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How two people bound by a vision are building a brighter future in Asia

Excerpts from “An Inside Look” MDBCONNECTS Edition 2014 – 2

How does a Dutch-based, usual unusual consultancy firm end up doing business in Asia? How does ‘building a brighter future’ bind two people with a vision to leave their comfortable environments in Holland to venture into Asia? What are some of the challenges they face in being Dutch entrepreneurs in and Asian context?
It was only four years ago that &samhoud managing partner Nur Hamurcu, together with his wife and daughter, embarked on the adventure to bring &samhoud to Asia. Partner Wouter van der Weijden and his family joined them in Kuala Lumpur soon after. The two colleagues, close friends and partners in this journey, share some of their entrepreneurial experiences, insights, and outlooks on building a brighter future in Asia.

How does a Dutch-based, usual unusual consultancy firm end up with an office in Malaysia?
‘’At &samhoud, we have a clear vision and strategy and we encourage our employees to have a clear personal vision & strategy as well’’ says Nur. ‘’My own audacious goal is ‘to become a successful international entrepreneur’. This fits the audacious goal of &samhoud perfectly: we want to be a global top brand by 2030. To achieve my goal and at the same time help the company to become a top global brand, we decided to venture into Asia.’’

Why Asia but not Africa or Latin America?
Wouter: ‘’For us, Asia has the biggest potential. The market is booming, there is a lot of energy and excitement here, and abundant opportunities. The demand in Asia is huge, with more than 4.2 billion people, which equals about 60% of the world population. Asia is also the fastest growing economic region and the largest economy by GDP. We cannot imagine building a top global brand without having a footprint in Asia. The growth is here.’’ Nur agrees on this: ‘’It is a good choice with our mission in mind. Malaysia is still a developing nation, which gives us the opportunity to assist local leaders to grow holistically and exponentially with our expertise and approach.’’

What are some of your experiences in setting up this office?
Nur: ‘’Malaysia has a very open attitude towards foreign investors and entrepreneurs and likes to position itself as a foreign investment hub for the region. In reality, as we experienced doing business in Malaysia, the administrative process in setting up an office is quite challenging. From arranging the operating license to opening a bank account: it all has been a hassle. In that respect, Malaysia can learn a lot from Singapore. But, ever since we are up and running, business has gone quite smoothly.’’ 

What were some of the hurdles you faced in in securing local clients?
‘’In the beginning, it was very tough,’’ says Nur. ‘’Business is done on the basis of trust. And to gain trust, it is very important to invest in the relationship. And a relationship needs time and energy to materialize.’’ Wouter adds: ‘’The speed to get things approved and the complexity of the decision-making process in various organizations are very common hurdles. Patience and persistence are crucial qualities to secure clients eventually.’’

What do you believe to be some of challenges that Malaysian companies face?
Wouter: ‘’Building a great place to work. Employee engagement and loyalty in Malaysian companies is relatively low. The main priority of most organizations is to make a profit. And in the quest of building a profitable business, building a great place to work is not very high on the priority list. This weakens the sense of belonging and the sense of unity, ultimately resulting in a high turnover rate.’’ Nur sees another challenge in the external environment: ‘’Besides this, another challenge is creating a meaningful brand/customer experience, I think. Most relationships between Malaysian organizations and their customers are very transactional. Organizations rarely make their customers raving fans. In our eyes, a missed opportunity to create long lasting brand ambassadors.

How can companies make a change?
Nur: ‘’First of all, organizations should create a sense of urgency and excitement for change. Without a clear case for change, people will not move. Second, leaders should take ownership of the change and mobilize the right people to embark on the change journey.’’ Wouter continues: ‘’Third, organizations should develop an inspiring vision and clear strategy for the future in a participative process. Fourth, all energy should be put into making the vision and strategy happen. This means cascading the vision and strategy down to operational plans and instilling a performance culture in the organization. Last but not least, organizations should show and share the results with their stakeholders.’’

In 2012, Malaysia was ranked 7th out of 60 developing countries on KPMG’s Change Readiness Index.  Where do you think the country will be by 2020? Are they taking the right steps?
Wouter: ‘’I believe, the strength of Malaysia lies in its vision to become a developed nation by 2020. The road map and the disciplinary approach by Pemandu, the Project Management Office of the Prime Minister’s Department, are impressive as well. Across the globe you will hardly find countries with such a clear ambition and disciplinary approach for execution.’’ Both men say they have no doubt Malaysia will accomplish its vision in 2020. Nur: ‘’Business will thrive and contribute by becoming regional champions. The road ahead will not be easy, but Malaysia has proven itself to be successful in overcoming huge challenges in the past. We at &samhoud are very proud to be able to contribute to the vision by helping organizations to build a brighter future. Together.’’

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