Lean, mean, hungry and foolish

By the Malketeer

Karma is a bitch that works in eccentric patterns.

Many profess that Karma can turn defiant misfortunes into an abundance of fortunes during  unexpected times.

In 1986, I was sacked from an advertising agency simply because I revolted against the favourite in-office girl friend of my scar-faced boss.

Little did I realise that her  “cruel” action was indeed,  a blessing in disguise, and would change the course of my life forever.

Initially, all hell broke loose in my simple life. Overnight I became a beggar.

My wife was  heavily-pregnant with our first child.  I would have to undergo a baptism of frugal hand-to-mouth  existence mired in long hours of work with pittance for salary.

BEGGARS CANNOT BE CHOOSY

My former Art Director, Izulddin Hani aka Towkay Halia, threw me a challenge to be a copywriter at his new start-up – Li Izuldin Associates (LIA) – with no guarantee of any fixed income. The only thing he could guarantee was an abundance of wild dreams and infinite manifestations. My encounter with syiok-sendiri started here.

Li Izulddin was doing Below-the-Line  (BTL) creatives for the pre-Hadi Kelantan State Government, State Economic Development Corporation of Kelantan and its motley of subsidiaries including Permodalan Kelantan Berhad (PKB), South Kelantan Development Authority (KESEDAR), Kelantan Tourism and others.

There were three of us – Izuldin, Ramli Yunus and myself – operating from a dingy first floor shop co-shared with an architect’s firm in the heart of Kuala Lumpur’s seedy Chow Kit area.

I was kept busy churning copy after copy for numerous corporate profiles, Annual Reports and flyers with Izuldin as Art Director, Studio Manager and FA artist. Ramli Yunus was our Client Service Director, Comedian and Entertainment Director.

Our take home salaries were very meagre after settling payments with the landlord and suppliers, the balance was cashed out and equally divided amongst the trio. It would barely come up to RM350 for each of us.

MY FIRST LESSON IN RE-BRANDING

Our tongue-twisting brand name – Li Izulddin & Associates  – was hampering our growth. More doors were being shut than opened. Client confidence was more towards having a Caucasian boss of an agency with  a western-sounding brand name.

Once again, Karma came to our aid in form of a new partner-colleague, Iskandar Abdullah aka Edmund Benang who had completed his Masters in Business Administration from the USA. He convinced us to adopt the name of an American luxury department store chain, Bloomingdale’s.

We amputated the apostrophe and alphabet “s” and branded  our company as Bloomingdale Advertising Sdn Bhd. It was pure magic, feng-shui wise.

That name – Bloomingdale – opened doors wide open for us.

Our maiden big break was when the Automotive Corporation of Malaysia (ACM), a subsidiary of the Master Carriage Malaysia (MCM) Group offered us to do advertising campaigns for the Isuzu Trooper 4×4 and Isuzu commercial vehicles conditional upon as accepting a credit period of more than 90 days.

WORKING WITH MALAYSIA’S AUTOMOTIVE CZAR

With no OD facilities and a slow paying new client, we persevered hard and took all the financial risks and survived.

MCM’s Managing Director, Yahaya Ahmad, a Marang-born entrepreneur studied  at the Malay College Kuala Kangsar (MCKK) and completed automotive engineering from the Loughborough University in the United Kingdom.

Yahaya, a brilliant marketer,  demanded  and extracted the best from his agency irrespective of  illogical timelines. He demanded that only myself and the Account Manager do our presentations directly to him devoid of his management teams. He was sharp, brutal , decisive and wasted no time in lengthy rationales.

I was very fortunate that he had absolute faith in me when it came to deliverables.

He was a rapidly rising entrepreneur and on becoming the Chairman of DRB-HICOM on January 1, 1994 became known as Malaysia’s automotive czar overseeing an array of brands from Proton, Isuzu, Mitsubishi and Citroen, besides operating an assembly plant in Pekan, Pahang and other businesses related to banking, insurance, hospitality, tourism, aviation, engineering, information technology, property, vehicle inspection services and more.

Some of the pivotal achievements I was personally involved in some ways with Tan Sri Yahaya Ahmad was the acquisition of Lotus UK in 1996, the take-over of HICOM and Proton, the launch of Proton Satria and other variants and the privatisation of government services, namely PUSPAKOM.

There was a heavy toll exacted upon me in servicing an extremely demanding client. I was virtually at his beck and call 24/7. The money was good. However, it was physically and mentally tiring running forth for presentations and multi-tasking at various government offices, plants, golf courses and ground-breaking venues

Bloomingdale Advertising was re-branded a second time and called Bloomingdale Worldwide Partners. At the peak of  our business we had over 150 staff with billings of more than RM120 million per annum.

TRAGEDY STRIKES

No force could stop our stellar journey except the crash of an Agusta A109E helicopter close to midnight at a remote village, some 40km from Kuala Lipis, Pahang on 2 March, 1997.

The untimely death of Tan Sri Yahaya Ahmad in a tragic helicopter crash which also claimed the life of his wife, Puan Sri Rohana Othman and pilot Major (Rtd) Azlizan Abdul Manas was a lethal blow .

We were devastated.

I had lost a priceless mentor who impressed upon me to keep walking through walls and hail storms.

He taught me to rephrase impossible to I’m possible. Never ever to utter the word impossible in his presence.

He constantly reminded me to be fearless, indomitable and seize opportunities even in the worst of circumstances.

He was so courageous and willing to take death-defying risks. Many a times, I flew with him in his helicopter across the length and breadth of the country and encountered near death experiences.

He made sure that I had no fear of flying in a helicopter. That was the same spirit, he planted in being an enduring and innovative entrepreneur.

POST TAN SRI YAHAYA AHMAD

We managed to wean off over dependence on anchor clients and successfully pitched to a mixed basket of  new clients and extended our services to PR, Branding and Event Management .

My fatal business miscalculation was in over-gearing and taking on additional OD facilities to cover increasing staff overheads and opening an office in Jakarta.

I started delegating key duties to staff and taking a back seat.

During the economic slow down, clients were heavily slashing budgets, and the over-gearing  was the final nail in the coffin.

It was time for liquidation and the end of an era of uncontrolled growth.

My simple lesson – Never let success de-sensitise one to unstinting principles.

Always stay Lean. Mean. Hungry. Foolish.


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