Thursday, April 22, 2010

Live & Inspire Series - Datuk Vinod Sekhar

Live blogging at Starbucks, Bangsar Village II.

This is the 2nd session of the Season 2 of the Live & Inspire Series. For today's event, do check on this link. Today, the speaker is Datuk Vinod Sekhar on "Entrepreneurship: The Up, Down and All Around".

To follow Live & Inspire's twitter, go to here.

Datuk started by saying that if someone doesn't want to fail, then one shouldn't consider to be an entrepreneurship. Failure is a lesson that shouldn't be repeated. If want to fail again, then fail on something different. It is part of the "tuition fee". If failed on the same thing, then it is a wasted effort.ols

Datuk studied molecular biology, with minor in political science. Datuk's father was a civil servant, and he managed to get scholarships to further studies. The scholarships were sufficient to pay for tuition fee and living cost. His father just provided enough for his flight back. But Datuk wanted to have some fun.

So, he had to work on something during his studies.

In US universities, they sold all sorts of things, from mugs to key chains etc with huge university logo, but they didn't sell any T-Shirt with college crest on it. It cost him USD50 to make 10 samples. He went to many universities' bookstores, but most rejected. Eventually University of Pennsylvania agreed to purchase it.

Datuk Vinod didn't have money to make the few hundred T-Shirts that UPenn ordered. Eventually, he asked for 50% down payment, and managed to get the shirts done. Datuk Vinod shared the actual cost of making the T-Shirt was close to USD2 to USD3 then.

Eventually, the business grew quite huge, and he sold it for millions to Champion.

Datuk Vinod has also sold his innovation to 3Com as well.

Datuk Vinod shared about his disastrous mistakes, like he went into farming or car making. At one point, he thought that he could do anything, and didn't know enough about the field.

He shared that he was millionaire at age of 20, and then multi-millionaire at age of 24, and became a Datuk at age of 26. Unfortunately, he almost became bankrupt at age of 32, during the financial crisis.

During that time, he borrowed USD100 Million, which was equivalent to about RM250 Million. However, when the currency crashed, at one point, it became close to RM500 Million. Eventually, it stabilized to RM380 Million. And interest rate went up from 5.+% to 13.+%.

Datuk Vinod shared that when business failed, it would have hurt people, as people might have lost business or job, and those people might not have done anything wrong. It is impossible for any businessmen to say that they haven't hurt anyone or made someone's life miserable. It is impossible to go into business that one would do right all the time. One would have to make hard decision sometimes.

If one tries to be good guy all the times, one might end up lose everything. One has to look the situation and sometimes, one might have to make hard decision, including firing people. One can feel sorry about it, and perhaps mitigate it, but there is no way around it. If things go down, one has to do something drastic to save the business.

Early on, Datuk Vinod would fight on to keep everyone, but it just didn't work. And that would be reality of business. Datuk Vinod shared that he did spend money, but 60% of money that the company made, went to the foundation, to help 12,000 children one way or another.

If there is excess cash, Datuk Vinod would use it, either spend it on himself, invest, or donate it out. He doesn't believe in having the money in the account. Either it is used to make someone's lives better or improve the society, or make one's lives better.

Datuk Vinod said that lives is short, so we should enjoy it and experience everything. We would never have yesterday again, and last month is gone forever. We should think of everyday as it is all we are going to have.

Datuk Vinod shared on him playing with the children of down syndrome, and he found that his money went missing. He went home feeling angry. Then, he went back with his mother to the place, and they showed him the collage that they had made, and the kids told him that they ran out of coloured papers, and they borrowed some of his. And those coloured papers were Vinod's money. And hence, Datuk Vinod shared that those were just coloured papers.

Datuk Vinod shared on Zimbabwe's currency of 100 trillion and it is worth 5 cents in Malaysian Ringgit.

Datuk Vinod shared that there are enough money in the world to go around, but lots of people still went hungry and dying.

Datuk Vinod believed in capitalism, and he felt that everyone should live above the line, be it for education, health etc, but once beyond it, it is a free for all, where it is pure capitalism. If people don't have money, then as a capitalist, then one can't "take" it from others.

