If you are thinking about taking the plunge, quitting that desk job of yours, becoming your own boss, the first thing you ought to ask yourself is, “Do you love solving problems?”
Many people only see the glamour of being your own boss, which are manifold of course (provided you are successful). These include:
1) Freedom to work in an area you enjoy (Subject to constraints of market behaviour and demand)
2) Flexibility to work when you want, where you want
3) Public acknowledgement if you are successful (Shame, and “I told you so” attitudes if you fail though)
4) MONEY, and its associated benefits
5) Plus its just awesome when your staff add a prefix “Boss” to your name (Joking hehe, although I likes it! :-p)
What they don’t see are the challenges a business owner faces day to day.
My father put it most aptly to me in saying that as a businessman, you are esentially a firefighter.
A fire pops out somewhere, you rush there to put it out, as soon as it is out, another one is bound to pop up somewhere else. You only hope that you don’t have too many fires to handle or one that burns out of control, so you can get back up and fight the next fire.
As simple an explanation as this is, it is the most profound advice my father has given me, and one I hold close to my heart in trying times. On a separate note, 28th November (today), is my dad’s birthday, so do wish him happy birthday too in my comments feed if you are reading this.
We’ve faced many challenges in the history of our company. Timothy and myself started Netccentric on the 8th of August 2006, its been six years, by any measure of a business, its a short time.
And yet, in many ways it feels both like we’ve seen everything, and learnt everything, and seen nothing and learnt nothing at the same time.
We’ve built an amazing company, with an amazing culture, and one that has grown rapidly at first, and now steadily, and one would think it gets easier, or more predictable. But because we are dealing with the most complicated resource of all, people, it never does.
So what is this rant about you ask?
Well, it seems ironic, that after having just dispensed advice about building a great company culture, in recent months, both me and tim have found that one of the growing pains of the company is we seem to be losing some of our pioneer staff.
Don’t get me wrong, its not as if the flood gates have opened up, and nuffies are flooding through the doors. But i’ve always taken it incredibly seriously, when a pioneer or an important nuffie leaves, its one too many. We’ve had nuffies, who just could not fit into the culture, or just did not have the heart or will to meet the standards, but those are not the ones I’m concerned about.
I’m candid and open about this serious issue, because I’m candid and open with my staff. They know everything that goes on, and I see no reason to stop that.
As a long term and strategic planner, my vision for the company has always been.
1) A mutually loving culture
2) A place where you enjoy your work
3) A place you can build your career, earn a keep, and if committed and talented, build personal wealth
4) A place you are a part of, as much as the place is a part of you
Tim’s ideology is largely similar.
I believe, we’ve achieved these things to a large degree within the Netccentric group. And yet, we face a problem, because you build these things generally, and they encompass a static set of rules with dynamic variables, but the one thing you cannot equate for is the key variable, and that is the employee themselves.
I started out this post by talking about the challenges you might face as a boss, and I’m ending it by saying, I’ve determined, at this point, what is likely to be my biggest challenge of all.
How do I provide and promote lifelong employment in an age of short term gratification? The grass is always greener on the other side, but how do we keep our grass in plain sight, and nurture and grow our pastures, so the ones that matter will never want to leave?
Its a question that has been on my mind for a while now, and one I intend to address at our upcoming company retreat to ….
Yes … paradise! Just 11 months after our last retreat to Chiang Mai!
Penny for your thoughts in the NuffnangX conversations box below.
I’ve been following the US presidential elections with great interest.
Even though the rise of Asia and China are iminent and an unstoppable phenomnenon, the US is still today the most important country in the world. Both in Economic and more importantly, geopolitical standpoints.
Ever since they abandoned their policy of isolationism, I believe the US has largely been a force for good in the world, and a stabalising force in an uncertain and often delicately balanced geopolitical world.
It is a fine line between peace and war, and I don’t think people generally appreciate that they could be just weeks away from having the prosperity and peace they enjoy being taken away from them. We’re talking a world war here, which my parent’s generation have had the benefit of missing so far.
I’m not going to get into a whole thesis of the moral choices and ambiguities the US may have been guilty of, even though I acknowledge the seriousness and consequences of such actions, but on the balance of everything, I would say, the USA stands largely as a moral good in this world. And believe you me, there are moral baddies, far too many of them.
