BFM Interview

Had an interesting interview on BFM last week. The haze has been affecting my voice the entire week, and initially I thought “not so great timing for a radio interview”, but it actually turned out to be a lot of fun and really smooth.

Freda Liu was really warm as soon as I stepped into their office, and had a chat in their conference room before the interview. She started asking me some questions, and I was wondering if there a hidden mic somewhere and that the interview had started, but she laughed saying that it was only to warm me up and to get my thoughts flowing.

She asked me not to be nervous, I didn’t think I was, but perhaps she could sense that I was in “interview mode”.

So I just told myself to treat it as a conversation, and not to overthink how I answer the questions. Basically, remove “corporate speak” and to be candid and just be myself.

Which led to a really fun interview!

Check it out here:

Listen to Open for Business with Derek Toh from WOBB

Speaking About Culture to Malaysian CEOs


It was an interesting experience for me to speak about work culture to a group of CEOs in Malaysia. When I was first invited to do it, I was quite skeptical about how receptive this topic was going to be. After all, these are very experienced business people who have successfully built multi-million dollar businesses without having much thought about culture. Why would they even care?

To my surprise, they really did. These were very forward looking people who wanted to know where the wind was blowing, incredibly dynamic people who would want to hear every idea, realising that resistance to change and evolve according to what the world has become, will have a negative effect on their companies.

The one thing some of these CEOs could agree on, was that culture increasingly mattered to a lot of the younger jobseekers, and therefore this could no longer be ignored. In fact, while the need to change and start caring about culture may not be immediately obvious, by the time you realise you need to do something about it, it’s probably already too late. Because the culture of your organisation is made up of the people you hire, and how they think, and any change is extremely difficult and time consuming.

A special call out to two companies that really stood out for me during this talk – Feruni and PosAd.

Feruni is a ceramic tiling business, and was probably one of the last businesses I would imagine to start caring about culture. Yet the senior management team took a trip to attend a course in Zappos in Las Vegas, to learn about what culture means to them, and they have since been passionately implementing a lot of these ideas back here in Malaysia (separate blog post coming soon!)

PosAd is a diversified advertising business that recently embarked on a culture change initiative, as they hired external consultants to help them make their workplace a better environment to be in.

I hope more companies in Malaysia will look at these companies as amazing examples that caring about culture is important not just to attract talent, but to succeed as a business, before it’s too late.

recruiting gen y

Recruiting Gen Y Talent in Malaysia

In a recent Budget 2015 speech by Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak, he estimated that there are “53,000 graduates remain unemployed after six months of graduating”. Yet, most companies in Malaysia will tell you that they are struggling when it comes to recruiting Gen Y talent, despite a huge pool of Gen Y job seekers that are immediately available.

So I guess there’s a shortage a good Gen Y talent and competition for that smaller pool of talented Gen Y is even fiercer than ever. What are companies doing to solve that problem?

Here are some of my own thoughts when it comes to recruiting Gen Y (please read with an open mind!).

I like to view attracting talent in two simple terms. What actually happens inside your business (company culture), and the “impressions” of job seekers about what happens inside your business (your employer brand).

Here’s the mistake most companies make. Companies tend to focus on the employer brand, because it’s a quick fix. Let’s just get those candidates in first, the business will give us a pat on the back for attracting these talents, and when these candidates leave because they are unhappy and it didn’t turn out they way they thought it was going to be, it’s because Gen Y are not loyal and they only care about money.

Here’s the mistake most companies make. Companies tend to focus on the employer brand, because it’s a quick fix. In reality, ignoring your culture will cause you staff retention issues later.

Many HR people are going to be saying this is not true! We do try to improve our company culture! And the second problem comes from the fact that some businesses conveniently delegate “company culture” to the HR team (and HR folks do try their best to do what little they can), but in reality should be the responsibility of the business. A quarterly office party, effective appraisal system, maybe even world-class training opportunities, are not going to do much for Gen Y when their everyday work lives are with bosses that still treat their staff like its 1982.

The best way to do it? Get the business involved in caring about the company culture. It is such a powerful and effective driver of business and people, and when you are clear about what culture you want to have in your company, it helps you attract and hire the best Gen Y talent, those that are a CULTURE-FIT. I know culture always feels very intangible, that’s why businesses shy away from doing anything about it, because when you can’t see it, it’s difficult to understand how to use it. But there is already a lot of material on the internet to help you understand what this is all about, why this is the trend, and how you can use it.

