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Up-close and personal with the person gracing the cover of EZ

Rising To The Top

Bernard Yong2Bernard Yong
Vice President of Rado and General Manager of The Swatch Group Malaysia
Humble, pragmatic and personable, Bernard Yong shares his fascinating journey to the top during a tête-a-tête with EZ.

Born and educated in Penang, Bernard Yong received a head start  in the working world soon after completing his Form Five selling tableware at Oriental Emporium. This soon led to an apprenticeship at a factory making glass counters that were used to showcase timepieces in shops back then. Here, he did all sorts of tasks including sweeping the floor and assisting with the transportation of the products.

This however, was not to be the precursor to his involvement with Rado or the Swatch Group as Bernard, who has a penchant for art decided to join a former classmate’s interior design firm following his stint at the factory. He indulged his passion for two years but the call of duty beckoned when his father was promoted to head a new local wholesale agency distributing Rado in the entire West Malaysia.

Bernard’s father, clearly having quite an influence on his son, was the quintessential self-made man. ‘My father was illiterate; he left Hainan when he was 9 years old. He had only 2 years of primary schooling and had a very hard life. That was why he didn’t believe in education, but believed that as long as we work hard, we can learn everything that we need.’

‘Since he was illiterate, he needed someone to do the translations and the correspondences with the HQ in Switzerland, so I came quite handy to him. He convinced me to join him.’ Being the good son that he is, Bernard followed his father to Kuala Lumpur on his new posting, taking a job with his father at the new company.

The world then, said Bernard, was very much different from the world today. He recounted an epiphany he had during a visit to Switzerland last year. ‘I was checking in with my friends on Whatsapp, sharing photos and videos.’ He remembers when he was about to turn 21 and he made the move to Kuala Lumpur, which at that time was a big deal.

‘It was as though we were going overseas. You had to have a group of people, rent a van or a minibus and set out on a journey that would take at least 7 hours of driving, book a hotel,’ said Bernard, illustrating how the times have changed what with the ease of international travel and the infrastructure that has made Malaysians mobile and connected with the rest of the world. When in today’s international business, emails and texting services such as Whatsapp allow for real-time communication, things were quite different for the young Bernard who was starting out in the big city.  ‘Those days, I sent telexes to Switzerland,’ said Bernard.

Consumers nowadays want more than just a product; they want brands and products that are associated with a certain lifestyle.

A few years working with his father, the opportunity to branch out came knocking. Bernard joined the banking industry, working at the-then Southern Finance. It was while working here that he started taking evening classes, studying for a Higher Diploma in Banking and Finance at the Institute of Bankers Malaysia. Three and a half years later, he would be the first person from Southern Finance to complete the course.

Bernard, who was and still remains a computer buff, began taking as many IT courses as he could the moment Microsoft PC made an appearance in the bank. Due to his familiarity with the computer and the initiative that his superiors saw him take, Bernard got to be the person to work with the computer and was transferred to the statistics department.

During this time, he was exposed to the statistical aspect of banking. ‘The branch manager saw my potential, and when Southern Finance was about to be computerized and go online, they needed someone who understood computers and operations. So I was transferred to this project. It was not a big promotion, but there was a lot of exposure,’ he said.

‘There I learnt a lot of programming, which actually became very handy for my future career. Despite my Form 5 education and diploma in banking, it was my knowledge in computers that really helped me in my career. I was able to do a lot of reporting, presentations, even some programs to generate certain reports, things that none of my peers were able to do.’

After six years in the banking industry, Bernard returned to the watch trade to work with his father as the company was growing. Together, he brought with him the wealth of computing knowledge. ‘That year, 1989, I was very proud of myself. One whole year I did not stop working; no medical leave, no annual leave,’ said Bernard, who professes to being quite the workaholic.

‘My first task was to computerize the company, to develop a working system so that all the company information was easily accessible,’ explained Bernard, adding that in those days, since much of the sales were done on a credit basis, it was vital to have an effective system of tracking  payments. He worked on the existing computer system the whole of that year, sourcing for the software and modifying the chosen software to suit the requirements of the company.

In 1994, upon the acquisition of the Rado distribution rights by the Swatch Group, Bernard made the transition, officially joining the company, which he is still attached with today, albeit as the Vice President of Marketing of Rado Malaysia and General Manager of The Swatch Group Malaysia.

