Monday, June 29, 2009

Learning Experience 3 - 4

Day 4

Waiting at the airport for my flight back to Singapore. Our day tr

The lawyer is selected, the audit team selected and the due diligence is set in motion.

Success of a trip is when the client who is paying you is happy with your work.

Now the next thing to happen of the due diligence process are the queries that will be raised, the answer that is needed and finally the price or valuation. That is when the fun begins. For this project I am glad to say that we have an agreed price, now is whether it is justified in the eye of the buyer.

For every six or seven deals that I follow through, one will come to fruition. Hopefully this is the one…..

The End

PS Flight delayed because one passenger on incoming flight has high temperature and suspected of H1N1 flu…… how one flu can crippled the airline business worldwide.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Learning Experience China 3 - 3

Day 3

For a buyer acquiring a company in a foreign country, the two professional they need to contact is a good lawyer and a good accountant. These two professional plays a major part of the acquisition process.

A piece of advice, if you ever want to get a professional service provider on compliance work in China ALWAYS get a local professional. This is especially so in China.

I have come to the conclusion that many foreign companies acquiring a local company uses lawyers and accountant from their own country to provide the service.

In my personal view, is that these foreign professional will still go to the local to get help, so why are you paying twice.... might as well come direct. In China especially, in the early days all accountants and lawyers works for the State and there was not many in private practice.

As such most of these lawyers have very good contacts and network. China being such a big country and if the acquisition involves a small province, the small province lawyer is required.
They have the connections and the local knowledge to help you.

Now for consultancy work, not involving compliance regulatory requirements then it is different; you need someone you can trust to manage the local.

An example is to do with the Singapore authorized capital and paid up capital and China’s total investment and paid up capital. The difference is that in Singapore, the company can register a $2 paid up and $100,000 authorized where in China the rules are different. The total investment has to reflect the business transaction of the business and the working of the paid up based on 70% of the total investment. A careless mistake by a Singapore accountant causes his client’s application for conversion to be rejected.

Let’s talk about professional fee. Over the years I have come to gauge the different type of professional services and the charge out rate or fee. Interestingly the consultancy fee in China has escalated over the last twenty years since I started working in the China market. A legal fee for a local lawyer in the 80’s on a per hour basis was 200RMB and today the same lawyer friend is charging me 900RMB per hour, what a jump. A simple due diligence (let me qualified that it is a simple Due D), the fee including miscellaneous is budget about US$30 – 50K.

Back to the case. The client after meeting with several lawyers and accountants is deciding on the next steps. What criteria do the client need to observe?

To be continued….

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Learning Experience China 3 - 2

Day 2

A due diligence is an audit, verifying and checking what you want to buy versus what you have been told or shown. It is the investigation of information, a process of people management and the technique of observation.

In due diligence, you are always given a set of data either in the raw state or in a “decorated” state. What I term as “decorated’ state has to do with the presentation of the data. In some cases, the presentation is so good that the fact is hidden and investigation becomes tedious. Data can be manipulated.

People management is important to the success of a good diligence. Finding the right people to talk to and willing to provide you the necessary information is not so straight forward in many due diligences.

Technique of observations comes from experience. Over the years this part of the due diligence has help me in negotiating many deals and always in our favour. Like a project in China, where I was told that the company has US$X turnover, but when we look at the store room where the receipts are kept, we noticed that for a company with that kind of turnover and the volume of trade has issued very little receipt taking into account the nature of their business is low value products. In China receipt is an important aspect of doing business in China. There was another case of an Indian catering company who told me his business turnover is US$Y and wanting to sell the business for a very high value. I conclude that what he is asking for is realistic pricing as his account is below what is its true value. I went to his warehouse where he kept all his equipment for catering and it is impossible to do a low value business given the amount of catering equipment in the store. The lesson is to be observant.

This is email has to sent out from a different channel and a day late. This is because, China has block off the blog sites and also You Tube sites

To be continued….

Friday, June 26, 2009

Learning Experience China 3 - 1

Day 1
Sitting at Changi Airport again. Waiting to board the plane for Shanghai.

It has been a while since I last flew, the reason has to do with some alphanumeric character … H1N1, I am not so worried about catching it but having to stay in some country for seven days under quarantine Just doesn't sound like fun :-)

On learning experience for this trip, let’s start with the financial crisis and China.

In my earlier blog, I spoke about my visit to China in Nov 08 and witnessing the closure of several factories in the midst of the financial crisis. I wrote about the row of factories, several were locked and closed with statement stating that operation has seized and also the long queue of workers line up outside one factory with some of the workers carrying placards and shouting for their back wages. In another factory, I noticed another queue of workers going into a factory to collect some money given out by the local government agency.

The scene reminds me of the days in England and the Coal Miners strike in the early 1980s when I was working in Sheffield, England. Mass of people was out of job at that time. I never thought that I will see this situation in China.

This is an update of the earlier visit. The factory where the workers were collecting the money is next to my client’s factory and I got talking to the factory manager of the defunct factory. The money is from the local government about RMB 600 per workers. At that time, I got talking to some of the workers and jokingly, one suggests that combining their money they can start a small hawker stall. One laugh while the other companion thought it was a good idea.

Now I return to China and things are slightly better, The Chinese implementation of the stimulus package is swift. There is more confidence at the ground level. The queues are gone. Interestingly I was told that several MNC shut for their Chinese new year break…… one months early. Can you image that business is so bad that they can afford to shut down early and release the workers.

The general impression I got from this whole episode tells me that this crisis is really bad. I need no analyst to give me figures and statistics, nothing is better than seeing it at ground zero.

I am however confident that the Chinese economy will ride this “tsunami” very well. Remember the workers who wanted to start their hawker stall. Well I met one of them on this trip.

With the combine receipt of the three workers (1800 RMB) they started a small hawker stall (illegally) and very happy about it. They work the midnight to morning shift for their stall just to avoid being caught by the police. The Chinese are generally very resilient and entrepreneurial. I believe the impact will make them looks inward rather than outward for their growth.

Back to the purpose of my trip, I am going to Shanghai to carry out a due diligence project.

In my business there are two type of incoming work for acquisition. The first type is when somebody wants me to find another somebody to either buy or sell their business, while the second type is when the somebody who found the other somebody to buy and sell their business and I am just the facilitators J

I prefer the second type of business. Frankly 70% of my work is from the revenue in the second categories and also I get a retainer up front and not wait for success basis.

This is the acquisition of a local company by a foreign companies.

To be continued…

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Learning Experience India 2 - 5

Dear All

This is the final Learning Experience India 2...

First of all I want to thank you for your kind feedback and also your own personal learning in relation to mine. Learning is a dual expressway, it can never be a single lane single direction road. The wider the dual expressway, the greater and faster the learning process.

Some of you wants to forward this series of learning experiences to your friends and colleague, I have no objection after all learning is about sharing.

I started this trip with two possible prospects and reviving old relationship.

On the propects, I have make some headway but it is still some way to go before closure. After so many years of business dealing, I conclude that all deals can be closed it is to what extend of the closure. As a consultant it is the daunting question of "Is it worth it?" Some deals require a lot of effort and some deals require reasonable effort and there will never be one that do nothing and get paid :). The 90% of the issues faced in any deal involves people or more specifically expectation. Only 10 % is technical issues to resolve.

Irregardless of whatever business you are in, managing expectation is never easy. If the client expectation is high, you have to ask yourself whether you can deliver. If their expectation is low then your remuneration or return may not be forthcoming. In any business whether you are in consultancy or in trading of widget, you have to put the client's expectation in line with the delieverable.... then you get satisfaction, better off if you can deliver greater than his expectation.

Expectation has a correlation with respect for you. The person you are working with must have your respect and only with respect will he/she listens to you. With respect, the expectation can be better managed. I come to understand also that respect has to be earned.

This trip has been very successful in more ways than one. First I get a chance to meet some of you and update on the happenings in your life. Some are happy with your job and some not so happy. My view is that to bear with the job for some time so as to built up your portfolio of experience. Four or even six months experience is just too short to be accountable to any future prospectus. As for those who have tie the knots or going to tie the knots.... my congratulation.

Continuing from the two prospects, my query "Is it worth it?"..... I have to walk away from one and focused on the other. Walking away from a good prospect job is never easy but as a business you must always know where is your limitiation. Keep the relationship with the client and be honest that you will not be able to help them......there will be job from them some other days. There is an old song and the chorus go like this.....

"You must know when to fold them
You must know when to fool them
You must know when to walk away
You must know when to run

You never count your money when you are sitting at the table
You can only count them when the deal is done."

From the song "The Gambler" by Kenny Roger.

