Jumaat, 22 November 2013

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The Star Online: Business

Up Close & Personal with Martin Gilbert


SCOTTISH lad Martin Gilbert is no stranger to Malaysian soil. Having spent a good part of his childhood here, he is well-accustomed to the country's intricacies through the local delicacy, rich culture and people.

Growing up in Asia turned out to be a great advantage to Gilbert, now chief executive and founder of Aberdeen Asset Management Plc. It is one of the reasons he chose to set up office here.

"I knew that Asia was going to be the growth area of the world. If we relocated the team out here, we would do well," he says.

Aberdeen Asset Management is the first foreign fund manager to have been awarded a domestic asset management licence in Malaysia.

Seating in a boardroom situated on the 26th floor of Menara IMC, amidst the concrete jungle skyline in bustling Kuala Lumpur, Gilbert shares his personal journey with StarBizWeek.

Boarding woes

Although he was born in Brickfields, he lived at Carey Island, some 14km off Port Klang with his parents, where his father worked for Harrisons & Crosfield then.

He schooled at The Alice Smith School for five years, the oldest British international school in Malaysia, and one of the oldest in South-East Asia.

"I started boarding at the age of five in KL so I could go to school there. It was interesting," he says.

Later on, he was sent to school at co-ed independent Gordonstoun School in Moray, Scotland for nine years. Although having been through the boarding system in KL, boarding in Scotland was different. "It was cold and miserable and windy," he cringes.

Although he left KL to go to boarding school in Scotland when he was 10 years of age, Gilbert says he spent most of his holidays in Malaysia, which really formed his love for the country. "It's a great place to grow up," he says.

How it all started

Gilbert was educated in Aberdeen and graduated with a law degree, and then went on to do a masters degree in accountancy from the University of Aberdeen. He later qualified as a chartered accountant in 1980.

In the early years of his career, he worked at legal firm Brown Robb Cruickshank, which had an investment department. Together with two partners, Gilbert bought out that investment department in 1983 and formed Aberdeen Asset Management.

"We realised the days of the Scottish fund managers being part of accountancy or law firms were over. We realised that the world had changed and you had to be set up on your own and independent. So, we worked it out and bought the business," he says.

Being one of the few genuine global independent asset managers, he says Aberdeen Asset Management's story is one of remarkable growth.

"We built a global asset manager capable of managing money anywhere in the world. We manage equities, bonds, property and solutions, et cetera," he says. From a firm of only US$75mil in assets under management to the US$315bil it manages today, Gilbert says he occasionally feels he has to pinch himself. "It still surprises me everyday that we have become as big as we actually are as a business," he says.

Being part of the company, from its birth up to now, 30 years down the road, Gilbert says he feels a special affinity with it.

"When we went through the tough times from 2002 till 2004, never did it enter my thoughts to give up or leave. Because when you have this special affinity, you also have the desire to stay and sort it out," he says.

Aberdeen Asset Management was faced with bleak circumstances when its investments in split-capital investment trusts, which it was a major investor in, dramatically collapsed in 2002.

But Gilbert managed to pull the company back from the brink and bring it to where it is today.

The Aberdeen culture

He attributes the Aberdeen culture as a key part of the business. "We have a strong culture, and we like bringing in graduates and training them. The graduates we brought in 15 to 20 years ago are now running large chunks of money for us," he says.

It gives him great satisfaction to see these graduates succeed and do well in the business, he adds.

His duties now involve a lot more travelling because it is a global business, but he adds that most of the time it is about sorting out problems.

"We are a people business, so at any given time you've got to try and keep all your people as happy as you can. That's what we spend most of our time doing – making sure you run the business well and above all making sure we do the right things for our clients," he says.

While he enjoys his work, he adds that it is indeed hard work. "You're on call now 24/7 because you're never too far away from your Blackberry. There's no question now of going for a holiday and shutting down your Blackberry for a week. People would think you have gone mad!" he laughs.

With a global organisation like Aberdeen Asset Management, there is ongoing communication 24 hours a day. Although technology has allowed for seamless communication, he warns that people should be careful and disciplined with it.

