Friday, March 30, 2007

Don't feel good about the "feel good" thing

I FIND it difficult to trust the "feel good" thing these days. I encountered two situations in the past couple of weeks which made me doubt whether the "feel good" element is real.

I had accompanied a close friend of mine, my namesake actually, shopping for a new car. Ahmad visited several outlets in and around the Klang Valley, trying out various models before narrowing his choice to two German marques.

At the first outlet, Ahmad and his business partner were treated very well by the staff, especially the sales executives. One salesman in particular never failed to offer them brewed coffee each time the two men dropped in. Ahmad test drove several cars and the salesman made sure that he was properly handled.

In the end, Ahmad didn't buy any of the cars he tested; but his partner did! The buyer was happy, the salesman was happy, the wives were happy! And of course I was happy too.

But this was shortlived! Ahmad's partner had problems with the new car two days after the purchase. He had to take it to the workshop several times. And each time he went there, he was met with more problems. The salesman was not around; the workshop people were rude; the mechanics brash and patronising.

As for Ahmad, he continued his search for a new car. He finally settled for the other German model at a different outlet. Everyone in the showroom, from the CEO down to the guard, had shown him the utmost courtesy and respect.

Here too, Ahmad was given mugs of brewed coffee, magazines and all his questions about the car were answered. Promptly and accurately. Until last weekend, that is.

As it turned out, the polite and friendly salesman had been found to be dishonest! He had shown disrespect to a prominent and important customer. The customer had complained to the senior management, and the salesman was shown the exit!

The same salesman was handling my namesake's purchase. As it turned out, the purchase has been delayed and the situation has become rather problematic. Ahmad also feared that the cheques he made out in the name of the salesman had probably been cashed and duly spent.

Such was the level of trust between Ahmad and the pleasant salesman that even the cheques were made out in the salesman's name.

My namesake and his friend were lulled into believing that the good manners, the courtesies, the brewed coffee, the magazines, the prompt attention and the smiles were all real.

Genuine stuff, they said. This is what first class service is all about, they had thought. They had really felt good! The facade shown by the salesmen made the two customers "feel good." They had no reason to doubt the salesmen. Until they were taken for a ride, that is.

On the national front, so many of our leaders talk about the "feel good" factor these days. There may be some basis of that in certain sectors. These two car buyers aside, I've met individuals who feel no good at all about their businesses.

If you tell the Proton car dealers that things are looking up; that the RM9 will propel the nation to bigger growth and prosperity, chances are they'll chase you and label you as a sadist.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Karim returns to HKL; Siti Aisyah needs help

WHILE Karim Sulaiman enters Hospital Kuala Lumpur for the third cycle of his treatment for scleroderma, an extremely rare skin disease, infant Siti Aisya Syahreen Shahidan is pleading for whatever help we can give.

Karim, one time journalist with Harian Metro and who had also served Berita Harian in London, returned to HKL today to continue his treatment aimed at helping him return to normal life and claim his job as a serious journalist.

I spoke to his wife Hawa on the phone this afternoon. She sounded upbeat and reported that Karim's doctors are very encouraged by Karim's improvement. Scleroderma causes the patient's skin to tighten, making it difficult for the person to swallow, move and speak. Medical science is still trying to find a cure for the ailment.

Karim has been suffering for many years but his plight caught the attention of Deputy Health Minister Datuk Dr Latif Ahmad. HKL's skin specialist Puan Sri Soraya Tun Hussein has been helping Karim since he was referred to the HKL late last year.

He will be in HKL for about 5 days to finish the third cycle of medication. He was last admitted on Feb 26, but he developed some rashes and had fever, which forced the doctors to halt the treatment for a while. We know Karim is in good hands and continue to pray for his well-being.

Siti Aisya, meanwhile, is an infant suffering from Fraser Syndrome, a situation where her eyelids are fused together, fingers webbed, larynx partially shut and hearing impaired.

She needs about RM400 and RM500 a month for upkeep and her father is a self-employed. Blogger Jeff Ooi highlighted her case in his latest posting. He was earlier alerted to the ailment by two other junior bloggers.