Before I close off this learning experience, one of you asked me since I know India and if I have all the money in the world to start a business in India today..... what would it be.....The answer (not in order of perference)

1. Banquet Hall / conference center
2. Schools and education
3. Budget hotel
4. Retail training & consultancy
5. Geomancy
6. Pan masala
7. School bus
8. High end furniture
9. Infrastructure construction
10. to be continued........

The next Learning Experince will be in .......

Regards and best wishes

Koh Seng Choon

Learning Experience India 2 - 4

Dear All

Leaving Mumbai going back to Delhi.... In Mumbai I met up with a new client, who was introduced to me for the first time. Coming to meet with client, one of the challenges faced by most people is starting a conversation, especially in business where a poor or wrong start off can mess up a meeting.

Let me share with you a little instance, it happens during the World Cup held in Germany a few years ago. A young Malaysian professional approaches an Indian business man. It is their first meeting. He started the conversation about the state of the World Cup - the game , the top scorer, the poor performers of the stars etc. The monologue went on for sometime and eventually annoyed the Indian. You see, to an Indian there is only one World Cup and that is the Cricket World Cup, the other World Cup which the rest of the world is watching is not so important :) The Indian is passionate about his cricket and when the conversation started he was trying to expressed that the Cricket World Cup is the more popular and exciting while to the young man Soccer is the main World Cup watched by more people than the Indian sub continent put together. It went into a bad argument.

The introduction did not go on very well.

I called this introduction, the art of small talk. It can be learn and I believe practice make perfect. It is an art as there are many ways to expressed this artistry.

In my approach, the art of small talk is "TAT / TAY / TAM" (sounds good not very sure what the meaning if it is expressed in Hindi or Urdu or Tamil ?)

1.TAT = Talk about them
The THEM in this instance is the place, the environment, the country, the current affair etc. General topics, non discretionary and non opinionated. In the case of India it would be Cricket, Bollywood and Cars.

2.Talk about you
The YOU is the client/customer and the topics can be family, education and health. The approach should be sharing. Never patronizing. The no-no topics are sex, politics and religion :)

3. Talk about me
The ME is about yourself. This will not be too difficult, however customization is needed. Have a full version of about yourself that can be played like a recorder in your mind and when it come to TAM, just customize it to the situation and the objects intended.

There is no sequence to TAT/TAY/TAM. It application depends the situation and event. But to do well you need to do your home work. Read, watch and analyze. Information is every where. From the airport newspaper counter to observing the traffic on your way to your visit. One little trick worth noting is the office and desk of your client / customer. People put this info about themselves all over their working habitat, you just need to see it and talk about it.... like the photo of the family, the souvenir from Thailand etc...... the conversation piece is endless .... even the clothing of the person is a conversation topic if you know how to do it. A desk or office without any souvenir is also a topic for small talk....Think about it :)

Tomorrow I return to Singapore and will conclude on the experience of this visit....


Seng Choon

Learning Experience India 2 - 3

Dear all

Touch down in Delhi and drove straight to Jaipur. They are renovating the airport.

I am so glad that NH8 is finally finishes and even have tolls along the way. These are good signs and bring me to the subject of oversea business development......

You may wonder when do people start investing oversea and where do they go. The when is not too difficult to answer, the difficulty is the the where. The world is a big place and for small business starting to built business oversea is not cheap. A scouting trip to India will cost at least USD 5000 per person for one week and this is even before you get any business just exploratory.

Now where do we start. I always feel that the stakeholder of the company should just take a holiday (have fun and also business). With the purpose to understand the market you want to enter into. You can read all you like about the country but the real understanding comes from observations and appreciating the environment. You may argue that going on holiday is very different from going on business trip. True but al least in the exploratory trip for the stakeholder there is some fun and pleasure which comes out of the trip. If he decide not to come to invest, at least he experience some pleasure out of it.

There are several tell tale signs in a the country you should look for in a country. Taking the example of India. For the businessperson, you must look beyond the child beggars tugging your sleeve on the street, the dirt and mud pile on the street, men pissing on the road side, the many bumps on the road and the shanty housing you see on the hillside.

For the intelligent investor they look at (this is my personal perspective)

1.Plane trains and people transport
The first impression of India is the airport. On this trip I have the good fortune of seeing three airports. The Delhi IGI Airport is a renovated version with new coat of paint and shining cladding on the facade. The Jaipur airport on a verge of a new building and Bangaluru airport, a brand new airport with its individual chute, sparking marble flooring and more important the impressive and extensive duty free shops (something that India Capital's airport is lacking).

Delhi is building its Metro, Bangalore is starting the process and Jaipur is starting to talk about it. There is a need for people's mobility to be address, meaning that there are enough economic activity and will to do something for the economy. Like Beijing, Shanghai and its second tier cities like Tianjin, Qingtao, Chengdu and even their third tier cities, which already have their mass rapid transportation. This is for within the city and not about the inter cities people transportation.

For the budding investor, these two signs tell you to enter that market - not before and maybe the after is a bit late.

2. The youth in a hangout
I believe the youth of the country is the country's future and as such look at the youth population and what they do. Go to the shopping centers, the clubs, the playing field and witness their activities. The youth of Singapore is no different from the youth of any other countries. They do hangout somewhere. Meet with them, talk to them and feel their enthusiasm or their frustration. This is the best form of market survey. Talking to businessman never always get a good impression :)

3. The magazine in the bookshop
A magazine stand in any country is a good sign of the information flow of the country. Many people feel that information are from the internet. First of all the people that wrote on the internet are a certain breed of people and secondly internet accessibility has not penetrated to the lower income and older generation. Magazine and newsstand on the other hand caters to the masses. Just try standing in front of the newsstand at CP in Delhi or the newsstand near Victoria station in Mumbai. Just the scope of topics is mind bogging. You do not see this in Vietnam or Myanmar. It is the wealth of information make available to the masses. Just the number of newspaper available in India is beyond comprehension.

4. The LV factor
LV stands for Louis Vitton and where LV goes, there must be people who can afford them. So is the Gucci, the Mont Blanc and the Ferragamo. These brand only enter the market legally in the last five years. I remember the first Mont Blanc shop opening in the Delhi Taj with full fanfare and now they are everywhere. The LV factor is the sign of wealth and the number of wealthy people who wants to buy them. The LV factor has three stages. Stage 1 is when they are only available in hotel, Stage 2 is when they are appearing in shopping centers and Stage 3 is when the fakes and imitation start appearing in the market. This tell you that even the lower and some middle income can afford it - the wanna-to-be market....... :-)

5. Preservation of its heritage
The Forbidden City started it renovation work about ten years ago. When a country starts to look after its heritage, this is a time to go in. To draw a parallel, its it like the family starting to renovate their house, the parents must have money to renovate, making their house looks better. Likewise the government of the country not only have the money but also the will to preserve their heritage, it can only be a good sign.There are many world heritage sites where the country where it is based are not and cannot do the preservation. That country is either not ready for investor or not willing (maybe too corrupted) to even preserve their heritage. Look at the country that are doing well like Japan, Paris et al. I am just waiting for the Red Fort to be brought to their excellence some day.

This is a long email....... we will talk about the art of conversation next ..... to be continued.


Seng Choon

Learning Experience India 2 - 2

Dear All

Continuing from the last email.....

The two projects has one thing in common - NRI.

There are two categories of NRI. The first group are those who have spent some time in India and then for various reasons gone aboard to live and work. Some could be following their family oversea and some who went aboard to study and then stay on to work in the foreign land. The second group are those who have never stayed in India or left when they were just babies.They have no idea of India other then what they have read or saw on television. Both are very different in their perspective of India. For one thing they are not well liked by the native Indians.

This dislike is not unique. The equivalent in China is Hwa Cheow or Oversea Chinese. These Oversea Chinese faces the same problem when China opens up in the early 1970's and 1980's. The native Chinese have certain "misconceptions" of these Oversea Chinese and initially they were perceived to be wealthy and can bring experience to jump start the Chinese economy in the early days. In a way this is true, at least to the extend that the Oversea Chinese is the impetus to the change in China today. I should know, I was treated as an Oversea Chinese when I went to China in the early 80's. Over the years I have seen the line between the native Chinese and Oversea Chinese become less and less apparent. The native Chinese too starts going oversea for holiday and work etc hence the distinction become less obvious.

The NRI brings with them the experience and idea to rejuvenate the economy. In these two projects, one was a nephew returning to the Uncle's business (the Uncle do not have a son just daughters) and come up with the idea to turn a plot of their family land to a golf resort rather then another shopping center. The other was a bank where the younger brother who left India for the last twenty years, worked with some international bank, return to the family business and felt the need to have strategic alliance with a foreign bank in order for their family bank to grow. He brought the idea of securitisation to the family board of directors..... very similar to the current sub prime issues in India :)

There are two personal characteristics that I found in these NRI. One is impatience and the second is arrogance. Impatience in wanting to change and arrogance in their attitude towards the native Indian who has not been "exposed" to the "outside world". These two characteristics caused friction even within the family business.