"With messages and e-mails constantly coming in, you've still got to make sure you get some sleep! I try to switch it off at night but the rest of the time it is turned on constantly," he says.

It is amazing, he exclaims, how the digital revolution is dramatically and constantly changing people's lives.

"It's great because if you think about it, in the past, no one would leave their desk because they couldn't communicate if they weren't at their desk. The only method of communication was by fixed line or telephone. So with technology now, we communicate much more. It is better this way because you're constantly in touch," he says.

The Malaysian flavour

Gilbert loves getting his dose of curries, roti canai and kuey teow. Also, the great thing about Malaysia is that it is a melting pot of all cultures, he says.

Having been born here, he is heavily influenced by the work ethic practised and the sacrifices people make for education here.

With three children of his own, he says this prompted him to work hard to give his children the opportunity of having a good education. "You want to give them the best chance you can in educating," he says.

His children are all above the age of 21, and have all done well, he says. Meanwhile, he says he met his wife Fiona at university, where she was working.

She is currently the head of department of radiology at the University of Cambridge. "She has had a very successful career. We live in Aberdeen, Cambridge and London, but Aberdeen is our main home," he says.

Gilbert enjoys skiing the most with his family. "I ski anywhere in the world. The alps are great!" he says.

When he was younger he took up golf, and used to play often. "You've got to play a lot, almost everyday even. The guys I play golf with are all really good players. One of them even played nationally," he says.

He adds that he sails quite a bit during the summer. "It's just cruising, but it has to be somewhere warm like the Mediterranean, which is so different from Europe where when the sun shines, you think, my God! What's happening?" he says.

When asked if he would be retiring soon, Gilbert laughs it off and replies: "No, I've got to keep working. I said recently that I would work as long as Alex Ferguson keeps working. But even though he has retired, I'll keep going. It keeps you young and I love it because it's great fun!" he says.

Time for finalists to show their mettle


IT'S crunch time.

For the 13 finalists shortlisted by Alliance Bank for the Bizsmart SME Innovation Challenge, the time has come to prove their mettle after six weeks of training.

The weekly training sessions organised by Alliance Bank are designed to arm them with some formal business coaching which the finalists have found useful.

To sum up the experience in working with like-minded entrepreneurs and learning from reputable coaches and business people, Christy Ng of her namesake shoe business, says it has been "an enriching experience being able to look cross-industry and learn from each other".

She feels that the training has been somewhat of a compressed master of business adminstration course for entrepreneurs with no formal business training.

"I was an accidental entrepreneur, a biotech graduate whose hobby was in designing. This (challenge) gave me a crash course on business," she admits.

As an SME owner, she believes that entrepreneurs need to be equipped with the right knowledge of running a business. In the latest training session, the young entrepreneurs learned about workplace psychology.

"How you manage your staff and how to understand their strengths and weaknesses are important aspects because a company is only as good as the people running it," she tells StarBizWeek.

Smooshie director Lee Hai Lin says the entire training process has helped the finalists evaluate their businesses from an outsider's perspective and critique their own businesses using the tools provided.

"We would not have seen the new possibilities as my business partner Wan Thuin and I had been concerned only about running our business," says Lee.

She thinks that the trainings are holistic in the sense that they are not only taught about the mechanics of assessing business opportunities but also on coping and complementing each other as a team.

"The lessons have opened our eyes to more market spaces, like offices and gyms. We are pushed to explore boundaries we never think of, like exporting," the founder of the fruit juice and smoothie business says.

Smooshie's next phase, Lee says, is to start a factory for better product distribution and longer shelf life.

While some are ready to share what they want to do for their businesses, some prefer to guard their secrets.

Softinn Solutions Sdn Bhd founder Jason Lee says his company has discovered what he calls a game changer for his business that he thinks could change the local accommodation-booking industry.

"Through the training programmes, I felt there were a lot of fine-tuning to be done. What Softinn is doing now is right, else we wouln't be profiting already but the Blue Ocean Strategy has helped us find a way to leapfrog our business from the current position," he says. He declines to share what the big leap is however.

For him, it is the Blue Ocean Strategy training and media exposure that are most impactful to his business.

