A Great Organization

-April 24, 2019

This year, we were in Japan for Easter Holidays, and went to Toshima Catholic Church in Tokyo. I was impressed with the organization, and here’s why:

a.) The church was done very simply. I always think that a church should be simple and elegant, and prevent ostentatious display.

2.) The people were friendly, and obviously enjoyed a great camaraderie. They welcomed strangers, and prepared snacks, and painstakingly painted Easter eggs for everyone.

3.) The group had Japanese, Filipinos, Asians, Chinese, Africans, Indians, altogether, and everybody seemed to be talking and enjoying each other.

4.) But sometimes, we are impressed by specific people we meet. Everybody did their parts well in the mass, but particularly the 30 piece choirs ( mostly Filipinos), and their Indonesian conductor. The conductor was young, and immensely inspired, and talented. He cued everybody, and did his conducting with gusto. But most of all, while he was bringing up everybody song after song, he always did so in an encouraging and friendly way, and with a smile. Its always inspiring when you see people bear great responsibility lightly.

I hope more organizations are like this. The future of most organizations ( when cyber groups are in vogue) will be their ability to form ever closer knit communities, and deeper relationships. A very enlightening Easter!

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An Investment and its Product Must meet a Market Need

For the government officials, please note that it is not merely a matter of attracting investments, but knowing what investments creates Wealth and sustainable advantage.  One of the things I learned after all these years is that an investment is not an investment is NOT an investment.  In short, Some creates results, while some are just a diffusion of resources. Some actually detrimental.

Image result for entrepreneurs quote

I have been an entrepreneur for over 30 years, have worked with entrepreneurs and wanna be entrepreneurs-students the last 25, and taught the subject in the MBA program for 4 years.  It is a great rally cry, but it is not an elixir. I always thought that the program to promote the creation of 5 or 10 million jobs through entrepreneurship by the previous governments is to mask its failure to attract the foreign investment and expertise that would provide the jobs and economic growth we need.   For sure, the billions it released provided income and sustenance for some, and helped some from sinking, but generally not very clear, long term, sustainable results.  Entrepreneurship cannot solve the unemployment problem for the simple reason that  :

A Person who does not have the skills that is needed to get a decent job will not have the skills to operate or manage a business, even a micro one.

For a business to be sustainable, it must be competitive, and must meet an unserved need.  The best entrepreneurs are those who were employees first, and learned, and then setup their business. Those who are not employable cannot be expected to carry on a successful enterprise. There are always exceptions, but overall, I would not bid against the statistics.

If a town already has 20 carenderias,  20 sari-sari stores, 15 barbershops, 10 DVD resellers,  and 20 tricycle operators, and all barely eking out a living,  a program to create more vendors, tricycle drivers, or sari sari stores , it will only make it worse for everybody because the problem is that there is no market.

However, if a foreign entrepreneur comes in and setup a BPO office for 200 employees, then suddenly, there is 25 million payroll money going to the local economy, a few million goes to local taxes, SSS, Pagibig,  and Philhealth funds, another tens of millions going to various suppliers and related enterprises, and maybe earning 2 million dollars a year in foreign exchange.  now that will revive the town, and surely in a years time you now see twice the number of eateries, the barbershops, the tricycle operators, and the sari sari stores who will have been able to find the funding to start because there is a market.   The entrepreneur have set up through investments a long term entity, that seeks outside markets that brings money and the town’s economic growth in.

IN short, the most important thing for government is to create MARKETS, or to attract investments that help create value because the investors have access not only to capital, but to skills, technology, and markets that can benefits us.

