Alliance Bizsmart > Knowledge Bank > Insights From A Seasoned Entrepreneur
Insights From A Seasoned Entrepreneur

The mysteries of establishing a business is not as mystifying as it once was for new and aspiring founders. Access to entrepreneurship playbooks have become more ubiquitous these days through sites like, Entrepreneur, Mixergy, Dave McClure’s 500Hats, Medium and, making it easy to read up and consider jump right in.

But what better way to learn about starting one’s own business in person, from a seasoned entrepreneur?

At one of the Alliance Bank’s BizSmart Academy CEO Chatroom series, business news radio station BFM founder and managing director Malek Ali shared his insights garnered over his decade as an entrepreneur.

Among the gems of wisdom Malek shared with the 20 finalists of the challenge were:

The SME Innovation Challenge 2015 finalists with Malek Ali, founder and managing director of BFM89.9- The Business Radio Station

1. Conflict is inevitable

“In any organisation where you have people, it’s unavoidable”, said Malek. He went on to explain that the traditional way is to avoid it, pack it away, and as harmonious people, we shun these confrontational roles. However, it is better to understand how to handle conflicts.

In 2009, when BFM saw the resignation of key staff within the span of months, Malek knew he had to find the root of the problem.

“I knew there was something wrong but I couldn’t put my finger on it,” he shared, noting that the problem was traced to an email war going on between two teams within the radio station that had different communication styles.

BFM has since created its own code of conduct for conflict resolution, where online conflicts have to be taken offline and worked out in person, or escalate it to the higher-ups if necessary.

That said, Malek believes that employees should work out their own conflicts, rather than involve a higher-up.

2. “Do to others what you want them do to you”...does not work!

This refers primarily to communication between team members.

In a working space where you have to convey messages to other people from various backgrounds, it is important to anticipate how people understand messages.

“People are different and have different limitations,” Malek noted. “I am a very conceptual person, so if you give me a teaser of an idea, I can work with that, but not for those who need more procedural details on how to get something done.”

Personality profiles matter, he said, and understanding how to communicate based on fellow team members’ personality keeps a company working cohesively.

“As you build your founding teams, have a sense of how people are, and work with what they have,” he advises.

3. Cell groups are effective

“Good organisations are organised in cell groups of four to six people,” Malek said.

By breaking a department into cell groups, organisations are able to make decisions faster at various levels and enhance communication lines between employees as the proximity fosters better ties.

Being in a smaller group also improves accountability and encourages ownership of issues that occur within the cell group’s purview.

Another plus point is that non-performers cannot hide, which allows each cell to then self-regulate and self-correct its own problems.

“Cell groups, however, need clear objectives to function at its optimum,” he noted by way of caveat.

4. To retain talent, fire!

“To retain talent, you have to fire. Because your good talent will not stay with you if folks who do not fit in the organisation, or impede the organisation hang around,” he said.

Malek cites his experience managing BFM’s hires to ensure the right people have reasons to stay.

“That’s what happened at BFM. We had a lot of unhappy (employees) and whatever I do, I know cannot make them happy. At the same time, they were also making those who can help the organisation move ahead unhappy as well. So I had to let them go,” he shared.

The media entrepreneur acknowledges that some employees may not be happy working in one environment but could do well elsewhere, and that there is no reason to hold them back or try to fix the problem within the organisation.

“I’ve never really understood VSS and MSS that corporates undertake because why would you let go of the good staff. I believe this is because the industrial law in Malaysia makes it hard for companies to fire. But I think if you do it with dignity, if you are sincere in your heart and you’ve tried to find an alternative, it’s okay,” he said.

While he hates firing people, Malek believes it is sometimes the best solution for the sake of the team.

“I would rather someone whose values matches the company’s than just their ability to perform,” he said.

5. Alignment of interests of various parties

In this respect, Malek’s philosophy is to ensure everyone “gets a slice of the cake” whether employee or investor.

Malek opines that an alignment of interests that treats founders, shareholders or investors and employees equally is important to keep everyone invested in the company's vision.

“Some investors will want you to squeeze and squeeze the employees’ salaries so that they can get more dividends, but employees will say they don’t get dividends so they want higher salaries every year,” he noted.

“I do my best (with aligning interests), so employees get salaries, earn a share of the profit and also dividends, while investors get the dividends and are aligned with the rest of the organisation,” Malek pointed out.

Malek, as the founder of BFM, does not take any share of the company’s profits, and has only started taking a salary after the company received its funding.

He noted that an employees’ share option may not always be the best approach as the alignment of interests may run at the time of an exit.

“In Jobstreet’s case, some (employees) sold (their shares) at listing, some kept it, some became no longer committed to growth of the company after selling,” he said.

Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the speaker and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Alliance Bank in any way, shape or form.