This week SunBiz gets the thoughts and views of SAP Malaysia managing director Hong Kok Cheong

Success: The Insight Story – Build trust, walk the talk

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?

Having come through the “school of hard knocks”, one of the most important lessons I have learnt in life and business is to always be grateful for whatever we have. We should always maintain a positive outlook, no matter how challenging the situation may be. We should also always embrace working hard, meticulously and diligently, but also enjoy everything that we do.

At the same time, we should also always seek to see the perspectives of others, and not just be fixed in our own opinions. This process broadens the mind, and paves the way for us as human beings to care for one another. At the end of the day, a true leader cares for his or her people, cares for customers, the communities we are involved in and the world at large.

My favourite word is “trust”. Life and business is all about building trust. This means “walking the talk” consistently and delivering what you have committed to do.

What traits do you look for in your talent or how do you decide who is right for a job?

Firstly, it would be passion and an eagerness to learn. The tech industry is one that is fast evolving and team players know the importance of keeping abreast with latest technologies.

Secondly, it’s the ability to demonstrate leadership skills – even for interns – and to constantly challenge yourself to improve.

Finally, it’s about being a team player, with every individual contributing to the success of the team. Every team member has his or her field of expertise that contributes to overall success. When the team wins, everybody wins.

From the corporate perspective, companies should also constantly promote diversity, equality, and inclusion – and to lead by example by promising and delivering results.

How do you think the industry you are in will evolve in the future?

Digital transformation means a shift in technology and mindset. Consequently, it affects the economy, the society, and every individual. Digitalisation will continue to grow in importance, and it will continue driving the convergence of technologies that blur the lines between physical and digital.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is changing business and society for the better. Machines and systems that become increasingly intelligent can make work easier, and AI can only be a catalyst of digitalisation in a climate of connectivity.

At the end of the day, though, trust is the ultimate currency in the digital economy. We must have trust in machine learning algorithms that steer business processes – and help people – for greater efficiencies. Of paramount importance is that ethical principles are required to build and maintain trust in digital technologies.

What advice can you offer those looking to start their career/own business?

Knowledge, education, and lifelong learning are keys to success. They are the foundation of progress in every area of life and driven by a natural gift to all of us – Curiosity. Also, do not be afraid to fall now and then. Just pick yourself up, dust yourself off and try again. Fear is the most useless of all human emotions because it holds us back from realising our true potential.

Also, make a point to continuously upskill (learning additional skills or enhancing existing abilities) and reskill (learning a new set of skills) and ensure you are a “digital first” employee.

We all know about the industrial revolution, are we in for a technological revolution?

Yes, and most definitely. Data, or the “new oil”, is a major driving force and key to the digital transformation. Turning raw data into immediate business value ultimately fuels innovation. Accordingly, data- and digital technology-based innovation is the foundation of future success for companies in the digital economy.

Organisations should also transition themselves into becoming “intelligent enterprises” (if they haven’t done so already). An intelligent enterprise comes from a position of strength where it can reimagine the business to generate new markets and revenue streams. It is about maximising the value of an enterprise’s data assets and turn the data into precious insights that can empower employees to operate with increased visibility, focus and agility. By becoming an intelligent enterprise, businesses are also better able to respond to individual customer needs, engage talent in new ways and create disruptive business models that are critical industry imperatives. It is about “innovating with purpose”.

Essentially, the Fourth Industrial Revolution is about increasing human productivity, enhanced by advanced technologies such as AI, machine learning, advanced analytics, robotics and automation augmenting operations.

Take the manufacturing sector as an example: With Industry 4.0 – production, logistics, and customer services are aligning themselves with digital technology which is increasingly taking on more complex tasks to further optimise production. As a result, processes are accelerated with greater accuracy while cost is being reduced.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional life?

Having a good mentor is a way to “fast track” your learning process as an individual. I am blessed to have known Mitch Young, who is now APJ president at an American software company. Mitch taught me so much about the tech industry, leadership and always stressed to me that leaders who lead by example inspire others to greatness.

What do you want to accomplish in the next five years?

SAP is committed to supporting every customer to become a best-run business. Together, we help the world run better and improve people’s lives. This mission is deeply aligned with my personal beliefs hence what I would like to accomplish in the next five years – and beyond – is to play my part in transitioning our local companies to become “best run businesses”, or in other words “intelligent enterprises” that are able to apply advanced technologies and best practices within agile, integrated business processes to become more resilient, profitable and sustainable.

Best piece of advice you ever received on your career.

“Never ever throw anyone under the bus. Blame is never ever part of the game. Ultimately, it is about ‘collective responsibility’ as a team.”

This is an important attitude and trait that one should have. Learn from others and be ready to challenge yourself for continuous improvement. Up until today, I am still learning and adapting to change. To succeed well is about agility. You must be able to motivate and drive yourself to greater heights in your achievements and your career.

Look at yourself and stop blaming others for what you cannot achieve. Think out of the box and always, dream big and think big.

Most-admired leader? Why?

Nelson Mandela, a man of peace with a powerful presence who disarmed enemies with his smile. He taught the world about what (true) forgiveness is all about and made a huge difference for mankind. This man changed the world, and showed where enemies can be allies. Diversity and inclusion are key attributes that one should adopt to see a bigger picture and, more importantly, how they positively impact others.

How do you stay abreast of issues affecting your industry?

I am fortunate to be in SAP which is today the world’s largest provider of enterprise application software and being at the forefront of innovation. 92% of the Forbes Global 2000 companies are our customers. SAP customers also distribute 78% of the world’s food and 82% of the world’s medical devices; in addition, 80% of SAP’s customers are SMEs.

Hence to stay abreast of the latest developments in tech, all I need to do is read my emails every morning.

What man-made innovation confounds you? Why?

The mobile phone. 20 years ago, the mobile phone was a luxury. Today, it is a necessity and has done so much good for the world. It has made us all more productive, made the world smaller, and opened the world with the internet for rural communities and developing countries. Because of the ease of accessibility, our communication abilities are wider, and we can access more information. The mobile phone and internet has changed the world at accelerated the speed for information, and change the way how we learn new things.

Malaysia’s greatest brand.

Maybank, Malaysia’s largest financial services group and the leading banking group in Southeast Asia. Maybank has done an excellent job “humanising” banking and financial services across Malaysia and the region.

A must-read for every business owner/manager is ...

Stephen Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Although it was first published more than three decades ago, the habits for one to be truly effective is just as relevant today: Be proactive, begin with the end in mind, put first things first, think “win-win”, seek to understand, synergise and “sharpen the saw”. A lot of things in the book gives reader insights about how to change and be relevant to society and organisation. It is about making a difference rather than just being a follower to others.

What are the top three factors you would attribute your success to?

Passion, hard work and the constant support and understanding from my wife and family. I always have this daily proverb, what can we do differently to achieve better outcomes. What are the key learnings today? How do I bring the best out of people? If you don’t know about something, be direct and ask for help. Reflection is another success factor: Like think back to yesterday and what you could had done differently to achieve better outcomes. This way, you are constantly learning and evolving.