Tag Archives: FEATURED

The Powers That Be

Dato’ Mark Yeoh
Director of YTL Hotels and Resorts


Good hotels are everywhere. The edge is always customer service. You can have gold taps and diamond chandeliers.  At the end, what matters in hospitality is always the service. 

Scion of the formidable YTL empire, Dato’ Mark Yeoh is the youngest son of the late Tan Sri Yeoh Tiong Lay, a billionaire and philanthropist who founded YTL Corporation.  Executive director of YTL Hotels and Resorts, Dato’ Mark Yeoh is also part of YTL Power International’s mergers and acquisitions team involved in the acquisition of ElectraNet SA (Australia), Wessex Water Limited (UK), PT Jawa Power (Indonesia) and PowerSeraya Limited (Singapore). 

Born in Klang, young Yeoh grew up in Kuala Selangor with his early education at Pasar Road School before attending Victoria Institution.  Completing his A Levels at Brighton College UK, he went on to read law at King’s College London and passed the bar exams at Grace Inn.  “I was the only son who was not gainfully employed at that time, therefore was summoned back to help the family.  I started the hotel business without knowing a single thing.”   

At his first ITB Berlin, the world’s largest tourism trade fair in 1988, Malaysia was unheard of and often confused with Malawi.  Dato’ Yeoh took steps to place Malaysia on the map with the help of the Ministry of Tourism which launched many projects to promote Malaysia.  Three decades and many welcoming slogans later, YTL Hotels and Malaysia finally established a respectable position on the world tourism barometer.  “Competition is very tough now. Vietnam which never used to be a market is now an aggressive player.  My first trip to Maldives, there were hardly any resorts, and I still remember the pillows made from coconut husks.”

There is a secret formula that holds YTL Hotels in good stead.  “Our tagline ‘treasured moments, treasured places’ means that we are the purveyors of dreams and fantasies.  We have every moment count.  That’s the mantra we’ve been driving into our staff.  Our hotels’ high occupancy rates reflect the popularity of our properties and our abilities to fulfil guests’ wishes.”

Hotel business is like fashion, there is no cookie cutter approach.  You need to reinvest and reimage every seven years, to stay relevant and profitable.

For someone who started with not knowing a single thing in the hospitality industry, Dato’ Yeoh certainly has been put through the wringer.  Yet he emerged an effective and revered leader and entrepreneur.  “We call our staff stars.  In most leadership structures the boss is the head of the pyramid.  Ours is a reverse pyramid.  I’m the most unimportant person in the company because I don’t see the customers.  The moment my team wear the uniform when they start work, they are on parade.  The show starts and they must smile, greet, be courteous.  The challenge is to produce stars who understand our philosophies.  That’s why we have the YTL International College of Hotel Management where we invest in training and hotel development programmes.  Youth is the future of our business.”  

With properties in Asia and UK, Dato’ Yeoh’s brand of management is holistic and immersive.  “Working with partners like The Marriot and Hilton allows us to be more focussed, where we can dissect and segmentise our areas of expertise.  The universal distribution system in the world is such that the big will get bigger so it’s good to have partnerships with these giants.”

Dato’ Yeoh’s superpowers in the hospitality realm are evident in some of his latest triumphs.  One of them the Monkey Island Estate, a centuries-old retreat in Bray-on-Thames, Berkshire that nestles on an island in the River Thames;  The Academy, London is a charming collection of five restored Georgian townhouses centrally located in London’s West End and finally the Higashiyama Niseko Village will be opening in December 2020, channelling unparalleled luxury to Japanese skiing in a hand-selected hideaway destination.  

Never Stop Learning

Koong Wai Seng
CEO of Quill Group


“Change is like the wind and there’s no stopping it. Therefore, it’s imperative that we continuously evolve for the better.” 

Humility is important for all of us, and more so for people who are successful and highly revered. 