When he was younger, Bernard never expected to become a businessman. In fact, he claims that he hated business. ‘I wanted to be an artist. Or a teacher,’ he shared. Yet, life would have it that he did not have a say or choice in the way his life would turn out. Time and time again, throughout our tête-à-tête, Bernard would repeatedly refer to himself as ‘the obedient son’. Though one might strain to detect any hints of resentment, one thing that came across clearly was his respect for his father. After all, Yong Sr’s philosophy on life, hard work and determination has proven to be a blessing for his son.

Another thing that passed from father to son is the involvement in the watch trade association. Just like his father who was active in the Penang Watch Trade Association, Bernard serves as the Advisor and Honorary President of the Malaysia Watch Trade Association. In fact, he was the one who brought together the various regional watch trade associations in Malaysia under one banner, forming a strong and cohesive alliance of watch retailers and distributors in the nation. This year, the Association will be hosting the 20th Asian Horological Trade & Industry Promotion Conference (AHTIPC) with Bernard as the Organising Chairman.

The theme for this year’s edition of AHTIPC is ‘From Commodities, Goods and Services to Lifestyle Experience’, in reflection of the change in economic value that businesses can give to consumers. ‘Consumers nowadays want more than just a product; they want brands and products that are associated with a certain lifestyle,’ said Bernard, citing Starbucks coffee chains as a perfect example of the shift in consumer-mindset where it is no longer just about the coffee, but a certain type of experience that consumers get from visiting the stores. ‘With this year’s conference, we hope to communicate this to the members.’

When not busy with watch-related activities, Bernard can be found on the golf course, perfecting his swing. An avid golfer who only picked up the sport when he turned 50, he claimed that ‘golf is like life’ in the sense that it requires much discipline. Moreover, having worked hard all these years, being able to wind down and tee off is a luxury that he has earned. True, it is a form of exercise that Bernard credits to raising his stamina and keeping him fit, but golf is also a form of relaxation that he has come to be passionate about because of the various experiences golf has afforded him.

‘To me, luxury is playing golf in different courses in different cultures. Even the caddies in different countries speak different languages,’ said Bernard, who had recently visited Pattaya and got to golf at a Par 6 course on the picturesque Thai city. Up to today, Bernard has scored two holes-in-one, the first in his third year and the second in his fourth. Not bad for a relatively new golfer with mere four-and-a-half years of golfing history. Golf is, after all, a game where strategy and pragmatism play a big role, befitting the man who has strategically advanced in his career.

A Mandate for Art

For many years, Dato’ Mahadzir Lokman spoke to the people of Malaysia from their television sets. As a television presenter and host of numerous Malaysian events, his deep and booming voice became accompanied some of the nation’s most high-profile events including the successful 1998 Commonwealth Games, the launching of Malaysia’s space mission in Russia and Kazakhstan, and the annual Merdeka Parades.

Affectionately known as Dale, this multi-talented impresario spent the last few years acting as an ambassador of sorts, promoting Malaysia on the international platform such as the Malaysia Week celebrations in London and the World’s Fair in Seville. However, 2013/2014 sees Dale take on a different role as the ambassador of Malaysian art through his appointment as the Chairman of the National Visual Arts Development Board (NVADP) and the National Visual Arts Gallery Malaysia (NVAG).

The National Visual Arts Gallery, formerly known as the National Art Gallery was established in 1958. It was established to promote awareness and appreciation for the arts among Malaysians. The Gallery holds exhibits of local and international artists as well as organizes seminars, workshops, art competitions and other art-related activities. In its permanent collection, the Gallery holds over 2,500 artworks.

‘I was appointed on the 1st of November 2013, and the Minister of Tourism and Culture, the Honourable Dato’ Seri Mohamed Nazri Bin Abdul Aziz, gave me the mandate of heading this 55-year-old establishment, the former National Art Gallery. I thank him for his trust in me, to head this prestigious organisation and also to upkeep and the preservation of our rich cultural heritage and national treasure. My job is to maintain these mandates and so here I am, heading this organization,’ said the personable Dale when interviewed by EZ.

Dale, the son of the late Dato’ Lokman Musa, former Malaysian ambassador to France, has always had a penchant for art even though he confesses to not being an artist or a collector, for that matter. ‘Art was something that I appreciated very much, and with all my travels when I was small,’ said Dale, adding that his stint in France gave him ‘a real, big exposure to all the wonderful, magnificent art galleries.’

In retrospect, Dale confesses to not ever for once thinking he would one day end up holding a prominent role in the Malaysian art scene. Not even through his passion for music, which he has not pursued professionally. Dale, who has at times serenaded his audience with his singing, is an avid classical music lover. ‘I play the cello, the piano and the trombone, and I was not at all forced by my parents as it was my choice,’ he said on his musical inclinations.

