By MATT NAYLOR
As AmBank Group launched the first AmBank BizCONFERENCE in Penang recently, the hundreds of small and medium enterprise (SME) leaders in attendance took their first steps towards growing their businesses.
With a carefully curated line-up of guest speakers and surprises aplenty, the nationwide series of conferences kicked off with a bang.
The first event in the long-running series of the AmBank BizCLUB, the conference took place throughout the afternoon of Sept 19 at Penang’s G Hotel Kelawai. Here are our important lessons from the event:
The path to success
The event became the first in a series of five conferences nationwide, all of which will feature special guest speakers sharing their knowledge of stories of success and failure along the way.
Among the eclectic list of speakers was Penang’s own Goh Ai Ching, whose company Piktochart has become a global giant in the field of infographics and design.
Despite frequent pressure to move her company to the concrete jungles of Kuala Lumpur or Singapore, Goh and her husband have remained steadfast in leading the charge for companies in Penang making their mark internationally.
Her path to such industry dominance has not been without its hiccups, however and Goh shared her unique journey during an eye-opening talk with Leaderonomics chief executive officer (CEO) Roshan Thiran.
“I’d be lying if I said that I knew starting out how big Piktochart would grow to become,” she said.
“But we were able to combine having the right products and systems with having the right people in the right places in order to scale our business.”
Goh frequently cites her people as being the keys to the success of her organisation, with harnessing their drive and creativity an essential factor.
Despite humble beginnings, Piktochart now employs more than 50 people from all over the world who have grown with the company.
Another of the list of speakers was IHS Markit Malaysia managing director Vimaleswari K. Ramasamy.
She brought her infectious energy and relentless spirit to the stage as she shared how she had broken through the glass ceiling during her extraordinary career.
“During my time with Intel, I was an ambitious young female in a male-dominated industry,” she shared.
“There were plenty of times when I doubted myself and questioned whether a woman could be successful in the tech field, but overcoming that by gradually earning the respect of my peers and the lessons I learnt during that time are what have inspired me to grow IHS Markit.
The key lesson here is never let self-doubt creep in and stop you from reaching your potential – it won’t be easy, but your personal and professional growth is really a matter of mental strength.
Growth starts from within
A running theme throughout the event, during which five speakers took to the stage to impart their lessons, was that of how, in order to grow, companies must first build the right internal systems.
While many companies that fail believe this is due to external forces such as new competitors in the market or economic changes, the speakers discussed how the right management team can foresee and overcome any obstacle.
Leaderonomics’ Roshan Thiran unveiled his “Four Constraints” model of what his research has shown to be the leading reasons for companies failing to reach “world-class” levels. These are culture, leadership, business model and processes.
“If you have all four of the four constraints aligned, there is nothing holding you back,” said Roshan.
Finally, chief knowledge officer of Connecting The Dots Malaysia and storytelling in leadership expert Bharat Avalani discussed how leaders can engage others through the art of telling stories.
Whether it is making themselves memorable to clients, delivering standing-ovation-worthy public speeches or using stories to motivate and influence employees, Bharat’s tried and tested storytelling techniques have been proven to deliver exceptional results for business leaders.
“Stories are facts wrapped in context and told with emotion,” explained Bharat.
“Become a listener, recognise the great storytellers around you as they are your most valuable asset. Learn what they do and how they do it.
Ultimately nobody wants to be hit with fact after fact after fact. If you can weave a story behind what you are trying to say, you will get noticeable results from those around you.
The day’s four guest speakers gave the attendees much to ponder and digest as they continue their development journeys.
AmBank’s managing director of business banking Christopher Yap closed out the session with his key takeaways from the event and summarised the nuggets of wisdom offered by each of the speakers.
His highlight, he said, was to hear of how Goh had grown her company from Penang and how Piktochart was now building internationally.
“This speaks to the potential of the market here in Penang,” he said.
“Piktochart is proof that you don’t need to be based in Silicon Valley or one of the other hotspots to be a major global player.
“That same opportunity is open to each and every one of you here as you begin the next stages of your development.”
With that in mind, Yap took the occasion to introduce the AmBank BizRACE to the crowd.
Free to register and open to all CEOs and business leaders in Malaysia, the competition promises incredible prizes and development programmes to give companies the tools they need to grow their business to the next level.
This is only the beginning of the AmBank BizCLUB journey as upcoming conferences in Johor Baru on Oct 5, Kota Kinabalu on Oct 10 and Kuching on Oct 12, promise similar surprises and invaluable knowledge-sharing. The conferences will then conclude on Nov 1 at the KL Convention Centre.
If the first such event in Penang is any indication for what is to come, the future is bright for SME development in Malaysia.
To sign up for future AmBank BizCONFERENCEs and to join the AmBank BizRACE, visit
To see the highlight video from the Penang AmBank BizCONFERENCE and read more information about the event, visit ambankbizclub.com/sme-resources
Matt is a former media strategist leader with Leaderonomics. He believes that in this digital age, it is more important than ever for companies to develop an effective employer branding platform. He is an expat who has lived in Malaysia for many years now, and loves spicy food.