Strengthening resolve during the pandemic

Hakim Hayat

Several local business founders, entrepreneurs, managers and corporate executives convened at this year’s Transform 2020 Townhall Forum in a collaborative effort spearheaded by Asia Inc Forum as convenor and Baiduri Bank as presenting sponsor.

Chairman of Baiduri Bank Group Board of Directors Yang Amat Mulia Pengiran Muda Dr Abdul Fattaah was among those attending the discussion to strengthen resolve in facing challenges and broaden horizons in the business landscape.

In his welcoming remarks, Asia Inc Forum Chairman Dato Timothy Ong said, “Amid the pandemic, I learnt that the power and reach of technology is imperative, and digitalistion and online presence must be included in the future of any business. I also learnt that human beings are social beings, thus it is essential to have company, support, empathy, goodwill, friendship and love, despite the rise of virtual meetings amid the pandemic.”

During the first part of the townhall moderated by Dato Timothy Ong, a panel comprised of Baiduri Bank Group Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Ti Eng Hui, Brunei Press General Manager Hazizah Osman and Cuckoo International (B) Managing Director Wong Kim Guan discussed the lessons learnt in their businesses during the pandemic.

Ti said restrictions on the movement of goods and people among others impacted businesses and changed the way they operate. “Things will change and you will have to change. COVID-19 presented a situation where we can’t say it will not happen in Brunei. We have to look at what gaps we can fill in Brunei Darussalam, and see which areas we can fulfil (locally).”

Being in the news and commercial printing industry, Hazizah highlighted that Brunei Press was impacted from cut backs in marketing and advertising budgets. This was especially so when restrictions on gatherings and travel bans were implemented.

Chairman of Baiduri Bank Group Board of Directors Yang Amat Mulia Pengiran Muda Dr Abdul Fattaah at the forum. PHOTOS: BAHYIAH BAKIR & MUIZ MATDANI
Asia Inc Forum Chairman Dato Timothy Ong, QAF Brunei Group CEO Albert Lau, Progresif CEO Hajah Nurul Haniah binti Haji Md Jaafar, Baiduri Finance Berhad General Manager Haji Haliluddin bin Dato Haji Talib and Nuara Group Managing Director Barbora Grexa
Dato Timothy Ong, Baiduri Bank Group CEO Ti Eng Hui, Brunei Press General Manager Hazizah Osman and Cuckoo International (B) Managing Director Wong Kim Guan
Attendees at the forum

“In terms of digitalisation, the newspapers have had significant online and social media presence even before the pandemic. It has not been easy to monetise digital platforms though as consumers and businesses are used to getting free online advertisements.”

Brunei Press offers integrated advertising packages to ensure greater reach. It also offers content marketing opportunities for advertisers.

Hazizah noted that the human element is crucial for business survival. “We encourage our sales team to keep communication channels open with our partners. Although digital interactions have become more prevalent since the pandemic, nothing beats face to face meetings.”

Wong said while they thrived through the pandemic, it required immediate changes in how they conduct their business. “We had to quickly move to train our sales team to move everything online and leverage on social media platforms to reach our customers.

“One significant impact from the pandemic is our supply chain. The products come from South Korea and the current situation of the pandemic there impacts the supplies and logistics. Our factories were not allowed to open during the lockdown period so our
supply was disrupted.”

He said at this point, liquidity is more important than profitability. “Profit measuring doesn’t really matter anymore if you have no cash in the bank. Our main focus is now to retain good liquidity score and constantly plan for future liquidity to remain sustainable.”

The forum also featured notable voices from abroad via a Zoom video conference, including business coach, innovation strategist and CEO of UCSI Consulting from Malaysia Dr Raj Kumar, social entrepreneur helping to alleviate poverty in the Philippines Reese Fernandez-Ruiz and Bruneian investor and entrepreneur Hiro Tien who co-founded an artificial intelligence business in Silicon Valley, California.

Meanwhile, QAF Brunei CEO Albert Lau discussed the challenges and opportunities presented by the COVID-19 pandemic during the second session of the townhall forum.

Albert was among four panellists deliberating their perspectives and views on ‘Finding Opportunities after COVID-19’. The other panellists were Progresif CEO Hajah Nurul Haniah binti Haji Md Jaafar, Baiduri Finance Berhad General Manager Haji Haliluddin bin Dato Haji Talib and Nuara Group Managing Director Barbora Grexa.

Albert said, “Despite these challenges, there are opportunities that can be utilised by local enterprises to develop their business into digital technology, migration to new areas while expanding their workforce capacity.

“Identifying opportunities involves three stages. First, during COVID-19, we need to survive in situations where steady cash flow is needed, to ensure the continuity of business, as well as to seize opportunities that are available.

“Secondly, finding opportunities means knowing your team will be there, and they can deliver results. It is equally important not to just look beyond what they are currently doing – but very often opportunities exist right in your backyard that you have never thought of. But COVID-19 put you in a position where you have to accelerate that thought process.

“The third is identifying future opportunities. As leaders, we need to identify relevant trends and the opportunities to be explored.

Meanwhile, Hajah Nurul Haniah said, “The COVID-19 pandemic affects enterprises and businesses, in which some are seeing the impact in a positive way compared to others. The pandemic gives them the opportunity to change the way they conduct business, especially in approaching customers and quickly adapting to the changing environment.

“The opportunity does not come by itself. We need to look for it and need to think creatively, have a clear strategy and ensure that everyone in the organisation understands the direction.

“The COVID-19 pandemic prepared us for upcoming changes, in terms of preparing a Business Sustainability Plan (BCP) and ready to change, according to circumstances.”

Haji Haliluddin said, “In the face of challenging situations, such as the pandemic, it is important for us to reflect on the situation, the challenges that will be faced and the opportunities that can be utilised.

“The opportunities to be explored by local enterprises are wide open, such as food processing, domestic tourism and agriculture.”

Barbora Grexa said, “In a world faced with the COVID-19 pandemic, the survival of an enterprise or organisation depends on its readiness to change according to the circumstances and digital transformation is crucial.

“In the post-COVID-19 world, business or enterprise transformation need to be implemented where data digitisation should be the basis along with seizing opportunities by generating innovation, enhancing competencies and leveraging the inherent strengths in the organisation or enterprise.”

The sessions were designed to inform and educate, encourage creative thinking and motivate attendees with real-life experiences and lessons.

Now in its 14th year, the entrepreneurship and local business forum is a platform for learning, sharing, and relationship-building for Bruneian businesses, in support of the government’s call for entrepreneurship development and job creation.

The Transform 2020 programme also has additional support from Progresif, Kingston Beverage & Creamery and Archipelago Group, with the Borneo Bulletin and Media Permata as print and digital media partners.