Digital News Asia (DNA) kicks off 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 Digertai50, email [email protected].
TIME’s CEO has gone through school of hard knocks, believes it creates an edge
‘You have to be willing to sacrifice everything else … there is no balance in this’
AFZAL Abdul Rahim (pic) came into the public eye in October 2008 when he became a shareholder and the chief executive officer of TIME dotCom Bhd in a deal that involved injecting one of his companies into TIME.
In the six years since, he has also injected the entrepreneurial spirit into TIME, transforming it from a company limping along aimlessly, to a focused data-centric telecommunications and solutions provider with a business reach across the Asia Pacific region. Its share price has risen almost 1,000%, from RM0.40 to RM3.87 as of end-Dec 31, 2013.
But his journey as an entrepreneur began before all this, when in 2006 he and his partner Gan Te-Shen successfully raised RM20 million to execute a management buy-out of the AIMS Group of companies from Formis Bhd.
Afzal was all of 25 years old then, but had already been the CEO of AIMS since 2003, rising to the position in just over two years.
He was always precocious, graduating with a mechanical engineering degree at 19 from the United Kingdom and joining Proton Bhd where, within a year, he was sent back to the UK to be Proton’s manager in charge of the projects the company was jointly working on with Lotus.
After two years, he came back to Malaysia in 2000 and quit Proton, his mind already brimming with dotcom ideas. But as fate would have it, he joined AIMS, which was operating the Internet service provider business MOL.net. His best friend and future business partner Te-Shen was in business development there.
“That was where I built up my management skills, learning how to turn around a company, how to monitor profitability, cut off business units that were not making money or were not central to the core focus of the business.
“It was not rocket science, but ‘back to basics.’ Yet you will be surprised at how undisciplined people are in not chopping off stuff that is not profitable,” he notes.
Having gone through what he calls the ‘school of hard knocks,’ Afzal strongly believes that all entrepreneurs have to go through this, as it prepares them to grab the opportunities that come.
“I don’t understand the younger entrepreneurs today who don’t seem to want to go through the experience, nor understand that going through the school of hard knocks for a few years is what you need to do to strengthen yourself for the next stage.”
Afzal certainly knows all about this. “It was a very stressful time, building AIMS up while having this RM20 million debt over you. Me, Te-Shen and Chiew Kok Hin (the current CEO of AIMS Group) did everything ourselves.
“And it is lonely too. You constantly worry if you are doing enough yourself, if you can make payroll, and you have no-one to share your deepest concerns with.”
Yet these are the necessary experiences that all entrepreneurs have to go through, Afzal insists. “If not, you won’t understand the value of money,” he says.
Very early on, Afzal also realised the value of being positive. “We never complain and don’t believe in complaining. If there is a roadblock, we move on; if someone is not willing to help us, we move on.
“Sure, you may complain and feel sorry for yourself or get angry, but realise that it is negative energy. Move on!” he advises entrepreneurs.
Afzal is also bemused by all this talk about having a balance in building a business.
“If you want the business to achieve its fullest potential, you have to be willing to sacrifice everything else and prioritise the business,” he says. “There is no balance in this,” he says, reflecting on his own journey where he sacrificed seeing his kids grow up.
“It has been a tiring journey but also very fulfilling.”