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Month: May 2019

TIME FOR HEROES – DATO’ SERI IVAN TEH, THE CEO OF FUSIONEX REMINDS US THAT NOT ALL HEROES WEAR CAPES

Dato’ Seri Ivan Teh stands on one of the three floors that Fusionex’s 60,000 sq ft R&D facility occupies at Plaza 33 in Petaling Jaya, putting on a demonstration of his company’s voice recognition software: “And… lights!” He snaps his fingers, and the elongated ceiling lights dim. One more snap, and the lights beam at full brightness upon his command. Another click of his fingers closer to a room featuring a life-size R2-D2 model (which lets out the occasional excited bleep), and a glass window – previously opaque – turns transparent.

It makes for an impressive, entertaining display of the sort of technological wizardry that Fusionex is capable of achieving but, really, it’s just the tip of a very substantial iceberg. From the time it was founded in 2005, Fusionex has made a name for itself in the global technology industry by specialising in analytics, big data, machine learning, artificial intelligence and, perhaps most importantly, its ability to make sense of vast amounts of structured and unstructured data for its clients. With an official net worth that currently stands at MYR1.2 billion, this is a company that – as Dato’ Teh explains – began with a badminton game and a dream of becoming a superhero.

DATA ENTRY
Born and bred in Petaling Jaya, Dato’ Teh grew up as an academic all-rounder (it helped that his mother was a teacher) with an aptitude for mathematics, science and technology, as well as a love for art and drawing. “At a young age, what I really liked was innovation,” he recalls. “I began looking up to superheroes like Iron Man, Superman, and Batman when I was about eight or nine, so I’d draw them and imagine being a superhero too. It wasn’t their superpowers that I wished for, but I really wanted to solve problems and fight villains.

Fusionex Founder

Fusionex Founder

“As I got older, I understood that I couldn’t become a superhero in real life, but I still admired Iron Man for his innovation and creativity, where he could bring things like art and science together, the way I wanted to. That’s science technology.” This inevitably drew him towards a degree in computer science, which in itself became a springboard from which to enter the IT industry, propelling him towards managerial positions in multinational companies including Hewlett-Packard, Intel and Accenture.

“When I started working in these organisations, we’d be flooded with a tsunami of data and the problems that stemmed from it, like hospitals and medical centres, where I’d observe long queues and inefficiencies. I thought to myself, ‘What can I use or do using technology and a combination of skillsets to make life better, faster and more efficient? What can I do to change the world?’ These were eureka moments for me and, obviously, it’s important to have a vision – but how do you execute it?” It was only during a badminton game with some of his friends, who were in similar industries, that things began to get moving.

“At one of the sessions, we recognised there were a lot of problems across industries, where people were spending lots of money and yet waiting times at retail outlets, banks, telcos and airlines were bad. A few of us said: ‘There must be a better way of doing this – it can’t be all that bad. We have to be able to challenge the status quo and find a better way forward.’ We wanted to start things together, but many of my friends back then had their own careers and livelihoods to look after, and some of them were about to get married.

“I said: ‘It could be a big risk for you. Would it be something you want to do? Why don’t you let me try it for a couple of months and validate the idea that the demand is actually there? Once we’ve proven that there’s a market for what we’re offering and the business model really works, I’ll invite you to come on board.’ And that’s what I did.” It was – for a time – very much a one-man show, where Dato’ Teh had to do everything from coding software to searching for clients. No stranger to hard work (as a 10-year-old, at his father’s insistence, his school holidays were spent selling bedsheets at textile stores and pasar malams), he persevered.

“For a couple of months, I navigated the waters, finding ways to ensure our skills and ideas would be accepted in the market – which they weren’t, by the way. That was painful. People wanted a track record. But slowly, we started to gain traction and got our first few breakthroughs after six to nine months, thereby validating our model. Once we were more stable and had our first customers, I wanted Fusionex to grow and accelerate, and I couldn’t do that alone. That’s why most of the pioneering team – there were about five of us who started this – are still with us today as we continue to invite more people into the Fusionex family.”

WE COULD BE HEROES
The company’s seemingly light-hearted nickname for its workspace, the ‘Office of Superheroes’, appears to be half a vision of the future and half a teenage boy’s fantasy bedroom when you wander through it, for all the Marvel and DC Comics memorabilia in plain sight. There’s even a sizeable karaoke room with a professional sound system, in which Dato’ Teh shows that he’s not microphone-shy, either. (For the record, he does an excellent rendition of You Raise Me Up, and could give Ed Sheeran a run for his money, too.) But for all the office’s creature comforts, Fusionex’s team – which now consists of over 550 staff – works as hard as it plays.

“It’s an amalgamation of different types of ideas and technology, where villains are no longer beasts or monsters – they’re problems,” he says. “My parents taught me to understand how to bring things together and comprehend the real-world problems that people face. So, where you see poverty, difficulties in various situations, disasters or explosions, how do you use technology and innovation to overcome all of these problems? How do you manifest the qualities of a superhero in real life? That’s what we’re all about.” To illustrate the nature of Fusionex’s operations, he posits the company not just as a source of invention, but a sorter of information – an intelligent base that cuts through all things complex and incomprehensible.

