National Mark & Brand Enterpreneur Conference

Address by Tan Sri Lim at the Palace of the Golden Horses, organised by Branding Association of Malaysia/SMIDEC
23 May 2009

Winning hearts at home, Winning battles abroad

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Let me begin by thanking SMIDEC and the Branding Association of Malaysia for this opportunity to be part of this dialogue with you.

This seminar could not have come at a better time when the world is facing an economic melt-down of catastrophic proportions.  Its knock-on effects are bound to slow us down and cause hardship to several Malaysian companies, especially those engaged in global trade and manufacturing.

Hundreds of thousands of jobs are lost everyday around the world and the largest and most established institutions in the world’s biggest economies have either broken down or in the process of breaking up.  We will not be spared.  Against this rather gloomy backdrop, we have gathered here to learn from each other the best means to stay on course, and the best way to stay in focus.

To say that we must push even harder and work even smarter is to state the obvious.  But the obvious has to be said as we look for ways and means to sail through the current economic crisis which has already claimed thousands of bankruptcies around the world.

We will see in the coming months how badly we will be affected.  But we must plan now to manage its consequences.

I am aware that my topic is “local hero, global brand” and I shall address it along the way.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Since early this morning you have heard everything you need to know about branding from the country’s most successful entrepreneurs, corporate captains, political leaders and heads of government agencies.

We have been very privileged to hear from His Royal Highness Dr Nazrin Shah, the Crown Prince of Perak.

You have listened to some of the brightest and smartest entrepreneurs and brand builders in the country on how they have built their success stories.

And seated here I am sure are some of our best, young brains who will in the years to come bring more success stories and glory to this country.

Given that so much has already been said, I think my time is best served if I shared with you some of my thoughts about the bigger picture – that of the country vis-a-vis the global market place where we will succeed or fail in our endeavours to globalise our brands, along with some of my concerns as we move to face the future.

We have heard of government support of branding initiatives by the private sector and agencies such as SMIDEC and Matrade, and ministries like MITI must be appreciated for the excellent support over the years in promoting trade and manufacturing.

The introduction of the Malaysian mark clearly is yet another effort made by the government to encourage our SMEs to move up the value chain.

But the question is – are we doing enough?

As business captains, how well placed are we?
As a trading nation, how well positioned are we?

How well organized are we in building an eco-system that supports business innovation and brand development.

How well recognized are we globally as a country that produces quality products and successful brands?

How much more has to be done to bring us to the level where we are able to compete with the best in the world?  And to compete with the best in the world we must as we drive our economy up the value chain.

We have come a long way. There is no doubt about that.

We have migrated the country from a low-cost production base to a country sought by investors for its highly skilled manpower, its well-developed  infrastructure, its political stability and investor-friendly policies.

But again I ask the question, are we doing enough?

What more can we do and must do to design and build a future where Malaysian brands are among the world’s best known.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

As we know it, the future of a country is always  shaped and defined by people who have the passion and the drive to push beyond the ordinary, beyond limits and boundaries; by people with big ideas and even bigger, bolder commitment to accomplish what may now seem impossible; by people  who would  move mountains if the mountains are getting in the way.  These are people who would  simply not take things as they are and would never choose to take the easy way out.  In reaching beyond the ordinary, they achieve extra-ordinary success.  In doing what they do, they transform societies, and influence the way of life of many across the world, in doing what they do they build the most successful enterprises and brands the world has known.

The future will always be about making the impossible possible.  Now think about this:

What used to take years is now done in a matter of hours.

The size of your notebook used to be the size of this hall.  And that was just 50 years ago.  Soon, it will be so tiny you can fold it into your wallet, and chances are it will be a hundred times more powerful. 

Soon the tiny mobile phone which used to be big and heavy  will be a complete computer.  It will be all you need to run a business no matter where you find yourself.

Soon those who do not like crowded places will be able to travel to the moon for a really quiet (out-of-this-world) holiday. 
Soon those who are eager to live beyond a life-time, will be able to extend their live span by simply replacing body parts that are not working to their satisfaction.

Soon the internet will be home to a completely new virtual business world, one that needs no office space and recognizes no boundaries.  How ready are we for that?  How ready are we for the dramatic changes that will make a lot of what we do now out of date and render a lot of what we have built over the years out of competition.

It is not my intention to sound gloomy, but to paint a picture of the future where we may find our place as a country, where we may find our own space as self-driven entities.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Are you still with me? 

Let me now share with you some eye-opening figures to keep you from dozing off!

As reported, 100 of the world’s best-selling brands earn more than the combined GDP of 100 of the world’s poorest nations.

The 50 million richest people in the developed world have a combined income of 3 billion poorest people living in developing countries.

The richest countries in the world are also the most advanced, the most progressive, the most innovative.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

All of them, with no exception, consider brand and design innovation a strategic propeller of their national competitiveness.

All of them, with no exception, own internationally known brands of products and services that are perceived to be the best in the world, everywhere in the world.

All of them, with no exception, are superbly competitive as all are outstandingly innovative.

These are countries whose Governments and industries have aggressively invested in global marketing, brand-building and brand-franchising consistently for years and years.

Their Governments have built economic infrastructures and enabling systems that not only encourage but empower product and brand innovation as part and parcel of their strategy for wealth creation.

Their people are highly trained in global marketing and highly skilled in the use of technology.  They are trained and encouraged to be innovative in whatever they do or produce – be it the music they compose, the shoes they design, the furniture they make, the fast food chains they manage around the world.

These countries generate immense wealth from the products they have created, and the brands they have promoted right around the world.

Resulting from this, brands and products from these countries are able to gain worldwide acceptance quickly, and command premium pricing invariably.

