Hard knocks of life gave me ability to learn from most trying of circumstances: Teh Hong Piow

This week we get thoughts and views from doyen of the local banking industry Public Bank founder & chairman Tan Sri Teh Hong Piow

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
I believe that leadership is a capability that each of us has within us. It is formed as we take on the opportunities and challenges of everyday life, and it is measured by our successes and failures. Through my experience, I have found that the leadership lessons we learn in our everyday lives can be carried with us into our work environment, and that they can help us to become better leaders.

I must say that my early years provided me with a good platform for my personal growth and development. The hard knocks of life gave me the ability to learn from even the most trying of circumstances. It is through my life experiences that I learnt to conquer adversity, taught me the virtue of hard work and instilled in me the necessary traits and values which have allowed me to excel in life and as a leader.

Ultimately, hard work, dedication to the pursuit of excellence and focus on my goals are the vital elements that have helped me in my banking career and which I employed to make meaningful and ever-increasing contributions to the success of Public Bank.

What traits do you look for in your talent or how do you decide who is right for the job?
Like most organisations, Public Bank’s most valuable asset is its people. It is the people that provide the support and energy for the Bank to move forward, constantly delivering and living the PB values, thus safeguarding and making it a sustainable PB brand.

Focusing on the skills and hiring those with the know-how to carry out the bank’s vision is an important pillar of the organisation. Our people should also have a high level of energy, and be purpose driven with the ability to energise others.

That being said, it is not enough to be good at what one does – it is necessary to underpin one’s efforts with good and strong moral foundations. A combination of all these factors will produce business savvy employees and prepare them for real situations in work-life.

How do you think the industry you are in will evolve in the future?
I see the domestic banking industry to continue transforming into an industry that is more competitive and dynamic with strong value propositions. The strong banking industry will continue to be an important driver to facilitate Malaysia towards achieving the goal of becoming a developed nation.

Ongoing efforts by Bank Negara Malaysia to further empower the banking sector will continue to show positive results. Evolution in digital banking will continue to gain prominence and banks will make further inroads and expansion into the regional banking arena. As banks continue expanding in the more complex environment, I expect regulatory framework to remain stringent to ensure the preservation of banks’ stability in catering for continued growth going forward.

What advice can you offer those looking to start their career/own business?
Having a vision, and assembling the right team to bring that vision to life is the first step in creating a successful business venture. While having a new and unique vision is rare enough; the ability to successfully execute this vision is what separates the dreamers from the entrepreneurs.

Love what you do. If you do something you love, it won’t feel like such a chore. Success is more likely if one is truly invested in what he or she is doing. If you combine your business with your passion, it will give you and your business every opportunity to flourish.

Lastly, in any business, there should be no compromise on integrity and honesty as the success of any business depends largely on public confidence and trust.

We all know about the industrial revolution; are we in for a technological revolution? Your thoughts?
We are in a period of technological advancement. The advancement of technology is changing our lives. It facilitates innovation and creativity, resulting in high efficiency gain. The rapid change in technology is transforming the way we do business, opening a new horizon of business opportunities. However, while we harness the benefits of technological advancement, we have to remain cautious in managing the risks and disruptions resulting from these technology breakthroughs.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional life?
People always say that I am a self-made man. As an entrepreneur, I often have a do-it-myself mentality in that I prefer to take my own road. Nevertheless, I have been blessed through my entrepreneurial journey to have had the benefit of others in my life who had my interest at heart and shared the same interest with me. At the same time, I was fuelled by my own beliefs and an internal drive and passion to get to where I am today.

What do you want to accomplish in the next five years?
As the banking sector has grown increasingly competitive and dynamic, with strong players competing intensely for market share, Public Bank cannot afford to rest on its laurels as its past success can never guarantee its future success. The bank has to continue working very hard to sustain and strengthen its market leadership in the industry.

Going forward, I wish to see Public Bank continue to be a trusted bank because of its solid financial performance, prudent management and strong PB Brand promise that provides customers the assurance of quality and reliability. I would also like to see the bank continue to contribute to the long-term growth of the banking industry and support the domestic and regional economies, further entrenching its status as one of the premier bank in Malaysia and the region.

Best piece of advice you ever got in your career?
Someone once told me that “we have to accept that there are things which we cannot change, to have the courage to change the things we can and the wisdom to know the difference.” I have found this to be a solace and a booster builder whenever I come across roadblocks in my life requiring me to muster the courage and passion to stay the course. When we have something good going for us, we must savour and appreciate every moment of it.

