Friday, September 02, 2005

INTSIK secrets to success...hehehe!

HERE are some tips for success from the "Intsik," the earlier generations of Chinese migrants to the Philippines. The secret to success isn't "feng shui" and good luck charms or staying home on Friday the 13th. Instead, the "secrets" involve common sense, as we see in the first tip, which is to find, or create your own niche.
The second pointer we can pick up from the Intsik relates to the first: Start small. The original "dyaryo't bote" -- people buying up old bottles and newspapers and, generally, junk -- were the Intsik. Others started as sidewalk vendors (my maternal grandfather sold handkerchiefs on the street in Chinatown's Rosario).
Another example is the SM mall chain. I still remember the original ShoeMart in the 1960s, a small shoe store on Rizal Avenue in Manila. Who would have predicted we'd see all those SM malls today? Today, older ethnic Chinese visit SM and sometimes comment, after seeing some of the stores, that they are worried that younger entrepreneurs have lost touch with reality, wanting to start too big, too soon.
The third tip again relates to the first two: Go for volume sales, rather than quick profits. The Intsik went for a few centavos' profit at a time (well, okay, these days, a few pesos), as with my grandfather's handkerchiefs. You still see this principle working, whether for jewelry in Chinatown, clothes and school supplies in Manila's Divisoria flea market area or cell phones in the Virra Mall bargain center. The reality is that there is no such thing as instant wealth; in fact, anyone who offers some investment scheme with quick returns is probably a con artist.
Quite often, this matter of yielding to the temptation to make quick profits relates to an unwillingness to start at the bottom. On a recent flight from San Francisco to Manila, I was seated beside a Filipino-American businessman who had done very well in the United States. He lamented how Filipinos in the United States, in contrast to the Chinese or the Thais, seemed to prefer working for someone in a white-collar job rather than being his or her own boss. A new Chinese migrant would start out maybe as a waiter but with the intention of saving up enough to open up his own small restaurant, putting in long hours, while aiming for small profits while serving good food. Eventually, they build up their clientele, and a little business empire.
Fourth, cultivate the "suki," a Tagalog word derived from the Hokkien Chinese "ju ke," which means No. 1 customer. Make all customers -- even first-time walk-ins -- feel they're No. 1 with little perks, like serving coffee and snacks. More importantly, offer special discounts, credit terms or even referrals to other businesses if you don't stock what they need.
Fifth, live within your means. I've written about our tendency, especially among the Filipino male, to splurge, and to avoid work that is "beneath" us. This "señorito" complex is found throughout the region. Indonesians call it the "priyayi" [aristocrat] mentality, the need to show off even if one doesn't have the means. Businesses flounder, then collapse, because money from sales, rather than being reinvested to generate more capital, are being squandered on prestige activities.
Sixth, put money into social investments. Tessie Ang See, one of the "Chinoy" [Chinese-Filipino] community's leaders, put it very well in a recent TV interview, "The reality is that you actually rarely see very rich, or very poor, Chinoys."
The reason for this is that the Chinese have all kinds of mutual-help projects extending from womb to tomb: clan associations, Chinese schools, hospitals, homes for the aged, even cemeteries. The schools were built, recognizing that the most important capital any community has is that of human resources. The Chinese schools are now among the best in the country, attracting even non-Chinese families.
But there was more to these social investments than human capital. Educating the young, caring for the sick and the aged, even burying the dead, all converged to build up a sense of community and of civic duty. Early in life, the Intsik learned that each hungry or homeless person, each child who drops out from school, was a source of shame, impoverishing the entire community.
Some of you may be asking, what's Mike Tan's "k" ("karapatan," or right) to talk about making money when he isn't even in business? I make no such claims, or rather I'm not limiting myself to talking about making money in the business sense. The "Intsik" principles apply as well to government and to NGOs, the sectors I'm involved in.
I've seen too many government projects fail because of policies that are shortsighted, failing to anticipate long-term needs and niches. I see projects that remain on the drafting stage for years because we talk too much, unwilling to buckle down to handling the most difficult yet crucial part: starting the project. And when other people decide to take the initiative, moving the project and producing results, we see demolition jobs to put down those who have tried to move the organization forward.
I see constituencies neglected, when every citizen should be treated like a "suki" since it's his taxes that pay for government employees' salaries. But no, government people tend to think the public owes them, rather than the other way around.
I see agencies living beyond their means-scarce resources wasted on large buildings, plush offices, vanity brochures and advertisements in newspapers (especially these days, as politicians make a last-minute pitch for votes).
I see government and NGO executives transforming tight operating budgets into personal expense accounts. While supported by all the correct necessary vouchers and forms, the purchases are often based on the official's whims and penchant for the latest technological gizmos, rather than the agency's needs. All this is really another form of corruption, and corruption is always bad business sense.
The Intsik secrets aren't really confined to private businesses. We're talking here about being successful in anything we do, whatever our sector might be. And if you ask how we might distill all those "secrets," I'd say they boil down to one very basic principle: Make good by doing good.


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