Some of you are the NRI.

Lessons learnt is that change takes time and patience is a virtue. As for arrogance.........

Tonight I fly to Delhi and then tomorrow drove down to Jaipur. I have never been to Jaipur and I heard from you lot that it is a beautiful place. I will be back to Delhi on Sunday for a few meetings and then fly off to Bangalore on Monday.

My adventure begins tonight. To be continued........

Learning Experience India 2 - 1

Dear All

Business is about relationship. Over the years I have come to understand that I get consultancy work through recommendation. Words of mouth recommendation is a very powerful tools. In order to get recommendations two things must happen. The first one is doing a good job and the second is keeping your good work in the mind of your customers. To do this you need to keep in touch with them at all time. This even apply to customers who were not happy with your work, you will be surprised that over time these customers can even be won over. For one customer who did not appreciate my work as I recommended that he step down from his GM position to give way to his younger brother who is more capable for the position, over time he appreciate me for my follow-up with him. I tried to make sure that if I "push" you off the cliff, I have a airbag at the bottom of the cliff to cushion your fall :)

To keep the fire burning, I have two methods. One is remembering people's birthday and sent them sms to congratulate them and the other is to meet with them occasionally. You will be surprise as one grow older the little greeting from someone on his/her birthday can go a long way.

This is the introduction to the Learning Experience India 2.

Yes I am going back to India from the 25th July to 2nd August. Like the previous Learning Experience, I do have several leads to work on in this trip. (My trip has to pay for itself, at least cover the cost) but the main purpose is to renew some relationship that I have forsaken for some time.

Relationship is a function of TIME and EVENT. With time one can built and strengthen a relationship, in business there is seldom "love at first sight". While happenings or events in the course of a relationship can strengthen or weaken a relationship. Let me give an example, the recent tsunami brought four working colleague to help out at the disaster. There was limited water and facilities and the four acquaintance through volunteering at the disaster site, strengthen their relationship in the course of the two months. Upon their return the four person decided to resign from their company and start up a child care center....... It is just like company organizing team building event at resort to strengthen a relationship...... In your case to strengthen your relationship with your customer, create events like in a restaurant give out some sample food for food tasting or inviting your customers for a golf game :)

This trip covers two key projects- a golf course and a be continued

Learning Experience India 1 - 4

Dear All

This is the last and final learning for this Indian experience and I hope you have enjoyed the sharing.

On project 1, I am very pleased that I have manage to fixed up three potential candidates for acquisition. It is actually five. Two in Delhi and three in Mumbai. There are several others that I rule out. Those are generally the ones that are just "testing market" - wanting to know what's the potential of their business. Some of them I felt are rather too small with no good management and there are those wanting unrealistic valuation of their business. I want to share with you about valuation. In all the years I have been in this profession. Valuation of a business is always the most challenging. There is no right or wrong method and what you learn from your MBA classes is just the foundation for you to be creative/flexible in negotiation on the valuation. Methods like DCF or PE approach personally is just to support your proposed pricing. For the sector that I work in (the small and medium enterprises) NTA + goodwill is the best approach. Personally I conclude that a lot has to do with your negotiation skill. I have seen negotiation where the NTA is only 40 million ringgitt and the eventually sale is slightly over 92 million ringgitt and it all down to a old but shrew lady's approach in negotiation. Only advise that I can share with you in negotiation is that do your homework and take note of all the little details. Need not remember them by hard but know where to them them. Also always take note. On this project I will be beck on the follow-up in January. This is where the interested buyer meet the interested seller. First impression is very important. As I am working for the buyer in this instance, I must project the buyer in a very professional & sometime benevolent if it in about a family business.

On project 2, I was a bit disappointed. Having spoken to several contractors and developers, India's tier 1 cities is still not ready for prefab in a big way. Firstly cost of labor is cheap here, road system is not good enough to transport large slab and finally the general public still have poor perception of prefab buildings. In this instance, I must be ready to drop this assignment even though I can carry forward and charge the customer for feasibility report. As a consultant, people pay you for your knowledge and if you feel that at this stage the market is too early for your product, it is better to be honest with the clients. You win some and you lose some. Being a consultant does not mean that you have to take on all the work. Leave some for a later date :)

On project 3 however, I was lucky. I have an accountant friend who brought to me a very established book distributor. I thought I was going to give up on this assignment. The lesson I want to share about this project is the mindset of the company owners. This business turnover US$20m and its profit after tax is only US$200K. There is under declaration over the years. I cannot tell you more. The lesson you have to take away from this business is that under declaration has its pro and con. When it come to selling or raising money for the business, you really have no ground for argument as it is all book value that valuation is created. I have met them and discuss their financial. The owner was disappointed with the value of the business.

I guess this is the end of the learning experience

I am now sitting in Mumbai airport typing this email. I slept over in the lounge for five hours because Air India flight back to Singapore was cancelled :)


Seng Choon

Learning Experience India 1 - 3

17 August 2008


On project one, after a series of telephone conversation, I have come to one positive lead. A chain of restaurant chain that has a small catering business and a good branding in Delhi. Personally I always look for business with good branding, it is easier to develop the business further on acquisition. I am still lacking a good lead in Mumbai. I always thought that Mumbai will be easier to find restaurant chain interested in expansion and also there will be more family run business looking to corporatise their business. So if you have any lead of F & B business in Mumbai , do let me know.

On project 2, the prefab industry I will be visiting one infrastructure contractor in Delhi and a developer in Mumbai. Reason is for me to understand construction market in India. I normally do this ground research on top of my other desktop research prior to my visit. It helps when you are selling this project to my Japanese client. As a consultant you are dealing with information and hence you have to be well brief at all time. the question is what info are you fishing for. This varies with different clients. Generally all info are valuable is a matter of when you use them. There will be a follow-up to this project as I will need to bring the Japanese to visit these people later.

On Project 3, bookstore distributors are hard to find, as this is not my strength. This is a big market and yet it is also a close market. There are few major players in the market, generally they are small family run business. Even for book distributors there are many small business who tie up with printers and publisher. For your info, there are about 3000 printers or publishers just in Mumbai alone. The major players are doing so well that they are not keen to talk to foreigners. There are also finanancially able to modernize their setup and some of them are doing very nicely like those you see in Delhi CP and Mumbai Narimun Point. I will maybe have to focus on those business who want to move into the book business but does not have the expertise, maybe Pantaloon etc.

The schedule is by now 70% confirmed.

On 3rd meeting with a hotel group
On 4th morning meeting with client who wants to develop business in China, I need to know how their product will fit into the China market.
On 4th afternoon meeting with infrastructure contractor on the prefab
On 5th afternoon meeting with restaurant chain
On 5th night leave for Goa
On 6th morning visit to a hotel project to discuss on funding requirements
On 6th evening leave for Mumbai
On 7th afternoon meeting with developer
On 8th morning visit to cafe business
On 9th return to Singapore

To be continued....


Seng Choon

Learning Experience India 1 - 2

August 16 2008

Dear All

Finalising the date of travel, I will now have to fixed the appointments and meeting. Given the time constraint, meeting to me in very important. I have to be clear of my objectives which is to find the business to work with in the five projects.

In my business model I come to realise I need local resources. Hence in various countries I will have people who can help me to do the necessary research, networking and set up the various meetings. Finding these people takes time. After eight years of working in running around India, I have set up a base in Delhi, Jammu Kashmir, Mumbai, Pune, Kolkatta and Cheenai.

The resources in this areas are of two categories. One are very distinguish members of society (with the network) and the other are young people who help me with the research and logistics. These young people are not just any body, they themselves are GM and CEO who I have trained and coach for the pass years. Whenever I got a project I will liaise with these young people and they will take time out from their work to work with me. To them it is a valuable learning opportunities. For example, in my the last trip I have to bring a group of educationists to Chennai. The person (CEO of a drug company) who work with me in Chennai, took time out and provide the consultancy input. He got to learn about the education opportunities in China. There is a selection criteria for me to find the local resources, most of these are graduate from US and UK and they are all in their family business. There is a financial incentives for them as well (not that it matters), we share on the consultancy fee.

For the five projects, I will sent out the feeder to these people in Delhi and Mumbai, to get them to give me contacts which I will then followup with email or phone call to fixed appointment. I will also need to make cold call (remember the Who's Who game we play in class). Fixing Indian appointment for me can be very difficult at time. One is the language issue and another is that Indian boss does not like cold caller. Hence having someone to help "open the door" is very important. By the way speaking in a foreign accent and being a foreigner helps.

