Digerati50: Respect and humility go a long way

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].

  • Still hitting new milestones after stellar track record in dotcom space
  • ‘You can’t demand respect just because you have acquired them’
Digerati50: Respect and humility go a long way

FEW would doubt the achievements of Ganesh Kumar Bangah, one of Malaysia’s most successful entrepreneurs. After all, not many can claim to have achieved so much at such a relatively tender age of 33.
His accolades speak for themselves: He was certified by the Malaysia Book of Records as the youngest chief executive officer (CEO) – he was 23 when he was helming MOL AccessPortal Berhad.

He also won the Ernst & Young Technology Entrepreneur of the Year award in 2012; and cited as one of Top 10 magazine’s 10 most inspiring Malaysian technopreneurs who have been resilient enough to withstand the test of time and reach new heights.
The founder and group CEO of MOL Global Pte Ltd has built the group from scratch to become one of the biggest online payment service providers in Asia.
Today, the company claims to have over 680,000 physical payment channels across 80 countries worldwide, handles over five million transactions a month, and its revenue is close to the RM1-billion mark.
But perhaps what many believe to be Ganesh’s biggest coup was when he successfully acquired Silicon Valley-based Friendster, the granddaddy of social networking sites, in 2009 for a mere US$26 million.
Not only did he turn the struggling company around and bring it back to the black in a few short years, he managed to manoeuvre Friendster away from being a social networking site towards becoming one of the biggest online social gaming sites in Asia, further enhancing its branding in the region.
Asked what his most valuable lesson from that episode was, Ganesh says, “The biggest success comes from craziness. What that acquisition did for us was to turn MOL into a truly global player.
“Before that, I wasn’t able to get answers when I contacted the big boys from the Valley – the likes of Zygna, Facebook and Google didn’t return my calls,” he says. “But now, we are recognised as a global player, and they are finally taking my calls.”
Still, it was not all smooth sailing for Ganesh during the months preceding the acquisition.
Quizzed as to what was the most important lesson learnt when dealing with some of these tech giants, Ganesh names two – respect and humility.
“The hardest part was earning the respect of my American colleagues,” he shares. “With people from the Valley, and indeed from the West, you can’t demand respect just because you have acquired them.
“You have to earn that respect by showing them that you know your stuff. These companies are all about the knowledge economy, so as long as you know your stuff, they’ll respect you for it. You also have to have a healthy dose of humility to go along with that.”
These days, Ganesh says his role as group CEO in MOL is no longer about the nitty-gritty, day-to-day operational matters as the companies he owns are already very profitable and run by themselves.
“I remember when I was certified as the youngest CEO of a listed company, I had to even look into how to design my MOL Coupons. Essentially then, it was a startup and I had to do everything from end-to-end.
“Today, we are a very different animal. Our revenue is close to RM1 billion (US$312 million) and we are present in 12 countries. My role is much more strategic and I only act as a guide to the people under me and make sure they are going in the right direction.
“One of these decisions includes where we would be re-listing MOL Global as we prepare for an IPO (initial public offering). I’m spending more time with investment bankers and my role will be to ensure that I make the best strategic decision for the company.”
[Update: Ganesh is preparing to list his company on Nasdaq] 

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