Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Strategy, Organisation and Chinese Entrepreneurship, an aborted work

The Malaysian Institute of Management (MIM) saw fit to publish this book of mine Strategic Management in Malaysia, Concepts & Illustrations in 2001. For my effort, I was given some tens of copies as a token of appreciation.

I don't believe it sold well. I also did not bother to sell any of my copies; instead, I extended them free-of-charge to friends and relatives - principally to show off - whenever we talked about personal "achievements". My last copy survived on my shelf until a new neighbour moved in. David (Hugo) and his wife called one day. He promised to return once he had read it. He never did. He had since moved out of our apartment block. Too bad!

After this 2001 effort, I sat down to write a more updated book. After many tonnes of mid-night oil, the following is what I have produced. Unfortunately, I just do not have the "mood" to sit down to edit it properly, nor the desire to spend money on a good editor, so that I can have it published. Nonetheless, I thought there were some good stuff in there that I could share with friends; hence this decision to provide a e-link below to anyone interested.


Happy reading!

Pleasant Surprises from MAS and Firefly

Today I received a pleasant surprise from MAS.

In response to my “Those Top Ostriches at MAS”, its Customer Care’s Emily Sheela Koshy wrote me the following message. It is people like Emily who can help save MAS!

30 September 2014
Our ref: GTS 2070-09/2014/ES

Mr. Lim Yu Book

Dear Mr. Lim,

I refer to your article in the Malaysiakini online portal dated 10 September 2014. On behalf of Malaysia Airlines, I deeply regret  the string of unpleasant events you had encountered in connection to your travel with us on MH 148 on the 06th of September 2014 from Melbourne to Kuala Lumpur. An in depth investigation had been initiated based on the points raised and our findings have since come in. Please allow me to share this information with you.

In flight meal  main meal choice on MH 148 from Melbourne to Kuala Lumpur on the 6th of September 2014

Our checks revealed that the following three main meal choices  and portions  had been catered on the above mentioned flight  :

Main meal choices
Portions catered
Roasted Chicken with Caramelized Shallot Sauce
Steamed Barramundi with Teriyaki Sauce
Slow Braised Beef Ribs

We deeply regret  that  the Steamed Barramundi with Teriyaki Sauce meal choice  had run out by the time it came to your turn during the meal service onboard your flight. While we understand your disappointment, please be assured that we do try to cater for all palates. There are however times, when one selection becomes the favorite choice of many and as in this instance, it runs out.   Notwithstanding this, please be assured  that  the matter as above has since been highlighted to the Food and Beverage Department for their review  and improvement.

Ice cream served on MH 148 on the 06th of September 2014.

Checks confirm  that the brand of ice cream served in Golden Club Class on the above mentioned flight had been the Weiss Bar. The said brand of ice cream had in the past,  been served in both the Golden Club Class and Economy Class. However, after a review of the in flight meal menu in 2014 ,  ice cream was discontinued on Economy Class but was maintained on Golden Club Class.

Availability of  the Temptations  in flight magazines on MH 148 on the 06th of September 2014

At this point in time, there is an ongoing internal realignment exercise involving Golden Boutique, as such the Temptations In-flight sales magazine had been delayed. The September issue of the these magazines were only uplifted onboard all flights on the 10th of September 2014 and was indeed unavailable during your travel.

In flight entertainment

We take note of your disappointment with the in flight entertainment available on our Boeing 777 aircraft type. Please allow me to explain that the in-flight entertainment used on the Boeing 777  fleet  is the Panasonic S3000i system. The  system boasts  55 Hollywood movies, 30 international movies , 172 TV program channels , 73 games, 12 radio channels and  approximately 400 musical CD albums. While we understand your discontentment with the in flight entertainment system, the airline is looking at a fleet renewal plan program to phase out the Boeing 777  fleet  by 2017. This will not only ensure better entertainment system, but also overall comfort.

Enrich online redemption

It was indeed unfortunate that you were unable to redeem your Enrich miles online using your IPAD device.  While  checks by our systems team had confirmed that  customers are able to use  their IPAD device to access our Enrich online portal, it was identified that the Malaysia Airlines website/online portal had experienced  intermittent technical difficulties  between the 03rd  to  the 10th of September 2014.

We are however pleased to note that your redemption was later transacted successfully by our Call Centre team.

Mr. Lim, we trust that the explanation as above serves to clarify the  constructive points you had raised and we once again deeply regret the inconvenience and hassle experienced. The airline's intent is to serve our valued customers as best possible and we would like to restore your faith in Malaysia Airlines . Therefore, as a gesture of goodwill, without prejudice or admission of liability, I am pleased to offer you 10,000 complimentary miles which we will credit into your  Enrich account, MH277394132.