One week before my departure, my secretary will have finalise on at least 50% of the appointments

Learning Experience India 1 - 1

Dear all

Some of you wanted to know how I carried out my M & A work and business development in India.

So I thought in the course of next two months, I will conduct a virtual platform for you to follow me on my next projects in India

M & A is a specialise work, basically looking for businesses who want to sell and businesses who want to buy. For this experiment we will focus on India.

Planning Stage

Prior to going to any country, I will do the groundwork and check out businesses who are interested in India. This business can be from any countries outside India.

In this exercise for India, I have started with four potential projects and one in closing stage of negotiation (this will be the one that will pay for the expenses of this trip).

Project 1 is a food catering company based in Singapore with operation in China, Thailand and Dubai. Their customers are corporate function, contract catering (for school and business offices) and food court. They also own a restaurant chain. They are interested in finding a caterer / restaurant chain (listed in stock exchange or otherwise) who are keen to find oversea partners to help them to grow their business.

Project 2 is a Japanese company who supply connector parts for pre fabrication construction. I will be looking for precaster and distributors who are currently supplying to the prefabrication construction industry. Contractor and developer who are looking to diversify into supply will also be considered

Project 3 is a listed Singapore printer and publisher who owns a chain of bookstores in this region. They are looking to set up business in India through acquisition. My task is to find them the possible candidates.

Project 4 is an Indian company who wants to set up business in China and my task is to finalise on the mandate for this project. I need to know the scope and can they afford to pay my fees.

Project 5 is an engineering hardware company supplying bolts, nuts and bearings. This project is in the final stage of company formation and setting up the sales team to market the company's product. This is to prepare the business plan for the new startup.

My next task is to plan out the itinerary. I normally try to cover as many cities as possible in the shortest time. (Unfortunately I don't always get to do much sightseeing)

For this trip I plan to be in
- Delhi from 3rd to 6th Dec
- Goa from 6th to 7th Dec (to see a hotel chain)
- Mumbai from 7th to 9th.

On all my trips I will also try to meet potential client and also my reqular clientele, so that they know that you are still in business. Very important.


I always look at M & A as like going shopping. You must first of all know what you want to buy and how much is your budget. The starting to look for project is always the hardest and when I first started I get a lot of enquiries and not all can turn out successful. The success rate was for 15 - 20 enquiries maybe one will be successful enough to cover your cost. Nowaday my success rate is better. With six enquiries I will get the commission from one of them. What I do differently is that I am more selective in attending to enquiries. By the way the six enquiries or projects that I follow up can be over two to three years. In some of the project, I get to do the business development work that follows the acquisition. This help with the expenses.


In this learning experiment, I will allow you to ask questions so as you understand the technicality of M & A and business development work; and I will try to answer them as frankly as possible. To me this is real time learning and I hope you will benefit from this experiment.

I have set a time frame for this learning from now to end December as I progress to India and back.

I will update you on the various happening in the build up to the trip and also the follow up on my retrun.

Some of you may find this learning quite unique...... is it not what entrepreneurship is all about :)


Seng Choon

Friday, January 23, 2009

Learning Experience Malaysia 1 - 2

12 September 2008

The working culture in Malaysia is actually quite pleasant... It is like having Indian, Chinese and Western working together with good infrastructure. It is like Singapore but at a slower pace and about five years behind.

Currently there is a lot of political turmoil in this country.... the main political party the Barisan National has just lost its two third majority after 50 years of politics on their March 8 General Election. Business and economy are affected, Several majority projects were put on hold or cancelled. The economy is slowing down. I felt however the country is very resilient - remember the 1997 financial crisis and how Malaysia did not swallow the IMF medicine unlike Indonesia. The country is strong in agriculture, it is one of the main producer of palm oil in the world.

Depending on which part of Malaysia you are working. In KL you will find that English is the language of business even though the official language is Bahasa Malaysia. Most of the official document is in Malay but there is always an English translation. As a predominately a Muslim country, Islam over here is not so imposing like some other Islamic countries. If you happen to be on a business trip to Kuala Lumpur, you will noticed that they are more Chinese in their business district than Malays. Generally the business district is dominated by Chinese, some Malaysian may not agree.

What are opportunities open to you people, one is the agriculture related industry, education and call center. Until today, I still feel that this is the few places in the world where you can find people who can speak English and Chinese fluently, ideal to tap both China and the western market. For those who are into Islamic financial services, Malaysia has the pre requisite due to their Islamic culture.

The lesson you want to take away from my learning experience in Malaysia, is that "in Rome do what the Roman does". You may not agree with a country with protectionism so prevalent, you have to work and adapt to this culture. In this trip I visited a old client who have transferred his production in to KL. many years ago. Just two months ago, a government official came and ask him to give up 30% shareholding to him. If not he will withheld the work permit renewal for his staff, he also demanded a monthly payment of S$500 retainer........

I will be back to Singapore tonight.

I do hope you enjoy the little write up and I will be off in Indonesia next week.... will talk about succession and family business.

Learning Experience Malaysia 1 - 1

11 September 2008

I just arrived in Kuala Lumpur this afternoon. Firstly to sort out some issues regarding my next book and also to update on the recent unsuccessful acquisition I carried out in KL. For this learning experience in Malaysia,the topic I choose to share with you is Protectionism and Business..... and a term called Bumiputra.

The term Bumiputra has its origin from some Sanskrit term meaning "Son of the Earth". In Malaysia this term has become a LOVE and HATE affair for many Malaysian. It is LOVE if you are the beneficiary and HATE if you have been disadvantaged due to being a non- Bumi. It is a case of mixing political issues with business.

Some of the examples taht I know of are
1. In some government tenders, it is open only to Bumi companies. Non Bumis are not allowed to tender, hence for these non Bumi businessman, they have to pay someone to front their tender bid.
2. Listed compnaies in KL stock exchange must have 30% Bumis as part of the listing requirements and in some selected industries there must be also at least 30% Bumis ownership, hence you can work all your life to built your business till it qualified for IPO and then you have have to give away at least 30% of that business to some one just because he is a Bumi.
3. In some construction project that I have been involved with, some of the properties must be earmarked for Bumis only. If this is not done, the contractors will not get their final approval from the authority.
4. I remember recently there is a key issues on car import into Malaysia and the import permit is only issued to Bumi. By the way each car import permit can be pass on for a small profit in order for the person to bring in the car into Malaysia.

Protectionism exists in many business economies not just in Malaysia, it is just in different definition. The Middle Eastern countries have also similar rules as well and in some of the states can be even more extreme than Malaysia

How does this affect you?

For you in the future to decide to come to invest or expand your business in Malaysia.... be prepare for this Bumiputra requirement. Having a Bumi in your board of directors can cost you between RM 1000 per month to several thousands for multi national corporation. I have also heard of companies that eventually fall into the hands of the Bumi because he does have shareholding of the business, shares that was given to him in the initial formation of the business :) To find a good Bumi Director is not easy and most will start with their accountants, lawyers and notary public etc.

we will take about doing business in malaysia next.....

to be continued......

Learning Experience Macau 1 - 3

23 December 2008

Money laundry in whatever names it is called is illegal. I know in Singapore and Hong Kong, the punishment is fine and jail term of up to 15 years. So do not do it .

I am leaving for Hong Kong now. In the last two days I have come to understand another way in which funds are transferred. There are people who does this transfer of fund and very professional. They go by very different name card and they make their money from commission earned as a percentage of the amount transferred.

Forming an offshore company, there are a few queries that you need to understand
1. Choosing a name for the company, most people will take one off the shelf
2. Place of incorporation, most of the time it is stated for BVI as there are certain tax implication
3. The three key position - Shareholders / Directors / Secretaries, find the company secretary and they can help with making the appointment.You just have to pay. The important thing to note is the beneficiary of the company.
4. The authorized and pay up is standard in most countries.
5. Source of Fund is the most critical question of the setting up and the secretary will need to clarify. Most of the time they will require a reference letter from you.
6. Finally you just have to sign it.

The next task is the bank formation. This is like going to form any corporate bank account. I will not go into the details. The major issue for bank formation is that the bank will need the applicant to be carried out in person........ and knowing the source of fund.

