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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

Andrew Schorr, Founder of Grata

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Taking a different route throughout his life, Andrew Schorr ended up in China and started several businesses.

What’s your story?
I moved to China after I graduated from college in 2004. English teaching was the easiest way to get there, so I looked on a map and picked a small town in Hubei, because it looked to be more or less in the middle of China. I was the only foreigner there.

Back then, everything was about the upcoming Olympics in Beijing, so I moved to the capital after my year of teaching. Pretty soon after arriving, I met the co-founder for all three of my companies. We decided to start a company together the first day we met. He has now moved back to the US and builds flight software at SpaceX.

Our first company, an online city guide, was re-purposed into our second company, GuestOps, a web concierge platform. We sold GuestOps to most of the major international hotel brands in China and still operate it. The genesis of our latest company, Grata came from looking at the intersection of hotels and WeChat in 2012, when WeChat was just starting to blow up. Grata expanded from hotels into a live-agent customer service console.

What excites you most about your industry?
Our thesis with Grata has always been that what is happening with WeChat in China is the future of messaging platforms globally, and as an international team building on WeChat, we would be well-placed to capitalize on that trend. It’s taken longer than we expected for the industry (and us, for that matter) to get there, but finally, we’re starting to see messaging as a platform to get better traction in other markets.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I’ve always been a bit of a contrarian. I grew up in Texas, where all my friends studied Spanish in school. I studied German for no reason in particular. I took a similar path in college: Chinese and Japanese seemed like languages that not a lot of people who look like me studied. I was one of only two students in my third-year Chinese class.

Concur conference in San Francisco, Calif., Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2013. (Photo by Paul Sakuma, Paul Sakuma Photography) www.paulsakuma.com

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Shanghai. I should live there, but Beijing has been home for so long. I take the night train down to Shanghai every two-three weeks to meet with clients. Domestic flights are way too unreliable here.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
Don’t plan too far ahead; otherwise, you plan yourself out of good opportunities.

Who inspires you?
Has anyone said “Elon Musk” yet? Barack Obama would be another.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
The gravitational waves recently detected from neutron stars colliding, were so subtle as to only affect the distance from earth to our closest star, Alpha Centauri (4.24 light years away) by the width of a human hair. Perhaps in another life or in the future, I’ll be an astronomer, but a telescope doesn’t do me much good in Beijing.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
When I give advice to students looking to get into entrepreneurship, I advise them to work for a post-Series A startup first and learn from a company that’s already doing things well. I learnt everything on my own, which is slower and you pay for your own education. If you work for a startup that’s small in the beginning, you risk learning bad habits.

How do you unwind?
I Hash! The Hash is a drinking club with a running problem. The Hash attracts good people from all walks of life and doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s a great way to meet fun-loving people all over the world. It’s also how I met my co-founder, our first lawyer, and my girlfriend.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Pulau Perhentian, Malaysia. A fantastic beach and where I first learned to scuba dive.

Everyone in business should read this book:
For business in China, Tim Clissold’s, Mr. China.

Shameless plug for your business:
Grata does WeChat contact centers for many top-tier brands in luxury retail, travel, financial services and hospitality. We started developing on WeChat before they even had an open platform. Grata provides the most value for large enterprises with complex routing and content demands for their contact centers.

How can people connect with you?
Check out www.grata.co or email me: [email protected]

Twitter handle?
My personal handle is @andrew_schorr and we tweet about messaging from the company handle @grata_co.

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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Benjamin Kwan, Co-Founder of TravelClef

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Making music to create a life for his family, Benjamin Kwan, started an online tuition portal and his music business grew from there.

What’s your story?
I am Benjamin and I’m the Co-Founder of TravelClef Group Pte Ltd, a travelling music school that conducts music classes in companies as well as team building with music programmes. We also run an online educational platform which matches private students to freelance music teachers. We also manufacture our own instruments. I started this company in 2011 when I was still a freshman at NUS, majoring in Mechanical Engineering.

I was born to a lower income family, my father drove a taxi and was the sole breadwinner to a family of 7. I have always dreamed of becoming rich so that I could lessen the burden placed on my father and give my family a good life.

After working really hard in my first semester at NUS, my results didn’t reflect the hard work and effort I put in. At the same time, I was left with just $42 in my bank account and it suddenly dawned on me that if I were to graduate with mediocre results, I would probably end up with a mediocre salary as well. I knew I had to do something to gain control of my future.

During that summer break, I read a book “Internet Riches” by Scott Fox and I knew that the only way I could ever start my own business with my last $42 would be to start an online business. That was how our online tuition portal started and after taking 4 days to learn Photoshop and website building on my own, I started the business.

What excites you most about your industry?
Music itself is a constant form of excitement to me as I have always been an avid lover of music. As one of the world’s first travelling music schools, we are always very eager and excited to find innovative ways to a very traditional business model of a music teaching.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I was born and raised in Singapore and I love the fact that despite our diversity in culture, there’s always a common language that we share, music.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Hands down, SINGAPORE! Although we are currently in talks to expand to other regions within Asia, Singapore is the best place for business. I have had friends asking me if they should consider venturing into entrepreneurship in Singapore, my answer is always a big fat YES! There’s a low barrier of entry, and most importantly, the government is very supportive of entrepreneurship.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
I have been blessed by many people and mentors who constantly give me great advice but right now, I would say the best piece of advice that I received would be from Dr Patrick Liew who said, “Work on the business, not in it.” This advice is constantly ringing in my head as I work towards scaling the business.

Who inspires you?
My dad. My dad has always been my inspiration in life, for the amount of sacrifices that he has made for the family and the love he has for us. He was the umbrella for all the storms that my family faced and we were always safe in his shelter. Although my dad passed away after a brief fight with colorectal cancer, the lessons that he imparted to me were very valuable as I build my own family and business.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
You can not buy time, but you can spend money to save time! With this realisation, I was willing to allow myself to spend some money, in order to save more time. Like taking Grab/Uber to shuttle around instead of spending time travelling on public transport. While I spend more money on travelling, I save a lot more time! This doesn’t mean that I spend lavishly and extravagantly, I am still generally prudent with my money.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I would have taken more time to spend with my family and especially my father. While it is important to focus our time to build our businesses, we should always try our best to allocate family time. Because as an entrepreneur, there is no such thing as “after I finish my work,” because our work is never finished. If our work finishes, the business is also finished. But our time with our family is always limited and no matter how much money and how many successes we achieve, we can never use it to trade back the time we have with our family.

How do you unwind?
I am a very simple man. I enjoy TV time with my wife and a simple dinner with my family and friends.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Batam, it’s close to Singapore and there’s really nothing much to do except for massages and a relaxing resort life. If I travel to other countries for shopping or sightseeing, I am constantly thinking of business and how I can possibly expand to the country I am visiting. But while relaxing at the beach or at a massage, I tend to allow myself to drift into emptiness and just clear my mind of any thoughts.

Everyone in business should read this book:
Work The System, by Sam Carpenter. This book teaches entrepreneurs the importance of creating systems and how to leverage on systems to improve productivity and create more time.

Shameless plug for your business:
If you are looking for a team building programme that your colleagues will enjoy and your bosses will be happy with, you have to consider our programmes at TravelClef! While our programmes are guaranteed fun and engaging, it is also equipped with many team building deliverables and organizational skills.

How can people connect with you?
My email is [email protected] and I am very active on Facebook as well!
https://www.facebook.com/benjamin.christian.kwan

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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