It is without a doubt that the growth we’ve experienced over the years is because of customers like you, who faithfully support our business. We appreciate your trust and support as our valued Enrich Platinum member, and rest assured that we will do our best to continue to give you the kind of service you deserve.

Thank you once again.

Yours sincerely
for Malaysia Airlines,

Emily Sheela Koshy
Customer Care
Customer Services Division

A couple of days earlier, I also received this from Firefly - in response to a complaint I made over the phone on its booking service. 

From: Firefly Customer Care <customer_care@fireflyz.com.my>
Date: 18 September 2014 7:02:02 pm AEST
To: <yubooklim@gmail.com>
Subject: [#12W-38AVYQ]: Greetings from Firefly Airlines

Dear Yu Book Lim,

It has come to our attention that you had experienced such inconvenience during your booking process through our website on 12th Sept 14.
We have done an investigation on the issue and found out that there is no issue with your credit card. However, Maybank has the rules to block their cards from transacting in other currencies if the merchant is from Malaysia and our team had failed to inform you on the real cause of the failed transaction.
In light of this, on behalf our our CEO, Mr Ignatius Ong, we would like to offer you a return ticket, Subang-Singapore-Subang (as attached) for one passenger.
The validity of the voucher is three months.
Hope this clarifies and looking forward to your continued support!
Any inconveniences caused to you is much regretted.

Good day!

Firefly Customer Care

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Why Add Limbs to A Snake?

What is this bald and ugly old man doing in this selfie? Is he engaging in some kind of sex weirdo? Or self-torture?
His ear is itchy! Naturally he stretches out his hand to scratch it!

This is what most of us would do in similar situations, even in public, I suppose.
How many of us attempt to do it the following way? Silly, isn’t it, Ah Kong? My grandchildren would probably say this to me. Why the extra effort? If you were not careful, you might twist your arm!

Why so hard to reach?

But in life, many of us do things this way, figuratively speaking!

Pan Pacific Serviced Suites at Beach Road, Singapore provides two TVs in their guest suites, one in the living room and the other in the bedroom.
Both are Samsung SmartTVs, but the one in the living room is too smart for a IT dinosaur like me to figure out how to use it. Turning on is easy. But where is the sound????

I couldn’t figure out how to turn on the sound and had to summon its technician for help

“Sir, look into the box below and you will see another control. Press the power button and you will get the sound,” said the young man patronisingly. Isn’t it too simple to ask for help, silly old man? I suppose he must be saying this to himself.
Adding a limb to a snake?

Oh, you need another control to turn on the sound, I see. It is certainly a very smart TV!
Up to today, I still cannot understand the logic of this extra need. 

Why scratch your ear the hard way??? Isn't Maxel's is the best way?

How satisfying!
Talking about stretching your arm backwards to reach your itchy ear, I am reminded of my HTC smartphone. After the expiry of my iPhone 4 contract, the not-so-sweet-young-thing in the Optus Shop in Malvern advised me to go for the above model. She said it was the No 1 selling smartphone in the world then. This was about three of four years ago. I took her word for it and did not try to check her claim out. That was a mistake!

Not really brilliant!

 You can see that the slogan in it reads: quietly brilliant. It reminds me of a joke about the name of one of Malaysia’s earlier Finance Minister – Tun Daim, whose name if spelt incorrectly as Diam can mean “quiet” (more accurately, as a verb, meaning keep quiet). He is certainly brilliant.
I really hate this phone. It is one of the most difficult mobile phones for someone too clumsy like me to use. Try adding an email account with this phone and you know what I mean.

To me, this is a another classic example of how one has to stretch one’s arm backwards to reach the one’s ear!!!

(I lost my iPhone 5 in Subang Parade recently and had to re-activate this HTC phone. As if it knew my sentiment, it refused to charge. I paid A$45 for a new battery. It worked for a couple of weeks. It is DEAD again! So much for this brilliant phone from Taiwan. I heard the brand hardly sells now. NO WONDER!)

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Wisdom from Mugabe

Someone forwarded the following to me. I thought I should share it with friends...

(I am not sure Mugabe really said these things though. If I remember correctly, in Degrees in Violence, a book written about Mugabe by David Blair many years ago, Mugabe is no dumb-dumb. He has collected something six academic degrees - all real stuff, certainly not from Pacific Western or Century Universities!)

From Mugabe...

