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Success: The Insight Story by The Sun Daily - Featuring Mr Cheah Kok Hoong
"Have a positive attitude and always be humble"
June 30, 2015
The Sun Daily

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
I was born in a middle-income family and grew up in a village together with my six siblings. My father worked hard to earn a living to support the family. His dedication to life and the family has inspired me to manage my work and life seriously.

I learnt to be tough and independent when I was young. In order to reduce my family’s financial burdens and to be self-sustainable, I wanted to start earning as soon as possible.

So at the first opportunity, I applied for a job at a Japanese manufacturing company. Influenced by my father who was loyal to his employer, hardworking and responsible, I pushed myself beyond my comfort level, inspired to do great things for my company.

These elements built my character, knowledge and experience that eventually shaped the leader I am today.

How has your previous employment experience aided your current position?
As mentioned briefly earlier, I started my first job with a Japanese manufacturing company and worked there for 12 years. I was never a job-hopper, believing that the right attitude and willingness to spend time to learn are critical to accumulate experience.

Many have questioned why I spent such a long period of time working in the same company.  This was especially so at that time when I was only paid RM900 and there wasn’t much left for myself after giving my family almost half of my salary.

However, I found these 12 years were well spent as I learnt a lot.

  • I was given the opportunity to gain exposure in 6 different roles and functions which helped me identify my strengths and weaknesses. In addition, I learned new skill sets, gained new expertise and improved my confidence.
  • I met my three mentors and learnt from them.
  • I had the opportunity to be exposed to Japanese culture; which taught me about the importance of continuous learning.

These experiences have been invaluable and I am still applying them in my current work, even today.

What advice can you offer to budding entrepreneurs/youths who want to start their career/own business?

  • Practice check and balance. There are always two sides of a coin. You need to learn how to find the balance, and know when to give and/or take
  • No pain, no gain. We need to put effort and invest time in order to achieve success. Success will not come knocking if you are unwilling to earn it.
  • Have the right attitude and be willing to take on challenges. Do not be calculative before you prove yourself worthy and meet the expectations. I always believe the young should focus more on gaining experience and knowledge; and have the right attitude to continue learning.
  • Always be humble. This is also one of the most crucial elements at work; it is an indication that you are willing to learn.

How do you maintain work/life balance?
Finding the right balance between my work commitments and my personal life, is a challenge to say the least. As we speak, I am juggling between my role as the Group CEO / Director of Hitachi Sunway while carrying out duties as the CIO for the Sunway Group. I also wear the hat of the Chairman of PIKOM. 

Time management is crucial because we cannot buy more time.  I recognize the importance of organizing things with the principle -  "Priority vs Urgency".  Focus on what really matters.  With that, I draw a line on what is important and what isn’t; and prioritize my time. Of course, there will be times when I have to compromise – so give & take - a little.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal lives?
Mentors are important. I have a few mentors and they made me realized the importance of "doing the right thing at the right time, at the right place".
Best piece of advice you ever got on your career?
Cultivate a positive working attitude, complement that with hard work and an endless quest to seek knowledge.

How do you stay abreast of issues affecting your industry?
With my diverse portfolio, it is crucial for me to know what is happening in the industry and its development.  On a daily basis, I read business and industry news, in between appointment slots or in the car.  In addition, I often meet up with IT vendors, business partners, IT principals and analysts. This gives me an opportunity to keep learning and stay abreast of what's happening.

Blue or red ocean strategy? Or neither? Why?
It will be a bit of both.  Taking Hitachi Sunway as an example. We are in an aggressive mode to cement our position as a leading one-stop ICT solutions and services provider in Malaysia and Southeast Asia.  The Hitachi Sunway brand has been built by strengthening our offerings and value proposition through M&A, collaborations and partnerships with best-of-breed industry players.  We leverage on our customer insights to keep, engage and grow with our customers.

At the same time, we also observed a gap in Japanese operating companies (JOCs) who have business operations in SEA.  With Hitachi Sunway having direct presence in 6 countries in SEA, this presents an opportunity for us to offer IT solutions to JOCs to reduce operational complexities.

A must-read for every business owner/manager is...?
I love reading. It is a refuge for my mind and a tool to sharpen my thoughts. I'm drawn to inspirational books that tell true stories of people - overcoming great odds in life, seeing the world through their eyes and more. My literary journey has taken me from Peter Drucker, to Harvard Business Reviews, to Zhu Rongji's memoir and all kinds of fictional literature.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Hitachi Sunway?
When the Hitachi Sunway joint venture was first established in 2013, there was a need to integrate 2 different cultures - Malaysian and Japanese- into one company. It was a challenging time because we needed to create an entirely new working culture - in terms of work styles, attitudes, beliefs and behaviors - to drive the intended business result. I’m happy to say we managed well enough, with a good compound annual growth of 40%.

Hitachi Sunway is growing synergistically to quickly tap the huge business opportunities in IT within the SEA emerging markets. By leveraging on Hitachi brand, and Hitachi Sunway's existing establishment in SEA region - we have created a strong value proposition to support the Japanese Operations (JO) companies and also conglomerates in SEA.

In order to achieve success, I realized that the company needs to transform to drive greater collaboration, leveraging and aligning our strengths and diversity to focus on our customers and their needs. We need to work on solutions together with customers as ONE Hitachi and to drive innovation by providing solutions that combine products, services and highly sophisticated IT.

So, this year is going to be another exciting year as Hitachi Sunway undergoes a major organizational transformation. The aim is to strengthen operations, improve performance, increase customer satisfaction and ensure we are competitive in the marketplace.

It will be tough, and there will be challenges ahead. The success of an organization is not a one-man’s job. It requires teamwork and by working together as ONE Team, I’m sure our goals to build a brighter future for Hitachi Sunway can be achieved!