It’s said that with crisis comes introspection, perspective, change and growth. Amidst a historic global outbreak and the 2020 Malaysia Movement Control Order, August Man Malaysia looks to our Men of the Year from different backgrounds and industries for their personal reflections, and commemorate this period of momentous changes and the reflective state of mind with a special cover art, courtesy of graffiti artist Kenji Chai.
Kenji Chai (MOTY 2017 – Art)
In what way has the MCO and global outbreak affected you, and how are you coping with the current situation?
Some of my projects have been cancelled and others postponed. At the moment, I’m just learning new things like making videos and live shows to share with my friends and followers on Facebook, to keep them informed of what I’m doing, along with some sketching and digital artwork. More importantly is to just stay active, keep going and to not stop at any point.
What inner strengths and positive qualities you have noted during this challenging time?
I am always a positive person, always seeking solutions to achieve higher ambitions. I also spend more time with family and friends on social communications.
What are you doing to keep the spirits high while isolated at home?
I’ve been doing some workout throughout the lockdown, to keep myself healthy and stay positive. I’m also watching Netflix movies and individual artists’ videos about their success stories, to stay motivated. Apart from that, I’m learning and discussing with friends in video calls how to develop my own contents, like doing some live drawing on social media.
Most of us are used to dealing with specific problems in methodical ways, but in such a time of uncertainties, what do you reckon is the best approach/mindset?
Basically, as an artist, I’ve been trained to prepare for the worst. I save as much as I can, in case or desperate times. It’s also important to have a positive mindset and an open mind. Try to keep yourself occupied with things to do to avoid overthinking.
Please share with us your personal reflections, how it has reshaped your outlook, and what new things/interests you’ve discovered.
Going through some of the art books I bought and also some old sketches and drawings, I realised that I’ve come a long way, with a lot of improvement. Going forward, I need to be more focused and keep on rocking what I do best. More importantly is to just live life to the fullest. Going live on Facebook and Instagram for the first time was like a breakthrough for me. It’s been interesting to be interviewed in English and Cantonese, and there are still many things for me to learn.
Please share with us the inspiration behind your cover art.
I was travelling around the world, looking at the inspired work of other street artists. Then it dawned on me just how unique and beautiful my hometown, Sabah, Malaysia, is. With that in mind, I decided to produce a piece that would strike a chord with fellow Malaysians and all those living here, and remind them to appreciate and be proud of our motherland for all the beauty and wonder she bestows on us. The cover art is the result of that.
How do you think it symbolises a new outlook and self-reflection for you?
It is the vivid, refreshing and positive vibes that it exudes, so full of culture and rich in colour. In a way, it represents many thoughts, our heritage and values. More importantly, it represents nature, the source of all life, which holds all the conditions and resources essential to sustaining us into the future. So we need to take care of her and all life around us, especially our family and loved ones.
Andrew Ngo (MOTY 2017 – Style)
What do you make of the challenges at present? In what way has the MCO and global outbreak affected your work/business/industry?
It has forced me out of my comfort zone. We carried out digital campaigns that me and my team never thought we could. I shifted my priority to reinforcing my team and improving the efficiency of my operation team especially. We are even launching our upcoming collaboration with Jeep Glenmarie online and on social media. I would say that the global pandemic has actually reshuffled the players in my industry, placing the more digitally equipped at an advantage. I’m pretty optimistic that, after this global crisis, the fashion industry will become even bigger based on the current increase of online usage and contents. More contents means more engagements, and more people interested in fashion. We need more people to join our community and enjoy fashion together.
What tough decisions have you faced since the announcement of the MCO?
We have decided to forgo our overseas expansion plans and have made it a point to be extra cautious even of our local expansion. I’m glad that I saw the MCO coming and had planned out our strategy earlier with the team. With the support of the team and a clear understanding of my vision, I believe we will be able to work more efficiently.
What inner strengths and positive qualities have you noted in yourself, or within your community during this time of crisis?
Devotion, patience and empathy.
What are you doing to keep your own and your colleagues’ spirits high, and how do you keep the team together while isolated at home?
I exercise and take joy in being able to spend more time with my loved ones at home, and then channel the positive energy into my work and team. We make full use of technology and the available apps to stay connected. We still have our weekly meetings, except now on Zoom, and everyone is gladly adapting to the changes.
Most of us are used to dealing with specific problems with established methods, but in such an uncertain time, what do you reckon is the best approach/mindset?
Have faith that there is a way out, be open to adopt new skills and practices, and keep your company abreast of new developments and plans, so that you can seize that opportunity when the time comes. Even though this seems like a really tough time, there must be something that we can leverage to make things better.