So, as capitalist, should always try to increase the number of middle class, so that more people can afford to purchase, and hence can take more money from them. Creation of wealth is crucial. Get the government to create the opportunity.

By giving, Datuk Vinod received a lot more than what he gave. By being rich, and he can afford big house, big car etc, he could afford to give out more. One does not have to be socialist to give to others. One can have everything, and then one could give away to others. Imagine if everyone is doing something, the amount created would be immeasurable.

If you want to be successful and rise to the top, then one should expect to be shot down, and one has to deal with it. There will always be people who would try to pull you down. So, we just have to accept it and move on.


Q: What was your worst failure and how long does you take to overcome it?
A: Worst failure was to go into farming. Datuk Vinod invested more than $40 Million, and he had no experience on it, and he rode on it with an American partner, and eventually lost everything. Beyond it, 150 people lost their jobs. Datuk Vinod related that during financial crisis, the American ran off, and he had no experience in it, and he could do nothing. So perhaps, if Datuk Vinod could understand the business a bit more, he could have done something.

So, Datuk Vinod's advice would be to either learn up on it, or only invest in things that he understood. Only go forward, if he has confidence to run the business. Because of this downfall, it caused Datuk Vinod's other business to falter too, as his money was lost here, and he couldn't use it to sustain his other businesses.

Always understand what is one's weakness, and always surround with smart people. One does not have to always accept what is being told, but one has to be always alerted when there is issue. Make sure that people dare to tell you some observations, if they have, even though it is negative. Datuk Vinod used to think that he knew everything and he did not take advice, but he learned his lessons, and now he always surround himself with top brains.

Q: How does he balance his life?
A: His advice is that people should get a life. Datuk Vinod said that people are willing to stay back on Thursday evening to listen to him talking. It is inspiring especially to hear people's stories. He loved his work, and enjoyed his work.

Datuk Vinod said that some people accuse him of being arrogant, but he thought that he is quite humble. His family and friends have always kept him going. He enjoyed learning and sharing. That's what life is about.

A: No regret of selling the apparel company, as it gave him the capital. The offer price then was very good, and the shirt company would continue to make 100,000 shirts and gave the money to the foundation, besides him getting upfront payment. Sometimes people thought that he sold the optic engine early, but he felt the bigger company could bring it bigger.

When Datuk Vinod started AsiaConnect with RM200,000, and he sold within 9 months at USD15.8 Million, and it was just before the dot-com bust.

He felt that one should not regret making money, and once we sold it, we should not think back at it again.

Q: How did you deal with people who are shooting you down?
A: When people are shooting, they might never identify themselves to you. As you won't know who attacks you, you won't know how to defend. Many people felt jealous when others make it.

Datuk Vinod wrote a play in 1997, and there was bunting all over KL. And he was having a meet up at Bangsar, and when he was introduced as an actor now. The person across said that he knew Vinod Sekhar very well, and he had done business with him. He said that Vinod Sekhar would take advantage of him once he had the chance, and this person was telling it to Datuk Vinod without realizing that he is the guy.

Q: How about those overseas bad media?
A: Not much one can do, if people are shooting you. If those have no basis, then it is fine, as long as you do the right thing and performance would prove it. So, always focus on doing one's things, and keep on doing it right. Datuk Vinod said that as he is always very outspoken and speaks his mind, he would sometimes caused others to attack him. He could not tolerate idiots, and he would react to them.

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Kah Seng said...

"If people don't have money, then as a capitalist, then one can't 'take' it from others. ... One does not have to be socialist to give to others. One can have everything, and then one could give away to others. Imagine if everyone is doing something, the amount created would be immeasurable."

Sounds like a true capitalist.

Datuk Vinod would probably identify with the media-maligned industrialists such as Hank Rearden in the book Atlas Shrugged, and this quote from another character in this book on the virtue of making tons of honest money:

Anonymous said...

what gullible morons u are. this guy has conned more people than u can count. even the m'sian insolvency dept is after him.