If you can help, please contact Jeff Ooi at his website. If we chip in bit by bit, I'm sure we can help make a difference to her life!

Friday, March 23, 2007

The charm and curse of being small

I WAS doing a spot of fishing a couple of weeks ago. Nothing great, just some river prawns, a few gelama and still fewer bebolos. The weather was kind and the boat ride was smooth. Nothing like a spot of fishing to calm the nerves...

The experience more than compensated the poor catch, though there were enough prawns for a black pepper dish at dinner with fellow anglers. Later, on the way back to Kuala Lumpur, we stopped for "soup gear box" just outside Kota Tinggi. It was simply divine!

"Soup gear box" is mutton soup, with plenty of bone marrow in the bones. You need a straw to suck the marrow. The trick in enjoying "soup gear box" is simple and effective - forget everything your good doctor tells you!

But that's the charm and curse of a small food operator. And there are quite a number of them all over the place. While they serve good food, their charm is in the smallness of their operations, where the proprieter personally welcomes his customers, engage in small talk and thank them with a smile and wave them goodbye when they leave.

It's the same with THE nasi minang shop in Tg Malim. Andrie opens his shop at 1pm sharp, come rain or shine; the customers may be waiting outside but he just won't open the doors till it's 1pm on the dot. The food? Simply out of this world!

The Tanglin nasi lemak just behind the National Mosque is another all-time favourite. In the mornings, expect a long queue before you get to the food counter. And when you do, pray that the sambal sotong and ikan bilis have not finished.

The owners of these outlets have no plans for expansion. They seem quite happy to operate like this for ages. The Tanglin chap (Zainal) did try to open an outlet in Bangsar but this failed. It lasted for a couple of months only.

Nevertheless, a few did manage to transform themselves from a small, popular operators in their small town to become upmarket operators in posh outlets in the federal capital.

Surprise, surprise! Yik Mun pau of Tg Malim is now available in cafe style shoplot in the shopping complex of Plaza Damas; Kluang Station (where the roti kaya and kopi O is to die for) have outlets in Tesco (along the MRR2), Ikano in Damansara and in Ipoh; the Kemaman kopitiam is also popular in Kuantan; and Johor Baru's mee rebus is keeping operator and customers burping (also in Plaza Damas).

The curse for the small operators is simple and clear - their business is likely to remain small unless they think big and move to bigger markets. Yes, they may be charming outlets in their own way. But no, they won't enjoy bigger turnover and their popularity is quite localised.

Why can't these small one-shop operators like the "soup gear box" in Kota Tinggi; Andrie's nasi minang; and Zainal's Tanglin nasi lemak go a notch higher and expand to other towns? And after that, when will they venture abroad to Tokyo, London, Paris...?

Shouldn't the people responsible for franchising be on the lookout for good outlets and maybe guide them to expand their business? Some of these small operators may not be aware of such possibilities. If they do, they would still need much guidance, encouragement and help. Maybe their resources are limited; maybe they had tried and found the going tough and rough.

And maybe nobody bothers. Since everyone seems to be speaking about and championing big businesses, RM9 and FTAs, the smalltime operator is left behind to continue being "happy" with their lot.

If we are looking at promoting the Malaysian brand abroad, some serious efforts must be made. The Pelita Nasi Kandar guys are already in Chennai, while another Malaysian nasi kandar outlet recently opened in Perth. They have proven that it can be done!

After years of shouting himself hoarse when speaking out for the Third World, the Mahathir brand is so well-known. For many years Malaysia was Mahathir, and Mahathir was Malaysia. This is both good and bad. So much so, people overseas still keep asking about the Old Man, often followed by names such as Anwar Ibrahim, Proton, the Twin Towers and F1 Sepang.

Is it still Malaysia Boleh? I wonder...

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Number One must take responsibility!

AT the end of the day, it's the Number One who's responsible. As is often seen, the head honcho is the guy who'll take the rap or enjoy the acclaim and kudos. When you are the Numero Uno, you have to be accountable for all the actions, or lack of them, of your subordinates and associates.

That's life's karma. That's the way things are, or should be. But quite often, we encounter occassions when the Number One knows little or nothing of the goings-on under his jurisdiction or within his area of operation. Sometimes, the Number One only came to know after the damage is done.