I did not talk much about Macau. I was here in 1998 and in the last ten years the place has changed tremendously. In my first trip, I still remember staying in the Hotel Lisbon which was facing the sea, now there is several huge hotels in front of the Hotel Lisbon called Wynn Hotel and Star World Hotel. Back then there is only one casino now there are thirty major casinos and they are huge setup. It is just like Las Vegas. Macau has a small population of half million people and I believe about the size of one third Singapore, but 20 million goes through the island every year mainly by ferry from Hong Kong and China. It is actually very close to China. It is at the mouth of the Yellow River in China with Hong Kong on one side and Macau on the other side of the river mouth. If you visit the place you will find that has a lot of Portuguese influence, after all it was under the Portuguese for hundreds of yeas before it hand over to China on 20 December 1999. So much about Macau. visit it and enjoy ;-)

Anyway have to go and catch my ferry for Hong Kong. Hope you have enjoyed the little write up about Macau, money laundering and offshore bank formation. This little details will come in useful to you someday.

Learning Experience Macau 1 - 2

22 December 2008

Sitting in Macau Holiday Inn lobby, it just cross my mind to share with you about ...... What has Macau, Dubai and Singapore has in common..... foreign workers.

Yes for those of you who are thinking of working oversea or are currently working oversea ... it is about you.

I look at the scene of a hotel reception area and the receptionist is from Philippines, the housekeepers/cleaners are from China and the Hotel Manager is from UK. This reception scenario is similar in Dubai, in Singapore and also in Macau, where I am. These countries has a shortage of skilled labour and hence resort to use of these foreign workforce.

To me there are three kinds of foreign workforce. On one end is the Foreign Talent and the other end is the foreign labourer. The foreign talents are those in the high end of the hierachy, where their skills and knowledge are in demand. These are the better paid and better recognised foreign workforce. The other end of the hierachy is the lower skill level and the type of work is where not many of the local workforce are keen or available, like cleaners etc. Can you imagine a Dubai citizen doing a cleaning job :-)

In between these two ends is a middle ground where I believe most of you comes in. Better skill and better knowledge and in jobs where there are local interest.Because you in the middle ground, there will be local competition and also prejudice... you may be preceived to be taking their jobs away. Unlike in the lower end, the local are not interested, in the upper end, the local may not be able to do it.... but in the middle ground this is the "battle ground" of the local labour force. Be prepared and be tolerance ;-) Some of you will feel it and some of you will not...... It is all to do with how you see your position and also your plan for your career.

Back to the money laundering learning tomorrow...

Learning Experience Macau 1 - 1

21 Dec 2008

Most people comes to Macau for one thing and that is GAMBLING. Over the years Macau has "branded" itself as the Las Vegas of the East. Every days thousand and thousands of people fly, ferry and drive to Macau to pursue this passion. I however is here for a different purpose. I am accompanying a client who is showing how money is laundered. Yes this is how I learn.

Let's talk about a different form of learning - learning by observation. I do not attend many seminars or go for talks or short course. The way I learn is actually through observations. Rather than paying thousands of dollars and listen to a person sharing his experience in a classroom, I will take the money, spent a few days and actually visit another country or follow a professional to show me a certain interesting process. For example many years ago I met a businessman whose business model is jewelry. He does not have an office and he has only one full time staff, but his turnover is tens of million. You see his business model is selling jewelry at exhibition. He travel from one country to another with his jewelry and buy/sell at exhibition. His money is then channel to an offshore company and an offshore bank account. He pays part time staff at the exhibition - cash and at time even bonus. He has been doing it for years. Following him I learned that there are many people using this business model for many other products. I follow him to learn.

This bring me to the topic for the trip --- Money laundering. This is a subject matters that is part of business and a need-to-know subject for any entrepreneur. Not that you will need it but it is good to know.

Why money laundering. The first premises for money laundering is that you must have the money, mainly excess "unaccountable" money. Money that you have problem explaining when the tax man come knocking at the door. Some are from illicit earning like drugs, gun trafficking etc while others can be through business transaction like commission earned or undeclared sales items. One is service and the other is product based. Revenue and profit has to be recognised somewhere either through individual or throught a business entity.

One of the most common form of laundering is through Gambling or winning from gambling.
Man with money.
Man enters the casinos.
Man change money for chips.
Man go to blackjack or roulette table in casino.
Man put bet on table and
Man "wins" lots of money.
Man change chips to cash.
Man walk out of casino with multiple of initial money that he declares that he won in a casino.
By the way I have simplified the whole process. It is actually more complicated than this.........

After the kind of money you "won"..... where do you put it????

Most common form is a business entitiy in the form of an offshore company or some people called it BVI company. Most countries do not tax earnings from offshore activities and activities in these companies are under a different jurisdiction and rules.

Forming the company is only part of the setup, the other is forming the banking account to put your "winning". There are many banks who have offshore banking. The key issue to note and very critical to the bank is the term "source of fund" --- where did the money come from......

Hope you get a rough idea on how the money is laundered :-)

To be continued.....

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Learning Experience Indonesia 2 - 3

19 September 2008

Finally it is time to go home and so must finished the soap opera....

The Indonesian First Born has come to accept the following assumptions

Assumption No. 1.
Your Boss will never change, meaning the father/uncle will always be his Boss, even if someone is put in between the two of them. The First Born will always be accountable to them.

Assumption No.2.
Their advice and counsel given by the Boss is well intended, they do not have bad intention or harm to you. They DO know what is happening and always concern about your progress and welfare.

Assumption No.3.
Respect has to be earned from the people on top of you as well as the people below. Your position as the First Born does not carry much weight. You are there because of who you are and not what you are able to contribute.

Assumption No 4.
Learn to listen to the Boss, they sometime do know what they are talking about after all they have the comfort of years of experience to learn from their own mistakes.

Assumption 5.
The First Born will never succeed as long as the Boss is in existence.

By the teenage years, the First Born will face the issue of succession. There is no rule on when and how succession will take place.

In my experience, the First Born will never succeed as long as the Boss is always there. (I know some of you may not agree. It is purely my opinion)...... The First Born can be working in the business for years and yet in the eyes of the Boss is never ready and even if they are better than their Boss in delivering higher profit, better turnover and greater expansion of the business - these First Born is still not good enough......... :)

In closing this experience I like to share with those First Born out there, the "B" law of the First Born. (Will detail the B's law at another time)

Be true to yourself
Be humble
Be willing to learn
Be patient
Be happy :)

Will this circle end, YES and NO. YES - It ends theoretical when the ownership of their business ends and NO when the First Born replaces the Boss and take on the role of the Boss .....

Hope you have enjoyed the learning experience

We have a long chat between the Indonesian First Born and the Boss....... It was a painful experience for both parties. The continuous fighting and shouting hurts their relationship. There was a compromise at the end....

Time to catch the flight...........

PS with every point I made above, there is a short story attached to the comment.
- Like the Indian transport company First Born, who decided that the only way to stop the Father from always complaining about his work attitude; he decided to have a desk next to his Father and so that his Father can see how hard he worked to please him.
- Like the Singapore spice company First Born who on his first day at work, the Father passed him the bank account and the entire company and went on holiday for one month. Purpose of the action is to make the son understand the nature of the business from day one. By the way daily trading of the spice can be in US$ millions per transaction. The son from that day onward learn to appreciate the Father better.
- Like the Malaysian hardware company First Born who can never benefited from the family business because she is a girl. Her younger brother will be the beneficiary. She felt disadvantaged even though she is the main driving force of the family business
and many more.......

Learning Experience Indonesia 2 - 2

17 September 2008

Had a long chat with my Indonesian First Born today.......

From a young age these First Born are expected to succeed their family business. The expectation will depend the nature of the business like a product based business vs. a service oriented business. The state of the business whether it is in a growing or declining industry, whether the business is making money or losing money. Finally the people that currently manage the business, did they do the startup or they inherited the business and succeed the business in due course.

As the baby goes through the childhood stage, the entire life revolves around the business. The business will creep into the childhood lifestyle like during mealtime the topic is about the business, going away on family holiday sometimes centers around a business trips. During school vacation, some First Born has to help out in the factory or the office. It's about the business, business and business.

About these First Born, some lived a privileged lifestyle. Some of them have handphones, driving around in a nice car, oversea education etc as they grow up. Yes. before you start replying to this email... :) Not all are that privileged. Some have to help out in the family business in between all the school homework and housework. A girl First born and a boy First Born also have different connotation and implication. In some more traditionally minded business ...... the business is better left to a boy First Born then a girl First Born.... afterall the girl is going to be married out and do not hold on to the family surname :(

Coming back to our Indonesian First Born... He cannot resign. The question is when do he succeed the family business.......or when does a First Born succeed the family business

For those who are reading this learning experience.... and consider yourself a First Born..... this is a critical questions. When do they succeed the business and call the shot.... make the decision.... manage or spent the the BOSS.

To be continued....

Learning Experience Indonesia 2 - 1

16 September 2008

I want to share with you a special group of babies. I called them the FIRST BORN. The babies can be boys or girls. From the day they were born there is already certain expectations. Specific expectation. Not family expectation but business expectation, you see these children are born to a business. Whether they like it or not, it is a birth right and they do not have a choice.