The belief that once you’ve achieved everything (or most things) you’ve strived for, you’ve lived and learned life. But that’s quite the opposite for Quill Group’s new Chief Executive Officer, Koong Wai Seng because he never stops learning and doesn’t limit himself to only what he’s good at. 

“Regardless of your position or level in your company, I believe that you shouldn’t stick to what you know, rather, explore what you don’t know. If you only practice within your expertise, you’ll never expand your knowledge. Continue to learn, because the more you learn and immerse yourself in the areas outside of your abilities and skills, the more you’ll grow,” explained Koong. 

Perhaps, that’s the “secret” to his success with an impressive accolade of more than 20 years of experience in a variety of industries including audit, financial advisory, leisure, hospitality, healthcare, property development and property investment in a number of listed property development companies. 

He is a member of the Malaysian Institute of Certified Public Accountants and the Malaysian Institute of Accountants (MIA). Koong started his career at Arthur Andersen & Co before joining a public-listed property group for 13 years, where he served as chief financial officer and later as the group finance director. He was also the executive director of Sunway Group and Tropicana before assuming his position in Sunsuria in 2016 and moving to his most recent at Quill.

But he doesn’t boast about these C-Suite positions, rather, he would prefer to be known as a Change Leader because “Change is like the wind and there’s no stopping it. Therefore, it’s imperative that we continuously evolve for the better,” he said, adding that this is the core of his management philosophy.

According to Koong, part of growing and becoming a good leader is being curious, or in local layman’s term, a “busy body”. 

“I make myself participate in various departmental meetings like marketing, finance, HR and logistics as it helps me to acquire knowledge of the company’s operations in its entirety. 

Part of all this is also to be present and be part of your team regardless of their positions – talk to them, take them out for lunch or coffee and really get to know them. It builds meaningful relationships and trust.” 

Koong made it all by merit and hard work as he was born in a low-income family where his mother would sell fruits by the roadside to support the family. 

“Regardless of your position or level in your company, I believe that you shouldn’t stick to what you know, rather, explore what you don’t know. If you only practice within your expertise, you’ll never expand your knowledge…”

“I studied very hard and always set high standards for myself. I met my wife (then girlfriend) and we now have three boys,” he said. 

Koong will be 62 in 10 years but he is not aiming to retire by then. In fact, he wants to be more involved with his work on a deeper level taking on a more philanthropic mission so that he can leave a legacy for his kids. 

“For the new generation who want to be successful, it’s imperative that you associate yourself with high achievers because birds of a feather flock together – you will all lift each other up to reach your milestones sooner, so that you can achieve financial freedom earlier.”  

Aligning The Way of Life

Dr Hayden Pooke
Chief Executive Officer of Tonic Asia Group


My own personal purpose is to be the vessel for transformation, that is the reason I get up in the mornings, to try and make a difference

There is a higher purpose in life and for chiropractor, Dr Hayden Pooke, it is to transform people’s lives and make a difference. Not one to letthe small things irritate him, he believes strongly in being the light that brings changes to people and in any situation. This was translated into his profession of helping his patients gain pain-free lives. “My own personal purpose is to be the vessel for transformation, that is the reason I get up in the mornings, to try and make a difference,” he said.

Pooke and his wife, Dr Tamara Gien Pooke, came to Malaysia a decade ago when he was headhunted by Tonic Asia Group’s founder, Dato’ Dr Thomas Ong. Ong, who founded Tonic Asia Group in 1997, wanted Pooke to help him transform his clinics and expand throughout Malaysia. South African-born Pooke, had wanted to migrate to Australia when he came to Malaysia. He arrived here in 2009 and is now in the midst of applying for permanent residency here. “My wife and I love it here. There are a lot of opportunities especially to introduce chiropractic and integrative physical medicine in Malaysia,” he said.