1. Racism will never end as long as white cars are still using black

2. Racism Will never end as long we still wash first white clothes,
then other colours later.

3. Racism will never end if people still use black to symbolise bad
luck and WHITE for peace!

4. Racism will never end if people still wear white clothes to
weddings and black clothes to the funerals.

5. Racism will never end as long as those who don't pay their bills
are blacklisted not White listed. Even when playing the pool
(snooker), you haven't won until you sink the black ball, and the
white ball must remain on the field.

His conclusion...." BUT I don't CARE, SO LONG AS I'M STILL

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Book: Execution by Bossidy

I have been asked to do a book review to a group of executives of a major bank in Kuala Lumpur in October. It is "EXECUTION - The Discipline of Getting Things Done" principally by Larry Bossidy who was the CEO of AlliedSignal at the time when it merged with Honeywell (and went on to assume the latter's name). There are two other co-authors, one of whom is Ram Charan who used to teach at the Harvard Business School.

This book is actually a little dated. But I suppose it is still useful in terms of concepts. Its basic messages are still valid  - (a) the gaps between executive promises and deliveries can be oceans apart and (b) CEOs have to personally drive execution. From Bossidy, it is first-hand lesson after lesson to demonstrate his points. And from Charan, the illustrations were drawn basically from his consulting work and devoid of actual characters cited in his examples, they sounded quite plastic or make-believe.

For students who are looking for "models" to apply the authors' concepts of things (like those one gets from Michael Porter or one of those management gurus from Harvard), they are likely to be disappointed. Nevertheless, one gets to see how a top-notch CEO manages a huge cutting-edge enterprise - as crusader of a great corporate culture, as firm believer in quantitative tools, and as relentless pursuer of efficient processes in everything the enterprise does, right from meetings to people, strategy and operations issues.

Honeywell is still a formidable Fortune 500 company today with sales about USD50 billion and an employee strength of some 130,000 all over the world.

In short, you may have the best strategy and all the resources in the world, unless you know how to mobilise to execute, you are likely to end up going nowhere. Many CEOs of top Fortune 500 companies have to suffer ignominious exit because of one thing: Failure in Execution. 

Battersea Power Station

There is this full-page advertisement in The Straits Times of Singapore today (September 16, 2014); I am sure it is also published in the major newspapers all over the world: The global launch of SP Setia Bhd Group’s Battersea Power Station project in London.
SP Setia Bhd Group is Malaysia’s premier builder. I suppose Sime Darby Property and the country Employee Provident Fund are also involved, since their logos are also featured in the advertisement.
The following two statements in the advertisement caught my attention:

  1. After highly successful launches for Phases 1 and 2, register now for both commercial leasing opportunities and for the stunning apartments by Foster + Partners and Gehry Partners that are being brought to the market as part of the Global Launch in October.
  2. We don't do ordinary.
I thought they are not quite correct grammatically. Usually, I would not have bothered. But this advertisement is supposed to be from the best of the best in Malaysia and is being splashed all over the world.

Can someone tell me that I am wrong?

Over 560 motorists fined for their failure to singal - Big deal?

I happen to be in Singapore these couple of days. The heading of an article in The Straits Times screamed Over 560 motorists fined for their failure to signal. The penalty was S$70 for light vehicles and S$100 for heavy vehicles. Can you imagine that some of those interviewed by paper said they were not aware that they had to signal to change lane or make a turn? And this is Singapore?

The truth is: This general lack of courtesy is excessively prevalent in our region!

Having been conditioned by the Aussie road culture, I have become most law abiding on roads wherever I go, including my Kampong country Malaysia where I reckon 90% of the people don't care two hoots about basic road courtesy. For instance, I would by habit signal even if it was an obvious turning lane. To them, I must be a strange odd ball, I suppose.

Who cares about road courtesy?

In the Klang Valley, even when there are empty car bays, I see that many would still double-park and disappear into shops or eateries – without any qualm at all. Anyone who has ever stopped for pedestrians on zebra-crossing can also claim a prize from me; it simply means nothing to most. Ditto about the need to stay clear of emergency lanes. When traffic light turns red, you still see motorists making the last ditch to cross. I can go on and on. (Malaysia must be the only country in the world where red-light count-down can go on for ages. Therefore, many would simply ignore the signal when they saw a gap. Whose fault? It can really be a good chicken-first-or-egg-first topic for debate.)

Once I was next to a Humvee with a fancy number plate at a traffic junction in Subang. There was a police car behind it. I thought there must be a VVIP in the Humvee. But when the Humvee jumped the red light, I saw that the police car did not follow suit. I said to myself, "they can't be related."  I lost no time in winding down my window and asked the police why they had allowed the Humvee to go scot-free. To my pleasant surprise, the police immediately sprang into action. The siren that followed was sweet music to me!