I just arrived in Jakarta again and will be here for a few days.

I am here to meet with a young man who is an Indonesian First Born which I befriend and also a client for many years. The First Born can be Indian, Chinese , Singaporean First Born for that matter. I have come to understand that for what the First Born faces in their growing up, are the same and are regardless of race, sex and nationality. The Indian First Born will faces the same Issues as the Indonesian First Born - only the context and environment is different.

He has a problem - a problem of confidence.

Some background on this First Born. He came into the business after graduating from aboard. His Dad felt that he needs to get a few years of hands on experience outside before joining the firm. The company went through a crisis during financial crisis in the late 1990's and he was asked (sorry not asked but told) to come into the family business. He is a first boy child of the family and he was expected to take over the business. After ten years of working in the family business. He has done a lot for the company - sorting out incompetent "family bums" in the family business, convincing the Dad the need for proper accounting to improving the general welfare of his low level staff.

With all that he is always told that "he has no experience". After hearing this remark for the passed ten years, he had enough and tendered his resignation. "When will I be experienced?" He said.

Unfortunately resignation is not an option for the First Born.......

Hence I am in Jakarta on request of the Dad.

to be continued........

Learning Exp[erience Indonesia 1 - 3

15 August 2008

Indonesia has a population of 230m people, It is rich in resources and large pool of young people to help the country to grow. There are many plus points for you to develop business in this country..

For you to go there you will have to appreciate some of the issues

1. Issue of Corruption
I have explain this to you earlier. This is a common practice and you have to play the game.

2. Issue of language
Majority of the business people speaks English but if you were to go down to operation level, you will find that Bahasa Indonesia is the norm. You will have to overcome this. Learning Bahasa is not difficult and I have several Indian bankers who have pick up the language fairly quickly.

3. Issue of work environment
In Indonesia, you feel a sense of insecurity. There are many riots over the years and some of them are racially motivated. Though Indonesian of Chinese descent is a small portion of the population, these Chinese entrepreneurs dominates a substanial portion of the GDP of Indonesia. Many a time these Chinese are the target of the riot. For Indian this is not an issue :)

I hope the brief overview of Indonesia will interest you to find out more about Indonesia.

Learning Experience Indonesia 1 - 2

13 August 2008

Had my first meeting with an old friend, someone I knew from way back. We talk about the changes and the no-changes in Indonesia. Then our discussion went on to the key business issues facing Indonesia ....... CORRUPTION.

Personally I felt this is one of the no-changes in Indonesia. there are still corruption in many sector of the society.

I guess for learning experience for you, I will need to share this subject matter... it will be incomplete for you to understand entrepreneurship if we do not talk about corruption.

Corruption exists everywhere and I mean everywhere..... you talk about India and you are not alone, for many first world countries do faces this issue. You have to define what is corruption in your context, only then will you said if corruption exists I am not talking about your traffic offence in Mumbai but when there is business dealings.

Corruption = an abuse of power ?

Sometime in your career you will be doing some business development and there may come a situation where in order to get the job or the successful tender you need to add the extra incentives...... The "extra" can be cash or can be even favors ( in kind ). Then there will be three questions you have to ask yourself.

How much to pay?
Who to pay?
How to pay?

There is no rule on this, for every situation is different. You also must remember .... YOU also have a price to pay as well? Legally !

There is also a moral issue, if you were to play the "game"....are you encouraging Corruption?

Personally if all the people stop "paying" and if strong implementation of the legislature is in place to discourage corruption, then I believe Corruption will be reduced. Corruption cannot be eradicated entirely. Corruption will never be good for the society as a whole. My friend had to pay US$10,000 just so that his son can get into a good primary school. This is a sad situation.... but it exist.

My solution for you is to ask yourself... "Will you sleep well at night?" :)

to be continued....

Learning Experience Indonesia 1 - 1

12 August 2008

I am at the airport again. This time to Jakarta, Indonesia....... hence the Learning Experience Indonesia :)

For those who are not familiar with Jakarta, it is the capital of Indonesia with a population of about 9 -10 million. For Jakarta - imagine New Delhi with more high rise buildings, cleaner and more traffic jam (like Mumbai) this is Jakarta. Instead of Indian you will find Indonesian, instead of Hindu religion you will find Islam and mosques everywhere. Generally the country is very religious and majority of Indonesian are muslims. There is a disparity between the rich and the poor, which you will find slum (slightly better than Dharavi) around the capital of Jakarta. Indonesia comprises of a series of islands.... not hundreds, not thousands but over 17000 islands so you can image the diversity of the country in terms of people, culture and business....

In general business is not much different from the Indians... very relationship based and corruption do exist........ Your may recollect in my class where I was explaining bad business practice well .... according to the Transparency International, Indonesia is in the top ten ranking :)

Generally the country has been through a lot since the financial crisis in 1997, they have been through four Presidents in the last ten over years (Harbibi, Wahid, Megawati and now Yudoyodhno) but it is a country which is very resilient in term of their people and they are also resource rich. I read somewhere that the number of children completing 12 years of education is about 90% compare to India about 70%. So they too have a strong pool of young people. Personally this is one country that is over look because tof their Islamic fundamentalism.

In this short trip, I have an assignment to do strategic planning workshop for two days at a tomato ketchup......

Have to board the plane now.... to be continued.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Learning Experience Dubai 1 - 3

This is the third and final installment of the learning experience in Dubai. The focus is on making money in Dubai and UAE.

There is one word to making money in the middle east and that is Relationship. It is not how much you know but in many instances it is who you know. In the many years I have running around in the middle east, I have met with people who would come and propose project to either raise fund or find the know how and every time they will highlight that this project is linked to this princes and that princes. There must be a lot of princes in middle east and it is true there are many princes in Middle East :)
Question is which is the right prince to network with?

I have a mathematical correlation for relationship. Relationship is a function of time and event.

Relationship = fn {event, time}

What it means is that for you to succeed in this market, you need to invest time in building your connection and also create events like calling them or visiting them etc to improve on the relationship. In this market you will eventually see the results

Making money is one thing but the more important thing is the repatriation of money home. This is common sense and yet over the years of traveling, I realized that even big companies have not consider this aspect. For Dubai and Abu Dhabi this is not an issue but countries like China and India, it can be a very painful experience. There are many ways in repatriation of funds, unfortunately it cannot be shared in this learning experience. It is not illegal, it is just ........

Think about how you want to take your money out of the market before developing the market.

I hope you have enjoyed the sharing experience.

Learning Experience Dubai 1 - 2

In Learning Experience Dubai 1 - 1, I wrote about getting into Dubai and UAE. In Learning Experience Dubai 1 - 2, I will share with you about staying in business in Dubai and UAE.

2. Working with expatriates
I realise that if you take out all the expatriate in Dubai, the whole economy will collapse literally overnight :)

From the top management in PWC, Oracle, Microsoft, Nakeel, Dubai Holding etc. are supported by expatriates. I believe Dubai 20 % are local and 80% are foreigners, hence working with these expatriate is necessity. It is something that every foreigner coming to do business in Dubai have to learn to accept. Sound very ironical - foreign working and expatriate :)

I realized that if you are a sales person coming to sell something and want to see the company Big Boss who is a local, there are several "gantries" to overcome. Telephone appointment seldom work unless you have something that he really need. The other alternative is come direct to the company and wait. The first gantry is in most cases the Filipino reception, who is very non committal. Even if you convinced her (yes it is always a her) that you need to see the Big Boss, she will put you through a manager and in most instance it is an Indian and in most instance comes from Kerala and speaks Malayanan. If you convince the manager from Kerala that you need to see the big Boss, you get to see the general manager who is either from Europe (I have met Finnish, Swedish, Irish and even a Cornish from Cornwall in UK) or US of A. Many a time he is not the Big Boss....... If eventually you meet the Big Boss, he will do business if you speak Arabic.So my conclusion is that to be very successful in sales in Dubai, you need to find a Indian salesman from Kerala who speaks Tagalog, English and fluent Arabic :)

Joke aside, I just describe to you the business structure of a typical multi national corporation in Dubai ......

3. Business cost in Dubai
The cost of doing business in Dubai has escalated in the last few years. Rental has gone up tremendously and so have wages of employee. I remember once upon a time where you can get a good manager for US$700 per month now it is over US$3000 pm. Just yesterday, the lease cost of a plot of land in a free trade zone shot up from 6 Dir to 7 Dir in over one month and it was only asking 4 Dir about a year ago. Is it speculative ?????