As a result, in the last election, I watched eagerly as well. Although back then I was rooting for the other fella. Senator John McCain.
Yeah, he not much to look at, and frankly, he was 72 years old the last time, so one of the genuine concerns back then, was simply that he would drop dead in the middle of his term (leaving us with Sarah Palin as President OMG).
I am happy to note, I grossly underestimated the mortality rates in the USA, and the Senator is still alive and well (long may that be the case).
I’m sure you’ll find that a little odd. Especially given the wave of ObamaMANIA the WHOLE world was going through. Obama was a charismatic fella for sure, an inspirational orator, and he seemed like he was saying the right things in general.
What I felt in general though, was that alot of people were simply subscribing to his charisma and a popular message of change. I could not understand and considered irrational, the seemingly blind faith masses had with this untested candidate. If you want to recall how big it was, check out this video of him in Berlin, BEFORE he was president.
Change for the sake of change is something I strongly disagree with. Of course it wasnt simply that, there were policy stances, I also disagreed with, especially his eagerness to simply pull out of Iraq (I was not opposed to the USA pulling out of Iraq for the record, but how quickly was what I was contending with).
All in all, I felt he lacked track record, and it seemed he was winning on charisma, rather than substance. He had only served 1 term as a Senator, before sweeping the highest office in the land.
As soon as he won though, I held my breath and waited to see how he would perform. The stakes were high. The decisions an American president makes has far reaching consequences with the rest of the world. Singapore and our region included.
When did I start supporting Barrack Obama? I remember it distinctly. It was when he was negotiating with the republicans for a deal to raise the debt ceiling which would have seen the US virtually shut down.
What I loved about this address was its simplicity in breaking down what was going on, and what needed to be done.
This type of address, is typical of Singaporean politics today, one reason why I support the ruling party. It is clear, concise and to the point. Does not shy away from taboo topics or the hard truths (that most people would rather not address), and prescribes solutions as well. (A sidenote is that every singaporean should watch the National Day rally, the clarity and candidness in which the message is delivered is truly unique and deserves admiration).
Whilst good speeches should rile up emotions, in order to be successful, as educated people, it is our duty to strip the emotion out of it, and look past into the facts, and figures and weigh the things being said.
Surely, working in a bipartisan, and bicameral democracy brought President obama down to earth. Change does not happen easily in reality. Beyond inspirational speeches, the world with its complex weavings will wear you down, test your resolve and force you to compromise. And in all honesty, President Obama probably did have to compromise on some of them, but he stood up for the ones that mattered.
Making tough choices that people may not necessarily like or enjoy, is a leader’s job. We can certainly take the easy route out and promise goodies and riches and prosperity and everything the people want, but we are simply deferring responsibility to the next fella, and setting ourselves up for a fall.
Case in point is greece. And you should read this. Unfortunately, Papandreou senior inherited the consequences of 2 papandreou’s before him. Who took the fall when the music stopped?
Well the people of greece today. Sons and daughters of those who enjoyed beyond their means, and now have to pay for it. Unemployment in greece is a staggering 25.4% (i read that recently), and 1 in 2 young people below the age of 30 are out of work! Can you imagine a Singapore like that? (I shuddered at the thought).
Back on point then. Besides appreciating President Obama for his candidness, forthrightness, and willingness to tackle a problem head on, we’ve also got to look at his rival candidate. None other than Mitt Romney.
I’m a businessman. And I normally like other business people. But I hate this guy. Pure and simple.
I guess its a problem when you are not in government, that you do not have the full set of figures and data in front of you to make an established argument, and yes he did win the first debate, not on his merit though, but surprisingly, on Obama’s demerit. (If you’re interested, watch the full debate below).
The problem is, the more I listen to Mitt Romney’s plans, the more ridiculous it seems. He claims he has the answers to all of America’s problems, and all of America’s suffering, as a presidential candidate rightly should claim. His solutions though are general and unsophisticated, and appeal more to emotions than any practical reality.
For example, he has a 5 point plan. It is as follows.
1) To make the USA energy independent
2) Open up trade, especially with Latin America, but crack down on China
3) Promote education
4) Balance the budget
5) Champion Small Business
Sounds good? Sure does.
