Tuesday, 4 December 2012

I had fun last night!

Last night, I had a great time (no, not that kind)! 

I was invited by Roy (he got to know me through my blog) to give a talk at the Singapore Microcomputer Society’s weekly seminar:

It was like having a blind date with 14-16 strangers!

Since I have no clue what to say, I decided to use one presentation I gave to our IKEA IT group management when IKEA decided to jump on-board the “out-sourcing” bandwagon.  

Those of you working in IT during recent years would know what out-sourcing means to you personally and your families…I say this with the utmost respect and humility. Since this is a Microcomputer Society, they would understand too? 

I was stationed at Trading Shanghai then. Working with supply chain, we are used to collaborating with carriers, 3rd party service providers, suppliers, distributors, etc. 

Our IT group management were on a worldwide field trip to study how other IKEA organisations handle vendor management before they start their “reengineering” in their own backyard. Shanghai just happened to be one of their pit-stops.  

The essence of my presentation was:

Corporations focus on

KPIs first,
then Business,
then People.

My personal view (the Asian and holistic way) is

People first,
then Business,
then KPIs

I must have touched on some raw nerves last night! I went from speaker to facilitator (phew! It worked according to plan). I spent ¾ of the time listening to the passionate and hot debates between the participants.

The youngest looked 50 plus while the majority are in their 60s. These are the seniors who made Singapore what it is today. I learned a lot last night. I listened.

It was a great night of diversity of opinions and sharing of past personal experiences! 

I used one example of a public listed transport company who in recent years, had lots of challenges with breakdowns, and recently with employee relations…  

I also used the recent PSLE debate as a moot point for discussion on KPIs first or people first? (If you have recruiting experience, do you look at the PSLE results of your interviewees? LOL! Much ado about nothing right?)

Of course I managed to squeeze in putting People first may help in our investing/trading journey. (No, I not telling you! If want to learn more, you have to invite me!)

At the end of the day, I merely borrowed with pride the Chinese medicine way of diagnosing and treating illnesses. 


  1. Hi SMOL,

    I like your philosophy of people first, business second and KPI third. From my own world without the corporate culture imposed on me, I know that to be the truth. If we focus on people and making them like us, the business is already half done and the KPI will follow. Afterall, the numbers are there to serve us so that we can measure whether we are on track. Imagine a sprinter always looking at the clock to see if he's on target...he'll be too stressed up to do anything.

    Took me some time to begin unlearning all that I've known. Something is wrong with my education. For a long while, I dealt with the certainty of numbers and the impassivity of objects to be among the best in the academic field, only to realize that the world outside is quite the opposite. Outside the artificial environment of school, I have to deal with messy, unpredictable humans who might not always know what they want lol

    I leave you with a quote from a famous martial artist:

    "Be like water making its way through cracks. Do not be assertive, but adjust to the object, and you shall find a way round or through it. If nothing within you stays rigid, outward things will disclose themselves.

    Empty your mind, be formless. Shapeless, like water. If you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle and it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot it becomes the teapot. Now, water can flow or it can crash. Be water my friend."

    1. Ah LP!

      Bruce Lee is not just a pugilist. He is a philosopher too ;)

      Despite we both having different backgrounds and paths in life, it's interesting we have the same philosophical outlook on life.

      On a side note, I wonder what will happen if "frustrated" engineers I encountered in cyberspace can have a mindset change - be water?

      Why insist on being an ice cube when the season has changed?

      I guess that's a possibility when you choose a faculty because of KPI (how much you read in a survey you could earn) instead of what you love (people first - you!).

    2. CW,

      Observant as ever ;)

      Precisely! During my time in the 80s, IT and computer studies were hot! I too was gently nudged to go for IT night classes. I think it was NCC something.

      Fast forward to today. If you study IT and computers because you LOVE it, it's fun!

      But if you think it's the next big thing in salary, well... IT jobs are one of the easiest to get "outsourced".