Taking about free trade zone. It is a very common feature of the middle east country. Whether to base in a FTZ when you first start up a business will depend on where your customers are. I know of an engineering company that is based in Jabel Ali FTZ for the last 20 years and doing very well as all its customers are within the FTZ area. Know your customers. I also know of a furniture company who started up business outside the FTZ for the last eight years. The only issue this company faced and I have spoken to the owner many time is the 51% local ownership. He pays the local owner US$X every year, for doing nothing and for the last eight years this amount has been increasing exponentially irregardless of the profit growth. The owner wanted to change the local sponsor unfortunately the asking price is set by the benchmark set by the previous local sponsor. This is one issue that you must be careful. In the enthusiasm to start up a business, you have to take into consideration this cost and also you are not even the owner of your own business........

To be continued......

Learning Experience Dubai 1 - 1

As promised I will share the experience of Dubai with you.

The Dubai assignment was started 6 months ago. I have a very good client who is always talking about the Middle East market and how his product can penetrate the market. They manufacture carton boxes packaging. At the same time, SPJ was looking for IIP project for their students. I spoke to Prof Dalvi to have the student to do a market study.

I just arrived in Dubai this morning and in the course of the next 4 days (I leave on Thursday), I will share the various meetings and understanding I had with you on Dubai.

The learning experience will be focused on the cultural aspect of entering the Middle east market, I will not talk about the project specific as it is an IIP project which the students are still working on, you lot will understand.

1.Hard market to penetrate
Entering the middle east market is very difficult meaning making money in this environment is not easy. It is true Dubai and the rest of the UAE is booming with double digit growth in the last few years and there are many projects up for grab. As a foreign company coming into this market, you need to be very patient.

My first consultancy assignment here was with a Malaysian electrical installation contractor, who have heard of the many construction projects in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. I have been to the Middle East since the 1980's but this is the first assignment to set up a business in Dubai. Our first visit was tough. You need to understand the concept of Arabian time. You can come for a pre agreed 1 pm appointment and end up waiting for 2-3 hours and when you finally meet with the person, he does not feel bad about keeping your guest waiting :) In Singapore, the person would have walk out. Even during the meeting, the pace of conversation is very slow, there will be silence in a conversation....... You come to appreciate that you have to give allowance for your meeting and appointment :)

It was after six trips to Dubai to have finally landed with a project and after that things are alot easier. You need that first project to get you started. The total cost before we got our first project was about S$50,000 or 100,000 Dir. Imagine a small company wanting to start up oversea business and the kind of investment you have to put in. This exclude the manhour cost and cost of lost opportunity if we did not secure a project after six visits. Thankfully we did. Have we got our returns, the answer was Yes. The company is still operating in Dubai and have expanded to Doha as well. Expansion has its problem. That will be something we talk about next time.

There are several things I learn negotiating in middle east.
1. Never confrontation, reduce the eye to eye contact as much as possible. Arab client do not like to be cornered.
2. Have contingency option A,B, C.... even if you like option A and it give you the best return, give the Arab client what they want and eventually the follow-up work will come back to option A....
3. Never Hard Sell, I come to realize it never work. At the meeting we were proposing and hard selling a cheaper material and yet the client wants the most expensive. It is waste of money and we conceded.
4. Build relationship. Do not try selling all the time, get to know the client and more important the family..

To be continued.....

Learning Experience China 2 - 3

6th November 2008

End of my Shenzhen trip and waiting to board my plane for Singapore from HK international airport.

I guess most of you wants to know what was my client's decision.... to lock up the factory and run or stay and fight :-) I will give you the answer later..... but first I must share with you some of the more fascinating experience of China

I have brought many Indians to China and two of the best experience and one of the best impression are....

The best impression of every Indian who comes to China for the first time is the infrastructure. Many people not just the Indian are impressed with the road, the toll, the flyover of this country. Indian will wonder why and some even wished that the Indian can do the same in the years to come.....

The two best experience are

1. The massage and the spa.... Yes, even the most conservative Indian that I have brought to China enjoyed the experience... The Chinese has perfected the art of massage treatment through providing a wide range of professional service for young and old but also at a very afforable price.....Massage that is mixed with traditional chinese medical knowhow..... having your hair washed can be 100 minutes at only S$7 and the head massage is very refreshing. This is one thing you should have in your itnerary when you visit China.

2. The bargaining experience at shopping centre. Chinese loves to hagger over price and the Indian likewise love a good bargaining. If you are in Beijing there is the Silk Market and there is also in Shanghai and even in Shenzhen Luo Hu Shopping Center. Rows and rows of shops. It is a game and there is never any ill feeling even if you don't buy at the end. To top the experience the product can be your "Montblanc" pen, "Cartier" bags, "Gucci" wallet, "Rolex" watches etc.... Yes the imitation stuff :-) It is an experience you will enjoy.

Now back to the decision. We talk into the early morning.

As a consultant I cannot make the decision for him. It was his trust that brought me to meet with him and to share/consult something that is so critical in his business life. If he just run away, then he will not have to face the creditors - banks, suppliers and even government official. He is a foreigner who set business in China and closing the company, he just need to pack and not come back to China like what so many people have done before him. If he stay ........ he kept stressing on the employee who have benn with him from day 1 when he started the business........

This afternoon we went to see the banker and he has told us that there will be some government assistance to help small business tide over this financial crisis.... This is good news. With bank I like to believe that they do not want to see business go down as they will loss an account. So for your experience if you ever come to this position, talk to the bank on the length, the breadth and the depth of your obligation - meaning extent of the duration for payment (the terms), the payment amount (the quantum) and the interest payables. There is a fourth dimension.... what they can receive in lieu.

Finally the question is will he run..... I don't really know ?????

Learning Experience China 2 - 2

5th November 2008

There is a queue outside a factory in Fuyong near Shenzhen. This is not a queue for workers getting their lunch or waiting for a transport to take them to their hostel but a queue for compensation. Every worker will have about RMB 600 from the state government. In the queue I saw not workers but families. The factory manufactures small capacity transformers for toys and talking to people in the queue, I guess must be closed due to the falling demand for toys which I was quite surprise, afterall X'mas is coming....

There is a Chinese saying that for every factory that closed down, the stalls will be affected. In this instance when the factory that manufacture toys get wind down, their suppliers will be affected and even the small stalls outside the factory will lost their business as the workers who patronize the stall will not visit them. There is a lesson to learn from this story. If you ever go into business, never be the sub contractor to sub contractor to sub contractor. Always try to move up the value chain to be main contractor. For one thing the sub contractor to sub contractor gets to be paid last in the chain. Another lesson is that have a wide customer base and not dominated by one main customer as this case of the transformer company. They have only one customer on their book and also they subcontract the work to build the transformer that goes into a power pack that goes into one part of a toy that goes into the complete assembly of the toy........

By the way the owner of this transformer factory disappear, according to the workers I spoke to. He or she just lock up the factory door a fortnight ago and disappear, no where to be found and no one know where they are. Workers came to work one day and realize that they are out of job...... and for the past one week they have been "rioting" outside their factory....... Closing the factory gate and disappearing is one way of winding down a factory....

I spent the whole of yesterday talking to my client. Sorry cannot tell you who they are.... :-( .... He is facing mounting debt, first from the falling demand in the engineering sector and heavy bank loan which he took to invest to upgrade his machinery. He has three options

1. To close it himself - Voluntarily
2. To have someone to wind him down..... Most likely to be the bank
3. To bear this out, re-structure their liability and not give up

This is a tough decision.

Then there is the question of need to closed down and want to close down.

A business to the entrepreneur is a life - like a baby that they conceive and grow. There is emotion involves with this "baby". There is certain possessiveness. Sometime this "Baby" is more important than their spouse or even children. So when you talk to someone whose "baby" is either very sick or dying, it is a very difficult discussion. The lesson is to be learn from here, is that as an entrepreneur you must be very objective and able to look at a situation from an overview. If the "Baby" is dying and also is going to drag you down (remember the liability of a Private limited company) the entrepreneur must learn to chop and kill it. May sound very blunt but in business and living..... life do go on..... for business may close and start another in another day..... life and family goes on. Coming back to the need and want..... when you need to close it down because the business is going to bankrupt and your wife is going to leave you.... then objective close it .... but if the business has a chance of survival and that 600 families depend on this livelihood then don't give up. Many business that have survived through tough time will come out stronger from the experience.... believe me I have been through it many times :-)

What is my client decision...... to be continued....

Learning Experience China 2 - 1

3rd November 2008

I am now sitting at Hong Kong International Airport, waiting for the ferry to take me to Shenzhen and I thought it is good time to share some learning..... Learning Experience China 4 ... about the financial crisis and its effect on China

Sitting at the airport, I realize the volume of people that goes through this airport.... It is mind bogging. Just looking at the chairs and the queue.