And resulting from that, these countries themselves have become synonymous with quality, and enjoy the most positive image in the minds of people right around the world.  And this, in turn, reinforces the perception that whatever they produce must be the world’s best.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

On the other hand, countries that have no capacity to engage in R&D or innovation struggle just to survive and many could hardly do so.  These are countries where we find 4 out of 6 billion people living in this world have never heard a telephone dial tone, 3 billion live in crippling poverty, 2 billion have no access to electricity, 1 billion are completely illiterate unable to even read or write their names.

Sadly, this is a sharply divided world and it is the innovation gap that has created this huge economic divide between rich and poor countries, countries that progress and countries that regress.

Here, I am using a simple scenario to illustrate what can happen to us if we do not push forward our drive for innovation, and the competitiveness of our products and services up the value chain.

It is unfortunate but true that some of us are still entrenched in controls and processes that have become stumbling blocks.

It is true that some of us still do not understand the purpose of innovation and the speed at which we must move just to remain in competition.

It is also true that some of us seem unaware that outside our borders, furious competition is building up as developing economies are rushing to close the gap with the most advanced economies;

That outside our borders, the economic divide between countries that are innovating and countries that are not is widening. 

As we speak, the world is rapidly shifting from a mindset anchored on industrial age infrastructure to digital age connectivity.

New technology will dictate how the new economic competition will be played.  In the process, it will breakdown further boundaries and barriers, and create a world that will be flatter than ever before.

As a result, the role of government is shifting from control and intervention to support and facilitation.

In the most advanced countries, governments are creating economic, social and political conditions that will empower the private sector to compete more effectively, more successfully.

Administration must move up its own value chain to become an enabler, a motivator, a partner to the entrepreneur.

They must understand that if the private sector loses a battle, it is the country that loses the battle.

We must develop an eco-system that will actively encourage and reward innovation and the globalization of Malaysian brand building efforts.

We must put in place a programme that will actively encourage and develop Malaysian entrepreneurs to become global entrepreneurs.  Global heroes you may call them.

The funds used to encourage foreign companies to set up here would be better used on developing Malaysian heroes who are capable of competing with the best in the world.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

For our country to succeed in the long term, we must make our national competitiveness a Mission for the whole nation, involving every Malaysian and every strata of our society. We must make a concerted effort to take the country to where we aim to be – a fully developed nation by 2020.

To succeed, the whole nation must be on-board, from farmers to teachers, taxi drivers to bankers, business leaders to political leaders.

Everyone from every walk of life must feel ownership of the need for quality and embrace it every step of the way.

Everyone must be prepared, new systems must be built, out-dated mindsets must be changed.

Despite the financial meltdown developing economies are rushing to close the gap with the most advanced economies.

Despite the financial meltdown the developed world will face its challenges using innovation to rise to new levels and set new benchmarks.

Despite the financial meltdown new economies are attempting to make quantum leaps that are astonishing in their inventiveness and threatening in their competitiveness.

At this time when we are facing our greatest battles we must work to close the divide between public and private sectors.

We must merge to speak with one voice, to work with one goal.  After all, we are two sides of the same coin, we are inseparable.  But working together is only a start.  If it means facing each other across the table, the public and private sectors would end up each seeing the opposite, and this is often the case.

It is essential for the public and private sectors to also walk together.  In so doing, we will see the same picture, we will be complementing each other, instead of complaining about each other.

Ladies and Gentlemen, 

To be sure, it is the quality of the product that makes a brand famous and it is never the other way around.

It was the music of the Beatles that made them world famous. It was not their name that made their music famous. 
It was cars that made Toyota a global brand, and computer software that made Microsoft a worldwide best seller. It was shoes that made Nike famous. It never was the other way around.

Branding, in simple language, is just part and parcel of building a long-term business. You build your brand as you build your business.  Your brand is a reflection of the person you are, of your philosophy and your value system.

In short, your brand is what you stand for.

Where there is integrity, there will be quality.  Where there is quality, there will be brand equity.  Where there is brand equity, there will be brand popularity. 

At the heart of successful branding there must be unfailing quality and unquestionable integrity.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Of late, much has been said about Branding Malaysia.

But the branding of Malaysia has started a long time back.

As I see it, Brand Malaysia is nothing more than being who we are as a people, and how progressive we are as a nation.

In the developed world, countries have moved from “knowledge economy” to “innovation economy” to further widen their lead over developing economies.

To succeed in the long term, Malaysia must be branded for innovation.

Here and now, corporate and enterprise Malaysia must work shoulder to shoulder with the government of Malaysia to build for the nation a big passion for innovation.

For the transformation to take place, clearly and urgently, we must now focus on creating transformational systems that will prepare the country for a quantum leap, from where we are to where we must be – an innovation economy – capable of competing with the best in the west.

To make that quantum leap successfully, we must make the development of innovative product and brand development a national agenda.

We must make that transformation happen quickly and successfully.  Because if it does not take place, our longer term competitiveness will erode. 

Ladies and Gentlemen,  

I have been asked by many whether branding has a role in politics and political leadership and in political elections.  Of course, only much more than you think.

Politics is about public perception and public opinion.

Branding is driven by public perception and public opinion.

Like everything else, successful branding in politics has much to do with quality of service and efficiency of delivery, which together form the basis of public perception and opinion.

As with entrepreneurs, politicians rise and fall with what they do and how they do it, not just what they say or how they say it (By that, I don’t mean all of us can now move in and replace our politicians).

I shall leave you with those observations to think about.

May I thank SMIDEC and the Branding Association of Malaysia for the opportunity to be part of this seminar, and may I take this opportunity to wish everyone of you every success in everything that you do.