Problem is this. These are not ideas. These are not solutions, these are wants! They appeal on a cursory level to the general person just as if I said to you, “Let me tell you what I’ll do for you”
1) Give you cheaper petrol
2) Make sure we have business from overseas
3) Send your kids to a good quality school
4) Pay for all of this and still have money to spare
In the first place, even within his key statements, there are already contradictions. For example, he says he wants to open up trade and encourage growth, particularly with Latin America, but then he wants to censure the largest market in the world (mostly because it is popular), China, and create tariffs.
I’m really not too sure about the specifics of WTO membership, of which the USA is a leader in, but I’m not sure how it would go down with that group of people. And having China retaliate by creating tarriffs for American made products is likely to harm the USA more than anything. But hey, the Americans hate china right now, so lets bang hard on the Chinese! Give me more emotion baby!
Another key point in his “plan”, is to reduce the deficit.
I think this is the Achilis heel of the Obama campaign, who made promises to reduce the deficit (in his first campaign), but really did not, and instead increased it.
This is understandable of course, as the patient has to spend money first on medicine to get better, before he can then get back to work and start repaying his debts, and start living again, and yet, the promise was made.
Well it is here, that I really start to detest Romney. His specific plan, he says, is to reduce the tax rate for EVERYBODY (including the rich, he suddenly also cares about the 47 percent), but reduce deductions, exemptions and credits. And oh yes, cut unnecessary programmes, thereby levelling the budget.
Obama argues back that this means 7 trillion dollars worth of cuts, which will NOT be able to be offset by the reduction in deductions, exemptions and credits.
I’m not an data cruncher, and I certainly don’t have the full set of numbers. But me thinks, on the balance of probability, that Obama is probably right.
If I simply needed to cut all these exemptions and deductions and credits to balance the budget, I would have done it 4 years ago. No matter how convulated the tax system in the USA is, I simply do not believe it to be big enough to withstand a cut in the general rate, let alone remedy the CURRENT situation with the CURRENT tax rate.
Romney’s steadfastness and reality distortion is typical of a businessman (I am one), who sometimes needs to overcome the obvious in order to believe the unvelievable. He says, no that is not true, it will not amount to a 7 trillion tax cut, and my plan will work, and thats the end of it.
BUT if you want more specifics on programmes I will cut, I’ll show you one you all know!
That’s right, I’m a comin after you big bird!
I know alot has been said about the Big Bird comments by Romney, but it symbolises to me, what Mitt Romney’s solutions are. A BIG pile of yellow FLUFF!
And that is why this time around, I’m supporting Barrack Obama to continue in his 2nd term as President of the United States. But that is not for me to decide!
If you’re slightly confused as to what green read actually is, let me explain.
5 guys in lab coats and safety goggles spent countless nights and days experimenting with the molecular structure of normal paper, and had a breakthrough one night!
Bleary eyed, they realised their paper helped them read better! All of a sudden, they had achieved clarity. Upon further tests, they discovered, the coating they had applied to normal paper reduced the light reflected off the surface ensuring they had tired eyes no more!
I know what you’re thinking. And I was thinking the same thing. All respect due to SCG paper for trying, but really, innovation is about a unique proposition that consumers can respond to, and maybe they do have customers that pick up the ream of paper based on their claims. But in this instance, I wasnt one of them!
Yesterday evening, I paid a long overdue visit to the gym!
My little secret workout spot, is located along the beautiful Singapore river, and this is the view.
I find the river a really enchanting bit of Singapore, so having completed my workout, I thought taking a stroll by myself alongst its banks would be a wonderful way to cap the day.
I ambled along the banks of the river, with no agenda, taking in the sights and sounds. Joggers n their ipods, alfresco dinner dates, tourists plying the excursionist route, doggies meeting other doggies, a random catch up with an old friend … the walk continued till I found my spot.
I think you can see why I chose it.
It was completely isolated, save a woman, sitting in a far corner by herself, under the boughs of a tree, pensive in her own thoughts as I was.
I was transported for a moment to a random summer afternoon years ago, when I had visited Cafe De Flore in St Germain De Pres, Paris.