The brand, TAGS for Tonic Asia Group, was developed after Pooke joined the company and in a few years, the group has expanded to include 11 centres and two hospitals in Malaysia, including East Malaysia. “It put chiropractic medicine on the map as a serious healthcare provider in Malaysia,” Pooke said. Soon, the TAGS clinics that started out as spine and joint specialist centres, integrated the centres to include physiotherapy. As Pooke puts it, chiropractic and physiotherapy services work hand-in-hand as one deals with the body’s alignment while the other on the core muscles.

The TAGS Spine and Joint Specialists Centres nationwide were proven to be successful with its focus on providing low-risk, healthier and non-invasive care for issues involving the joint and spine. Pooke said they meet their patients’ expectations 90 per cent of the time. “Seeing a chiropractor and being adjusted is not invasive and it facilitates and optimises movements for the patients,” he said. In many cases, he said patients find themselves pain-free after a few sessions at TAGS but stressed that treatment for each individual patient is different as it involves various factors that includes lifestyle, posture and diet.

“Treating Asians are different from caucasians as their physiology makeup are different.”

The recent popularity for chiropractic treatments mean that there is a future in this profession and the International Medical University Malaysia (IMU) is the only university in the country to offer a Chiropractic Bachelor’s Degree. Dr Tamara is a programme director for the degree in IMU and Pooke said this spells a bright future for the industry in Malaysia. He said chiropractic degrees offered by universities outside of Malaysia are focused on treating Westerners so most chiropractors learn how to treat Westerners and not Asians. “Treating Asians are different from caucasians as their physiology makeup are different,” he said. He said chiropractors who graduate from IMU will be trained to treat Malaysians and this will give them the advantage over foreign-trained chiropractors.

When he is not adjusting a patient’s alignment, Pooke is an avid wine collector with a growing collection at home. He also likes to spend his time in the kitchen whipping up creations to entertain his guests, family and friends. “I love to cook, I learnt to cook since I was six years old,” he said. He said his love for cooking has become something that he can use for business networking too where he brings business associates home and treats them to delicious home-cooked meals. 

Forging a Path in Security

Dato’ Dr Nick Ng
Founder of Mega Fortris Malaysia Sdn Bhd

The reason for our success is because we had went through a lot to get there and most important of all, we keep to our integrity and principles

Ng has always had an adventurous streak and he attributed most of his success to the adventures he had as a young man. He literally left home to see the world at the age of 18 years. With little money on hand, he took a ship to India and from there, made his way to Europe. It was a trip that formed who he is today. It taught him perseverance and a die-hard attitude. What he remembered most about that epic journey that spanned several years was how he had to suffer and starve in the beginning due to shortage of money. “I was adventurous and I was determined to make it, I don’t give up easily so no matter how much I suffered, I refused to go home, I wanted to stay on,” he said.

If one were to tell Dato’ Dr Nick Ng that he would reap huge success in selling security seals back when he was young, he would have laughed it off.  Never in his imagination had he thought that his eventual success in life was from selling security seals that initially only earned him a few sen of profit per seal.

Ng had ventured into the security seal business with his brother Adrian, who is 15 years younger than him, in 1996. When he first started, he was quite sceptical of the profit as each security seal costs about 9 sen which they had to sell at 12 sen. “Yet, we had to push on, we wanted to penetrate the market,” he said.

The brothers persisted and thanks to Adrian’s sales skills, Ng said they started making it big and soon they were venturing overseas. Before long, Mega Fortris was manufacturing its own security seals and exporting it to various countries. It is now one of the leading security seal manufacturers in the world.

“I was adventurous and I was determined to make it, I don’t give up easily so no matter how much I suffered, I refused to go home, I wanted to stay on,” 

Even after he came back to Malaysia, Ng found it hard to stay put in Penang. Life here was monotonous and boring so he left again and this time, he went to United Kingdom to work as a window cleaner for three years.

He came back to Malaysia from that stint and tried a few businesses which failed. This never deterred him. Instead, he pushed on with his die-hard attitude as he believed he would eventually make it.