      The winter came and went. Now it's summer. Not conducive for ice cubes. But if you see yourself as water, then you won't be constraint by self-imposed mental restraints ;)

      I've learnt a lot by interacting with ex-managers and colleagues and asking why they are in sales and supply chain when they have powderful degrees and diplomas in IT?

      An education is to empower; not restraint.

  2. Hi SMOL,

    Wah! You can start charging $10,000 per session like Adam Khoo et al for giving motivational talks! I think you are a natural! :D

    1. lucky for him i'm not in the audience!

    2. AK,

      I did it because I thought it would be fun.

      And I had fun!

      That's plenty reward for me enough :)

      Oh! I got free supper after the talk. I'll sing for supper!


    3. Impressive. You get paid no $$$ for a 2-hour session? My deepest respects!! Actually, I think you deserve to be paid some Hongbao money as a token. Being on sabbatical means no income at the moment. Help help a bit lah.

    4. hyom,

      I was there for the people interaction.

      People first :)

      $$$ was never in the picture.

      I was paid in fun. And got free supper and drink!

      I hope they ask me back. Some of the seniors have very interesting outlook and viewpoints.

      I was there to receive too ;)

      There are 2 kinds of advice in the world:

      1) Advice from people who have never climbed the mountain themselves; but they very clear what I should do when I climb a mountain.

      2) Advice from people who have ascended the mountain up and down.

      I got more than what I gave - 1/4 talk; 3/4 listening :)

  3. coconut,

    Why? You will attack me?

    No worries! If you poke me, I just give you my:

    I just woke up, teeth haven't brush, face never wash, why you asking me this question blur blur look!

    The first person to laugh loses!

    Ha ha!

    1. no la, just want to raise my hand and ask,

      whats KPIs?

    2. coconut,

      KPI is short for Key Performance Indicator.

      An upgrade of MBO - Management by Objective.

      A rose is a rose by any name.

      So is the carrot and stick.

      Always ask who placed the carrot in your face; and why you let others use the stick on you?

      You and I are ronins (masterless samurais).

    3. wah so chim! how can expect us layman to know.

    4. Ha ha!

      Now you know how I feel trying to understand some your postings!

      I notice you've stop giving yourself a yearly profit target ;) Me too!

      I've figure out that in trading, I am more profitable if I focus on People (my emotions), then Business (money management and method), then KPIs (dollar amount made or lost).

      It's the dog that wags the tail; not the other way round.

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. Frank,

      My email is on my Blogger profile ;)

      I'll sing for my supper. If you're kind, a free drink thrown in would be very much appreciated. Talk a lot can get thirsty you know?

      Interesting website ;)

      I think I can self-censor on one topic: The joys of singlehood!


  5. Hi Jared,

    This "People First" philosophy sounds right and hard to disagree with. But allow me to make some modifications.

    I think it takes money to be kind. Even if my previous employer was a "People First" type, they will still have to retrench me no matter how much it breaks their heart because money no enough. So, the sequence should be "Money First", then after having enough money, then "People First". What is not forgivable is when already rich people still adopt a "Money First" approach at the expense of people who have been loyal to them.

    1. hyom,

      True. We have to take of ourselves first before we can be kind or help others:


      People first is treating each other with respect and honour - not as machines or costs and expenses on a spreadsheet.

      I've survived 2 rounds of retrenchment exercises at Montgomery Ward, and IKEA's relocation of our regional headquarter from Singapore to Shanghai.

      I've personally fired or voted to have people "removed" for incompetence... And I am one of those ass-holes who feedback that the company was too nice to dead-weights...

      Yes, looking back, I've made quite a few mistakes. Being young and adventurous.

      I come clean. The flower monk was once a butcher.


    2. Hi SMOL,
      "My personal view (the Asian and holistic way) is"

      People first,
      then Business,
      then KPIs

      Well put.
      On the other hand if you have your own company then you may change your mind. Ha! Ha!
      Example look at SINK apore SMRT bus drivers illegal strike case. In fact the whole of SINK apore has been run on this "lop-sided" tripartite industrail laws or agreements for more then 26 years already. What do you think? Can SINK apore continues to be run in this way with more than million FTs working here. i doubt?
      Anyway, you still think people first or what? It is only applicable to you as person. Develop yourself first then business, then KPI. but not a company.