I sat there sipping my coffee, imagining Hemingway, scribbling notes as an anonymous observer of the world, creating his masterpiece, “A moveable feast”.
The random thought of the day started crystallising as cursive words started forming on the edge of my tongue.
I FELT LIKE WRITING A POEM!
As quickly as the thought appeared, it was destroyed in a poof! And I was transported from Paris back to a dingy dark chinese restaurant in San Francisco Chinatown at least 10 years back now.
I was a young student studying in Cambridge, on holiday with my family, and I had started writing poems. Alot of the day, my random thoughts would turn into prose, and I would try it out on my friends, fancying that perhaps I would one day be a modern Wordsworth.
Having just enjoyed some mediocre chinese fare (sense the bitterness), I got one of these on my table. Rubbed my hands together, and cracked it open anticipating some inspirational message.
Maybe something like this one would have been appropriate.
I cant remember exactly what it said, because my brain has no space for bad shit, but the jist of it was, “You’re barking up the wrong tree if you think you’re going to be a poet.”
I believe in signs, and it is in that instant, I stopped writing poems.
I sat there for a moment more, wistful that a poets life would never be for me, then I brightened up and thought to myself, enjoying the moment with myself and another is good enough.
Inspiration comes from the darnest places doesn’t it?
I was chatting with one of my closest friends, Pierre, on whatsapp.
Getting feedback about the content of my newly launched blog, which as you can see, I’m pretty serious about.
It is at this juncture that I would like to announce, the launch of the bossming.com loyalty program.
The person with the most likes and comments on my blog posts via NuffnangX will get to redeem this wonderful domestic device (Apologies to pierre, the likely winner, but only one model available).
Haha, anyway, the conclusion went (And I agree somewhat), that I want this blog to be more about thought leadership, than my personal life, and what I ate this morning (For that, you can refer to my instagram feed or twitter ;-p).
Pierre mentioned not mixing business with pleasure, and hence the title for my first business blog post per se!
As far as my businesses go within the Netccentric group, it is ENTIRELY about mixing business with pleasure.
I have always believed this to be the KEY reason why Netccentric has grown so much. And also integral to the future sustained growth of the company.
As such, this is a lesson for the Nuffies, Nomsters, Lollies, as much as it is to the general reader.
It is not by accident but by design, that the status of friend and colleague takes equal standing within the company.
How do we design it? Let me count the ways.
Number 1: Take the lead
As the co-founder of the company, I try to be as accessible as I can to everybody. I take great pains first to be their friend, and 2nd, their boss. I always want to know more about how they are doing in their personal lives. I get them to open up, and its a two way street I know, so this takes some work. Eventually they do though.
It surprises even my personal friends, when they see how I treat my staff. I just don’t look at them as staff when I do it. I always leave room for fun in our worktrips for example. And a particularly memorable trip for me was to Tokyo for the Tokyo Gift Fair. This is Maylene, showing off her camwhoring skills, and Elaine, at Disneysea.
Me and the nuffies in moses (my car)
There are of course clear boundaries, and I make it clear that I’m not afraid to have a go at them, and not be fussed about it, if they have done something wrong. Think Alex Ferguson hairdryer. If you’ve crossed that line, I go all the way.
One of the most common lines I’ve heard is that you should never do business with friends. To me, thats a bunch of hogwash, IN FACT, you should ONLY do business with friends!
What is the alternative? Doing business with your enemy!? Or doing business with somebody you are “MEH” about?
Doing business with your friends, will do one of 2 things. Make your friendship ever stronger, because just like in a relationship, you understand each other better, or completely destroy it, and you know why? Because it could not stand the true test of friendship. Life is too short to live with in betweens, and people who are only there for each other during times of leisure.
What I’m saying here is if I have an employee who takes my friendship for granted, and starts walking over me or thinking that they don’t need to deliver because they are my friend, both the friendship and work relationship are dysfunctional, and should not exist in any case.
Friends are of course tolerant to each others mistakes, and weaknesses, but there is and should be line drawn in the sand. Friends don’t take things for granted, and friends don’t let one another down, repeatedly.
If you watch Suits, you’ll know Trevor, and this is the kind of “Friend” we do not like to have in the company.
Wipe that smirk off your face boy! And mike listen to your grandma!
