have balance in terms of not missing the early years with them. Other than that, having coffee with other entrepreneurs, sharing ideas and learning from them is also another way I unwind.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
A term I would use would be “cuti cuti Malaysia.” This means heading to a local destination for some R&R to save on the cost of going on overseas to travel. Top of my the list would be heading to a farm or the jungle with clear river waters and a waterfall all to myself. Staying the night, out in the open under the stars, with a campfire and heading back to nature. The other option would be taking a boat to one of the furthest islands in Malaysia, just before the border of Indonesia, to get away from civilization.

Everyone in business should read this book:
I would actually recommend two books that everyone in business in the early years should read. ‘Founder’s Dilemma’ and ‘Start with Why.’ After being in a couple of businesses and many mistakes later, I came to realise the importance of starting it right. Both these books address the whole mind-set on what founders need to have from selecting who is it we start a business with to why are we starting the business. The business foundation is built from the founders and moving forward everything is built from there. Sometimes we are so into the business that we forget we need to be on the business as well. I would have definitely avoided a couple of bumps if I came across these much earlier on.

Shameless plug for your business:
Manage your office better, that’s our motto. We are always on the lookout to work with organisations, suppliers and partners in this field for partnerships and collaborations.
Supplycart is a B2B procurement platform addressing a need for a change in the way companies manage their office supplies, products and services. We enable suppliers and companies to adopt digital technology when selling and procuring for their business, resulting in a more efficient and productive workforce.
Supplycart provides an easy to use, convenient platform that streamlines the whole procurement process by allowing users to quickly order and reorder, receive instant quotations, obtain quick approvals from necessary approvers and fulfilment items are coordinated/planned to ensure a timely a speedy delivery.
Businesses can now focus on the more important matters in growing and sustaining their business while leaving managing the office to Supplycart. Our vision is to be the number 1 office platform for businesses across South East Asia. “Your office will never be the same again.”

How can people connect with you?
https://www.linkedin.com/in/ohjonathan/
e : [email protected]
w : www.supplycart.my

This interview is part of the ‘Callum Connect’ series of more than 500 interviews

Callum Laing is an entrepreneur and investor based in Singapore. He has previously started, built and sold half a dozen businesses and is now a Partner at Unity-Group Private Equity and Co-Founder of The Marketing Group PLC. He is the author two best selling books ‘Progressive Partnerships’ and ‘Agglomerate’.

Connect with Callum here:
twitter.com/laingcallum
linkedin.com/in/callumlaing
Download free copies of his books here: www.callumlaing.com

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Callum Connects

Trung Nguyen, Founder & Managing Director of Advertising Vietnam

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Having initial success with his first start up in the ad industry, Trung Nguyen went on to start other ventures in the ad world in Vietnam. He now has the largest agency community in Vietnam.

What’s your story?
Three years ago I got my first job in the advertising industry. I worked for a local agency in town, and I fell in love with the creative industry. In June 2015, I founded Agency Life Community in Vietnam. It quickly became the most engaging community in the ad industry. The main content focuses on entertainment. After six months we had over 30,000 organic followers, now we have 120,000 followers.

Because the industry had been good to me, I decided I had to something for the industry to help the industry be better. So, I opened http://AdvertisingVietnam.com – a creative industry ad site which keeps advertising informative, creative and inspiring.

After more than a year in the ads industry in Vietnam, I figured the industry needed a better solution for the recruitment of good staff. Given I own the largest advertising community platform, why don’t I utilise Agency Life to help connect talent with ad agencies. So, I founded job site, AdJob.Asia in January 2017.

What excites you most about your industry?
The ad industry is a creative one with very passionate people who are always challenging themselves. The exciting part for creatives, in the morning they might be working on a baby brand and in the afternoon they are answering a beer brief. There is so much diversity. Every day is the new journey.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I am Vietnamese.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Thailand. The Thais are the kings of the creative industry in SEA. Thai ads are very smart and creative.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
Do what you love.

Who inspires you?
My friend, mentor and partner Mr Nghi Nguyen, founder of BrandsVietnam.com. We started our businesses at a similar time. He doesn’t see us as a competitor but rather, he believes that we share the same passion and we are working to provide better knowledge for the ad community.
Mr Nghi also guided me a lot when I first opened the business. I am inspired by his vision to make our marketing industry better.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
Our business is a startup company and as a founder I do everything from operations, business development, planning and strategy. However, this is not the good way grow our business. You have to share the workload – find a co-founder or hire a great employee to help share the workload. “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
Quit my full time job sooner.
During the first year of running my business, I was still working as an ad manager for an agency. However I lacked focus at work due to the overload of work and it affected the company I used to work for. I strongly recommend people who have an idea to start their own business, quit their job early on and focus 100% on it from the get go!

How do you unwind?
Play with my cat.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
I love to travel throughout all of Asia. I enjoy new places and meeting new people.

Everyone in business should read this book:
The Carpenter: A story about the greatest success strategies of all.

Shameless plug for your business:
AdvertisingVietnam.com is a site where you can quickly update yourself on the advertising news in Vietnam. We have 15,000 unique monthly readers who are professional people in the advertising and communications industries.

The Agency Life, https://www.facebook.com/agencylife is largest agency community in Vietnam. This is the right place for ad agencies to share their creative work.

AdJob.Asia now has more than 160 agencies in Vietnam who use our services. We are a leading recruitment service for the advertising industry in Vietnam.

How can people connect with you?
You can connect with me:
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/trungnx26
Email: [email protected]
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/trungnx26/

This interview is part of the ‘Callum Connect’ series of more than 500 interviews

Callum Laing is an entrepreneur and investor based in Singapore. He has previously started, built and sold half a dozen businesses and is now a Partner at Unity-Group Private Equity and Co-Founder of The Marketing Group PLC. He is the author two best selling books ‘Progressive Partnerships’ and ‘Agglomerate’.

Connect with Callum here:
twitter.com/laingcallum
linkedin.com/in/callumlaing
Download free copies of his books here: www.callumlaing.com

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