Please share with us your personal reflections and how it has reshaped your outlook.
I think the era where bosses sit in the office 24/7 to ensure employees are doing their work is far behind us. This pandemic has pushed us to develop greater trust in each other. I just need to give them the right direction and trust that they will get things done. We are connected in more ways than ever before, be it a phone call, on Whatsapp, FaceTime or social media. It’s just a matter of opening up ourselves to new approaches and, most importantly, to one another.
Ivan Lam (MOTY 2009 – Art)
How has this global crisis affected you?
It has changed my work and industry in many ways, from the way I create my artworks to the way I present them. Suddenly, everything has to be online. I understand the need for things to be online and its great to be able to adapt and learn a new skill, a new way of creating.
What creative projects have you initiated since the announcement of the cordon sanitaire?
My gallery and me have launched an online initiative online called Ivan Lam Giveaway (www.ivanlamgiveaway.com), where all the proceeds from the donation/raffle will go to UNICEF for a good cause. For my upcoming solo show happening this April, we have shifted it online and decided to capture the works in high resolution and in 360-degree photos, so that viewers can have a better sense of the exhibit in 3D space.
What inner strengths and weaknesses have you noted during this time of crisis?
Perhaps it’s because I am an artist, so isolation is like my super power. I am used to being alone for long periods of time. On the flip side, dealing with your family 24/7 can really drive you mad.
What are you doing to keep your spirits high?
I meditate and exercise, and get the whole family to do the same. We do pretty much everything together except for bathing!
Most of us are trained to handle specific problems in methodical ways, but in such an uncertain time, what do you reckon is the best approach/mindset?
Be organic, be open and be mindful. Always see the bigger picture. In these extraordinary times, we need to take extraordinary measures. A great friend of mine taught me to change my mindset to see the glass half full instead of half
empty. He has changed me to look at the word “desperate” from an “extraordinary” view.
Please share with us your personal reflections and how it has reshaped your outlook.
It has made me realise how we have taken certain things for granted, such as hygiene, personal contact and the environment – we need to do better, not just for the future but for the present, or else we might not have a future at all.
With the movement control, do you also find that your creativity is being stifled?
I think its just the tools used that are different. When you are creative, you are creative. You will find substitutes and new ways to create. Nothing’s changed, but everything’s different.
Kyle E (MOTY 2019 – Art)
How has your business been impacted as a result of Covid-19?
As of now, we are still working, but from home. It’s been a little challenging working remotely from the team and not being able to go to site, but, fortunately, we have quite a few projects that are still in the documentation phase.
As an entrepreneur how do you plan to navigate your business through this period?
We’ve got to be resilient. Change is the only constant in business, so we have to figure out ways around this. It is tough also considering that as designers, our final output is a physical built object. However, this also allows us time to sit down and rethink where we are headed as a studio and what we think the future of construction is going to be. We are currently working on some internal projects, developing some writings and ideas on our thoughts and see where that takes us.
Most of us who are employed are unable to understand the kinds of pressures entrepreneurs feel at this time. What are some of things you – as a business owner – have to think about?
Paying our team members is the main priority. In a time like this, cash flow is the biggest concern. Thankfully, the new stimulus package from the government does assist us. The bigger question though is, where is the economy headed after the MCO? Also, considering that construction is usually the first industry to be hit in an economic slump, we have to think of ways to be able to see it through.
How does the government stimulus packages benefit you?
Because we’re a micro-SME, it has helped us with our monthly cash flow. But this depends on the length of the MCO and how we can recover post-MCO.
What is your outlook like for the next couple of months?
Not optimistic, but looking at how China is doing, with some challenges, a lot of opportunities should surface if we can find it.
As an entrepreneur how quickly were you able to navigate through the situation?
We are still figuring things out. Information from the government has not been the clearest. Our priority is to assure our team and our clients that we are still open for work.
People have been referring to this as the “new normal.” How do you see this impacting your business in the future?
Working from home is going to be more common, especially for people who are able to. There are going to be many “new normals” besides working from home which will affect us; like how we eat in restaurants, work out in gyms, visit the doctors in their clinics. This is what I foresee as opportunities for us in business.
he company, how do you keep the morale high among your team?
We do daily check-ins with the team, not so much on work progress, but more like a chat to make sure that they are doing ok. We also organise group bonding sessions like Netflix parties and get them involved in projects that are different from the norm. We’ve been organising POW-WOW sessions on Instagram to also encourage our followers to participate in more open discussions and use the platform for more creative interactions. We have also included the team in ideation for new internal projects like the #powpowgadget challenge where our team creates scenarios for the public to interact on Instagram.
