By CHRISTIE CHUA
The foyer of the grand ballroom in Shangri-La Kuala Lumpur was filled with people mingling with each other, and the occasional peal of laughter could be heard over the low hum of conversation in the room.
As they waited for the main event to begin, introductions were made and business cards were exchanged. Guests were also seen taking photos in front of the photo wall featuring their companies.
It was the inaugural AmBank BizRACE Awards Night, and they had gathered to celebrate the emerging small- and medium-sized enterprise (SME) community in Malaysia.
Last September, AmBank introduced the AmBank BizCLUB (ambankbizclub.com), a business community and platform that aims to help SME business owners in Malaysia grow and scale their businesses.
This was in response to the bank’s research data which showed that smaller companies struggle to succeed mainly because they lack the knowledge needed to take their business to the next level.
AmBank Group managing director of business banking, Christopher Yap shared, “We want to provide businesses with more than just financial solutions; our ultimate aim is to help them scale and grow, access international markets, and certainly to play our part as a financial institution which embraces Value-Based Intermediation (VBI) to reduce failure rates, or improve sustainable financing.”
The VBI – which articulates a set of strategies to strengthen the impact of banking towards a sustainable financial ecosystem – was recently introduced by Bank Negara Malaysia. The AmBank BizCLUB is an area of focus in AmBank’s VBI initiatives.
As part of AmBank BizCLUB’s launch, a series of AmBank BizCONFERENCES were held in five major cities nationwide, each featuring well-known entrepreneurs with inspiring stories of challenges and success.
This was followed by nine CEO Chat Sessions, giving SMEs the opportunity to engage with some of Malaysia’s most successful business leaders from a wide range of industries.
Held in an informal setting at various locations, the sessions were open to CEOs in Malaysia and were free to attend.
Guests had the opportunity to hear these thought leaders’ exclusive stories of achieving success and ask questions on how to take their businesses to the next level.
Business competition like no other
Then came the AmBank BizRACE, a business competition where owners and key management of high potential SMEs were coached and mentored to equip them with knowledge and methods to take their business to the next level.
AmBank received almost 1,000 entries for the competition, and 100 of them were shortlisted for the first stage of the competition in January this year.
Participants had to pitch their business plans before a panel of judges for a spot in the Top 35 and then again for a spot in the Top 15.
The 15 high-potential companies then embarked on a series of training sessions conducted by top business coaches and entrepreneurs, which gave them valuable insights into leadership, business model and strategy, systems and processes, and culture.
The finalists also received one-on-one executive coaching sessions, giving them valuable access to sharing sessions with industry experts on business and leadership.
These sessions were aimed at helping finalists refine their business models, and take on a measured approach in knowing and creating the right circumstances that are needed to grow.
The final lap
Armed with their experiences and the new insights gained from their sessions, the Top 15 proceeded to pitch their business plans once again for a place in the Top 5.
Their skills and knowledge were really put to the test in the final pitch, with the Top 5 going up against each other in a bid to be crowned the winners of the competition.
This final pitch involved a 20-minute presentation by the participants and a 10-minute question-and-answer session with the judges.
AmBank’s initiative to help Malaysian SMEs scale their businesses to the next level culminated in the AmBank BizRACE Awards Night, the grand finale where representatives from the Top 35 companies, AmBank BizRACE judges and sponsors, as well as members of AmBank’s senior management team gathered for the big reveal: the names of the champions for AmBank BizRACE 2018.
AmBank Group chairman, Tan Sri Azman Hashim went on a brief walkabout at the foyer before the main event began, looking at the photo wall featuring the Top 15 finalists and engaging the company representatives in conversation.
The representatives took this golden opportunity to explain the nature of their business to Azman who took the time to chat with all 15 companies.
The chairman applauded the Top 35 in his opening address, saying: “You have proven that you have all the qualities to be very successful – resilience, commitment, passion, willingness to make sacrifices. I really wish you all the best, and I know that you can continue growing in many ways.”
He reminded those gathered to think big, adding: “Even if you can’t have success all the time, you must never stop. Don’t give up.”
He also shared, “When I don’t get something that I wanted dearly, I don’t get disappointed. I just say ‘hey, that was not meant to be – maybe something better is meant for you.’”
“I’m sure all of you, being entrepreneurs, have that same positive energy.”
The moment that everyone was waiting for came towards the end of the evening – the presentation of awards to the participants of the AmBank BizRACE.
From the participants’ testimonies throughout this journey, it’s safe to say that the AmBank BizRACE has been a one-of-a-kind experience which opened them up to numerous possibilities.
The opportunity to grow their business network and learn from industry experts has been invaluable, and they are eager to use the insights gained to take their businesses to the next level.
The Top 3 in the AmBank BizRACE
AmBank Business of the Year 2018: Segamat Panel Boards
Prize: Media package worth RM315,000 and field trip to China
Segamat Panel Boards is a manufacturer of wooden panels which believes in sustainability, taking oil palm waste and converting it into products of value instead of utilising natural resources, which are rapidly depleting.
It’s been a tremendous experience. To other SMEs thinking of participating in the AmBank BizRACE, I’d say ‘Just do it!’ It’s a fantastic experience.
– Peter Fitch, managing director
AmBank BizRACE First Runner-up 2018: Plus Solar Systems
Prize: Media package worth RM175,000 and field trip to China
Plus Solar is an energy company with the goal of changing people’s energy consumption behaviour. Moving away from traditional energy, the company focuses on the sustainability of clean and energy-efficient solutions.
We made changes in our company based on the various kinds of training, and within one month we could see the difference in our people – everyone is now clear about what behaviour needs to change for us to get the results that we want.
– Poh Tyng Huei, business director and co-founder
AmBank BizRACE Second Runner-up 2018: The Boom Beverage
Prize: Media package worth RM105,000 and field trip to China
The Boom Beverage is the producer of Hausboom, a homegrown beverage brand that has now grown to represent more than just a beverage in local and international markets – it is now also a lifestyle brand.
In this AmBank BizRACE we were taught that it’s important to groom the team well. It’s really in the development of your whole team, because building a business is not just about the revenue – if you fail to build your team, the revenue will not build up as well.
– Azri Zahier Azmi, CEO and founder
*The field trip to China consists of visits to internationally-renowned organisations so that the finalists can learn their best business practices first-hand.
Category Award Winners
K-Pintar Executive Education Award: Plus Solar Systems
This award recognises the business whose long-term business plan contributes towards the nation’s building plan.
Digi Innovation Award: SalesCandy
This award recognises the most innovative business solution that solves a gap in the current market.
CGC International Market Access Award: The Boom Beverage
This award recognises the most international market-ready business with unique, Malaysia-made products or services.
AmMetLife Sustainability Award: Segamat Panel Boards
This award recognises the business that best fulfils the three main pillars of sustainability – People, Planet, Profits.
Christie was previously the deputy editor at Leaderonomics. She prefers to convey her thoughts through the written word and is a stickler for consistency. One of her favourite phrases is “It’s not that far; we can walk there!”