By the time you read this column, the euphoria over the Malaysian football team’s victory at the recent Asean Football Federation Suzuki Cup final would have significantly slowed down, and some of you may even take more than 25 seconds to recall who Safee Sali and Khairul Fahmi Che Mat are.
Although the Malaysian Tigers’ unexpected but much-welcomed triumph did not resemble anything near my visualised 1Malaysia football team as depicted in my book .Coming Through .My Eyes, it was still a tremendous moment for all Malaysians to rejoice over.
But now that the celebrations have subsided, the Cup’s snugly resting in the Football Association of Malaysia’s trophy cabinet, monetary rewards are being handed out, and the boys likely have flushed out all those non-alcoholic wines from their body, it’s time to reflect on how this sporting feat can be a lesson for our Malaysian entrepreneurs.
Foremost of all, the main lesson is to never listen to your customers! Think I’ve lost my marbles? If coach K. Rajagobal had been swayed by the critical fans – his customers – and the near empty stadium each time his team played throughout the year he was in charge before the Suzuki Cup, he would not have been motivated to continue training his players.
An entrepreneur, like a football manager, has to stick to his belief that his products and services will be good enough for his customers in the end, despite facing the difficulties while on the way there. As American poet James Whitcomb Riley aptly remarked: “The most essential factor is persistence – the determination never to allow your energy or enthusiasm to be dampened by the discouragement that must inevitably come.”
The second lesson is to trust your younger employees to bring you forward. With an average age of 22 years, the youthful team emerged with back-to-back victories in the Laos SEA Games and in Jakarta. While many were critical of Rajagobal’s bold decision to disband the senior squad and install the Under-23 side as the national team, these are the same people that are rushing into stores to get their hands on those RM259 Malaysian jerseys.
For what they lack in experience, younger workers make up for it in being open to new procedures and innovative ideas. Especially if your customer demographics are to the younger crowd, it makes sense to have a large part of your workforce that thinks and acts like them. A seasoned manager who does not comprehend Tweeter and Facebook may not be the right person to bring your internet technology company forward.
The third lesson is what I personally believe to be the most significant of all; rely on home-grown talent to lead your team forward. As I’ve always been critical of FAM’s indecisiveness when it comes to its foreign players policy for the country’s football league – we will again see these overpaid also-rans foreign footballers ‘grazing’ our fields in 2012 – I hope that our emerging pool of Malaysian boys would provide sufficient testimonial to the governing body that we can and should do without these football studs-wearing expatriates.
Most visible of all is that a Selangor-born Malaysian coach has succeeded where a stream of foreign coaches including reputable names such as Allan Harris, Hatem Souisi, Claude Le Roy, Ken Worden and Bertalan Bicskei before him have failed.
Similarly, while I’m not formally advocating a total ban on foreigners – that’s something you can hear over ice-blended chocolate far away from the Ministry of Human Resources office – I firmly believe that Malaysian entrepreneurs are able to nurture and unearth our young local talents to help their businesses grow. Given the right training and encouragement, added to their own desire and determination, this younger workforce could well deliver to our entrepreneurs unexpected business success and economic glory in years ahead.
At the very least, having a younger television crew would give spectators better football coverage instead of the possibly jaded senior cameraman who was focusing more of the eye-catching women supporters present at the Gelora Bung Karno stadium. Now we know what those missing laser pointers on the Malaysian boys were preoccupied with!
* Seeing that coach Rajagobal, like Sir Alex Ferguson, is never seen on the bench with used A4 paper, Kilometrico pen and a leather organiser, I’m going paper-less this year in favour of the iPad.