“I have always thought about the impact I could make with this journey that I have embarked on,” J.W. Sam explains. “I want to genuinely touch and change lives. That has always been the underlying intention.” But he has also been certain that the way he would accomplish this is through providing solutions via his company. And the best way says the CEO of a tech company is through providing digital solutions. The opportunity arose last year when Sarawak, like the rest of the world, was hit by the aftermath of Covid-19.
“I have seen how so many people were able to benefit from technology,” he reflects. However, achieving digital transformation has not been easy. In Sarawak, enabling such change requires having to take novel approaches, particularly when venturing into the interiors of the state.
“You really have to think outside of the box,” he says. “And you have to be on the ground to find the solutions to these problems.”
Covid-19, however, proved to be a catalyst for change, hastening the process and countering a lot of the resistance that Sam was initially faced with. As a result, there was a sudden “paradigm shift,” moving from a society that was resistant to change to a “society that is now running after change.”
The consequence of this is that last year turned out to be a very hectic period for the technopreneur and his team. While most took the lockdown as an opportunity to reflect or acquire new skills, Sam was on the road, travelling throughout the state, looking to provide tech solutions for those who needed in the wake of a nationwide lockdown. “We needed to do that to be able to understand the situation on the ground,” he says. We needed to know what needed to be deployed.” The objective is to provide solutions, which means having to sit down and go through the process with clients.
“We needed to understand what was needed,” he explains. “What would normally require a year had to be implemented in three months.”
He recalls the urgency with which solutions had to be devised. The team was basically given 24 hours to present ideas and to start putting those ideas into action. What that means is that Sam has been on the move since the lockdown was implemented in March last year.
“I don’t even have the words to describe last year because we were very involved in this pandemic,” he says. “But I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to be a part of history, to be able to support and provide value to people during the pandemic. The learning curve has been phenomenal.”
What would typically require a couple of years to learn, had to be learnt in just a couple of weeks. Adding to the challenges is the fact that the pandemic is a global phenomenon which means that there was uncertainty thrown into the chaotic mix. He was, however, able to meet those challenges head-on thanks to a supportive team who embraced the situation.
“They have stepped up, taking the initiative to learn new skills and have accepted that these are the things they needed to learn in order to move to the next step.”
All these factors have allowed Sam to take a positive view of the situation. He feels a sense of gratitude that he was able to contribute at a crucial time for the state. It was also during this time of uncertainty that Sam’s interest in leadership also developed, particularly when it came to managing millennials.
“I have always been someone who is very interested in leadership and how it changes across societies,” he explains. “Before the pandemic happened, I had bought the book Leaders Eat Last because of the last chapter which was about managing millennials. It is a very new and important territory, which I have no experience in,” he laughs.
But through the events that transpired last year, he developed an appreciation for the strengths and characters of millennials and was able to acquire valuable lessons in leadership.
“If you are going to bring a conventional style of leadership, I can tell you now that it is not going to work,” he advises. “Millennials already know what they want to do. You have to create enough factors and enablers to support them. If you can do that, they will go to the end of the earth for you but if you limit them or don’t provide support or follow a typical boss-employee relationship, they will run away in a heartbeat.”
It was also while traveling the length and breadth of Sarawak providing digital solutions that Sam stumbled across a new venture that he wanted to explore. It was something that would allow him to impact society in a different way. Through his travels, he discovered the village Kampung Tanam located in Dalat. Getting there, he describes, is almost akin to a small feat – an hour by charter plane, another hour by car and finally, a boat ride.
But at the end of journey is a picturesque village that sits atop the waters. It is at this village that Sam discovered the local artisans, the Tapo women, whose sun hats (Sera’o) captured his attention.
“I really wanted to find a way to retain this identity yet provide added value by making these products visible to the rest of the world,” he explains. “I decided to work with them in order to create new branches of products to tap into new markets while still maintaining the original identity of their heritage but in a new light.”
The goal is to contemporarise the products and enhance its appeal to a younger audience.
“This will ensure the longevity of their products because if not, we are going to have art that dies.” But true to being a technopreneur, Sam’s involvement does not end at just creative direction but also in facilitating digital transformations.
“It is about finding technology that works,” he says. “It is the simplest things that are able to perform correct actions.”
J.W. Sam is on the cover of our latest entrepreneur supplement with a lifestyle twist, Leading Force.