To Dato’ Sri Dr Eric Yap nothing is impossible to achieve. His remarkable career as a serial entrepreneur has led him to venture into various industries including insurance, property, construction, travel, security and finally, telecommunications. The latest achievement is a long-held dream that was culminated after years of hard work and dogged perseverance. In this issue of Top 10 of Malaysia, the dynamic CEO of Technology Revolution on Net SdnBhd (TRON) shares why he is undeterred by the challenges in the highly competitive Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO) space and how he plans to take TRON to the next level.
Some people stumble into entrepreneurship by chance, but that is not the case with Dato’ Sri Dr Eric Yap. The CEO of Technology Revolution on Net Sdn Bhd had set his sights on owning a telecommunications (telco) company right after he graduated in his early 20s. “I like the challenges pertaining to a high changing and advancing industry. Also, I noticed most of the influential entrepreneurs in the world are engaged with technology-related businesses like telecommunications and that is where I want to be,” he explains.
Born and raised in Kuantan, Pahang by parents who emigrated from Fujian, China during World War 2,Yap did not recall being spoiled even though he was the youngest of 11 siblings. “My mother had high expectations of me to be the best in everything that I do. She closely monitored my progress in my early school days and made sure I behaved well at home.” Gripped with a passion for lifelong learning, Yap thrived in his studies and passed every exam with flying colours and continued his higher education in the UK. Just last year, he was bestowed with the honorary doctor of philosophy degree in business administration in June 2014 by the Honolulu University, USA for his outstanding achievement in business career and contribution to society. It was this drive to overcome challenges and learn new things that led him to the exciting path of entrepreneurship.
He started his career in MAA Bhd as a life insurance agent and discovered that he had a natural aptitude for sales. So good was he at hitting sales targets that he quickly rose up the ranks to Agency Supervisor and subsequently, Agency Manager. He also qualified for almost all of the company’s incentives and earned a place in the much-coveted Million Dollar Round Table member, the highest award in the industry where members are recognized as the top 1% of the total life insurance sales force worldwide. These achievements were well-deserved feathers on his cap, but it also signified that it was time to embark on the entrepreneurial chapter of his life. “After spending so many years in the industry, I just don’t find it challenging anymore. So I decided to start my own business in property trading.” From property trading, he went on to establish two companies dealing with investment and property holdings in Malaysia and Hong Kong, a construction company, two furniture and home furnishing companies and an interior design firm. He then diversified his business strategy to set up a tour and travel agency, a security company and most recently, Technology Revolution on Net Sdn Bhd (TRON).
From the outset, Yap is open and honest, an optimist with a healthy dose of pragmatism, which is a rare combination indeed. “When I first took over the reins from the previous TRON CEO, I did not know where or what to start with as I had zero background knowledge on telecommunications. In addition, it is the first ever company I’ve managed with over 100 employees in the office,” he says frankly. Chalking it up as one of the greatest tests in his life, Yap rolled his sleeves with gusto and started learning from scratch, beginning from the accounts department and working his way towards the technical and operational side of things. “I had months of sleepless nights gathering information and planning the operations of the company. Through it all, I’ve learned to manage my time more productively.”
With the humongous amount of responsibilities he has on the plate, he acknowledges that it is never easy to achieve a work-life balance. “Sacrifice is the key word here. I believe all successful entrepreneurs have sacrificed most of their personal or family life in order to achieve outstanding performance in their business and likewise, I had to make a lot of personal sacrifices to achieve professional success,” Yap says pragmatically. This is in line with his motto of not doing things halfway. “My principle in life is simple, I will never stop doing my tasks halfway as it will waste my resources in terms of time, money and effort. I always push on by telling myself that I’m getting nearer and nearer to completion and success,” he says. “I also have a personal quote, which goes like this: ‘When Writing the Story of Your Life, Don’t Let Anyone Else Hold the Pen’. It means that you are in control of your own life and the direction you take. No one should influence your decision and you have to be firm with it. It has served me well thus far.” His exemplary achievements were recognized when he was conferred DIMP (which carries the title Dato’) in 2012 and SSAP (which carries the title Dato’ Sri) in 2013 by the Sultan of Pahang. In October 2015, he was awarded the First Diamond Entrepreneurship by the KDYMM Sultan of Pahang on the occasion of his 85th birthday.
In Yap’s books, leadership is by example and he has no qualms about having to work harder than everyone else to do so. He was the first in TRON to achieve RM500,000 in sales, to the amazement of the staff. “I proved to them that it can be done. That’s the best way to get their respect. If you can’t do it, you can’t push them to do the same or more.” As for his style of management, Yap says, “I prefer to adopt the democratic or persuasive style of management as most of my staff are experienced and possess credibility in their jobs. Due to the interrelated nature of their jobs, my staff need to work as a team and cooperate with one another. As such, I always welcome suggestions in relation to daily decision making.”
A firm believer of giving employees opportunities to learn and grow, he has promoted his personal assistant as an Assistant Vice President of the company. “Employees who show initiative, dedication, hard work and a positive attitude are rewarded with ample opportunities to shine. This is good for both the employee and the company.” The veracious reader attributes his leadership approach to the books and articles that he read related to the management and leadership styles of the world’s most successful people. Citing Jack Ma of Alibaba Group as the person he most admire for his innate talents and sheer tenacity, Yap says, “He serves as my mentor in inspiring me to move TRON to the next level.”
Yap admits that although telco is one of the most profitable industries to be in, the MVNO space is an intensely competitive one. “Rather than jumping into the price war game, TRON believes in leading by innovation and that’s by providing our customers with more perks and rewards that make sense to them.” TRON’s value-added options are certainly compelling. They are the first and only MVNO to provide unconditional 365 days validity for top-ups – customers can stay connected for a full year with just a reload without paying additional fees. Customers can also earn TRON points for every purchase and the points are redeemable for discount vouchers or TRON reloads. With TRON’s Global SIM Pro, global travellers can stay connected in more than 200 countries with savings up to 90 percent on voice and data. TRON is also the first in the country to launch a 4G Global SIM that allows mega-fast browsing and downloading. “Our philosophy is simple – to consistently provide the most economical and practical roaming solutions and value-added services, such as incentives and promotions. TRON is about empowering communities, hence the tagline ‘It’s Good to Share’,” he says adding that the affordable price point stands true even in the face of the GST implementation.
Moving forward, TRON will be the first in the region to embark on a corporate social responsibility (CSR) drive in contributing 10% of the proceeds from reloads to selected charitable organizations. “TRON believes in giving back to the society and this CSR project will kick off some time this year. We will also be launching a GPS device tracker / phone for primary school children. Negotiations with the ministry of education to allow the phone to be brought into classrooms are underway,” says Yap. “We are also expanding our network to other Southeast Asian countries. We have just started our operations in Thailand with TRON Thailand Company Limited. Indonesia and the Philippines will be next in line.”