Moreover, during his undergraduate days in the US, this International Business Administration graduate from Ohio University in Athens, Ohio, had a formal introduction to the fine arts through the elective course he took. ‘In university, being an American graduate, we had little activities so I did a lot of art history and comparative art courses,’ he said. He considers his appointment as the chairman of NVAD a blessing, adding that he wants ‘to do well and visit more art museums and galleries around the world and improve our art industry because now, art is not just art, but art economy and art tourism.’

Just as every project that he has attached his name to, the responsibility of leading NVADB is something that he takes seriously and he hopes to bring the board as well as the overall Malaysian art scene to another level. Over the past 55 years since the establishment of NVADB, Malaysian art has made some important strides. ‘We have our names including Datuk Syed Ahmad Jamal, Abdul Latiff Mohidin, Datuk Ibrahim Hussein and many more. But it’s not as well-known,’ said Dale when asked to comment on the state of Malaysian art in general, ‘I don’t understand why our artists never manage to be in the fold of many other international artists.’

However, he does make concession for the latest developments on the local art front, especially in terms of government support. ‘Art is very lucrative, but I think now since the advent of 1Malaysia Contemporary Art Tourism, that art, especially in these last ten years to be exact, has become very ‘lucrative’ because art was supposed to be elitist at one time but now, art can be appreciated by anyone in the social structure.’

Expounding on the economics of art in terms of its value, this head of the nation’s foremost art institution thinks the recent developments in the local art scene is healthy. One development in particular bodes good news for the Malaysian art scene that is the setting up of auction houses in the country. In the last four years, four auction houses have been established here, namely Henry Butcher Art Auctioneer, KL Lifestyle Art Space Art Auction, Masterpiece Auction and The Edge Auction.

‘The presence of auction houses is good for Malaysia, for the region and for the local artists. I think Malaysian artists can go very far because their work is now being recognized with the advent of all the auction houses now as compared to before,’ said Dale.

In the past, art in Malaysia was considered as the anak yatim, or orphan, not receiving much support from outside the art circle and been relegated to the lower rungs of the government’s priorities. Yet, the tide has changed with the active participation of the government in promoting art on a larger platform. ‘This anak yatim will completely go forward and be accepted in the main line in the family. He cannot be tersingkir anymore. He cannot be left alone, and live his ‘own little life’ in the corner, and be cocooned because art now is not like art before,’ explained Dale, adding that this is all the more true now since Malaysian art has shown the potential of being very lucrative.

‘Art in Malaysia has to go for a complete turnaround. It was once upon a time something that was very strong, (Malaysia was) a hub for Southeast Asia. Now maybe we have to lead in our own way,’ said Dale. Indeed, at one point in time, Malaysian art enjoyed prominence in the region, but over time, it fizzled down. Neighbouring countries, especially Indonesia, emerged as the new leaders in Southeast Asian art, leading many to claim that Malaysia is a jaguh kampong when it comes to art.

In regards to this matter, Dale said ‘That was maybe so, but during that time we never had to push. The Ministry of Culture then was subtly going away with art as it was very conservative then. But now, I think, with the present ministerial support, we hope that his strong interest in art and also my strong interest in art would see a complete turnaround. We have to work. There’s no such thing as it’s too late to achieve what we have not achieved until now, which is just 55 years of the establishment of the National Art Gallery.’

The way forward, he added, is to ‘have continued dialogues with the local artists and hear their ideas. Either we accept it or we could compromise and go towards the middle of the road and try to improve. We cannot be selfish in our approach of appreciating art and also our approach to make sure that the art will get developed as it should be at 55 years.’

One way, he said, to create a conducive environment for the propagation of the national arts is by getting the people involved. ‘I have asked the National Visual Arts Gallery people to start formulating symposiums, bookshops and also conferences to involve all the artists from Southeast Asia, to make sure that our voices are being heard as compared to all the other artists from the world. If we do not have this unity-in-diversity approach to the whole thing, we would always be left behind and Malaysia will be always in tertiary or secondary compared to the other ASEAN brothers.’

To get to that level, the entire artistic community of Malaysia needs to get on board with the agenda to advance Malaysian art. ‘I want the art industry to grow, and I need help from a lot of people, from all the artist groups in the country present in the country,’ emphasized Dale. Concerted effort is vital for the growth or anything, more so a national art agenda, and the artistic community in Malaysia are quite fragmented. This might pose a threat should NVADB want to work towards increasing the Malaysian art profile internationally and also for Malaysian art to be a strong and have an identity of its own. So how can a united artistic community working for towards a common goal be cultivated?