Most admired business leader? Why?
While I have admiration for many successful self-made entepreneurs, Li Ka Shing is one who comes foremost to mind – a leader who came from humble beginnings to become a successful entrepreneur today. Often referred to as “Superman” in Hong Kong because of his business prowess, Li has impacted many industries; from electricity to telecommunications, real estate to retail and shipping to the internet. His story is an inspiring journey which I have an affinity with as he is also a Teochew and remains true to his internal moral compass.

How do you stay abreast of issues affecting your industry?
Staying up to date in an industry that is constantly shifting is not easy, but being aware of changes as they are happening has always kept me ahead of the curve. Keeping a close ear to the ground has enabled me to stay on the ball with industry challenges, opportunities and trends.

If you could have an hour with any thought leader in the world, who would it be and why?
Jack Ma - One of the world’s greatest living examples of entrepreneurship today. He is one who dares to dream and to dream big - truly a leader who has inspired people with his innovative ideas; turning ideas into reality, and knowing and showing how to replicate his success. His use of the internet and Alibaba’s influence to facilitate more globalised trade across borders beyond China and helping SMEs (SMEs) across the world is indeed something well worth knowing more about.

What has been the biggest challenge you have faced? And what did you learn from it?
I have come across my fair share of challenges. I have learnt that one should never be afraid of challenges and that we should ensure that one rises after each fall. We should never see failure as failure but as a learning experience and an opportunity to practise our techniques and perfect our performance.

Setbacks and stressors are the bridges to be crossed to reach our goals, not barricades to keep us from them.

What are the most outlandish business proposals you have ever heard of?
In the era of start-ups, Facebook, Uber and Alipay are some examples of business ideas that many people once thought were too outlandish to become successes. But look at these companies now. They have taken the market by storm. Nothing is ever as predictable as we think – and nobody knows this better than the daring entrepreneurs whose outlandish business ideas proved that whatever your fears, there really can be a market for anything.

What man made innovation confounds you? Why?
As the famous science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke used to say: "A sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." Social media is such a powerful innovation that we have probably only begun to see the effects it will have on the world. It transcends enterprises, industries, and political borders. It has the power to change the world. At the same time, there exists some fear that our ability to communicate, work, play and do business via the Internet breaks down our ties to local communities and causes us to become socially isolated. Like any invention, the good or ill it accomplishes will come from how we choose to use it.

Malaysia’s greatest brand?
I would say AirAsia, for having attained a world class and globally recognised innovative brand. Their tenacity in breaking the norm of air travel has brought affordable air travel to millions of travellers and high growth levels to countless tourism destinations in a remarkably short time.

A must read for every business owner/manager is….?
“The Millionaire Next Door” by Tom Stanley and William Danko, which explores how people become wealthy. What they propound certainly resonates with me. It is seldom luck, inheritance, advanced degrees or even intelligence that enables people to amass a fortune. Most parents are not able to provide sufficient economic outpatient care yet many are able to become wealthy. Wealth building takes discipline, sacrifice and hard work. It requires making the necessary trade-offs of time, energy and consumption habits.

Wealth accumulators could therefore be anyone – even the person next door as long as he is a compulsive saver and investor and follow a lifestyle conducive to accumulating money.

How do you expect policies on climate change to impact business in the future?
Climate change is a business issue. Global and local changes in temperature, the frequency and severity of extreme weather conditions and the availability of water will increasingly have a direct bearing on business risk profiles and, in some cases, strategic positioning. Recent experience with extreme weather highlights our global economic exposure to these changes.

Bursa Malaysia’s requirement for listed companies to report on environmental-related risks and opportunities as part of their sustainability disclosure, have also significantly increased the awareness of this subject matter.

What are the top three factors you would attribute to your success?
Firstly, I am blessed that whatever challenges life has tested me with as I travelled along my corporate journey, I have managed to surmount, to a large extent, due to the support of my cherished corporate family. They too have been zealous in their commitment towards achieving my vision.

Secondly, I love what I do. In order to be truly successful at something, you must obsess over it and let it consume you. Public Bank is my one passion in life. No matter how successful the bank might become, I am always constantly pushing to achieve even bigger, better and greater things for it.

Thirdly, the path to great things is always tough. There is no secret recipe to my success except for the universal attributes of hard work, resilience, being open to change and perseverance during times of adversity.