I am on his trip as a result of an acquisition in south china.... the factory to the world. I have a client in China wanting to sell his business and raise some fund for his other business. Anyone interested in buying a fastener business:-)

In the last few months, I have several calls from some of my clients to look for investors for their business. To come and see them and see how I can help them. These are the people that employed ten of thousands of people, manufacturing from electronic, to household goods and garment for the export market. I am talking about the small business but the medium size business. Some of them have been around for over ten years. In the last one years, bankruptcy are in their thousand and retrenchment are in tens of thousand. It is bad.

There is three reasons why this is happening

1. The rising cost of business
In the last three years of traveling to South China (my specialize area of consultancy), the cost of labor has been increasing and also government enforcement of health insurance and other taxes have make the "cheap" place for production extremely expensive.Labor cost up by 30% to 50% in the last years. I remember Guangzhou has the highest GDP in the whole of China a few years ago and now......

2. The falling demand for goods
There is a steady drop in global consumer demand. This was evidence from the recent exhibition and expo which I attended, there is less European (the main market for China) attending these exhibitions. Surprising more Indian and African...More enquiries than orders. I notice the changing attitude of the exhibitors as well, there are more keen to talk to any one who come to their store, at one time I remember they were very selective.

3. The current financial crisis
This crisis affected many factory owners who have started their business with bank loans and financing for their supplies etc. The crunch has affected borrowing facilities and hence cash flow is an issue for these owners. It is very bad at the moment

We will talk about winding down a business.....

to be continued......

Learning Experience China 1 - 3

April 12

For this learning experiences, I cannot go into details as it is an on-going project and confidentiality is very important. Hence this will be the last experience sharing for China. Maybe when everything is finalized I will share the further details with you. I will however give you the feedback, my Indian client learnt from the whole experience in China.

1. China infrastructure
My Indian client was very impressed with the infrastructure. This is the key difference in the economic progress between India and China. True there are still traffic jam in Beijing and Shanghai which is no different from Mumbai and Delhi. But looking at the infrastructure surrounding the two Chinese cities, it is the organization of the road and the speed in which is constructed. I remember when I was last in Beijing in mid 80's, there is only one ring road surrounding the capital. In year 2008, there are six ring roads and two more coming up. Even in Shanghai, they are building four underground tunnels across the Huangpu River to ease the traffic, all in next two years.

It is not that the India are not good contractors, the key difference is the government. China Politburo is focused and succession smooth for the last 30 years, while the Indian government changes every four to five years and so does its policies.......

There is another logic to why the infrastructure is so well established and this is my deduction. You see every provincial government gets their funding from the central government and with the funding comes the KPI. Construction and infrastructure are the best illustration of the province or cities deliverables. How this logic can be applied to India ?????

2. Attitude
My client felt that the attitude of the Chinese are arrogant. We went shopping, site seeing and experience service at a top hotel, the general feeling of my client is that the Chinese is rather arrogant. I personally think the word is not arrogant but the lack of understanding and cultural difference on the Indian.

Take for example service staff, I rate service staff in India very highly - one of the best in the world. I believe this has to do with India culture and also caste perspectives. In China serving others is not a norm and this is magnified by the one child policy. Let me explain. Since 1979 when the China government in order to control birth rate implemented the One-Child policy across China and by now many of these one child are in the working age. Can you imagine a child who is brought up by six parents (two parents and four grand parents), he or she must be served mouth to foot and now these young people are coming into the service line...... what do you think will be their attitude towards service.

The Indian in China must also manage their expectation. There are many good things in China that they have to appreciate and must not compare with India.

3. Market Forces & Pricing
Cheap goods and imitation are readily available in China. Some are so cheap that you wonder that they are sold below cost. True. Some are sold below cost. Let me explain. While in Shanghai we came across an imitation branded watch. A very good imitation - mechanical, convex glass, serial number, screwed casing and lock mechanism. Perfect in every way. They were asking for RMB 400 per piece and eventually sold for RMB 100. If I break down the cost of the watch, (I know the price well as I have know of a watch factory in Guangzhou.)

For a selling price of RMB100, the cost
Leather belt = RMB 15
Convex glass = RMB 10 (if flat glass for watch is RMB 6)
Watch mechanical mechanism = RMB 50 (for quartz is cheaper)
Allow RMB15 for logistics, middle man profit etc.
The total cost is about RMB 90, he makes RMB 10 per watch.

This is a volume business and when the peddler approaches you, he is happy with a small margin as he is going for volume trade. At time they may go below cost like selling for maybe RMB50 if you buy two or more. They will make the money from someone else.

BTW this is never found in any of your MBA text :)

4. Language
After the China trip, the conclusion was LANGUAGE. For Chinese to explore India as a market, language is an issue. The Indian cannot speak Chinese and Chinese cannot Hindu/Urdu/Tamil et al. I believe this is the short term problem and in another 5 - 10 years, there will be many Chinese in India. Chinese do recognize the size of the India market and the potential of the market in terms of construction, retails, electronics sector will be very attractive.

I cannot disclosed what was the final outcome.......

Learning Experience China 1 - 2

Date 24th March

My biggest problem of going to China with my Indian client is FOOD :) Hence in the many trips that I brought Indian to China, I always comes one day earlier to check out the eateries. In the first trip many years ago for an Indian client looking to startup the import of electronic medical goods to India, on the first day we stop at a Chinese vegetarian restaurant. It was a bad experience as all the food were cooked with garlic and also ginger and as you know some Indian vegetarian do not take these product. Big mistake on my part. Since then I always look for Pizza Hut or western restaurant that serve pizza. In KFC and Macdonald, safest food is French fries. For your info, there 300 over Indian restaurant in Shanghai and about 40 Indian restaurants in Beijing, this will there you where all the Indian companies are in China.

In any collaboration, it is 90% emotional and 10% technical. When you are looking for partners in M & A work, focused on the emotional. Focused on building relationship. Focused on building the bridges first. I went one day early to meet with the various parties who my Indian client is keen to meet. Meet with them, introduce yourself, make them comfortable with you.... even giving them a copy of my book. So when you meet up with them the next time with your client they are more comfortable to chat with your client. Indian and Chinese are the same. "Guan Xi" or relationship is very important.

The next day when my Indian client arrived, it was a packed program. On landing in Beijing, I take them to meet a contractor in the hotel, then a short break to check in and then a very famous Chinese architect for dinner. The next two days is visit after visit, including visits to hotel development and shopping mall. Why the packed program?........

It is not all work, in between we visited the Silk Market, Great Wall, Forbidden City etc. Reason is to understand where China is in their economy. I learn long time ago is that when a country starts focusing on their heritage, that country has reach a high status in their economic development..... someday the India government will do to the Red Fort in Delhi what the Chinese is doing to restore their Forbidden City......

We then proceed to Shanghai and we did the same thing with a packed program of visits and meetings. Beijing is to Delhi what Shanghai is to Mumbai. Shanghai is the commercial center of China. Surprising on this trip to Shanghai I noticed a lot more Indian tourist as well as professional working in Shanghai. A very good sign.

There are many lessons my Indian clients learned from this trip and it is typical of the lessons learn for an Indian coming to China......

To be continued.

Learning Experience China 1 - 1

20th March 2008

Dear All

This is the China version of the Learning experience. This is the bringing of Indian company to China. The learning experience was written on the 20th March but today I was able to sent it out to all of you. You are all keen to know what I do for a living hence the learning experience write-up. This is different from the previous as it is to do with China.

Indian company is a hotelier planning to built 8 hotels across India. One is already build in Bangalore and another is in progress in Calcutta. My client have heard a lot about China and about Chinese speed and quality of building and hence keen to find a partner in China to work with for their hotel project.

My scope of work is to find the partner who is keen to look for project in India. Easier said than done.

The reputable architects and designers are found in the major cities. Through personal contact, internet etc, I managed to fixed a few major players in the industry, criteria must be able to do the complete turn key from design conception to building to interior and finally assist with the hotel management. The problem I faced here was these companies want to know about the Indian company and you will be surprised that some of the big developers in India do not even have a website or even brochures. The Chinese is better in this area of promoting themselves. You have to understand that most of the developer currently in India started with some other business and only come into the property development market in recent years following the property boom in India. It is not right or wrong..... look at it as opportunities :)

Trying also to tell my Indian client about the architects and designers we are meeting in China was also a problem. Most of them have very short history also due to the boom in their economy, hence their track record is mostly in China. The bigger ones have tie up with International firm but still for projects in their own motherland. You have to appreciated that the size of China will have enough work to keep them busy for a long time, need not look oversea. Likewise for India.

Eventually the itinerary is finalized and the dates are fixed. Appointments are fixed.

24/25/26 - Beijing & 27/28/29 - Shanghai

An Indian in China has a big problem

to be continued......