Friday, April 20, 2007

Boao - a lesson in world networking

SEVEN years ago, China organised the Boao Forum for Asia. It was yet another attempt by the Chinese Government in its open-door policy to attract investments from all over the world. This week, Boao, in China's Hainan Province, is hosting the seventh conference, attracting some of the world's biggest movers and shakers.

Bill Gates is here and Microsoft is one of two top sponsors for the confernce. For someone whose business revenue totalled US$44.28 billion for the fiscal year ended June 2006, and employing 71,000 people in 103 countries, Bill Gates certainly has a lot of faith in the conference. And justifiably so!

Investment bank Merrill Lynch is another top sponsor, as is Nissan, Starbucks, the Asian Development Bank and UPS. Financial Times, Bloomberg Television and BBC World are among six media partners for the annual conference.

Set in Boao, on the estuary of the famous Wanquan River, the conference is set to be one of the biggest talk shows in Asia. With its setting not unlike Langkawi, the venue is very conducive for a week of high-end networking, with the possibility of million-dollar deals and future global business tie-ups.

The fact that some of the world's top brands are supporting the conference reflect the growing importance of China as an economic superpower. Asia - namely China and India - are two of the most sought-after countries for new foreign direct investments. Both countries offer an extremely big market, triggering much excitement among money-makers.

I sit in the International Conference Centre and can feel the adrenaline flowing among delegates. Compared to the inaugural conference when Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Chinese Premier then shared the podium, this year's conference has taken a mega step forward with side shows such as an art exhibition, a charity dinner, a major signing ceremony of a ship-building agreement worth US$3 billion and the usual round of a friendly golf tournament among participants.

Give it another three years and the BOAO conference will be a must-attend conference in this part of the world. Give it another 10 years, the world's major economic players will want to be seen here! Mind you, Beijing will be hosting the next Olympic and everyone is geared to meet the world's attention. China, let me tell you, will rise to the occassion. To many businessmen, it is already a major destination for their ventures.

I can't help but think of the Langkawi Dialogue, and its spin-off, the South African Dialogue. When it was first started, it was billed as a major political, economic and social bridge between Malaysia and Africa. It attracted both praise and criticisms.

Could the Langkawi Dialogue found its importance reduced because of the lack of interest and direction from its movers and backers? Was is something too ahead of its time? Had it not met its objectives? The Boao conference organisers can give the people responsible for the Langkawi Dialogue now some lessons in international marketing and networking.

A quick stop at the make-shift Starbucks cafe here can give anyone here a glimpse of how far Boao has come on the international map of conferences and networking. The Langkawi Dialogue can be the same, but it is in dire need of renewed commitment and faith.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Bob's duel with the Ahlongs continue

BOB, a small time businessman continously chased by the Ahlongs and creditors, offered a brave front when I bumped into him last week. He's down to his last ringgit but is as determined as ever to keep his business afloat, pay salaries and keep the creditors at bay.

In the past couple of months, Bob felt that his bad days were almost over. His business was being threatened by bad cash flow and unfulfilled promises. I suppose this is the risk one has to take when doing business, but Bob thought that he is receiving the short end of the stick.

A number of people in high places promised him contracts and new deals (at a price of course). But this has not materialised. Instead, his "investments" in high-level networking has not yielded much.

Caught in a vicious cycle, Bob reluctantly went about in trying to sell his business and cash out. He had found a possible buyer. He would have paid off all the outstanding wages to his staff, pay all his debts including the hire-purchase of his cars, and take a short break before trying out something new.

He was very confident that the sale would take place. After all, he had been verbally assured of this by the executive chairman of the politically-connected agency. You wouldn't want to doubt the words of the executive chairman of a powerful agency would you!

But as it happened, the supposedly-agreed deal was off. No reason given. All Bob received was a telephone call to say that the sale was off. Bob, who had in turn promised his creditors that settlement was at hand, was now caught again.

He had managed to buy some time about three months ago. The Ahlongs, suppliers and contractors had agreed to give him an extension. He had received a breather.

Now Bob will have to "tai chi" with his creditors again. The Ahlongs may not have the patience anymore. Bob certainly can't drag the executive chairman of the agency as his associate when fending off the Ahlongs. This time around, Bob will have to run faster and farther, in order to avoid some nasty action by the gray financiers.

But there's one question - can the executive chairman of a politically-connected agency say "yes" to a deal and then make an about-turn later? Legally, it may be within his rights.


Saturday, April 14, 2007

Proton - old cars, old story

AN OLD friend working for Proton poured his heart out a few days ago. Dino brought along a salesman, Alex, and both spoke emotionally about their predicament. Dino is looking for a new job while Alex continues to struggle, selling the odd car here and there.

Dino has seen the best of times in Proton, and now he's staring at the possibility of unemployment. He said morale among his colleagues are low, and many have moved on joining other companies. From the newspapers, Dino and Alex wonder whether Proton will ever get the foreign partner that everyone is talking about.

They are also wondering whether the Government would sell a stake to Tan Sri Syed Mokhtar Al-Bukhary or Tan Sri Nasimuddin SM Amin. Both are very successful entrepreneurs with track records of their own.

Dino and Alex are nowhere near the decision-making hierachy of Proton, or Khazanah, the owners. But Dino hears things. Disturbing things. He told me that the Proton Chairman, Dato Azlan Hashim, and the Managing Director, Datuk Syed Zainal Abidin, can't seem to agree which route Proton should take to get itself out of the rut.