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Sharing Together

By Earl Ng   Aug 2006
( my eldest son wrote this when he was 12 to submit to a school project on what is it to be a hero).
It was raining. There was no school, and I was bored. I asked my mom on what to do.
“You should think about your family and friends.” She said. “Think about all the good times you have had with them.”
I looked at the clock. It was 2:00 pm and I thought that I should give it a try. I had nothing better to do anyway.
“I’ll just do this for a few minutes.” I thought.
I closed my eyes and memories started filling my mind. I saw the time we went to Beijing, China. I remembered how I helped my brothers climbed the “Great Wall.” I helped my grandma walked through the palace. I helped my mom carry some of the goods we bought. It was a great trip, and I think the difference is we were all sharing and helping one another.
I also remembered the time when I was discusONsing our history lessons with my classmates. I shared with them my knowledge of the events in the history of China and Japan. They got better marks in the exam because of the knowledge we shared.
Then suddenly I was looking at my house and there were several children lined up looking ready to run for their lives. It was Easter and all the kids were ready to look for the eggs, which were colorfully decorated. I saw myself standing beside a little kid and helping him get the eggs in different places, like in the dirty bushes, and in the grass. I saw the difference I had made, I made a child happy by helping him hunt for eggs.
I recalled the times when my dad played chess, scrabble, badminton and making models with me. My brother and I would team up in video games to defeat the enemy. There were the times also when we would read books together, take walks around our village, and played “Mastermind” or “Suduko” puzzles. These were unforgettable and happy experiences for me.
I recalled having read a story about a boy whose father was very rich, but he was unable to spend time with his son. The son had everything he could possibly want, but he was not happy. My family is not as rich but we spend a lot of time together. Even if my parents come home at 11 or 12 pm because of work, they always wake up at 6 am to eat breakfast with us. These make me very happy.
My parents make us feel the importance of us kids. Then my thought drifted to the time I went boating and fishing with my dad. We did not catch anything, but all of us were laughing all the way. I saw that with my positive attitude I make people much more happier and more interested with what we are doing.
Reading plays a big part in our family. We enjoy reading and discussing about the books and stories we read. I also try to share the same experince with my classmates. I remembered the time I was reading the stories for our “Story Bank” and we were doing a good job. I was determined to help boost the group’s self confidence and make sure we get a good grade. When this happened, all my classmates were more determined to maintain their grade so as to earn an honor grade in the next “Recognition Ceremony”. I felt so happy that I was able to help them keep their grades and encourage them to do the same for our quizzes in all of the subjects.
My thought shifted to the time I was sick when I was 9. I remembered my Grand Auntie Dr. Judy telling me on what to do and what to eat and what not to eat. My other Grand Auntie Jean bringing me medicine to lower my fever and comfort me to make me feel better. My dad read me stories like Harry Potter and discuss with me the story so I will not be bored. My mom made me chicken soup and porridge. My brothers who would normally annoy me tried to stay quiet. My Uncle Jan came to comfort me together with my grandpa and grandma who brought me an ice bag to lower my fever. I remembered the whole family was there. This made me realize that small things can make a big difference. Just showing you care by doing little things does it.
Then I looked at the clock and I saw that it was almost 4:30 pm! I had been day dreaming for over 2 hours. I looked out the window and I saw that it was not raining anymore, so I called to dad and said “Hey dad! Want to play a round of badminton?”
“ Sure! Get the racquets.” My dad replied.
And we went out to play – just like what we have done so many times before.
Many of us are not heroes, and may never be. I watch on TV and see the Justice League, and wish I was Superman or Spiderman. But I know now we cannot fly, dodge bullets or catch criminals, and save mankind. We are ordinary people. But we can also make a difference by sharing not only our things, but also our time. We spend time with friends and family. By showing you care by listening or sharing time with them, we make our friends, our family, and ourselves happy.
So after this afternoon’s memory recall experience, I soon realize that in our own little way, everybody can make a difference in the lives of many people. We do not need superpower skills to be a hero to them.

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Flexibility in Pursuing Opportunities

Recently, we have been moving forward in cooperating with Japanese companies, and as a result, I have been visiting the country over half a dozen times the last two years.  I would like to share this as an observation which I hope we can capitalize and change. 

ON these various trips to Japan, I have meet there Filipinos and Chinese.  There are many Filipinos working in every major city in the world as they look for employment and opportunities.  Ditto In Japan. On the other hand, there has been a boom of Chinese tourists visiting Japan which number over 10 million a year recently.  Since Chinese tourists are active shoppers, they have easily become the major buyers for many shops.  The Japanese stores, and restaurants have tried to capitalize on these tourists by hiring Chinese speaking sales clerks and restaurant servers.  Most of the Chinese I have meet in these establishments are visible because they have a small China flag in their lapel.  There was also one notable difference – although they were hired to speak mainly to Chinese customers, many also knew how to speak Japanese.  However, many of the Filipinos I meet, even when they have been to Japan for some years, still could not speak Japanese.  Why this difference?

Because the Chinese know that if they want a job or business, they need to adopt to the culture, and learn the language.  Whereas the attitude of the Filipino would be – do you need English? I know English. It’s the universal language, so why bother to learn your language?

Learning a different language seems to be something that is not a palatable choice for many Filipinos.  Even as we enjoy a Korean tourist boom the last ten years, and the number of Koreans in the country number in the hundreds of thousands, while millions visit every year, there is a shortage of Filipinos who can speak Korean.  It does not seem to be our cup of tea.

It is surely quite striking that while Koreans, japanese, and the Chinese are coming in droves to learn English in order to get high paying jobs, the filipinos are not taking the opportunity to learn Japanese or Chinese to get their high paying jobs.  Why not?