At the same junction another time, I saw a YTL’s cement mixer doing the same thing. It didn’t have number plate, but there was a serial number on the vehicle. I went into YTL’s website and lodged a complaint. In spite of all its CSR (corporate social responsibility) pledges, no one there bothered to respond. One day when one of its directors had to see me on a certain matter, I took the opportunity to patronise him about it. I hope he has bothered to bring the matter up to Tan Sri Sir Francis Yeoh!

Talk is cheap, really!

Friday, September 12, 2014

Like Father Like Son...

I said I could write volumes on MAS. This is another piece.

Although this time it is about Firefly, it is also about MAS. Isn’t Firefly part of MAS?

My colleague in Singapore who usually does the all the plane bookings for me was not sure when I would like to swing over to Kuala Lumpur for my weekends. Although she had reminded me, I had totally forgotten until Thursday night. I duly went on-line to make a booking; it was about 11pm. My credit card was repeatedly declined, even though it was accepted for the travel insurance part. I tried to contact Firefly via its call centre. “Sorry, we are closed. We operate from what time to what time.” That was the voice mail I got. I called Maybank’s card centre.

“There was nothing wrong with your card, sir. The problem is with Firefly’s clearing bank was not able to communicate with our bank.”

The officer was most sympathetic, but he just could not do anything. He suggested I tried again an hour or so later.

I tried an hour later, which was past mid-night, and again, I was not able to effect the payment.
On my iPad next morning, I saw Firefly’s reminder for me to pay up. Again, my attempt proved futile.

At 8am, I called its call centre. This time the centre was manned. The officer confirmed that their system had been down since yesterday. At least he could effect my purchase over the phone.
My question is: if they know the system has been out, why don’t they have a standby arrangement, like ensuring the call centre is reachable to explain and process sales?

How many sales have they lost because of this? How much ill-will they have created?

These people simply don’t have any business concept, do they?

Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Not-So First-World Side of Singapore

I have been in and out of Singapore every month for the last ten years, usually a week or two each stay. Everything appears to work efficiently in Singapore; there is no question about it. And you feel totally safe.

Is there anything to complain? Yes, there are a couple of things that are not quite befitting of its first world status. And they seem to have escaped the attention of the leaders of this city state; which is really unusual.
Its parks are very well kept; I usually take a morning walk along the stretch of Geylang River besides Nicoll Highway. I used to try to give a friendly wave to fellow walkers. But now I have stopped doing it. 90% of those I encountered were totally oblivious to my gesture. Some even gave me strange stares!

I used to rent an apartment at the Bukit Timah precinct. I ran into familiar faces all the time in the lifts. Sad fact is: I was totally invisible to many of them!
These people are not young; many are in fact of my age group. In Melbourne and Sydney, where I also lived for a couple of years, I would say three-quarters of the adults – old and young – would initiate or return pleasantries; in Malaysia and Indonesia, 50% would do the same, but Singapore. I reckon it is less than 10%.

The corner seats near the doors of its MRT are prioritised for the old and weak. I am old and bald; many would spring up to offer theirs to me. But believe me; those who did it for me are not the young and able people. You can see that they are non-Singaporean. The former are too engrossed with their smartphones or iPads or the likes to care!
More discerning visitors might also have noticed the sliminess of the food trays one sees in food courts in many parts of Singapore, including those in the squeak and clean, upmarket Suntec City. The picture below was taken in one of the food courts there. I remember I wrote to The Straits Times about this some years ago. There was no response. I even chided some food stalls about it. “Oh, that’s the cleaners’ business!” appears to be the standard answer.

Yak, so slimy!
I am sure many Singaporeans would say that I am being too sweeping in drawing conclusions. The people, like me, may not be Singaporeans at all. They might be right; but is there any harm in "educating" these visitors and new PRs or citizens some ABCs of good habits and behaviours?

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Those Top Ostriches at MAS...

You don't need to be a Michael Porter or Henry Mintzberg or one of those McKinsey MBAs to tell you why MAS is in such a bad shape!

I travel on MAS between Melbourne and Kuala Lumpur virtually every month. I can see the continual deterioration of its service. I pity the cabin crew; they are a very nice lot. Unfortunately, the weaknesses  of their management have turned them into a bunch of apologists - for no fault of theirs.

A case in point is my Melbourne to Kuala Lumpur flight on MH148 recently. I chose Baramundi for my main course only to be told by the steward that they had run out of this choice.

How could they run out of choices when they were charging me more than four times the economy fare for my business ticket?