The Ng brothers started Mega Fortris with a RM2 million debt and it was their joint hard work that led to their success today. ”The reason for our success is because we had gone through a lot to get here and most important of all, we keep to our integrity and principles,” he said.

His advice to the youths is to venture out and take risks. “I was bold enough to take risks and this was where I learned important lessons about life,” he said. 

The Zing of Life

Dato’ Seri Damien Chua Wei Kee
Founder and Chief Executive Officer, JD Resources

“It was not easy but each challenge that came my way, I always find ways to overcome it.”

If there is only one formula for success, it would have to be seizing an opportunity and make it work through pure grit and hard work. This was how Dato’ Seri Damien Chua went from a waiter to become the owner of 30 companies in nine countries within a span of 26 years.

It can be said that his early years as an adult striking out on his own was an invaluable lesson that taught him independence and a strong will to succeed. Coming from a middle-class family, Chua had wanted to study aeronautical engineering or chemical engineering when he finished school. Yet, aware of his parents’ financial limitations, he gave up that dream and started working various jobs to fund his own education. “Since engineering was too expensive, I chose the cheapest course – accounting,” he said. To fund his education, he did a slew of different jobs that ranged from tutoring to waitering and coaching. He worked in McDonald’s, Parkson Store as a promoter, a lifeguard, a swimming coach, a tuition teacher and a waiter in a restaurant.

He ended up working in a zinc distribution company while studying ACCA part-time. It was this job that gave him the most experience in the zinc industry. When the 1997 Asian financial crisis hit, Chua lost his job in the zinc distribution company as the company was so badly hit, it went under. Desperate for a job, he decided to apply for the accountant post in a Melbourne zinc supplier company. Instead of landing a job, he was unexpectedly appointed as an agent in Malaysia. With no other job offers, he decided to give it a try and this saw the establishment of JD Resources in 1998. “It was a challenge taking up the risk at a time when we were still facing the effects of the financial crisis but somehow, I managed to face up to it,” he said. It was not all smooth-sailing and yet for each challenge that came his way, Chua somehow managed to overcome it and came out unscathed. “It was not easy but each challenge that came my way, I always find ways to overcome it,” he added.

Today, JD Resources holds 30% market share of the zinc supplies and 55% market share of zinc alloy supplies in the Southeast Asia market. The company started out as a sole proprietorship distributing 15 to 20 tonnes of zinc products two decades ago and now, the company is large enough to be publicly listed and is distributing 12,000 to 15,000 tonnes of zinc products. “Last year, when everyone was pulling out of China due to the trade war, we were going in to set up our factory there because we wanted to tap into the China market,” he said.

Other than continuing to expand his growing business, Chua is involved in 16 non-governmental organisations (NGO) and was recently appointed as the Honorary-Consul of Hungary. He also makes sure he allocates time for his family every weekend and spends most of his free time, if any, reading at least one book each month. “I must read to continuously improve my knowledge, it is a life-long process that must never stop no matter how busy I am,” he said. 

“I must read to continuously improve my knowledge, it is a life-long process that must never stop no matter how busy I am”

Living A Beautiful Life

Professor Enzo Di Mambro
Consultant, Professor & Academic Board Member of EMBA

“I grew up in Rome where I was constantly surrounded by beautiful things and this was emphasised with my travels, particularly when we stayed in China because of its rich culture and people.”

Life is short, so live it to the fullest and always be happy. This has been heard so often and can even be cliche to many. Nevertheless it’s the mantra that Professor Enzo Di Mambro lives by and while life is not perfect, he certainly is happy. 

The Professor of the Inner Mongolia University in Penang lives happily ever after as an expatriate in the Moonlight Bay Apartments in Batu Ferringhi very much enjoying life and living it to the fullest. 

He is also the Consultant and Professor and Academic Board Member of the university’s EMBA (Executive Masters of Business Administration) programme as well as a professional chef with more than four decades in the hospitality industry. 