    3. temperament,

      Ah! "People" does not mean "others" only. It includes "I".

      If I run my own company, the "I" is ever present! Businesses are here to make a profit!

      It's about understanding People or Human Nature first - when to put carrots in front of some people, and when to use the stick on others.

      Different strokes for different folks.

      It's about winning hearts of people; not just the intellectual minds with cold numbers.

      It's PEOPLE that drives business - not processes or systems - although now it's fashionable to say so.

      People first is not about charity or altruism.

      Cynics may call it Michavali way. I call it the Sun Tsu or ABBA way - knowing me; knowing you.

    4. Do you wish to contribute comment on Sink apore as a "Corporation" runs on the Lop-sided TRIPATITE rules or laws or regulations. Do you think it is based on :-

      People first,
      then Business,
      then KPIs ???

      Or on:
      KPIs first,
      then Business,
      then People.???

      Or on some lofty idealism too difficult for SINK apore's workers to understand work?
      Ha! Ha!

    5. temperament,

      In 1965, both party and and people understood people first as both knew the consequence of crawling back to "elder brother" - all are equal; but some are more equal.

      Overtime, technocrats in the party that didn't have to win the heart's of the people, due to "shoe-in" via GRC, lost the people first focus...

      Now the party has heard the message from the ground and is making changes. Listening more and modifying the KPIs to be more inclusive - not just on GDP growth.

      We all make mistakes. It's how we recover that counts. We need to be patient. The alternative parties have admitted they are not ready to take over. All we need is time.

      As a Singaporean worker, my experience has been that if we are able to attract more companies to invest in Singapore, I would have more career options.

      If employers more than workers, my pay would go up! Job hopping works for me! I have no use for unions. You ever joined a union? Exactly!

      I just came back from Athens. What's the point of unions and liberal protest laws when unemployment rate has just passed 26%?

      When workers more than employers, your neighbour is not your friend - even if he/she is Singapore born and bred.

      He/she is your competitor. Now that's people first!

      Let's take care of ourselves first.

      Only then we can talk about idealism, philosophy, appreciate the arts, care for nature, fight for animal rights, etc ;)

    6. Ha! Ha!
      "Let's take care of ourselves first."

      "Only then we can talk about idealism, philosophy, appreciate the arts, care for nature, fight for animal rights, etc ;)"

      i can't agree more. But usually "天 下 乌 鸦 一 班 黑"。 We have to make do with whatever we are given until there is a more equitable & people-inclusive GOV.

      It's up to the SINK aporeans to try to live in a more equitable society every five years. So far 60 % thinks our society is equitable enough. i wonder how many of us in this blog are among the 60%. i like to guess more than 45% of the 60% are.
      Suppose you are one of the Bus drivers in Singapore, do you still think the same? i have my doubts. We are all "fortunate" we are not or don't have to. No?

    7. i have been a part-time taxi driver, i have even been a renter of taxi. You can only make a real living out of it if you drive solidly 10 hours or more minus one or two hours. And yet our taxi seems not enough on the road until today. Compare to HK we are no where. WHY? IS NTUC the largest Taxi OPERATOR? Then follow by SMRT, SBS. Isn't SMRT & SBS same, same as NTUC.? And all of them same same as the PAPYs. So is SMRT trains.

    8. temperament,

      I started with $450 in my first real job with Metro as a sales assistant during 1984.

      I not sure how many fellow Singaporeans then cared whether it's equitable...

      I do not believe the both the 60% or 40% really cared about me (or the bus drivers).

      I am wary of opportunists. Yesterday shout FT depressing Singaporean pay, competing with us. Today scream equal pay for equal work!? Eh?

      The same opportunists that scream minimum wage but pay their maids $500... Shout work life balance but drag their feet in giving their maids 1 day off per week...

