Developing businesses and people until they become successful in their own right is a mammoth task that is demanding and constantly evolving. Yet Dato’ Sri Dr How Kok Choong JP, takes it all in his stride and seem to effortlessly churn out numerous businesses in different industries, including IT solutions provider TH3 Holdings Sdn Bhd (TH3), network marketing company Agape Superior Living International Group and garment retailer YFS Group with over 70 outlets, in his wake. Recently, the award-winning CEO speaks to Top 10 of Malaysia about the secret to building long-lasting businesses and leaders, his unorthodox way of talent acquisition and why smart business leaders can no longer afford to ignore the importance of filial piety.
Dato’ Sri Dr How Kok Choong JP can afford to indulge in a life of leisure. After all, he has successfully grown businesses which span a wide range of industries such as investment, property development, civil and building construction, hotel services, ready-mixed concrete, shopping complex management, machinery and transportation, healthcare and anti-aging, and information technology. Instead, this self-made man chose to devote his time in grooming the next generation of leaders both within and outside his organisations. “Financial backing alone is not enough. I want to leave a lasting legacy behind and place my businesses into good hands. This is where mentoring comes in,” he says. His years of hard-earned experience and the backing of his network and contacts in the corporate and government sector have been invaluable in helping these future leaders gain a foothold in the business world. “These are things that you simply can’t learn in a classroom setting,” he quips.
Calm and unhurried, How is precise and deliberate in the things he does. “I do things purposefully and mindfully, not randomly. When there is an end goal in mind, every move I make leads towards achieving that goal.” The entrepreneurial juggernaut also prefers to keep a low profile and let his work speak for itself. Since he leads by example, the young people that he mentors also reflect this same mindful and purposeful attitude. Talking to them is akin to speaking to someone matured beyond their years. With their youth and the experience of their mentor, these fledgling leaders truly have an unfair advantage that will propel them to immeasurable heights.
How easily looks 10 to 15 years younger as he owns a health food supplement and anti-aging network marketing company. In addition, he also maintains a healthy lifestyle by sleeping and exercising adequately. This, then, begets the question of how he was able to run numerous corporations, sit on board several societies, be involved in various CSR activities and still have a balanced life. Again, the answer is simple. “Delegation is the operative word here. I delegate the management of my companies to leaders who ensure that they meet my key performance indicators (KPIs),” says How. He added that this laissez-faire style of management is made possible because his key people are highly motivated, skilled and capable of running the company on their own. As for the stress of dealing with competition, How says, “Honestly, I don’t see them as competition. To me, they represent the benchmark of what we can aspire to be. Benchmarking also gives us deeper insights to the nature of the industry that we are in and that’s a good thing.”
Never one to rest on his laurels, How is constantly upgrading himself as can be attested by an illustrious array of hard-earned degrees that include a DBA, MBA, GDBA and a doctorate in Total Quality Management (TQM) among others. “Buddha proclaimed that ‘Life is learning’ and as a Buddhist, learning has been an integral part of my life. By having a teachable attitude and a willingness to learn, one can overcome challenges and be successful,” he says. So vast is his knowledge in almost every subject imaginable that he has become a highly sought-after trainer and speaker amongst his many associates and previously acted as Lim Kok Wing University’s industrial advisor. In addition, he is actively involved in being one of the panel judges for Sin Chew Press Business Entrepreneurs Awards since 2013. “I am, as they say, a walking encyclopaedia,” he smiles. An NLP practitioner, How brings a wealth of insights and life changing revelations to the participants of his training sessions. A recent SWOT training session held in Cambodia for his TH3 employees led to a stronger team bonding as they understood where they fit and how they contribute best for the betterment of the company. “For the past few years, I’ve been focused in mentoring and developing my successors. I share my knowledge freely with them and hold nothing back. My next batch of leaders has shown great promise and potential and I believe, they will be ready to take on the mantle when the time comes. After all, no one is indispensable. Not even myself.”
He admitted that while he is not able to say yes to every speaking engagement, he will still carve out time to talk to the younger generation. How gives regular motivational talks on a pro bono basis about filial piety at his alma mater in Raub, Pahang. A firm believer that action speaks louder than words, after his talk he would literally wash his former teachers’ feet in front of the students as an act of utmost respect to his elders. He laments the fact that filial piety is hardly taught in the classroom these days. “The modern society thinks that this is an old-fashioned value but I strongly assure you that it is still very much relevant today, not just at home but also in the business world,” How says. “I am who I am today because of my mother. I do not engage in vices and I practise integrity in all my business dealings because I want to honour my mother in everything I do. This, I believe, is the main key driver behind my success.”
Filial piety is also the deciding factor in choosing his key employees. “I will only engage staff who are filial and have a good relationship with their parents. The way they treat their parents is exactly the way they will treat their bosses and authority figures,” he explains. His unconventional methods in employee selection seemed to have worked in his favour. Case in point, TH3, a leading IT solution and services provider which handles large-scale projects, is managed by capable Gen Y-ers. Where others view the Gen Y-ers as being difficult to manage, How could see the tremendous potential within these young breed of talents.
“No one at TH3 is above 31 years old and these filial employees are accountable and have given me absolutely no problems. True to my preferred laissez-faire management style, I don’t have to micromanage their work as I trust that they can deliver quality work on time, every time.” In return for their good work in creating value for the company, the staff is generously rewarded and their mothers also share in the employee benefits package. “We give free yearly medical check-ups to our employees’ mothers and on the staff’s birthdays, they get a day off to celebrate it with their mother,” How elaborates. “This unique company benefit drives the point home that we owe our very existence to our mothers and should show our gratitude to them on the day they gave birth to us.” He posits that a person who does not forget their roots would go far in life.
How’s business acumen and exemplary work ethics have made him a much-loved and highly regarded member of society on local and foreign shores. The well-respected philanthropist was the former President of Persatuan Usahawan Maju Malaysia (PUMM) as well as the former President of Yayasan Bakti Nusa Malaysia. It is hardly a wonder that he was the recipient of numerous awards including The Outstanding Young Malaysian 2003, Merit Top 60 Most Outstanding Entrepreneur Worldwide 2010, and The Outstanding CEO Asia Pacific award 2008. In 2005, he was appointed a Justice of the Peace, an honour that is usually bestowed to outstanding members of society. Recently in 2013, he was conferred the highly acclaimed title Dato’ Sri, in recognition of his contributions to the nation.
Though he has come a long way from his unpretentious upbringing in a village in Raub, Pahang, How remains refreshingly down-to-earth and extols the merits of being true to one’s self. “I am living proof that you don’t have to compromise your values or who you are in order to succeed in life. I believe in honesty, loyalty and hard work. I’ve never short-changed anyone. Please do not be tempted to take short cuts – great things require great effort to achieve. At the end of the day, when you look into the mirror, you’ve got to like and respect the person that you see there. Otherwise, it’s all for nothing,” he concludes.