“In any organisation, there are so many problems to pinpoint. In a manufacturing business, you want to ensure you minimise defects and downtime – some of these can have huge financial implications when there are quality issues or a whole batch of goods need to be returned. More severely, if you’re in a chemical plant and have a problem – say, you don’t detect a drastic increase in temperature – it can result in a hazardous explosion that could cause fatalities. What we do for our clients is identify their problems together with them, because we don’t know everything, so we have to operate in a consultative way.

“But we work with them in a diligent and very focused manner. Fusionex combines its technology with the expertise of our team to solve a client’s problems using data technology. We believe data is the new crude oil. It’s something that is extremely important, but will remain raw data unless we collect, store, process and analyse that data so that it becomes meaningful and insightful to our customers. It gives them foresight as to what they should do, based on what happened in the past, so they can plan better for the future. That’s what we do for our clients, all of whom come in different shapes and sizes, big and small.”

Gone are the days when Fusionex Founder Dato’ Teh would have to persuade potential clients to give Fusionex even a passing glance – although that may, in part, be due to a heavyweight replica of Thor’s hammer, Mjölnir, which resides in his office (“I don’t have to say much when I’ve got it in my hand,” he smiles). The company’s client roster now includes significant local and international clients such as Starwood, Ritz Carlton, Marriot, CIMB Group, American Airlines, Dell, Intel, Fedex, AEON and Malaysia Airlines, spanning a diverse variety of industries – all of them looking to Fusionex to give them the cutting-edge insights they need.

“Different industries will be different, but the crux of it is that data still resides across all industries, and when we take a look at it – as we draw parallels and compare one industry to another – while they’re adjacent, there are similarities as well,” he expounds. “From day one, our mantra was to solve problems. It wasn’t to go out there and sell a box or sell hardware – that doesn’t motivate me. We wouldn’t have been able to create new jobs or more ideation, which is what lies in Fusionex’s DNA – that fusion between business, technology and the excellence of the experience.” https://www.owler.com/company/fusionex-international

How To grow Your Business Exponentially

As a business owner you are always looking for ways to grow your business, and as you begin to increase sales and sense new opportunities it is not unusual for your thoughts to turn to expansion. But unplanned expansion can be as dangerous to your business as no growth at all.

Fast growth can destabilize a business giving its owners a false sense of security while the additional sales volumes can eat up more working capital than expected.

If you are aiming for business expansion, keep these things in mind.

Watch Your Overheads

The biggest danger in running a business expansion program is the loss of profit that comes from uncontrolled spending when you are just too busy to keep track of what is happening. Overhead expenses that were under control in the stable business situation can grow rapidly to cover the extra expenses associated with a bigger scale of operations – transport, inventory, rental on larger storage space, and all the rest will eat into your working capital levels if not watched closely.

Track Your Profit Margins

You would normally expect that you can increase sales volumes and achieve the same profit margin, or even better since overheads will be spread across a greater amount of sales income and because the cost of goods goes down as you buy in greater quantities But this is not always the case. Additional sales often come with unanticipated costs and reduced efficiencies that can actually decrease your margins. You need to regularly track your profit margins to see if you are really growing or just running faster to stay in the same place.

Employ Strategically

As you grow it seems natural to hire more people but a sudden influx of new employees can introduce problems ranging from changing the dynamics among the old team and creating morale problems to higher insurance and employee benefits costs. Consider alternatives such as retraining some of the existing employees to pick up new tasks, taking on freelancers and temps or maybe even outsourcing some of the work. Balance your use of temps against the training investment they require and the skills you will really need to have on tap in the business because these people will take their knowledge and skills with them when they leave.

 Don’t Underestimate Cash Flow Requirements

A growing business is hungry for cash to fund higher debtor and inventory levels as well as increased overheads and capital investments. Typically, most small business owners will seek a business loan to expand operations. But the danger here is that if the expansion doesn’t go according to plan then the business can very easily end up in the red with a bad credit record. Look for the cheapest and most flexible source of funds from accredited providers and have a detailed and realistic projection of income and outflows to fully understand your need for funding.

Keep Customers Loyal

Good customer service is what drives your business success, but ironically it is also one of the first things that tends to be forgotten when businesses go into expansion mode. Employees get caught up in the ramping-up activities and lose track of what is happening with customers. So the very customer service that helped you grow your business in the first place becomes difficult to sustain and customer defection occurs. Securing new business through the growth phase can also be hard to factor in to activities. The key to retaining customers is to maintain adequate staffing levels that ensure current customers continue to receive the attention and service that has made you their supplier of choice. More info: https://www.inc.com/guides/small-business-growth-strategies.html

Forecast Cash Flow

Sudden business expansion can involve a heavy investment to handle the production of new orders that won’t translate into cash in the bank for some time. In the meantime the business still has to pay its creditors. Poorly managed or inadequate cash flow is a major cause of expansion failure. Building a strong understanding of your cash flow needs when going into a period of rapid growth will make the process much less dangerous to the business’ survival.