Number 2: Hiring the right friend
Nowadays, with our group numbers burgeoning at 160 staff regionally, we have a proper HR procedure in place. Do check out our careers page while you’re at it!
This is where I’d like to draw the attention of the HR practitioners in the company. They’ve probably heard it before, but I’m going to give it to them again.
We’ve got the standard filters for pulling people in.Things like
1) Your CV
2) Your cover letter
3) An interview questionaire
4) An interview with HR
5) An interview with a Head of Department
6) An interview with Me
Now as we, formalize these procedures, which are entirely necessary in a growing company, the one thing we can never institutionalize is your heart and your feelings.
A candidate could tick all the columns in the area of skill-sets, or experience, but do they tick the correct columns when it comes to integrity, character, and more importantly would you want them as a friend? Would the others want this person as a friend?
This is the MOST important bit of HR. All respect to Bradsmart and his Topgrading formulas, which I guess have extra relevance in an organization that are too big to care, and just needs to churn those A players in, and those B and C players out.
People who have been interviewed by me, find it strange, when I start talking to them about what they do in their free time? Whether they have a boyfriend or girlfriend, what their political views are, and so on and so forth, but you know what, in those 10 minutes that I’m in with you, I’m trying to suss you out, and figure out, if you’re going to be a great addition to the team socially. You gotta be cool to join the school of rock yo.
Compromise on this and you risk diluting a culture you have taken a long time to build up. Its like adding too much water to your milo …. …. FTS.
Number 3: Conducting health checkups
In line with the point above, whilst it is important to have clear work related KPIs set and monitored, it is equally, if not even more important to have, SOCIAL KPIs checked and monitored.
There are 2 levels to this.
Number 1: Localised checkups
Number 2: Full body checkups
Lets start with number 2 first, which is typically my domain. A full body checkup looks into the sum of parts. Is the team cohesive, are they working well together, do they love one another?
Recently I called for a company BBQ. I called for it on a Friday night, and we got RSVPs in. Call me a hawk, call me a dictator. But I actually do pour over each of these RSVPs seeing who’s coming, who’s not and why not?
We don’t have these things all the time. But when we do,I do hope for a good turnout. Friday night is an important time socially for alot of us, and the fact that we are willing and also WANTING to spend time together says alot. We had a good time, and the laughter that filled the air, and the feelings milling about were genuine and true.
Localised checkups.My staff know I stalk them. And all our HR practitioners better be doing the same. Of course spotting sincerety from fakeness is also part of the job, but whenever I see something like this, I feel a warm fuzzy feeling inside.
The love is not just limited to the girls. The image above, is some true bromance going down with my technical team. Haha.
This is when Louis Armstrong’s, “Its a wonderful world” starts playing in my head, and I get to that bit, “I see friends shaking hands, saying how do you do, they’re really saying, I love you.”
Of course health checkups don’t just dig up the good. They also dig up the bad. Somebody who feels they have no personal time for their colleagues for example is simply not going to fit in to our company. We bring them in to counsel them, but eventually they themselves drop out, as they just don’t understand the magic, and as such can never enjoy the benefit.
Anybody who says, “Its JUST a BBQ”, is like Peter here, saying that Porthos is “JUST” a dog in Finding Neverland. Every little initiative, every little action, every little thought goes a long way to building friendships in the workplace that last far beyond it.
What a horrible candle snuffing word! Thats like saying, thats not a diamond, its just a rock … just …”
This post has been all about forging a conducive workplace for friendships in the workplace. But why is that even important? And why do you seem to place so much emphasis on this?
Very simple, because you will fight for the person you love. If you love your colleague, the workplace that provides for you, you will fight with all your heart and soul. And you will win, when you fight for love.
The road ahead, is fraught with many challenges for our young company, but none more so that preserving this belief. As a company grows larger, its philosophy morphs into one that is uncaring, intolerant and exclusive. The baton will have to be passed, and our future leaders will need to carry it forward with equal vigour and conviction. But that is another story for another day.
I decided to drive to the office to pick up my portable hard disk drive, as I was committed to churn out a blog post.
Its quite a challenge getting into my office on a Sunday. Its located very centrally, off Little India!