What important human qualities have you discovered during this challenging time?
It is important to have each others’ backs; to have a business partner to share the burden and shoulder the burden of our friends and family in business. Also, compassion is a powerful tool at this time to sense and attend to the needs of others, while the mind is a great source of creative solutions in the face of trials and tribulations. Finally, as humans, our greatest asset is the ability to adapt.
Shahrin Bahar (MOTY 2018 – Style)
In what way has the MCO and global outbreak affected your work/business?
As the majority of our clientele comes from weddings – we are affected by the numerous cancellations of wedding events as a result of the outbreak. Moreover, we have always been a lean operation in terms of structure and personnel. We are considering expanding our range of products, offering not just bespoke and made-to-measure suits, but perhaps also a casual line, or incorporating a multi-label concept store that consists of men’s shoes and accessories.
What creative initiatives or strategic measures have you taken since the announcement of the cordon sanitaire, and what difficult decisions did you face?
Financial issues aside, this is also a wake-up call for us to realise our company values and ethos. Therefore we have taken steps such as online consultations, gift cards, suiting promotions – this is a one-off, mind you, as we have never done discounts for our suitings – and other value-added contents. We are also doing a “reset your wardrobe” series on Instagram to encourage men to revisit their closet and reflect on their purchases. It is also a way of changing our spending habit of buying more to making the most of what we can afford.
What inner strengths and positive qualities have you noted during this time of crisis?
I am thrilled to have received photos and messages of my clients and Instagram followers resetting their wardrobe, donating their used clothes to the less fortunate, coming to the awareness that they might have been indulging in compulsive shopping over the years. For me, I’ve finally understood the true essence of family from looking after and spending time with my two children with my wife, which is priceless. Economic challenges aside, my team and I have managed to yield spiritually and emotionally.
What are you doing to keep the morale high while isolated at home?
To be honest, it was a difficult first week for me and my family to adjust to the MCO, as we are a small family living in a modest apartment. Then we came up with a timetable to keep our productivity as high as possible, from exercising to baking, to spring cleaning and keeping the children occupied by engaging them hands-on in such activities as painting and building Legos.
In such a time of uncertainties, what do you reckon is the best approach/mindset?
We are lucky to have built this business with the leanest structure possible from the get go. We hold very little inventory and everything we do is bespoke. The best approach is to understand that organic growth has always been the answer to a solid business and to staying in control throughout uncertain times. Slow and steady wins the race.
Please share with us your personal reflections and how it has reshaped your outlook on work and life going forward.
As a company owner and an individual, going forward, I hope there is a shift in consumer shopping behaviour, as they now realise that only the staples matter. We will carry on with our company motto – “do not buy more, but buy the best you can afford.” This doesn’t only apply to clothing, but also to the food we consume, the car we drive, and the lifestyle we aspire to live.
With the MCO, have you been able to spend more quality time reconnecting with your domestic role/interests?
I think the MCO, in a way, has been a blessing in disguise. Having had the chance to slow down and reflect on life and work, I realised that we have grown from strength to strength. I have picked up drawing and sketching again, and have been catching up on films, books and perfecting the art of making a good steak. I look forward to the new “normal” after the MCO, though our business model has always been by appointment-only and we have always been very client-focused.
Lex Low (MOTY 2016 – Activist)
What has the past month been like for you?
The past month has been quite an emotional roller coaster ride as we are all adjusting to this MCO. It’s a lot of mixed feeling I’d honestly share with you. Anxious, peaceful, nervous, worry, hopeful, optimistic and calm.
What are some of things that you have discovered about yourself?
The MCO has allowed me to gain more clarity about myself and my company. It forced me to slow down and re-evaluate, re-adjust and re- design the future. Besides that, I fell in love with cooking and got to experiment with a lot of dishes that I had always wanted to try making, but never did. As a person who loves art and craft, cooking may be the next medium that will allow me to connect with my soul.
Has your perspective of life changed over the past month and how?
Definitely. At first, there was a lot of anxiety and worry. Only after about two weeks into the MCO that I started to look at it as solitude time and learn to accept that certain things are just beyond my control.
Given recent events and circumstances, have you remained optimistic or pessimistic about the world?
At first, it was a lot of uncertainty. But for now, I’m definitely optimistic about this situation. The media is flooded with a lot of negative news, but there’s also a great number of positive ones. People are helping one another, NGOs are coming together to provide food for the underprivileged. And now more than ever, the world needs love, kindness and compassion.