I insisted and somehow they did produce my choice. The inflight supervisor was most apologetic; I simply told him that I was not trying to be difficult. I just wanted him to register my complaint with his management or those who are operating from their ivory tower.

When it was ice-cream time, I reminded them the stuff they offered used to be handed out to me when I was travelling economy, which I still often do. They agreed whole-heartedly.

Please don't get me wrong. I was not trying to be snobbish. I was just trying to say that those in the ivory tower of MAS do not know how to run a business!

Product consistency is something that is in short supply in MAS. Take this particular flight I am referring to. Not a single copy of its Temptation magazine (for in-flight shopping) could be found. Why? This is not the first time I noticed this oversight. It happened in a similar flight a few years ago. It was an Airbus 330, if I could remember correctly. The excuse: Oh; it was new. I suspected it was because they had forgotten to go through the checklist. (I promptly wrote to Ahmad Jauhari [who else?] and guess what? There was no response!)

And look at the audio-video control in the picture shown. The Boeing 777-200 could not be a new plane; but the cabin looked new. It must have been refurnished recently. But its system was a dinosaur! What happened, MAS? Why are you paying for obsolescence?

I am also a frequent flyer on Singapore Airlines. They know where the profit is. It is in the business class! They spare no effort in pampering these customers of theirs. And not surprisingly, their business class is usually full. No wonder they are laughing all the way to the bank and MAS is forever begging for bail-outs by the government.

I suppose you don't really need to be good to be a CEO in Malaysia's GLCs; what is paramount is that you must have the necessary "know-who". MH17 was bad luck, but certainly not MH370. It was a management failure traceable all the way to the CEO!

I just finished a book called Execution – the Discipline of Getting Things Done – by Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan. The whole book boils down to this: The failure is the enterprise is directly attributable to the CEO. Why waste another M$6 billion restructuring MAS? All you need is a good CEO and there are plenty in Malaysia!

Before I forget, just a couple of days ago, I tried to redeem my frequent flyer points with MAS. Its online system on it Enrich programme doesn’t work on iPAD, when everybody else’s can.  Luckily I still have my laptop. I clicked Enrich; it led me to nowhere. I finally figured out how to access. But I just couldn’t do my redemption on-line after many trials. The explanation given on-line was totally mickey-mousy. I made a call to its call centre from Melbourne. The girl was totally helpless; she also did not know why things couldn’t work from her end either. I asked if her supervisor could call back, since there was not point my waiting on the line to see her performing a miracle. An hour or so later, I tried to call again. I kept hearing “You will be attended shortly” but that "shortly" never came; I hanged up. Two hours or so later, a lady from MAS called; she confirmed that their system was faulty. She had also got my wife tickets finalised. MAS’s computers were not talking to one another. Is that the staff’s fault? NO, many of them are actually very good. The problems lie with those ostriches at the top! These people up there never had to make a booking themselves.

I can write volumes on MAS's shortcomings.

My wife says I am always complaining. Why not, when I have hardly any choice besides MAS?

Monday, September 1, 2014

WHEN THE PARTY ENDS - China's leaps after the Beijing Olympics by Peh Shing Huei

When I first saw this book at Changi Airport, I did not even bother to cast a second look. I thought I had had enough of books on China already. After a round of the book shop and still finding myself empty-handed, I reluctantly picked it up - only to see later it is indeed one of the most objective books I have come across on modern Mainland China.

The author is The Straits Times of Singapore' journalist who got assigned to cover China for a couple of years. He has the benefit of both Western and Chinese perspectives of Chinese social psyche. On China's handling of Japan, Vietnam and the Philippines over some of the disputed islands in East and South China Seas, he presents facts as they are without the "baggage" of Chinese-ness. The leadership in China appears to practise 臥薪嘗膽 (loosely, to ensure hardship to fight another day) the detriment of its own good. And the recent leaders have apparently forgotten the teachings of Deng after the 2008 Olympics and Shanghai Expo. The air of arrogance and intolerance that is emerging is suffocating, even to a an ethnic Chinese like Peh.

The book reveals a great about pollution in China, the food safety issues there and the ethnic minorities in Xinjiang. As a "civilisation" with which many of us are proud to be identified, we certainly can learn a great deal from his exposé, especially on ethics, scruples and social conscience, or more correctly, the lack of them, by Chinese businesses.

However the book is not without conspiracy theories as it wants to be. The chapters on Bo Xilai are a case in point. Nonetheless, the insights are gripping, save the top level intrigue part.

I hope this book will get translated and gain widespread readership in Mainland China.