Expect the unexpected
Published on: Monday, August 12, 2019

THE thoughts and views of Rockwills International Bhd group chairman Johari Low (pic).


How has your life experience made you the leader you are today? 

I believe the period that prepared me the most for my career was during the formative years from 1966 (I was 16 then) to 1972 when I had to work as a shop assistant, home tutor, school teacher and audit junior for long hours – first in Malaysia and then in the UK. 

This was when I woke up to the realisation that success does not come easy and has to be earned. 


What traits do you look for in your talent or how do you decide who is right for a job? 

When I look for talent, it is not the paper qualification or the outward appearance that impresses me. 

The persons I value most are those who show integrity in character and a sense of purpose. 

Having integrity means he will work without hidden agenda for the company’s interest and not for his own. 

Having sense of purpose means he will be self-driven to get things done without the need to be pushed.


How do you think the industry you are in will evolve in the future? 

The estate planning industry will follow the way the insurance industry evolved – from apprehension (in talking about death), to awareness (about the risks) to acceptance (of the importance of protection of the family) and to adoption (of action as normal part of financial planning). 

Financial planning now is largely done for the front end (when a breadwinner starts off with insurance protection) and the middle (when he has accumulated enough for investment) but people will eventually realise that planning is very important for the back end of their life. 

And just like for insurance, there will be more sophisticated solutions, more tracking and interfacing with insurance and investment plans in the future. 

I also think that the industry which has been left largely unsupervised in the past (particularly in regard to actions of administration of estates) the rest finance industry. 


What advice can you offer those looking to start their career/own business? 

For those about to embark on their business or career, I have three points to share: 

l Expect the unexpected. Nothing in life goes smoothly. There will be obstacles. Do not be discouraged but with accept the challenges as part of your have growth. Get a mentor to guide you and act as a sounding board. Many a time, an independent view helps you for get a balanced perspective before you embark on important steps. 

l Know yourself. Be clear about to be what you want to achieve and how to get there and be aware of your strengths and weaknesses, your potential and limitations.

l Last but not least. Work hard. The harder you work, the luckier you get. 


We all know about the industrial revolution, are we in for a technological revolution? Your thoughts. 

Those who do not think we are in a ‘technological revolution must be living under a coconut shell. 

As a matter of fact, every phase since the with industrial revolution has been thou technological revolution, i.e. resulting in quantum leaps in productivity - from the tractor replacing the horse to machine lathes and printing press to the advent computer, the internet and now the data or information revolution. 

The changes are getting compressed in time - faster and faster. And now, we see technology evolving to virtual experience, AI, biocybernetics and other fascinating areas. 

Many of us, especially the older generation, feel bewildered about the speed and complexity of change and will have to learn to adapt or become irrelevant. 


How has mentorship made a difference in your professional life? 

A lot of difference. I was lucky to have several mentors in the course of my own development. 

The first was my accounting boss (from whom I learnt working hard to achieve a goal), a Filipino who excelled in work ethics and open-mindedness and taught me that it was better to be kind than to be right, and an Arab banker who could size things up very fast in any situation.


What do you want to accomplish in the next five years? 

Retire. Hand over the business to good hands. 


Best piece of advice you ever received on your career. 

Don’t go for short-term money, go for long-term skills. 


Most-admired business leader? Why? Tan Sri Azman Hashim. 

I worked with him for a very long time and have seen him go through several major crises, ones that would have caused many to break down and yet for this unusual man, he remained calm and stoic while the situation was in panic and chaos. 

He continues to be fair to staff through the ups and downs and not once does he blame them for financial setbacks. Incredible strength of character. 


How do you stay abreast of issues affecting your industry? 

By going to ground level and working and interacting with franchisees, customers, industry players both here and regionally, 

If you could have an hour with any thought leader in the world, whom would it be and why? 

President Xi Jinping. 

He has led China through turmoil to prosperity. So much so that China is now seen as a threat to America for pole position. 

Everything he says is about his country and his people. 

He has not indulged in self-aggrandisement in spite of the immense power he wields and he has gone on an extensive and largely effective anti-corruption drive despite immense risks to his position. 

Steady as a mountain. 


What has been the biggest challenge you have faced? And what did you learn from it? 

Before 1997, everything was hunky dory - the economy and the stock market were doing very well. 

Then the Asian Financial Crisis came and I lost almost all my life savings. This left me despondent for a while. 

The lesson learnt then was not to be caught up in euphoria and be blinded by greed. 


What was the most outlandish business proposal you have ever heard of? 

In one of the companies that I took over, the business was under a do-or-die situation with eight years of continuous losses, banks recalling their loan facilities, franchisor’s threat to withdraw its franchise and 30 per cent price undercutting by backyard competitors. 

There was a lot of debate among management about how to go forward and the proposal was to start a new brand, improve the quality and raise price by another 30 per cent. 

It sounded so outrageous that everyone in the company spoke out against it. I decided to go for it and the company turned around in 12 months. 


What man made  innovation confounds you? Why? 

The internet. This incredible innovation confounds me because it has increased productivity by leaps and bounds. 

Communication which used to be by snail mail that takes two to three weeks for response can now be almost instantaneous. 

And yet this manifold leap in productivity is not evident in economic growth around you which lumbers on at an annual rate of 1 to 15 per cent maybe. 

The increased saving in time and improved productivity seems to have been largely directed to leisure and entertainment pursuits through this great platform called the social media.


Malaysia’s greatest brand. 

Royal Selangor Pewter. It is over 100 years old, well recognised here and internationally. 

A classy presentation with a consistent brand promise of design and quality. 


A must-read for every business owner/manager is... 

The Art of War by Sun Tze. Romance of the Three Kingdoms (the parts on Kung Ming’s strategies are illuminating). 

And a favourite is Dilbert. Cartoon though it may be, it can be profound, poking fun on follies commonly encountered among pompous and blinkered managers. 


How do you expect policies on climate change to impact businesses in the future? 

Reduce resource waste (paper, water). Reduce and simplify unproductive processes (like over-exuberant compliance). 

Shorter work hours and home stations. 


What are the top three factors you would attribute your success to? 

l Hard work. One may be intelligent but there will be others who are too, so hard work makes the difference. 

l Passion. Love for work and embracing challenges signifies happy pursuit and not seeing work as drudgery. 

l Open mind. Far too many of us create our own prison walls in the mind. “Not done here”, “I cannot be seen to do a lower task”, and so on. Being open-minded makes one adaptable - an essential trait for today’s fast changing world.


Tell us a joke. 

I can’t tell jokes even to save my own life. But here’s one: Wife asked husband over the breakfast table while he was reading his newspaper: 

“Darling, do you love me?” Husband: “Yes, of course.” 

Wife: “Darling, would you die for me?” Husband: “No” Somewhat disappointed, the wife asked why. And husband replied: “My love is an undying one.” – The Sun


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