‘We have to do a deep study that is why dialogues, symposiums and workshops are a must. It’s a need for the young breeds. We have a lot of artists, developing now from so many schools, from the art schools, from the colleges coming up – so many artists but what kind of artists that you like them to be? Are they creators or are they doing art for the money? Or are they doing art themselves and beautify the walls? Are they just graffiti artists? So, we need different kinds of dialogues to understand the whole thing, and how to improve our system. We have 55 years in this business and yet, we are not at par with the people practicing art around the world,’ he explained.

Meanwhile, for the immediate future, Dale said that it is important to bridge the gap between the people and NVAG, mainly to cultivate the interest for the arts. ‘For NVAG, my aim is to increase the accessibility of the Gallery and also to encourage more visitors as far as we can,’ he said. As for the long term, Dale said he hopes ‘to encourage more rapport and cooperation with other international art galleries around the world – for them to have their shows here.’

With the success of the 1Malaysia Contemporary Tourism Festival and the rise of the local art and auction markets, the future of Malaysian art is looking bright. And hearing Dale’s plans for NVADB and NVAG to systematically strengthen the local art community and to raise the standards of Malaysian art is heartening. His closing remarks to EZ captured his zeal for the mandate that has been bestowed upon him; ‘We hope to do a fantastic biennale, triennials organised properly in Malaysia, and I hope we can all fly together to achieve greater heights for everybody. Not just for art lovers, for ‘lovers’ of the Gallery and lovers of anything to do with it because in art, there is beauty and beauty is art.’

Rooted in Innovation

Fujifilm is an institution as much as it is a brand that has made a connection with countless people all over the world. Its constant innovation and high quality products that cross multiple fields are highly regarded in the business world; and so is the prominence of Fujifilm as a brand that is reliant. EZ talks to Paul Ho, the Senior Executive Director of Fujifilm Malaysia to find how Fujifilm has managed to diversify its products through the digitalization era and how the company has managed to conquer the global market

Photography, over the past century, has experienced quite a change. Combining principles of science with the aesthetics of art, photography has progressed from the days of creating images chemically through light-sensitive material such as photographic film to digitally capturing images electronically. Along the way, elements of photography have been used in diverse fields like medicine, sciences, art and so on. In its revolutionisation, the field of photography has seen many developers and brands rise to great heights and it has also seen the demise of many such great names. Among those who have not only survived the dawn of the digital era in photography but also to go on to become one of the biggest names in the industry is none other than Fujifilm.

Fujifilm, which started as Fuji Photo Film Co, Ltd, was established in 1934 in Japan. It was the first Japanese producer of photographic films. The first decade of the company saw the production of produced photographic films, motion-picture films and X-ray films, after which it expanded to produce optical glasses, lenses and equipment.  The decades that followed saw Fujifilm diversify into medical (X-ray diagnosis), printing, electronic imaging and magnetic materials fields. Driven by original research and development, the Fujifilm name boldly entered and conquered the digital revolution with its continuous innovation and leading-edge products. Today, Fujifilm is a world leader in the fields of electronic imaging, photofinishing equipment, medical systems, life sciences, flat panel display materials, and office products, based on a vast portfolio of digital, optical, fine chemical and thin film coating technologies.

Just as it is a prominent brand internationally, Fujifilm has been the leading name in Malaysia for a wide range of products such as photo and electronic imaging, data storage media, graphic arts, medical, information systems and life science products for over 20 years. Its marketing and sales operations include a service centre, warehousing, and technical back-up services with branches in key markets across Malaysia. For the company to have grown in Malaysia in the way it has, as much credit goes to the steering of the growth as it is with the quality and likeability of the products. Competent leaders would be able to recognise the tide of change and to lead the company along with the waves, not against them, which is clearly how Fujifilm – be it worldwide or here in Malaysia – has been managed.

Fujifilm Malaysia’s Senior Executive Director, Paul Ho, has been with the company for over 2 decades. He has seen the company grow exponentially in the heyday of film and is now steadily steering the Malaysian branch of this global powerhouse towards a digital future that looks only looks bright for Fujifilm. The key to excelling in the digital world is to be innovative, which Ho says is the fundamental principle behind Fujifilm’s success.

