Saturday, August 29, 2009

Investing in Human Technology

In mid 90's, my firm invested in many technology companies in the USA. We developed a 'wining strategy' (supposedly) for Malaysian homegrown technology companies on how to quickly uplift their status-quo from a technology end-user company into becoming a technology innovating company - something like that...

The strategy goes like this: We screen & invest in companies at early stage of its development (beta-stage) that fall within our strategic sectors needed in Malaysia (mainly in education, medical, ICT & media); create a technology co-development protocol with our local Malaysian firm (placement of our engineers in the invested companies); undertake to do technology outsourcing (in Malaysia); expand product marketing in Pacific rim's market through Malaysia companies. Royalties, territorial rights & technology innovation... and the list goes on and on. At that same time, Multimedia Super Corridor (MSC) was at its glamor period. [I met the MSC Managing Director that time Dato Dr. Arif Noon to discuss what we were doing so that we can be in sync with Malaysia's MSC road-map].

The strategy was rock solid and supposed to be easy for implementation. We had a committed fund of US$ 50 milion; and expert team for execution. We understood the technology's road-map and its momentum. We knew how to structure appropriate investment mechanisms and how to seal our rights in a very structured investment agreement. [We employed only the top technology and M&A law firm in the States. Interestingly, they came in handy - I will share few occasions that were really heart-pounding and dramatic (suspense) actions; and having such team was important.

I started to get hold of my old engineers' friends who used to study in the US. Computer engineers, electrical engineers, programmers. We need them to continue the process. Company - engineer - marketing.
Barabing-barabam-baraboom! We got companies, we got engineers and we had plan for expansion in Asian market. Things were hot! We were on the roll. I remember during those days, my desk would be flooded with business plans from all over. Things get 'worst' after I was featured in the Wall Street Journal transcript in an interview on our investment in tech companies and about shariah compliant investment. Business plans have doubled in numbers. Entrepreneurs were getting excited on my ideas (apart from 'money' for investment). I met so many types of entrepreneurs... anyway details, details...

The story I would like to share here is not about my work, rather the 'human technology' I was referring to in my title. As I said, we got companies... but I was very worry about engineers that I've recommended to be part of the team in those companies. Never mind, they should learn. My engineers friend were no doubt very good. The problem was, they can't stand too long staying abroad. They 'miss' many things from Malaysia -
belacan, kicap, nasi lemak, anak2, isteri... you name it...ha ha. Well, this was supposed to be a 3-month-job-placement and we'll do rotation. But it's easy said than done. When they miss these things, their performance drop significantly.

We invested in so many technologies but this is 'human technology' we're talking about. A technology far greater complex! I'm talking about internal strength, focus and goal-oriented human technology. I sometime have this problem when staying too long abroad (just lately). I pay my utmost respect to Dubai Taxi driver. I always ask them... "how long have you been here?"

"Five years sir" he said with smile.

"Are you married? Family?"

"Yes...they are home in Pakistan..," with a slight tilt of head, but still smiling.

When asked how often he went back to see the family, he simply said, every two years...but still smiling. "I send money every month", he said, more wiggling of head.
Now, that kind of technology is a bit robust on Indo-Pakistan or Arabs (or even Indonesian) people compared to the Malays... We can't seems to withstand tribulation too far. Manja and sensitive. Well, that's my people too. But I want to change that for a better. First of, I want to make sure that all teachers at Sri Ayesha stop 'spoon-feeding' the children at school. Children needs to be independence and really understand the meaning of freedom. That's the Montessori philosophy we are implementing - very Islamic too. In the case of real feeding the child, the Montessori uses co-operative touching, not spoon-feeding. Two different methods resulting two different outcomes. Parents can do the same at home. We need to get their 'surviving mode' kick-in and take over their complacent mode. Of course, we the adults need to get that in ourselves first, only then we can lead them into a true meaning of 'freedom'.

Selamat Hari Merdeka ke 52!

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