"As small businesses, we don't usually have access to these. It would require us to gain quite some traction before we could be picked up by the media, but the challenge has given us a chance to leverage on the publicity and events," he says, noting that Softinn's existing and potential clients recognise him from the challenge.

For him, the most trying part of the SME Innovation Challenge is time management.

"The challenge is time. It's tough finding time to attend all the training sessions and afterwards, if we are serious about this, we need time to review our business to see where we can improve on."

This week, the young businessmen presented their improved business ideas to the panel of judges, all vying for the three finalist spots.

And it doesn't end there.

On Monday, the three finalists will have to win the hearts of more than just the judges as public voting for the ultimate "young SME idol" commences.

Now, who will impress the masses most?

Permanis seeks to broaden product range


PERMANIS Sdn Bhd, which recently celebrated its 40 years of operations in Malaysia, is confident it will be able to quench consumers' growing thirst and carve a stronger brand name in the competitive ready-to-drink beverage market in the country.

Since being bought over by Japanese beverage giant Asahi Group Holdings Ltd in 2011, the official bottler for PepsiCo in Malaysia has invested significantly in manufacturing as well as in marketing and distribution.

In an interview with StarBizWeek president and CEO Erwin Selvarajah says Permanis is probably the only beverage company in the country that distributes directly to more than 50% or in excess of 40,000 serviced outlets nationwide.

These include supermarkets, fast food chains and coffee shops, he says, adding that it currently commands around 70% market share in the beverage segment in the quick service restaurant business.

"We will continue to strengthen and expand our range and brand of products. From the investment point of view, the company has made substantial investments post-Asahi acquisition in manufacturing, marketing and distribution. The strong distribution capabilities has allowed us to strengthen our relationship with customers in terms of their taste for the type of beverage they consume," he adds.

Selvarajah feels that among the top three beverage players, it is in the number two spot in terms of revenue, behind F&N and ahead of Coca-Cola.

In a bid to better serve and strengthen its relationship with business partners, associates and consumers. Permanis in May this year launched its RM35mil operations office and main warehouse in Bangi to deliver services with a faster turnaround time.

On its range of products, he says the company is in every single category with the exception of dairy products, noting that it will be launching its first ready-to-drink coffee range called Wonder next month.

According to Selvarajah, as for the expansion of its products, the company will look into broadening the categories of its existing products and investing in technology to enhance its product range.

Permanis will also look into investing multi-billion ringgit over the next 10 years in marketing expenditure and expansion of product range, he notes.

As for its product contribution to revenue, he says the company has a good spread across all its brands and most of them contribute almost equally.

For example, Pepsi accounts for less than 15% in terms of revenue contribution, whereas Tropicana Twister, Revive, Mirinda and Mountain Dew account for about 10% to 20% each.

He says there is great potential of the ready-to-drink beverage market in the country. "Malaysia, unlike other countries, has a low per capita beverage consumption per year of about 100 cans. In Singapore and Thailand, it is between 300 and 400 cans compared with the US and Europe where the figure is higher at between 800 and 1,000 cans," he adds.

Apart from adopting a stronger green technology for Permanis plants in line with Asahi's business objectives, he says, its Japanese owner has brought in the best practices with strong focus on quality products while pricing competitively.

Citing a famous phrase in Asahi which states "It will take 100 years to build a company but a day to kill it", Selvarajah says the focus is to deliver the right products with a right price in order to gain consumer preference for the company's products.

He says the beverage market in Malaysia is set to improve over time as in the last 10 years the cummulative annual growth rate (CAGR) growth has been 20% in spite of low consumption of ready-to-drink beverage.

"It may take one generation before changing the mindset of people to consume ready-to-drink beverage from the beverage they drink directly from shops or other food outlets," he says.

Permanis started operations in 1973 and manufactures and distributes some of PepsiCo's global brands such as Pepsi, Revive Isotonic, 7UP, Tropicana Twister, Mirinda, Lipton Ice Tea, and Gatorade, as well as its own range of products which include Excel, Chill, Frost, Kickapoo, Bleu and Shot.

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

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