That’s when our hordes of foreign workers from the Pan Asian region come out to enjoy their rest day. But I was determined to be a good blogger, so I went ahead and drove in anyway.
With mission accomplished (And discovering a nuffie working on a sunday!), I proceeded to drive out by the big field in Farrer park, and thats when I spotted it.
My mind went into random thought mode, I did a quick check in the rear view mirror, did a little top gun reverse thrusters manoeuvre and turned into the field carpark.
What I spotted was this.
A game of Sunday cricket.
I walked in amongst the bemused crowd of foreign workers watching the game. They seemed suitably amused that a local was here watching the game too. Even more so, when I whipped out my trusty BB (Galaxy S3 battery was dead!), and started taking photos. They probably thought I was some government agent spying on their activities or something.
Why was this scene so special, and why had I stopped in my tracks to watch the game?
The answer lies in this next photo, which I took off tomsyard.com via Google images.
This is parker’s piece, in Cambridge, where I spent 2 of my best years studying my A levels.
On a Sunday, one of my favourite things to do, would be to walk by here, plonk myself on the carpet grass, and watch a game I used to enjoy playing myself. I would take in the scene. And admire it.
The classy whites of the cricketers, the arch of the bowler’s form as he delivers his ball, the “thwack” of a good swing, the bustle of the field as fielders scurry to contain the damage.
It was like art. And I loved it.
What stopped me in my tracks and made me turn into the field was the realisation that I would not pass this by in Cambridge. What was making me pass it by here?
Alot of us travel overseas, and enjoy other people’s cultures. But do we even realise that we share many similarities and that the grass is not necessarily greener on the other side? (Thats just my bb photo as opposed to tom yard’s SLR btw haha).
I stood there for a good 20 minutes, and throughly enjoyed my Sunday doing it. These were hardmen, I concluded, playing with bare feet on the rough and rocky surface. Even the wicket keeper did not have gloves. I shuddered slightly at the thought of a cricket ball hitting one of them in the balls or face (because both has happened to me, and I had protection!).
There was no cool spring breeze, no smooth carpet grass, or cathedrals in the background. But it was art, a piece of art that belonged to us, and I admired it.
I’ve often heard this comment about me. That my mind often seems to be in a different place from my body.
That is sometimes true, simply because this is how my thought process works.
As soon as I pick up on something, my brain starts whirring into motion and considering the surface and deeper implications of the object, occurance, or concept. And I can’t multitask, so all focus goes into pondering the matter at hand, often times leading to angry girlfriends. Haha.
I thought writing short posts about some of these random thoughts would be both fun and informative, so I’m starting this series titled rather creatively, “Ming’s random thought of the day”.
Today’s random thought comes courtesy of some double sided tape I bought from retail mecca, Mustafa.
Anybody who’s been to Mustafa knows they are bombarded by the most diverse selection of products available to humankind. So buying a simple roll of double sided tape becomes very much like choosing the pattern of your wallpaper, or the flowers at your wedding.
As you can see, I settled on 3M double sided tape, and the question I found myself pondering later was WHY?
After some processing, I realised there were 2 key aspects to this simple $2.80 decision.
1) Pragmatic and Practical
For #1, I had decided that since I had spent so much effort, time and money on the project I was using the double sided tape for, it would be stupid to buy some china piang brand, and have my good work wasted.
For #2, the emotional part came in when I saw the big Made in USA sign. I even turned the packaging around to double check. After all, what’s made in the USA nowadays? The emotional side of me assigned quality to a USA made product, and I started seeing an American flag waving in my head.
Which led to the next thought, right before I was reaching the end of my walk back to the office.
With globalisation, I felt a certain comfort, knowing that not EVERYTHING is made in China. The fact that 3M has created a value proposition through its innovation, consistent quality and branding, means I get to enjoy a differentiated product that has given somebody in the USA a job to do.
It is one activity I hope and concluded is likely to continue, simply because I’m sure there are a fair amount of people who will not want whatever they are attaching to their important, scrapbooks or the like, to start peeling off after a while.
Thats it folks, now back to work!
About Boss Ming
Hi all, my name is Ming, and this is my blog! I graduated in 2006 from the London School of Economics in the UK, and armed with little but dreams and an idea.. Read more..