English skills may make us easily attractive and obvious choice for English speaking countries, but is obviously working against us in tapping the European, Japanese  and the growing Chinese markets.   A few years ago, I went to Dalian, China, and practically there were hundreds of Japanese  companies setup there serving the Japanese market, employing tens of thousands of programmers, and earning well over billions every year.  And this is only due to one practical reason – Dalian used to be under Japanese rule for some years before world war II, and since some population already know how to speak japanese, the young have taken over and continue to study the language for a very practical reason – the ticket to better employment and economic opportunities.

In the realm of pursuing better economic opportunities, how many has it that to learn a foreign language will increase our chances? 

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BEING TOUGH ON YOURSELF

I have had the fortune to have had a tough life, which has molded me to the person I am today.

One of the quotes I treasure, and the reason I advocate in slow rise to success is the belief that ‘the skills you learn on your rise to success are the skills that will keep you there. ‘  Everytime I talked to an entrepreneurs conference, I take pride in telling them that I was child labor.  I helped in the family business, and at the age of nine, I was helping in the family gasoline station filling up the tanks of customers, receiving their payments, and going to the bank to deposit money and reconciling the bank statements.

This is the confidence I got, that having had a tough childhood and learning to be exacting on ourselves, we can handle and solve problem better.  And therefore we have to be tough also on the people around us, especially those we love. From my experience, I have always learned that , “Be tough on yourself, and Life will be easier on you. ” What does the quote mean? It means…

If you discipline yourself to spend money wisely, then you will have less problems on not having enough money.

If you discipline yourself to plan properly before executing, then you will have less problems doing rework…

If you discipline yourself to focus on learning a skill properly, you will have less problems getting a better paying job…

if you are tough on yourself to eat the proper foods, you will have less problems with your health later…

Sometimes, it is really because we become too easy on ourselves, that we encounter life’s toughest problems…

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Winning in the marketplace

One of the iconic business books that I enjoyed and learned a lot is the 1996 marketing book called the Discipline of Market Leaders, written by Michael Treacy and Fred Wiersema.  In here, the authors argued that for a company to dominate, it is important that it tries not to be everything to everybody, but requires that only one or two of the three ways to win the market.  In short, it is not possible to be a company that at the same time, be the greatest, cheapest, and with the best customer engagement and support.  For the authors, here are the 3 choices ( Just make sure you excel in 1, and you just need to be simply good at the other two).


a.) customer intimacy.  Some businesses are better than others because they treat their customers well and make them feel good.  Like Marriott.  like IBM.  These companies spend a lot of time to get to know their customers and work with them closely, so that they can become indispensable and hard to replaced.  These are companies that believes winning is about getting customers for life, or at worse, getting repeat customers. It is important for us now to spend more time with our best customers.

b.) operational excellence.  some businesses succeed because they are operationally well. like Walmart. like mcDonalds. Nobody said that they have customer intimacy.  They sell goods at reasonable prices, and still make money because they are efficienct.  In managing their inventory. In creating products.  In understanding and delivering what their customers want.   In making their people move fast, and the inventory faster.  They sell goods at lower or competitive price, because their efficiency makes them also a lower cost business.


c.) technical and management superiority.  like Microsoft. Like SAP. like Cisco.    People buy the products because they are the best in what they do.   They are leading edge.  They are not cheap, but they are the best in the marketplace.  People respect people and companies with mastery.

So these are the 3 disciplines in which you need to master one.  Which is the one for your company?

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Offloading your Brain

It is important that we reserve the power of our gray cells. That is why a smartphone or a tablet is so useful to me. But before I start, allow me to spin a story…

One of my early favorite books was that of Sherlock Holmes. At one of the stories, he proceeded to ask Dr. Watson some issues about the solar system. After that which he said, “now that I know, I will now proceed to consciously forget about it.”

Dr. Watson asked him why, for which he replied, “We can only remember so many things, and since the information is of no potential use to me, of what value is it should I remember it?”

That was written well over a hundred years ago, and since then we have read that our mind is really of almost infinite wonder, but still, the fact remains that we can only remember so many things on the conscious level. At this time when information is growing at an exponential rate, there is even more reason to be very selective in what we store in our minds. We seemingly have a contest to remember the most useless things.

I had a chance to talk to one of my colleague, and he was complaining that 2 gigabytes of memory in his computer was not enough. I could not imagine that would not be enough, since when I started in computers, we only had 16k. Obviously, I noted the habit of not only running over a dozen programs simultaneously, but also keeping over a dozen emails opened. Even the powerful processors of today would feel the groan of such weight, and so does the human mind. I give him the comment that if he consciously reads each email, answers and resolves it once and for all, and methodically close them, his computer would run much faster, and not only his computer, but his own mind would be much less cluttered. In today’s world, where information is so vast, and hundreds of things cry for your attention, and we are all expected to multi-task, it really should be our prime goal to speed up our ability to get things done so that the number of open issues remains small, and we would feel uncluttered.