‘I think the whole principle is that you must continue to be very innovative. For Fujifilm, our R&D programme is consistently coming up with new products, no matter in which business domain. This keeps the company going; you cannot stay at one product. Every product that Fujifilm looks into, we invest in its R&D.  That is how we move along,’ said Ho before adding, ‘You cannot be satisfied at one product and say ‘oh, this is the one that will give us our next hundred years.’ You can always predict what the changes will be in three to five years, and you keep innovating.’

To be innovative and to come up with good products that will sell well, it is important to invest in research and development. More than just a buzz word, R&D, as it is more popularly known, is the hallmark of every successful company. ‘That’s why Fujifilm is very successful in entering the digitalization era; we’re continuing to move out across the region because of R&D,’ he explained. Recognising the need for a strong R&D department, Fujifilm reportedly spends over a billion dollars a year on R&D for the various fields it is involved in.

For instance, from its medical branch, the brand will soon see its new pharmaceutical product – the endoscopy – launched, and in the printing side, not only is Fujifilm content with providing digital printing services, it also produces digital printers, printer plates and even the ink used for printing. The direction to progress in this path comes from the top, in Fujifilm Tokyo, said Ho. ‘This is how they think – if  you just stick to one good product, say film paper and you do not progress, you just stick to it for the next hundred years, today you would surely be gone.’

This change was most prevalent in the area of printing, which was a ‘cash cow’ for Fujifilm during the days of analogue photography and film printing.  According to Ho, the future of printing is moving in two directions – a personalized form for consumers and the wide-format for businesses. Consumer printing has become much personalised. ‘People now have the option to either go to our shops to print their photos or buy their own equipment for printing,’ said Ho. It has become people-centric with a demand for variety in printing, such as calendars, event posters, photo cards and so on. This, in return, has led to the demand for big prints, which Fujifilm is able to meet. As for the business category of printing, Ho explained, ‘Outdoor advertising and images, this is where the future of printing is heading … into wide format. It has become very prominent. Fujifilm has developed equipment that can print very big, outdoor images that can get to 60-feet by 100-feet in high-resolution.’

It is important, said Ho, for the sales and marketing leg to follow in line with the direction of the company. Regardless how the advancements in product development, if the products are not marketed and sold well, any company would flounder. So when Fujifilm started moving away from film photography and more towards its wide range of products in the consumer and business segments such as digital photography, printing and medical imaging (Computed and Digital Radiography, Endoscopy, etc.), it was of utmost importance that the sales and marketing leg widen its focus and to recognize the areas of target or market.

The concept of diversification that Ho said needed to be understood from the ground up. ‘If we don’t accept the change in concept, we would have problems because this concept is very important for the company. As the leader there, if you see any changes happening, you have to really change, not just in terms of sales, but also in the timing. Let’s say after you have had good years with the sales of film, you wait until the very last year when you see the downturn which is not good – only then you start doing the changing, it is too late,’ explained Ho. ‘It took me three to four years to change the mind-set of our people.’

Human resources, Ho said is another key aspect of ensuring the growth of a company. In his professional life, he has only worked with 2 companies, one of course being Fujifilm, so to him loyalty is not only a principle he holds on to, but also how he leads his life. However, with the younger and newer crop of employees entering the workforce, Ho said that he has noticed a shift in attitude. Ho, who joined Fujifilm as a salesperson has worked his way up the management ladder and today handles the running of the company in Malaysia.

‘I started at the company as a salesman. I’ve gone through all the low and troubling times, but because of my attitude I continued to stay at one company,’ he said, adding that the current generation of employees ‘don’t believe in staying in one company. Like a tree, you grow roots and you become stronger. The young ones, they come in and then they go. That’s because they want to see a quick improvement in their career within a short period of time. If they don’t see it, then they leave it to look for another green pasture to progress. However, they will finally find that all the grass in the world is the same colour.’

The difference, Ho said, lies within them. ‘The only thing is their attitude – the attitude of working. Everything boils down to the attitude – how a person works. If someone is not a team player and they want to have a fast progress without putting in the hard work, then it won’t work anywhere,’ Ho elaborated further.

To tackle this human resources problem, Ho said the key was to recognize those who show the potential and those who were loyal. ‘For every ten workers, you can find three good ones – the three good ones will prosper faster than the rest. You continue to train up the new people, because they’ll still be good out of the group there. The majority of them won’t receive the training well, but there will be some good ones that we can groom,’ Ho revealed.

From the manner in which he conducts his life and the way he leads, it is clear that Ho is a person who is rooted in loyalty with clear ambition for the innovative aspects of business. It is through loyalty, diversification, innovation and pure calculated progression that both Ho and Fujifilm have sailed into the era of digitalization successfully.