      Equitable and people-inclusive starts with bottom-up ;)

    9. "Equitable and people-inclusive starts with bottom-up ;)"

      i think we have something in common here.
      But how come we seems to have different idea about the very lop-sided tripartite laws on worker's right to strike or looking for a better and fair wages for themselves.
      All the Ministers & Associatse have no problem in increasing their pay lay. Suka, Suka, they can do it lay. No need to strike one. Ha! Ha!
      Anyway, who can stop them after the SINK aporeans put their faith in them for another 5 years?

    10. temperament,

      I suspect we have more in common than we think ;)

      Both of us did not have it easy in life. But today we can count our blessings for the extras we now have - you have an extra investment shoe-box apartment; me the luxury of taking a sabbatical.

      Not too bad for ex-taxi driver and sales assistant no?

      If we had waited for external events or others (like the every 5 years thing or rely on 60% or 40%) to help us out, you would be still a taxi driver and I a sales assistant...

      By the way, I've not seen a single country where the workers are better off than business owners. Even in communist countries, which worker is better off than the party bosses?

      Both Taiwan and Japan have moved from 1 party rule. Did their ordinary lives improve?

      Western Europe have frequent strikes nowadays. Did it change anything?

    11. Of course business owners should have the largest share of the profit but not so much until the workers need to go on strike to ask for better equity.
      Incidentally, i just did my banking yesterday. And this 24 years old lady who attended to me said, "In SINK apore you have to own a business or learn how to invest or else how to pay for an HDB flat?"
      There you see, she summarised the main idea for you and for me to survive & prosper in SINK apore. The lowly common workers.
      Yes, we have something in common.

    12. SMOL,
      In fact i think you have the experience & PSY to become a successful businessman. Why don't you? Passive businessman is better then active businessman as far as i am concerned-too lazy or frighten to be one.

    13. Yup!

      That's why I have faith in the young. There is hope.

      I now see the young having their own sidelines by having a flea market stand or cybershop. Testing testing what it's like to be entrepreneur.

      To be entrepreneur is to be more self-reliant :)

    14. I did seriously consider buying a franchise coming back. A Subway, 7-elevan, or petrol station...

      Lucky I gave up that idea. Not in Singapore. If I had, I would be fretting about getting workers now ;)

      How to get Singaporeans to work in the service industry?
      Got shift work some more!

      I rather hire myself as my own Hedge Fund Manager.

      So far so good! One year on and I've not self-destructed!

    15. SMOL,
      "So far so good! One year on and I've not self-destructed!"

      Cantonese says "CHOI! CHOI". Touch wood.
      Slow and steady win the race, i believe even in short to shorter-term trading strategies. Go and talk more with coconut and share with me how coconut survive and prosper lay.
      so far i have never been successful in trading. i think the reason is i have no faith in what i learn or read about short-term trading. Maybe one day i will found the faith. Then maybe i will be more successful. i hope.

    16. temperament,

      We stick with what we are good at or believe in. Follow coconut my foot! But learn from coconut? I gladly do :)

      My bread and butter is the 6-18 months position trades.

      I am now putting effort to improve my 1-3 months swing trades since time is now on my side.

      Doubled my futures account for the year. It's probably a beginner's luck thing. But it's something worth pursuing in the long term - just as long I limit my futures account to not more than 10% of my total equity.

    17. SMOL,
      Sound interesting to me.
      May i know what you are trading in your 1-3 months swing trades? And why you say time is on your side? Is time your edge in your trading? By the way how to find the edge in one's trade? Can you share one of your past trading experience where you had found an edge?

      Actually, i considered myself a BEAR/BULL CYCLE trader. In fact, to me all participants in stock markets are all traders. It's doesn't matter to me when you buy and when you sell. As long as you B/S, you are trader.
      Err... how to be a 1-3 months swing trader?

    18. temperament,

      1) By going over my past trades and blow-outs, and being totally honest with myself, I discovered my "style" or "edge". It's the Thomas Edison way. By discovering one by one what does not work for us :)

      Experience is one painful and expensive teacher!!!