Which brings me to the utility of devices like smartphones…

In my own theory, would I not vastly use my brains better if I use it full force for observation and analysis instead of remembering things? How much of our mind do we put up remembering to do something later, remembering somebody’s birthday or some later appointment, a friends email or telephone number? Yes, trying to keep all of that in mind detracts your full attention, and like an open folder in a computer, eats up resources and memory, and slows down processing.

An article on Oct 2004 issue of Readers Digest entitled the Brain Explained also noted that it not the ability to take all information in ( noting the massive amounts of data the world is feeding your brain), but rather the ability to shut much of it out that’s key. As they say, “If you’re always paying attention to everything your senses is picking up, you would be overwhlemed”. Your brain, after all, at least its working memory, can remember only about seven distinct items, and if you try to hold more in your working memory, as in contrast to long term memory, more than 7 items, you will overload it quickly.

So there are devices. When somebody talks of an appointment, I write it down. When I remember something to do, I write it down. When somebody gives me an email address or a phone number, I write it down. When I need to remember a quote or a news fact that I read, I write it down. When I need to send an email, I write it down immediately. When there are minutes of the meeting or action plan that needs to be taken care of, I write it down. When there are memorable events, I take pictures, or have the conversation recorded. So in the course of the day, when I have some random thoughts that for instance for a topic for this blog, I write it down too.

I find this practice of immediately writing it down liberating, and unclutters my mind hopefully to focus at the things at hand rather than remembering many things. And the device can remember it infinitely better than any human mind. When I look at the topics I have to blog about in my phone, I would say half of them would have long been forgotten except for those little notes that I took at the moment when I thought about it. This process of speeding up decision making, and NOT remembering, can vastly help a person to be more productive. I would like to believe that when Bill Gates wrote about Business at the Speed of Thought, this would be what he would be thinking of. The tools to resolve an issue the moment you think about it and get on with other things.

In today’s world, getting organized, and preventing information overload, as well as making optimal use of your “gray cells” remains one of the most exciting challenges. If you have something to do, get it done immediately, or remember to do it later by letting a phone or computer remember it for you. What do you think?

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Control your Cost

Over the last 30 years I probably have gone over hundreds of business books. One advice that you normally won’t read in a lot of business books which is probably one of the more basic ones is to control your cost.  It is not sexy advice, and unlikely something that will sell books, or challenges the imagination.

In my business, I would say that our focus on controlling cost was one of the factors that enabled us to win over the competition. When you are in an industry with razor thin margins, which is pretty much almost prevalent in almost all industry nowadays, the way to win is to control cost.  A company that controls its cost well, and passes it to customers ( like Walmart, or Amazon) can well win a customer for a long time.

As a businessman, know that you cannot control the market, but you can control your cost. Understand how to put that under the control, and if you can do that better than the competition, then the profits should take care of themselves.  In fact, i would be so bold to surmise that more than half of the companies fail, not because they don’t have customers, but they could not control their expenses properly, and therefore either run out of cash, or become uncompetitive because they could not match competitors’ cost structure, and therefore their prices.

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What Makes the Chinese Better Businessmen?

If you are in the Philippines, or in many parts of the world, you may have noticed that a lot of successful entrepreneurs are of chinese descent.  I have done some readings on what makes the chinese more adapt to business?  I don’t think it is because of the genes, but it is partly historical, partly cultural, and partly accidental.  

If you go back a few hundred years, you will note that the ambition of many Chinese was to be a scholar.  The merchant class was not considered to be top choice.  It was not considered to be an honorable class, and many times, this choice was considered with disdain.  It is no accident that for thousands of years, while Chinese history is replete with names of famous generals, or philosophers, there is hardly a famous business person in the midst.  However, the last few hundred years, there has been a lot of turmoil and famine in China, and one of the things they found out was that if youown your business, you could not only earn more money, but it was the best thing you could pass on to your children to insure their survival.

Moreover, because of the turmoil, many of the Chinese people migrated to many parts of Asia during the 19th and early 20th century. Many of them were unschooled, and when they reached the new land, they did not have the skills to be employed. Thus, their only choice was to go to business on their own. Many of the early Chinese businesses therefore was to have their store and the house on the same area.  There was no such thing as work / private life separation, and many chinese children grew up playing inside the store, and helping the business. I believed that it is through this exposure that many chinese children actually begin to have an edge when it came to business.

If you want your kids to be a successful businessman, it may help if you give them early exposure and training. Get them to work on summer. You may not need the money, but the experience could be invaluable.  When we hire people, we always consider that the applicant being able to work in McDonalds’, or even inside their school as a plus factor. While school is a great place to learn, the workplace can be also an invaluable experience that can give you the edge.  Obviously this can also be helpful to you when you decide to be an entrepreneur as well.

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