Once you know clearly what your company culture is, and the people in the business can live and breathe these values, then you work really really hard to market that message to the right pool of talented Gen Y. There are many effective and cost-efficient ways to do this (I run, which you can also check out), so don’t think of employer branding as having to spend tens of thousands of dollars at career fairs and advertising, that’s really unnecessary.

Don’t believe work culture is important? This story might change your mind.

Here’s one of the most viewed TED talks from Jay Wilkinson, CEO of Firespring, a company that you may never have heard of before in Malaysia, but it’s also a company that was included in Inc magazine’s top 50 small company workplaces in America.

He shares his story from the way he first got it wrong, and how he eventually changed to make sure he got it right.

I hope every entrepreneur embraces the importance of having a good work culture. Remember that you will never be able to outspend huge corporate companies with big marketing budgets. So work culture is also how your business is going to attract the best talent, and ultimately succeed.

You have to hear this story.

What’s it like to work in a startup?

I was moderating a casual panel discussion yesterday at MaGIC’s startup career fair, and joined by some well recognised people in the startup scene, Josh Teng (, Aaron Gill (MyTeksi), Joash Wee (Between) and Izwan Ismail (VLT Labs).

And while these are all very well respected leaders in their companies, the entire conversation was really chilled out, and you can tell that people that work in startups know how to have fun and don’t take themselves too seriously all the time. I think that’s a great trait of startups, because even your leaders are young, and it’s much easier to relate to then, and that really adds on to the appeal of being in these companies.

Biggest lesson? Startups care deeply about work culture, it’s the best advantage they have of attracting good people, and because of that, people who actually work in the startup environment can truly experience what it’s like to be part of a team that’s trying to change the world.


3 Questions to Make Sure You Always Hire Someone That is Passionate About Their Work


Every candidate walks into an interview room to try to show the best side of themselves. And you can never really ask the question “so how passionate are you about our cause?” because it would certain just trigger a well-rehearsed, positive response from them.

How do you weed out who is genuinely passionate about your company’s mission? And who’s just pretending?

I would like to try to offer some ideas, from my ideas working with fellow Malaysians, on the questions you can ask during the interview:

1) “Apart from any official company training, how do you develop yourself outside of the office?”

This question would almost certainly have candidates responding with “reading books, magazines etc”. You can then follow up with a more specific question about any recent articles they’ve read or books etc, and ask them to explain what they learned. It will take most candidates by surprise, so allow them to think (don’t assume any hesitation as a sign that they are not being truthful), and when they answer, you can then gauge their thought process and how much substance they have over the subject.

2) “What do you think needs improving in your profession and why?”

This is a great question to see if the candidate responds with passion about the issues, and real insights into their profession or if they are just giving you a generic answer. But the other important thing you can gauge from how they answer this question is whether they offer any solutions, or if they are a negative person.

3) “Who do you consider to be role models or mentors and why?”

If they answer someone from their family, listen carefully to whether it’s a generic answer or whether there is a genuine reason for them to be inspired, and it should be related to the profession at some level. If you feel it’s not convincing, try encouraging them to look outside their family and see if they know who the “heroes” of their profession are, and what they think of them. I believe most passionate people have someone that they look up to and admire.


How to DIY your own cool, modern office

We see all these Silicon Valley startups with their cool offices which was built by interior design specialists. Most startups don’t think they should spend their first few dollars focusing on office design, and would rather use that money for core business activities such as marketing or web design.

Yet, the success of your startup relies heavily on being to attract good people, especially when you start to scale up your operations, and one the simpliest things you can start with is to build a cool, modern office. So I decided to do a bit of curating and found some really good resources for those who want to do this on a budget, so now anyone can DIY their own cool office.

Check out these articles:

1) Understand the core concepts – 10 Office Design Tips to Foster Creativity

2) Basic yet most important design principles – The 3 Principles of Interior Design

3 )Get inspired by actual designs – Office Design Gallery

Want to see how our Malaysian startups are designing their offices?

Visit the companies section of Wobb, see what’s really happening in Malaysia, and get some inspiration!