Digerati50: A billion in his coffers, math in his DNA

Digital News Asia (DNA) continues a weekly series that profiles the top 50 influencers, movers and shakers who are helping shape Malaysia’s Digital Economy. These articles are from Digerati50, a special print publication released in January 2014. For information on customised reprints of Digerati50, email [email protected].

  • Denied’ the research path, became an entrepreneur and a billionaire
  • ‘It is about a long search of meanings in mathematical axioms’
Digerati50: A billion in his coffers, math in his DNA

MALAYSIA’S first software billionaire – and that’s in US dollars, mind you – Dr Goh Peng Ooi may not have become an entrepreneur if he had followed his heart and became a researcher.
 
Fortunately, the area he was most keen on, the foundation of mathematics and its relationship with physics, was “a weird area in scholarship as it is neither mathematics nor physics,” he acknowledges.
 
He could not find a university in the United States to do this in, and a number of South-East Asia’s most prominent financial institutions are probably thankful for the fact.
 
Instead, Peng Ooi came back to Malaysia and ended up doing an eight-year stint at IBM Malaysia,  where he ran the banking solutions group, leaving in 1989 to launch Silverlake Axis, which has since built itself into the leading South-East Asian technology company in the financial services industry (FSI). It has also been ranked third in Asia in terms of providing core banking software.
 
Revenues for fiscal 2013, ending June, were RM300 million. CIMB Research, in a report in November, 2012 described Silverlake as the ‘Undisputed King in Asean,’ with over 85% of its revenue
from South-East Asian banks. It expects Silverlake revenues to cross the RM500-million mark in 2015, making it the first locally-owned MSC Malaysia company to do so.
 
Silverlake listed on the Singapore Stock Exchange in 2003, and saw a stellar rise in its share price from S$0.48 in December 2012 to a high of S$0.90 a year later. With Peng Ooi owning 74% of Silverlake, which is headquartered in Kuala Lumpur, his stake, as of end December 2013, is worth around S$1.45 billion or US$1.14 billion.
 
Silverlake’s success has vindicated Peng Ooi, who brashly told his superiors at IBM back in the mid-1980s that all companies had got it wrong. Core banking, he tried to explain to them, is about a certain ‘environment,’ not about specific things or technology, and that environment is tied to Group Theory, a mathematical concept.
 
The suite of products and services offered by Silverlake are in response to this environment Peng Ooi is serving. And  it has moved beyond the FSI sector. As he explains it, whether it is the payments sector, retail or logistics, all are part of the same economy or environment.
 
Silverlake got its big break when UOB Singapore chairman Wee Cho Yaw decided to try its products around 1994. “I thought if we get it done well, we were there,” Peng Ooi recalls. His wish came true, and how, when UOB decided to use Silverlake worldwide around 1998.
 
As far back as 1996, he also set out, with a young man called Hin Kooi, on a journey that today is called the SCCIM, or Silverlake Collaborative Capability and Intelligence Model.
 
Peng Ooi describes it as “a futuristic environment” that still needs investments in R&D (research and development), and which is basically the Digital Economy environment that all companies are increasingly operating in today.
 
He sees this Digital Economy as a natural continuation of core banking with mathematics at its core. “It is not about choice, it is about a long search of meanings in mathematical axioms, and for that, I can see clearly now what is [the] Invisible Hand,” he says.
 
(The ‘Invisible Hand,’ coined by philosopher and economist Adam Smith, is a metaphor for the laws of mathematics where the whole is the sum of the parts of which it consists, and is used increasingly today to explain the free market.)
 
Peng Ooi has kept SCCIM private but feels that after 17 years of R&D to keep improving the software platform, “its [adoption] is just starting to accelerate.”
 
He even harbours hopes of listing it, describing it as “a great listing in Asia if I am lucky again.”
 
If that happens, he may just become a software billionaire for the second time.

 
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