Let me relate an incident where a senior company executive bought a brand new car recently. For a few days, he was happily driving his family for lunch and dinner. Suddenly. the car had a malfunction. A fault after only a week on the road? Alarmed, the owner got in touch with the salesman who took it to the workshop for inspection.

A few days later, the car was released. The owner was happy, the salesman was relieved, the mechanic triumphant. But a trace of arrogance and a patronising attitude accompanied the workshop bosses when attempts were made to find out what was wrong with the car. It was also apparent that customer relations is not a strong point with this company.

As chance would have it, the same malfunction occurred hardly a week after this! Which means a repeat display of arrogance is about to unfold.

Somehow, the buyer managed to register his grievance with the Number One of the car company. Number One wasted no time and woke every one up from their slumber and demanded some quick, honest action. This time, every one took notice - the salesman, the mechanic, the engineer, the supervisors, the managers!

In this instance, the buyer is fortunate that he has some access to the Number One. And this Number One wasted no time in demanding remedial actions be taken. He just can't tolerate sloppy work, much less subordinates or associates who sleep on the job!

I also know several Number Ones who suppressed their junior colleagues; who have very little engagement with team members; who lead their staff up the garden path only to be dumped at the end; who have no qualms about piling up debts and then abandoned company and staff.

Against this perspective, I caught the movie '300' and saw the potrayal of a Number One who leads by example, who gave his life for his country and people, who commands loyalty of his warriors to their last breadth. This Number One took 300 of the country's elite fighters to defend the country's honour, the life of his people and the nation's heritage.

That's Number One for you! It makes good storylines for movies. But in real life, we all know of Number Ones who terrorise the world, lead their countries to annihilation, lead with ears that refuse to hear and eyes to see, and feed their hearts with greed and make-belief!

Thursday, March 15, 2007

I'm back from AWOL!

IT'S been a revealing month in many ways. I stayed away from my blog and visited others. I read most of the pieces offered and found affinity in many of the postings and comments. The blogs offer a variety and diversity of views, and one need not agree with all of them.

I echoed some of the postings in a few blogs at teh tarik stalls when meeting friends and new acquaintances. Nothing like going down to the ground to assess actual feelings and opinions.

Somehow, I wasn't surprised that a fair number of individuals agreed with most of the postings. There were individuals whose comments were outright rude about the establishment, and didn't mince their words when speaking out.

In the one month of blog-silence, I gathered evidence of betrayal among friends; I learned of cheats who use connections to win recognition and cut deals; I met desperados who survive on glib tongues and other people's money; alas, I also met people in high places who claim that they have the divine right to determine the destiny of other mortals.

Friends betraying friends aren't new really. As do friends shunning friends. Today, certain bloggers have gained a reputation for speaking out, making them shunned by friends and buddies. On the flip side, some of these bloggers have endeared themselves to certain sections of the people, turning them into spokesmen for the small men seeking redress.

My last posting was on feb 13. Between then and now, the blogs gained a lot more recognition, enough to attract general statements from those who potrays that they come from the highest of moral grounds. One, it seemed, has labelled bloggers as liars, forgetting that the likes of him would never ascend to high office if they had stayed the path of truth, and only the truth.

A friend kept reminding me that money, and only money, talks. No money, no talk - we all realise that. Sometimes, rather painfully. Another friend realised that to win Government contracts, one has to pay just to be considered. Imagine the price one has to pay to win one!

One reseacher for the establishment pronounced, sounding quite disillusioned: "The system have no room for small players. The system has been monopolised by the powerful, simple as that.."

Which is why small-time individuals like Zakaria groaned when it takes five months to get paid for a RM70,000 Government job; which also explained why some good businessmen are thinking of packing up and going abroad for good.

Today, being politically-correct is the single most important criteria for survival among many individuals regardless whether they are businessmen or civil servants. It has always been like this, a friend argued. But the degree today is far more comprehensive and pervasive.

Nevertheless, I must thank some commentators for their postings and apologise for not including them this time. I've been away for far too long and am glad to be back. I don't think I'll be AWOL from now onwards...Hehehe.