CEO Conference 2019: Data is the gift that keeps on giving

  • Began by just using Microsoft Excel to track and mine data
  • Important to tie priorities to the metrics being measured to optimise time, resources


(From left) Copper Modern European Restaurant founder & CEO Zeehan Zahari; Egan Equipment & Parts co-founder Nicholas Gan; and Inspire Group's James McCulloch as moderator

TRADITIONAL companies and small medium enterprises (SMEs) in Malaysia may just, unknowingly, be sitting on a pile of gold they have collected from years or decades from being in business – that is, data. The challenge is for these players to recognise the potential of data and to reap its rewards.

In a bid to shed light on this area, the CEO Conference 2019 by DNA and Leaderonomics hosted a panel entitled ‘Mining the Gold in Your Organisation – How to Find the Gold that Exist in Your Company, Extract it and Profit From it’.

The co-founder of EGAN Equipment & Parts Sdn Bhd, Nicholas Gan, and the CEO and founder of Copper Modern European Restaurant, Zeehan Zahari, shared how they first dipped their feet into harnessing data for business growth. The session was moderated by Inspire Group’s director of leadership, James McCulloch.

Sharing more about their businesses, Zeehan described her business as a “semi fine dining’” restaurant that serves modern European cuisine. Meanwhile, Gan has been in the “traditional and conservative forklift industry since 2002” when he co-founded the business with his father.

“We wanted to grow the company but didn’t know how or where to go. Despite being in the business for a long time, sadly, I didn’t know what the growth areas were and where the bulk of my business was coming from,” shared Gan.

Getting the ball rolling

For Zeehan, her concerns were personalising services for customers who frequented their restaurant which was tucked away on the 5th floor of Menara Shell, Kuala Lumpur. “From the beginning, we always catered to the needs of those who came in. Whether it’s a paleo diet, vegan or something else, we remember them so that when they come back we can automatically change their menu to suit them.”

The restaurant patrons appreciated this personalised touch which resulted in increased customer loyalty. “We then introduced our loyalty programme, digitalised that and that’s when things changed,” Zeehan said, adding that based on her number-crunching, Copper’s performance is 22% above industry average.

“I had to look at the day-to-day data and over the years, figure out which metrics to measure. On a small scale, you can try to remember what your customers like and write it down. But once you have more than 1,000 loyal customers, it gets difficult and you have to figure out how to deliver good customer service which is usually by digitalisation,” she adds.

As for Gan, the detemination to drive forward his business led him on a challenging, albeit eye-opening, path of looking into data for growth. His first introduction to data came when he was part of Cradle’s Coach and Grow Programme (CGP).

It was a reality check for Gan when he realised he had no readily available data to work on. “I had to go back, very humbly accept this hard fact and start from scratch.”

He began by simply using Microsoft Excel to mine data aimed at increasing his customer base. “I needed to know - which was my fastest growing state in Malaysia? Which country I exported most to? Where am I getting most value from my transactions?”

What to measure and prioritise?

Although measuring data is essential, there is a possibility of over-measuring that can eat into time and business resources. It is important for leaders to clearly identify the metrics that matches their desired outcome.

Because Zeehan is running the restaurant on a small scale with her husband, she really has to prioritise what to measure. “The three things I absolutely have to measure are profitability, staff happiness and customer satisfaction.”

“Once you set your values and priorities, you will straight away organise your data according to it instead of collecting everything and being inundated with everything,” she explains.

In Gan’s business, he places cashflow, turnover and inventory higher up on the list. “Inventory is key to keeping track of how many percent comes in and how much is sold, the hot sellers and trends based on past data.”

Based on Gan’s data to date, he has garnered new lessons. “Lo and behold, I was surprised to find that Sarawak was giving me the second most business in Malaysia in terms of volume and profits. With this data as proof, the next office I have will definitely be in East Malaysia.”

Since customer data is a pivotal part of a well-oiled business, customers must be involved and managed with a degree of sensitivity. Zeehan discloses that customers are not keen to fill in forms at fine dining restaurants, “We try our best not to be too intrusive. Any processes that we do, we do it very subtly.”

She also makes things simple for them. “For example, in terms of our loyalty programme, customers just need to leave their number on their receipt for us to key into our system. Any digital platform that we use, we consider two main things – how easy it is for our staff to do without mistakes and how intrusive it is for our customers.”

Is it expensive to begin?

Both Zeehan and Gan started off the “hard way” using Microsoft Excel – a software they had at their disposal. “For the first three years, I used Excel for all projects before finding a vendor that would get the data we wanted,” said Zeehan.

The next step was for Copper to look into reservation systems. “For us, it’s always a stage-by-stage process. We still need to digitalise. Yes, it is expensive but it is about short term pain and long term gain.”

CEO Conference: Malaysia Living Dangerously is sponsored by Telekom Malaysia Bhd as Telecommunications Partner, Malaysian Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC) and Pos Malaysia Bhd as Sponsors. The Malaysian SME Association endorsed the conference.


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