Posts Tagged ‘Business’

The Sam Zell book review – Am I Being Too Subtle?

I had no idea about Sam Zell before reading his book (which I only found out via Brad Feld), Am I Being Too Subtle?: Straight Talk From a Business Rebel. He runs Equity Group Investments, and their tagline is: “We identify opportunities others don’t — and invest like others can’t.” Do visit their website, it really is quite interesting. I tremendously enjoyed the book, I highly recommend reading or listening to it.

Here are some notes I made from his book.

  • always have a sense of urgency
  • trade conformity for authenticity
  • be blunt
  • culture is king
  • read risk – always understand the downside
  • listen. There is great value in this because you then know the motivations of folk.
  • look for clarity. Drown out the noise. Conventional wisdom tends to be a lot of noise.
  • “If you are really good at what you do, you have the freedom to be who you really are”
  • His daily routine: workout at 4.45am, then in the office by 6.30am, and stays there till 7pm. And he still does this at age 75!
  • Where there is scarcity, price is no object
  • There is value in tenacity
  • Use simplicity as a strategy
  • Strive to be asset rich, cash poor
  • Weak economies breed troubled companies
  • “Competition is great for you, but I’d rather have a natural monopoly; if I can’t have that I will take an oligopoly”
  • Board of Directors tend to have “good resumes whom are often past their prime”
  • Board members should be viewed as cheap consultants to the business. Management team should use them regularly.
  • Do not depend on people unless you understand their motivations. Listen to know their motivations!
  • When people ask Sam Zell what he does? “I am a professional opportunist.” (what a great job title)
  • He is always at his best when the scenario around him is at its worst
  • We should never get into a phase of “irrational denial” (like if people get cancer, you don’t get treatment, you will die)
  • Always make lists. Check them off.
  • “Liquidity equals value”
  • Find good companies with bad balance sheets
  • It is important to have owners, not just managers, in leadership positions
  • See micro-opportunities in macro events
  • Real estate tends to lag the general economy. So it falls slower than the rest of the economy when there is pain.
  • Sam is not pessimistic, but realistic. Go in with eyes wide open.
  • In real estate, he tends to assign walk scores. Takes number of steps to public transport. To the nearest Starbucks. Etc. This will tell you value of property.
  • “Please God, give us one more oil boom and we promise we won’t screw it up.”
  • “Everyday you choose to hold an asset is a day you choose to buy it.” Therefore if you get an offer greater than what you would pay for the asset today, you should sell!
  • Calculate risk, know what the downside is. Ask: if all goes wrong, what do I get from this deal?
  • “I don’t like auctions unless I am running them.” Bidding wars are something he doesn’t like to participate in.
  • Experience – you understand risk only this way. Experience teaches you how to minimise the downside.
  • Be an optimist. Focus on what is next. Do not lament on what could have been.
  • Emerging markets have built-in demand.
  • Global business requires:
    1. good partners
    2. aligned objectives
    3. vision, direction, strategy
  • Sam describes himself as the Chairman of everything but the CEO of nothing
  • Radius theory of business is the number of people between you and the decision. This will affect your ability to succeed.
  • Businesses that delegate too much fail as well.
  • Culture can either inspire or stifle innovation/creativity.
  • Fast decision making and autonomy is what usually wins out.
  • Be ready to pivot
  • Spot opportunity early for long term gains.
  • He is a voracious consumer of information. Reads 1 book per week. Knows how to get relevant information. Reads 5 newspapers per day and 5 magazines per week.
  • “If you lie down with dogs, you wake up with fleas”
  • In everything you do, always be thinking of the next deal. Play it straight. You can be successful AND ethical in business. Do you consider their circumstances over your own? Loyalty definitely matters.
  • Always be tenacious, optimistic, have drive and conviction.

Thai Airways, good for business travellers

Found a postcard, and decided that I should send it along to her. Called up the wonderful reception, and they said I should bring along the postcard to the concierge.

At the concierge, I was told that I would need to pay 20 THB for postage. I asked if they could charge it to my room, and they declined. I waved a USD$1 note, and they said I’d have to change it at the reception.

Walk along to the reception, and I ask if they can give me cash out, and charge it to my room. Highly obliging, the receptionist, starts processing to give me my 20 THB. Its taking far too long, and I think to myself, maybe its easier to do a FOREX conversion. Without realising, I was thinking aloud, and the receptionist insisted that it was no hassle at all.

Two paw prints later, I had a crisp 20 THB note in my hand. I walked back towards the concierge, and handed it over to them.

What’s ironic about this whole transaction? In a couple of hours, I will be going down to settle my hotel bill. It will cost a magical sum of only 20 THB, and I will settle it with my credit card :-)

And here’s why flying Thai Airways might make business sense. Their planes reach Thailand early in the morning (9am, had my flight made it previously, or about 3am when coming back earlier). Their planes leave Thailand for other destinations pretty late – generally, the layover is about ten to eleven hours. They provide you a hotel (the Novotel Suvarnabhumi), at a cost to them.

So lets say I have a ten hour layover. I might need sleep for about 4-4.5 hours. It still allows me to have business meetings in Bangkok for about 3 hours, without any issue. Maybe even more, if the meetings are held at the Novotel Suvarnabhumi!

Their flights are pretty cheap. So cheap, that the next time I fly them, and if I’m going to India, its business class, or no flight at all. And when planned properly, maybe have many a meeting at the Novotel.

Internet access isn’t cheap, but its typical of a hotel: 150 THB for half an hour, 200 THB for an hour, 500 THB for 12 hours, 700 THB for 24 hours.

I ask myself though, why bother? When I’m done, I can head over to the airport, check in early, and visit the beautiful Royal Silk Lounge in the airport. Emphasis, on beautiful – its much better, IMHO, than the Singapore Airlines Lounge, in Changi. The food (and magazine/newspaper selection) doesn’t seem to be, but the ambience, the chairs/sofas/couches, definitely are.

All this thinking, reminds me of the shrewd startup style thinking that business travellers in startups should have.

On the requirements of an Apple store

I once wrote a plea to Apple about giving Malaysians access to the iTunes music store as well as selling the iPhone’s in Malaysia.

I stepped into one of the Apple Premium Authorised Resellers the other day, and spoke to someone who seemed knowledgeable about these things. I mean, I purchased my MacBook Air in Machines. I purchased an external DVD drive for it from the EpiCentre store, more recently.

The shocker? RM5 million in sales, sustained, for at least three months, before Apple would consider even opening an official Apple store in Malaysia.

Is this hard to reach? I find it hard to believe that this isn’t already reached. I take buying Mac hardware for granted. My latest iPod purchase however wasn’t in the market – I ordered it from the Singapore online store (I wanted it engraved).

If I want it engraved, I can only imagine that a lot more Malaysians want it too. Of course, I also imagined Malaysians spending more than RM5 million on Apple hardware per month.

Anyone know if this is an Apple requirement?

The Zeitgeist shows…


Tools Zeitgeist

This is a picture with a lot of impact. This was from Seedcamp. The question asked was “What tools will you use?”.

Mårten pointed this out to us at the opening speeches at the Sun Database Group Developer’s Meeting. Its interesting to see what technologies are used. MySQL is by far, the most popular database server that all startups seem to use (though to be fair, I see CouchDB and PostgreSQL there too). PHP is about the most popular language (followed closely by Java, then Ruby). Its amazing to see what kind of technologies people are using to build the companies of tomorrow.

Find out more about it, at the Zeitgeist redux on the seedcamp blog.


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