Written by root. Posted in IN PERSON


Published on September 18, 2017 with No Comments

Entrepreneur-turned-author, Howard Khoo, speaks about skills beyond the classroom that can make or break a business.


How did the idea of the book come about?
Since our Hiang Yap Group IPO in 1997, I’ve been invited to speak at many forums with the youths to share my experiences and business knowledge. I absolutely enjoyed that. Most of my presentation was done in powerpoint. Then came the opportunity to consolidate all my thoughts and knowledge into a volume. I finally got the time to sit down to actually write a book, and it took me about four and a half years to put this together.

As for the title, I chose the word “Street Wisdom” from an urban context. It refers to a person that, if you were to throw him into a sophisticated or complex urban setting like Manila, Bangkok or Karachi, they would have the street wisdom to be able to go into these environments to solve problems, prosper and succeed. If you’re not prepared with these sets of skills, the chance of survival is almost zero. Most young people go into business have little experience but they think they can go through it with common sense and logic. It doesn’t work that way.

When did you decide this book was a timely publication?
I wanted to use my knowledge sharing as a form of giving back to the community. Basically, throughout my 20 years in business, I’ve seen many start-ups done in a hurry by young people. The success rate for new start-ups was less than 1-2% after five years. Most fail in the first year. I realised that in order to succeed, you needed two types of knowledge: theory from business school and practical wisdom. Yet, very little has been written on business wisdom.

The problem nowadays is that youths are so impatient. After graduation, they think they have enough business experience to hit the road. Unfortunately that’s not the case. Most fail because they lack practical wisdom to sail through the business landscape. Today’s business battleground is very merciless and extremely hostile. There is no room for trial and error. You need to fight off your competition all the time with no time to correct your mistakes.

Where did you get inspiration for most of the writing?
Inspiration came from my life philosophy. After selling my business, and at this stage in my life, I am not so motivated by financial gains anymore. Like I said earlier, I wanted to give back to the community.

I believe the global market economies of the business world have contributed significantly towards bringing the world out of poverty. The richer and more diverse the business community, the more governments can afford to provide for the population. I see my role as enriching the business environment further so that more can be done by the government to benefit the people.

What are some of your favourite chapters from the book?
I really like the first three chapters that have to do with how to start off a business successfully and also the last chapter. Then there’s “Sons of the Village” which talks about how if you want to be successful you must look at the environment. You learn very quickly from the top markets, opportunities and community pressure where you must excel. You really have to choose the right “habitat” to ensure success.

The last chapter talks about reviewing and examining yourself. For instance, if you are an introvert, you won’t enjoy interacting with people, so business is not for you. Business is networking; it’s about people and getting all your staff behind you.

Can street smart skills be learnt or are they innate?
They definitely can be learnt, but it must be given time. The more we are exposed to various environments, the smarter we get in our ability to counter problems and at the same time grab all the opportunities that come our way. As I’ve said before, we need both theoretical knowledge and practical exposure to enable us to sail through very complicated settings.

What were your own lessons you have learnt from writing this publication?
I have learnt to actually be more patient. I managed to consolidate a lot of concepts and ideas into the book and that was a challenge to myself. Some ideas are rough feelings about certain situations. To put thoughts onto paper, you really have to refine your thought processes and be more focused. And this also taught me discipline, and that I cannot expect other people to know what I want except to do the writing myself.

Mr Khoo was in Brunei to share his experience and valuable insights with students aspiring to be entrepreneurs at the Chung Hwa Middle School, International School Brunei and St Andrews School.

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