Enzo was born in Italy, but not in a hospital or even at home. Rather, he greeted the world alongside his twin brother under a pomegranate tree in the middle of nowhere as his mother went into labour while she and her husband were traveling.

“I grew up in Rome where I was constantly surrounded by beautiful things and this was emphasised with my travels, particularly when we stayed in China because of its rich culture and people.” He loved China so much that he even married a Chinese woman but interestingly, decided to settle in Penang under the programme, Malaysia as my Second Home (MM2H). 

“I am culturally successful because I believe that throughout my 63 years of life, traveling and working, I have developed worldly wisdom or a deep “knowledge” of people, how and why they behave the way they do. ”

“This decision happened years ago when some of my colleagues and I were in Perth. We had dinner and some drinks and started talking about where we want to die! So I said that I want to LIVE on a nice island, in a villa, with beautiful views and great weather. A few days later, a friend showed me an advertisement of the Moonlight Bay apartments in Penang. I did some research about Penang, then bought a unit almost immediately,” he quipped. 

It wasn’t a rash and misguided decision however, as Enzo had considered other nearby islands. But Penang called to him because of its very laid back way of life – “There’s also a lot more to do here. I think Bali and Phuket are more short-term tourist destinations while Hong Kong is quite chaotic,” he said. 

To him, everything about Penang is value for money from entertainment, shopping to properties. The people are warm, friendly and hospitable, the weather is warm throughout the year, food is delicious and the hospitals offer one of the greatest services among the other countries he’s been to. 

“So with these reasons, Penang is my home. But the main issue is the traffic, but I think many others share the same sentiments,” he said. 

You may believe that Enzo is successful as he nonchalantly refers to his luxury cars as his “toys” and owns a number of properties in other countries. But he thinks he is still “working” to achieve success. “I am culturally successful because I believe that throughout my 63 years of life, traveling and working, I have developed worldly wisdom or a deep “knowledge” of people, how and why they behave the way they do. Money is just a bonus. In fact, I’m just lucky because life has been very generous to me,” he explained. 

Leading By Example

Tan Lay Seong
Founder & CEO of Great Ideals Group

Leadership is not a position or a title but it is about leading by example and making things happen.

Tan Lay Seong from Great Eastern is a name majority will know or at least have heard of in the Malaysia insurance industry. Coming from a poor family of eight, Lay Seong has endeavored this journey through hard work, determination and self belief. “The spirit of believing in whatever you do is very important, we cannot change where we came from but we can always decide what we want to be in the future,” said Lay Seong. Immediately after graduating from the National University Of Malaysia (UKM) in 1995, he joined the insurance industry and never looked back. 10 years later, he successfully built his own empire, won numerous awards and wrote his first book ‘The Champion Path’, documenting his life journey to encourage people to live their dreams. The book was later translated into English and subsequently sold internationally. 

To date, Lay Seong’s numerous outstanding achievements include the first and only Malaysian to be selected twice for the Worldwide 500 Chinese Insurance Agency, Top 10 Outstanding Youth Malaysian Awards (Merit) and Agency Leader Of The Year 2018. When asked why investing in insurance is important, his answer was short and precise saying that this is an alternative investment to protect or at least to ease the burden of families or corporations when encountered with unfortunate business or financial stress. He firmly believes that insurance is not only a wise investment as protection, but this is also a good career path for those who have good leadership qualities with proper management systems. “Leadership is not a position or a title but it is about leading by example and making things happen, ” Lay Seong explained.

Besides insurance, this remarkable gentleman is also the National President of PUMM and the Advisor for PCCC Youth – Personal Development Bureau. This father of two loves soccer and badminton for the persistence and fighting spirit of the games. 

Last but not least, Lay Seong’s principle in life is “Let us use our lives to influence others to do better!” 

“The spirit of believing in whatever you do is very important, we cannot change where we came from but we can always decide what we want to be in the future.”