Cover Story: Vision 20: Enterprise Malaysia - Mark Chua, president-elect of Entrepreneurs’ Organization Malaysia

This article first appeared in Options, The Edge Malaysia Weekly, on May 8, 2017 - May 14, 2017.
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It’s about quality, not quantity — certainly, a statement that holds true for Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO) Malaysia, whose more than 160 members make up the top brains behind Malaysia’s most prominent businesses.

With the mission to “engage leading entrepreneurs to learn and grow”, EO Malaysia is an exclusive, by-invitation-only, non-profit organisation that sees business owners and shareholding corporate leaders regularly come together for small-group meetings (called the Forum), events, talks and social activities.

“We are the loud ones despite our small number,” quips Mark Chua, this year’s incoming president. Reflecting on the two decades since EO Malaysia was set up, he says, “Malaysians feature very well in EO. We’ve had several global chairpersons, including current global CEO Vijay Tirathrai of the Globe Silk Store family. We also have a lot of Malaysians on the global executive and regional boards. So, in 20 years, we’ve always been vocal about wanting to create a good chapter.”

Chua, who owns event management and equipment rental company Cool Merchant Connections Sdn Bhd, has been a member for 14 years with the past six on the organisation’s board, serving roles that include treasurer, communications head, recruitment and forum communications. His official tenure as president starts in July.

Recently, Chua completed his foremost assignment — the EO Taipan Masterclass 2017. The three-day conference was opened to the public for the first time, which was a small but significant step for the organisation as it seeks to evolve to meet the needs of today’s entrepreneurial environment.

At its core, says Chua, the value of leadership knowledge and experience gained through EO Malaysia is immeasurable. “You get to sit in the presence of some very, very smart people — they are literally the movers and shakers who are doing so much out there,” the 46-year-old remarks, citing such high-profile members as Datuk Meer Sadik Habib, Sharan and Ashvin Valiram, and Bryan Loo of Loob Holdings, and corporate leaders of brands such as Madam Kwan’s and Nando’s.

Elite its members may be but Chua is keen to dispel the notion that EO Malaysia is a social club for wealthy business owners. “It would be a crime if it ended up like that. We have been working hard to set a certain standard. There’s really no free ride in EO. Every member has some sort of role to play; we all take turns with organising things and being a member is quite a commitment,” he explains.

He credits the organisation’s strong structure to its American founders, whereby members have to re-qualify every year. In general, members have to play an active role in a business that has a minimum annual turnover of RM1 million, be involved in the day-to-day decision-making, and have a personal “risk-taking” stake.

One of EO Malaysia’s most successful platforms is the Forum, where members are placed in groups of 6 to 10 and have to meet monthly to update each other on their personal and business lives. Likening this to an unofficial board of directors, Chua says each member is given training to ensure a safe and respectful environment with a proper format.

“I share things with my Forum that I sometimes don’t even share with my business partners. We are peer to peer, even though there are some with RM4 million businesses and others with RM400 million businesses. Everyone is of the same level and there is really a lot of trust involved,” he adds.

But it’s not all work and no play, confesses the incoming president. Unsurprisingly, the Malaysian chapter is known particularly for its hospitality and the ability to create memorable happenings. In 2014, EO Malaysia hosted one of the organisation’s signature events, called University, in Penang. For a few days, global members were fêted with the best of Malaysian culture — from food and heritage to activities in such venues as the historic Soonstead Mansion, Khoo Kongsi and the Eastern & Oriental Hotel.

“We had Sheila Majid perform, Hands Percussion ... we created a hawker setting in five minutes with over 400 chairs, and guests were brought in by trishaw. It was deemed the best University to date. I think that still stands,” smiles Chua.

“EO members tend to do things at an extreme level. You have some of the most influential people in the world who can make things happen that you normally wouldn’t experience.”

Nonetheless, he declares in all seriousness that the priority, going forward, is to make sure EO stays relevant to its goal of growing entrepreneurs. “We have a lot of startups with young guys — people like Karl Loo of ServisHero, Timothy Tiah, the Bryan Loos and the Ryan Loos … they have different needs, they want fast, fast, fast. Then you have someone who may be looking to retire or the guy in the middle of his career planning his next step. How do you create an event that each will enjoy? You can’t,” he explains.

So, for this year, they are strategically planning more targeted events for different groups of members. “I really believe that if we keep it to small groups, they can get more value and intimacy. So, we are going to try it.”

A mobile app is in the works to complement this strategy. “We are embracing technology. This is a way of life, so we need to adapt.”

Nevertheless, Chua feels that EO Malaysia has yet to fully tap its potential. Expressing his hopes, he says, “I think I am part of a fantastic organisation. But I think we can be a stronger voice and give back more. We have been quite insular, and that’s why we opened up Taipan. It’s our first step towards engaging more with the business community. Our mission statement is to build the world’s most influential community of entrepreneurs, so that means we need to engage with the government, semi-government bodies and GLCs (government-linked companies). We cannot just sit by the side because we represent a lot of manpower in Malaysia. That’s the part we are still working on.”