Your whole business revolves around making a change. How are you taking the situation as a business leader?
In our business, our ethos will always be about empowering people. We make sure that our staff’s welfare is taken care of and that we keep up the positive vibes among our people. We make sure that we are constantly progressing and that we never lose heart. We took this time as a company to learn more skills online that are relevant to the nature of our work. We make sure that we take care of the mental and emotional health of all our people by constantly engaging them in conversation.
Has this global crisis changed your perspective on business?
Yes. While it may contain a lot of uncertainties in regard of future consumer behaviour, how the market will react, what will be the new rule that will affect our nature of work, etc, we choose to look at it as something temporal and to always be prepared for change.
Do you see any change in your business model after this?
There might not be any big change, but we may take a slightly different approach. There will be some new services introduced. As our business focuses on the human touch and personal interaction, it is impossible for us to convert our services for online consumption. Nontheless, our focus will definitely include ensuring safe spaces for our communities to enjoy our services in our barbershops.
As a leader, how are you guiding your company now?
We work as a team. It’s crucial to maintain a positive energy and hope in the company. We encourage our staff to find a balance. Yes, we might have all the time we need now, but we must always be prepared. The sooner we adapt, the sooner we adjust. Things may change, but the really important things stay protected.
What advice do you have for others?
As we learn to embrace this season of change, know that the most important things stand the test of time. We live in an exciting time and today, we see a glimpse of what truly matters in life and what’s not. Allow yourself to reflect and re design the future that you’ve envisioned for your company.
Bryan Loo (MOTY 2013 – Entrepreneur)
What do you make of the challenges at present?
I would like to look at it as a positive impact on our businesses, as it motivates us to venture beyond our comfort zone and challenges the status quo. During this MCO, we managed to evolve from just a brick and mortar business to an integrated FMCG company with an operational online platform for E-commerce.
What new changes/offerings have you added to your product range to stay relevant in the current climate?
We were trying to figure out a fun and sustainable way to make us stand out. Upon the announcement of the MCO, we decided to offer a way for our customers to make the most of the their time at home by launching a series of exciting products from Tealive DIY bubble tea kit to Tealive x Wall’s Bubble Tea Popsicle to Kokokai Chop-It-Yourself Chicken Rice Kit to Yun Bridge Noodle Easy-To-Cook-It DIY Kit and many more outside-the-box innovations, which we never knew we are capable of. Obviously, we still face many challenges as we navigate through these uncertain times, especially with the massive headcount we have in our organisation and balancing the number of staff needed against the run-rate of our operation without having to let go any of our people; what drives us forward is our people and we will do everything we can to safeguard their livelihoods.
What inner strengths and positive qualities have you noted in yourself, or within your community, during this time of crisis?
Our ability to uphold the value of “thinking outside the box” and put it into effective practice, as demonstrated through the series of innovations we have implemented, something that we never knew we were capable of.
What are you doing to keep the morale high for yourself, or for your partners/ colleagues/staff, and how do you keep it together while isolated at home?
I’ve been doing 45mins of Tabata workout everyday throughout the MCO, something that I have never done before. I’ve been exercising with my wife and kids, even with our best friends via Zoom and this has really brought the relationship closer and healthier than before. The lockdown has actually helped me to develop a much clearer mindset and strengthen my resolve. And, of course, my three kids have kept me motivated, too. Their stress-free nature is contagious and comforting, and adds much needed positive energy to my daily life in spite of the endless challenges ahead.
Most of us were taught to deal with specific problems with established procedures, but in such a time of uncertainties, what do you reckon is the best approach/mindset?
Some look at it as a disaster, while others the new “normal” and hence new opportunities. It’s important to maintain a positive mindset throughout good and bad times. This empowers us to pursue bold ideas, venture beyond our comfort zone and rise to the occasion. But first, survive, then thrive.
Please share with us your personal reflections, how it has reshaped your outlook on work and life going forward.
The world that we are living in today will never be the same again for me. I see a future where people appreciate their family and personal time more than before. To cater to this customer base, I believe we would have to redesign our products and services around our customers’ experience. In our F&B industry, for example, we would need to start thinking backwards, from a nicely finished product or meal at the restaurant, re-engineered to a simple and easy assembly model for customers to recreate in the comfort of their own home; or deconstruct the dish to its key ingredients and make them readily available off the shelves off supermarkets and online grocers.
Check out other exciting reads on the August Man Malaysia May 2020 digital issue.