      Like what you have discovered for your BEAR/BULL cycle trading style - with your life experience, your edge is you probably can "smell" a market top or market bottom better than the newbie who has never experienced either ;)

      And of course the courage to follow our own style - even if it's not popular or in fashion.

      (AK's path was lonely 3 years back; CW was brave to invest in Keppel when it was considered a sunset industry)

      8 immortals cross the southern seas!

      2) Without meetings and work datelines, I now have the "peace of mind" to put more focus on futures - hence the 1-3 months swing trades.

      I like Macro trades, and I find currencies, stock indexes, precious metals, energy futures are some of the best vehicles for me.

      Plus no need to worry about balance sheet and negative cash flows like the recent commodity trader ;)

      These leveraged trades (limited to 10% of my equity) keep me occupied while I wait for the one shoe to drop - like you probably ;)

    19. SMOL,
      You son of a gun, you have certain "edge" in the Market indeed!

      "Plus no need to worry about balance sheet and negative cash flows like the recent commodity trader ;)

      These leveraged trades (limited to 10% of my equity) keep me occupied while I wait for the one shoe to drop - like you probably ;)"

    20. temperament,

      Oh! I forgot your previous experience working for bucket shop must have given you an insight into how to fade the retail flow ;) Now that's an edge!

      You job-hopper too you!

      Buy-and-hold is not our style ;)

      Understanding ourselves is a "People first" edge.

    21. SMOL,
      "Oh! I forgot your previous experience working for bucket shop must have given you an insight into how to fade the retail flow ;) Now that's an edge!"
      Not really lah! Just learn how to alak "BUCKET SHOP and the likes of them only.

  6. I was once a business owner and it is a lie if I say people first. My perspective is:

    Business first
    then People
    followed by KPIs

    When the business is a success, then I can afford to think about People. With genuine care for the people, KPI will be achieved eventually.

    If the business is not doing well, we will be overwhelmed with countless issues and our mind will be too clouded to think about the welfare of others. When the business is doing well, we can afford to be more accommodating to the under achievers. The only people I fired were those that had intention to cause harm to the business.

    I am glad that four years after selling my business, my former employees are adding me as friends in their facebook.

    1. YJ72,

      And that's the best kind of HR KPI - when you no longer around at the business, how ex-employees and colleagues treat you.

      I think this "People" word in English is not as subtle as the Chinese word for "Ren" - which I believe Chinese readers will include the concept of "I" more readily :)

      "Yi Ren Wei Ben"

      The brain says it's Business first. But the heart knows its People first.

      There are deep personal "People first" reasons why entrepreneurs leave the security of working for others and strike out on their own:

      I want to decide my own destiny;
      I want to provide for my family;
      I want to show those who looked me down...;
      I want to prove my idea is right...

      Yesterday, mom out of the blue wanted to visit the neighbourhood hairdressser. Mom can't walk without assistance; and I am around :)

      I am glad I've made the right decision to hire myself.

      A lot of things and decisions we do are because of human emotions: love, hate, jealousy, fear, greed, etc.

      I started from a narrow "Me first" in my youth; but with the passage of time, I now see the bigger and broader "People first".

      It's not to deny the "Me first" (even those that do charity need to feel good); but to be aware of why we and others do the things we do.

      With this knowledge, we can be better "shepherds".

    2. SMOL,
      If you don't mind, let me tell you the Christian Faith is exactly base on People FIRST. CHRIST comes to serve and not to be served. Now i can understand why you keep on stressing on People First. i am quite touch. CHRISTIANS believe if one is to follow Christ one will fail if one base on one's own's power. i am not saying there are no exceptional individuals who are People FIRST disciples. But they are rare exceptionals.

    3. temperament,

      Mom recently complimented that my rendition of Amazing Grace (she no clue what singing me) in the shower was not bad ;)

      I don't wear certain words on my lips, and there's no symbol on my chest. I am what I think and do.

      I'm a pagan hedonistic agnostic. But you can call me Al!

      (Don't know why, but I am humming to this Paul Simon song)

  7. BTW, I would have invited you as a guest speaker if I was still the business owner :)


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