There was talk that a new chairman was to be appointed, a well known personality from the automotive industry. This has been speculated for the last few months but there has been no news whatsover since then. The personality is aware that his name is linked to the post but that's about all for now.

Alex the salesman finds the going very tough. Proton cars no longer excite the market. Buyers are increasingly discerning, and they have choices. The Wajas, the Gen 2 or the Savvy are good cars, but they are dated.

"People want new models lah. Proton can still make the Waja or Gen 2, no problem. But where are the new models? You see so many new cars on the road, but Proton cars are all old cars. I am a salesman, a good salesman. I know what I am saying," Alex was fuming.

You can't really blame Alex because it's people like him that has helped Proton record high sales in years gone by. Dino is a trained engineer. He feels that his learning curve is on a plateau, which is sad. Having had the foundation, Dino feels that he should be learning new stuff. But that's not happening.

Dino has come to the conclusion that the powers-that-be doesn't really care what's happening to Proton, or what's happening in Proton. "This is a simple case of - it's not my baby. Kalau kita semua sayang Proton, sudah tentu satu keputusan baik sudah dibuat (If we really love Proton, a decision would have been made already)."

For the sake of the thousands of people whose livelihood depends directly or indirectly on Proton, I hope a proper decision can be made ASAP. The people running Khazanah should make a quick decision - bring foreign partner, or sell to one of the two local tycoons.

Whether it's Volkswagon or Tan Sri Mokhtar or Tan Sri Nasimuddin - they know what to do with Proton! When they put their hard-earned money in it - they know exactly how to get their investments back. Proton doesn't just need a new coat of paint - it also needs a full overhaul.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Hooray! Karim going international!

WHAT'S the big deal in climbing stairs? Well, for Karim Sulaiman, our friend who's down with scleromyxoedema, an extremely rare skin disease, that's one hell of an achievement!

I got hold of him on the phone today and could hear him speak loud and clear. He's gained another 2kg (46kg now) and is full of self-confidence once again. We spoke for several minutes and here's what he said:

"Firstly, I must say Alhamdulillah (Praise the Almighty). From the bottom of my heart, I want to thank EVERYONE who has helped me one way or the other. After you wrote about me in mid-December last year, I've been getting a lot of support and words of encouragement from many people, even those whom I don't know! I've received donations, both in cash and kind, and I'm very grateful.

"The doctors and skin specialists at Hospital Kuala Lumpur are just marvellous! Led by their Skin Specialist Head, Puan Sri Suraiya Tun Hussein, I've been getting all the support I need. They've been very thorough and goes about their job treating me with much patience and care.

"Cik Mad, I dah boleh naik tangga sekarang. Dulu semasa Cik Mad melawat saya, saya tidor di ruang tamu di rumah. Pergerakan saya sungguh terhad. Sekarang, saya tidor di bilik tidor biasa dan saya naik ke tingkat atas rumah tanpa bantuan!

"You know Cik Mad, now that I'm not so bed-ridden, I can now even turn the faucet in the bathroom on my own, something which was simply impossible a few months ago. You don't know what joy that brings!

"At HKL, I was photographed, video-taped, measured and all that. I'm very pleased with the way Puan Sri Suraiya treated me. I know everything about me is being recorded for research> I hope something productive can come off this. Mesti ada hikmah dalam semua ini (there must be a silver lining in all these)!

"If all goes well, I'm probably going to be featured at two international seminars on skin ailments this year. One in Kuala Lumpur some time in June, and one more in Seoul some time in August. It'll be good if medical researchers can benefit from my sickness. I believe every aspect of my disease will be scrutinised in due time."

Karim's confidence and renewed hope comes out quite clearly on the phone. When before one can hardly hear his words, he can now speak very clearly, meaning his vocal chords are functioning well. He eats better too, now that he can swallow his food better.

Let's wish Karim continued recovery! This previous winner of the Kajai Journalism Award (year 2000) is a fighter all the way. Let's walk with him too! By his own admission, he looks forward to a new day everyday, compared to several months ago when his spirit was down. Get well Karim, there's a futsal tournament I want you to attend! Salams brother!

Friday, April 6, 2007

All Blogs - it's time!

IT'S an idea whose time has come - the establishment of the National Alliance of Bloggers, or All-Blogs. Ahirudin Attan aka Rocky's Bru sent me a text message soon after Wayne Rooney scored the equaliser against AS Roma (Repeat lah, not the Live one) that some 50 die-hard bloggers had gathered yesterday to form this first-ever association.

Rocky heads the pro-tem committee, with Screenshots Jeff Ooi as vice president and Nuraina A Samad of Jalan Sudin as secretary. Tony Yew (Alliedmaster right?) is treasurer and a host of other webscribes make up the rest of the committee.

The formation of All-Blogs couldn't have come at a more opportune time, with bloggers being tagged as liars while deputy minister Shaziman had gone on record to suggest that all bloggers be registered.

Maybe YB Shaziman, also a friend, should just forget the idea and let the bloggers regulate themselves. Rocky had done very well as president of the National Press Club and I'm sure he'll do another good job here.

YB Shaziman should channel all his energy in making sure that the nation is truly connected instead. As it is, a great part of the country is still 'internetless' and the majority of the population has little or zero knowledge of today's power tools.

And yet we often hear our leaders claiming that we have plenty of K-workers as we spend much money on developing human capital.

Back to All-Blogs. The first test for the association is to cross the Registrar of Societies, and judging from the hurdles so far, this could be a really big challenge. All the best Rocky and friends!