Sunday, 25 May 2008


The smell of fruits and freshly brewed Brazilian coffee awakes me each day. The sun would have risen but it won't bother me as I'd deliberately picked the master bedroom's windows to face in a northerly direction just so I won't be bothered by the low light of the rising or setting suns.

It's another sunny day, full of freshness and vitality. The headlines in the morning papers are so predictable these days: if not another rise in the price of crude oil, its a rise in the price of rice, or corn or some other commodity which the world is consuming more and more each day. I like that for consumption spurs growth, and with growth, my empire can expand as I'd wished. But when will the poor people of this planet start to run out of disposable income to afford the basic necessities to sustain life for them and their families?

I can see the chauffeur driving the newly washed car to the front porch as I stroll downstairs for breakfast. My wife has imported this special Norwegian salmon and served it with freshly scrambled "organic" eggs.

I don't mind spending on the finest foods, for I've toiled and worked much of my younger years just to be where I am today. Besides, how much longer will the One above let an old man like me savour such delights? I remember my childhood days when I had to share a single bowl of rice with my brothers and sisters as there just wasn't enough to go around. My parents must have saved that bowl of rice for us, for whenever we asked if they had eaten, the answer was the same. That was then, this is now.

In those days, I can see my dad struggling to make ends meet. My mom and dad can lose nights without sleep over a shortage of a few dollars. These days, my sleepless nights are spent juggling the millions of dollars, or sometimes hundreds of millions to resolve cash flow requirements of all my companies. There is no end to this is there? Rich and poor, the One up there always has a way of testing our resolves and our skills in handling life's problems.

By the time I reach my office, my secretary would have had the freshly brewed cup of Brazilian coffee on my desk, along with a pile of messages and appointments I have to go through in that day. I don't mind being busy, for I have worked hard all my life just to be where I am today. Whether it's a problem with one of the vendor or vendors, or some personnel problems within on of the companies in the group, I invariably have to get involved. This system of having ultimate control over crucial decisions was designed by choice, for I trust no one to that extent. Sure I do trust my subordinates, but only within what I felt they can be entrusted with. Maybe I'm paranoid about losing what I have. Or maybe I've been unduly influenced by those stories of fellow businessmen losing all they have built up over the last 30 or 40 years through one careless and seemingly trivial mistake.

By the time I've been through half of that pile of messages on my desk, plus whatever other new messages which have arrived in the morning, it's time for lunch again. I wished I never had to stop for lunch like my younger days when I would be able to go for 12 or more hours on just coffee and water. But age takes its toll on all of us alike. Besides, I've also learned that getting out of the office is a refreshing way to re-look at problems in the office. I always carry a note pad with me, so whenever I think of something over lunch, whether it's a business lunch meeting, or just lunch with one of my kids or my wife, I always jot them down.

Today is Chinese, for I'm having a lunch meeting with my bankers from Singapore. I've grown away from shark's fin soup, but ordered it for my bankers anyhow. But pictures of fin-less sharks being thrown back into the water cannot escape my mind through that lunch.

My bankers had plenty of stories to share about the general economic climate throughout the world. Every business will have their problems, they suggested which I thoroughly agree. If you're in Indonesia, it's the labour woes; in China, it's inconsistent quality coming from your factories, in Malaysia, it's the threat of new competing projects handed out to a close Malay friend of someone high up in power, In Singapore, you worry about the escalating office rentals and so on. But the most common worry is one of recession in the USA, which market is one where all businesses around the world seem to depend on one way or another. This is compounded by cost pressures caused by rising oil and commodity prices - the same daily topics carried in newspapers' headlines.

How will my businesses adapt to such threats on their survival? We have to forget growth, or at least the sizzling growth rates of the "high" years, and re-strategize to survive. Hopefully by adopting this conservative approach, we can enjoy a bit of growth; but whatever growth we're able to achieve must be looked upon as a bonus.

Nothing lasts forever. When the currents swell, we're taken to new heights but when the sea is calm, we have to steer carefully just in case the next swell catches us unprepared.

I took out my note pad and jotted down a list of things to look into on re-strategizing my companies, asked for the bill, and bade farewell.

On the way back to the office, a storm set in and pedestrians and motor cyclists were scrambling for cover. How sudden the weather can change, I thought. What if it rained down on my business the same way it did on those unprepared pedestrians? So I took out my note pad and jotted down some more notes.

Afternoons in the office are equally hectic. Calls will be coming through from around Asia and Europe. Satisfied customers and clients, along with the ones who are having problems paying their bills. They still find comfort in speaking directly to me rather than my vice presidents, perhaps because their businesses grew up together with mine. We're like old school mates who had to go through the same tests and examinations and who've passed through all of them. I also enjoy having the occasional heart to heart chats with my "ex-schoolmates".

I looked out my windows and could see the magic light of dusk. My wife called and asked if I've made dinner plans, and I told her I was eating with her and whomever of our kids who hasn't made plans. I took out a large Cuban cigar and started to chew on it while watching peak hour traffic go by far down below. My secretary peeped through the door and I knew she was giving me a sign that she wanted to leave. I gestured and she took the cue.

Why did everyone have to leave their offices at the same time, I wondered? Why did they have to contribute to the pollution and wastage of oil and other resources getting stuck in traffic jams? Imagine the amount of time, money and natural resources we would have saved if we didn't have to get stuck in jams.

With the internet and cell phones these days, a lot of business can be conducted electronically, yet companies are still stuck on convention in having staff work from 9 to 5. Why can't companies think out of the box and design "flexi" hours for their employees like a lot of companies in the USA and Europe have already done so?

I decided to take a first step toward doing my bit for this planet and started writing an email to my human resource department and COO.

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