GAIN Secure Sdn Bhd executive director Walter Wong tells SunBiz that it’s important not to get blinded by short-term success. Instead, use it as the foundation for future triumphs.
How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
I hail from a humble family in Kuala Lumpur, and am blessed with parents who taught me about life’s values from a young age. My parents always emphasised to me that, to be successful in life, we should always enjoy the journey, work hard and work smart, and, most importantly, to place integrity and honesty above everything else. In doing so, prosperity would follow.
In other words, don’t just work or do business for money. Instead, my parents said, always ask yourself what “added value” can you bring to your employer, your clients, the community, and always deliver more than what’s expected of you.
I will forever be grateful to them for passing on good values to me. These values are fundamentally important to succeed in life – and business. Seeing how they would sacrifice every ounce of their energy for the family, I learnt from a young age the need to excel in whatever we choose to do.
These values helped me greatly when I entered the workforce after leaving university in 2005. My big break was when I joined Microsoft in 2006, where I was exposed to cutting-edge technologies. Microsoft also taught me to constantly think out of the box, and encouraged me to solve problems through technology. My biggest learning in Microsoft was that some of life’s challenges – however big or small – can be solved if one were to adopt a “culture of innovation” within an organisation. My stint there also helped me appreciate the importance of diversity, and to always embrace different work experiences and lifestyles.
When I left Microsoft to establish Gain Secure Sdn Bhd in 2008, I brought along with me the inner values that my parents had instilled, enhanced by Microsoft’s “culture of innovation”. Hence, when my team and I speak to clients, we always come from a problem-solving perspective, and not necessarily from the technology aspects.
For example, one of our anchor clients is 7-Eleven. When we first met them, we straightaway concluded that our task was to make 7-Eleven’s operations more efficient, productive and profitable. Coming from this angle, we then set out to develop the software that would further automate their operations, ensure their supply chain was more effective and agile.
And when the mobile phone emerged as not just an everyday device but also a productivity tool, my team and I then started pioneering applications for other clients like Nando’s and GSC Cinemas as we foresaw – even way before the Covid-19 pandemic – that remote work cultures would very soon become the norm.
Until today, I am still connected with Microsoft and the company has recognised me as one of Microsoft’s Most Valuable Professional (MVP) for Malaysia and the Asia-Pacific region. I feel deeply honoured – and humbled – that the Microsoft folks from Redmond, Seattle continue to reach out to me as part of the MVP initiative for feedback and bug fixes in software that they are developing.
All my achievements would not have been possible if not for the good values that my parents instilled in me from a young age, and also the corporate values that Microsoft taught and continue to teach me.
What traits do you look for in your talent or how do you decide who is right for a job?
Most importantly, it is about having a positive attitude and willingness to learn, coupled with a good level of emotional intelligence (EQ). EQ is important because the ability to perceive, use, understand and manage emotions are secrets to successful client relationships. Better still if these emotions are genuine.
I often tell my team: “Instead of trying to be nice to people, just be genuinely nice.” That way, you feel good about yourself because the emotions are real, and so do the people you are interacting with.
In our line work, technical skills are important – but secondary to having good EQ and being genuine in interactions. This is because technical skills can always be taught with training. Being genuine, however, is something deeper which cannot be taught on-the-fly but which can be cultivated within a company’s culture.
How do you think the industry you are in will evolve?
I am blessed that I developed a passion for technology from a young age and graduated with a computer science degree because the technology industry I am in is at the heart of today’s digital economy. The technology industry is set to evolve in the years and decades ahead.
Artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, advanced analytics, robotics – even cryptocurrencies – are trends that I foresee would become more mainstream with the passing of time.
And that’s the thing about technology: It serves as catalyst for change – and hopefully for the better – because we humans would determine this change. We should always use technology to create a better world for our children, and the generations to come.
What advice can you offer those looking to start their career/own business?
“People will not care about your failures but will remember your success” – don’t be afraid to try until you attain success. Stop ranting about the issues and get it over with.
“Humble is the next show-off” – being humble in the industry is important to sustain and continue in the market for long term. Don’t get blinded by short-term success. Instead, use it as the foundation for future triumphs.
Stay strong and “don’t sweat the small stuff”. Focus instead on delivering business value.
We all know about the industrial revolution, are we in for a technological revolution? Your thoughts.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution is already upon us. As a country, Malaysia needs to encourage our industries to embrace technology wholeheartedly to gain greater productivity and efficiencies. Otherwise, we would be behind competing nations which have automated their various industries.
How has mentorship made a difference in your professional life?
Mentorship is important to be a successful businessperson or entrepreneur. At different levels of entrepreneurship, you need a variety of mentors for ideas, while also sharing your expertise with them.
I’m glad to have my ex-CEO Hon Fun Ping as one of my key mentors about life and some corporate friends who continue to give me feedback and guidance.
One of my other mentors, Andrew Cheong, is not even in the tech industry but the brewery industry, although he does get involved in various corporate transformation initiatives. His understanding about business foundations and what he tries to impart to me have proven to be priceless throughout the years.
What do you want to accomplish in the next five years?
My goal is to list Gain Secure on the stock exchange within the next three years, if not five years. Reason is that being listed will enhance our reputation, while enabling our company to tap the capital market for funds to expand our product offerings, and for us to break into new markets.
The software solutions we have developed could be exported to neighbouring countries and throughout Asia-Pacific. As it is, we are already customising solutions for these markets and have had numerous discussions with business partners in the US on how to further “localise” our solutions for the various industries there. We are already laying the foundation, and just finding the right “time” to make the leap to listed status.
Best piece of advice you ever received on your career.
The first is one I got at Microsoft: “Technology can and should be a force for good and meaningful innovation can and will contribute to a brighter world in big and small ways.”
When I was saying this aloud thinking no one was near me, my friend and colleague then, Michael Ang, walked by and quoted Gandhi: “Walter, be the change you want to see in the world.”
Combined, these two pieces of advice continue to guide me in life and business dealings.
Most-admired Malaysian business leader? Why?
Berjaya Group founder Tan Sri Vincent Tan Chee Yioun is a business leader I find most inspiring. Why? Because he continues to inspire countless Malaysians and people around the world to fully realise their potential. I admire his tenacity and determination to get things done – no matter how challenging situations may be – and that he is not afraid to go beyond comfort zones to seek out new industries and markets.
Tan is a legend: When he beat all the “big boys” to bring the McDonald’s franchise to Malaysia in the early 1980s, it was a “wow” moment for many Malaysians. It showed that Davids can beat Goliaths with determination, smarts and a never-say-die attitude.
As mentioned earlier, one of Gain Secure’s clients is 7-Eleven, a subsidiary of Berjaya Retail. Someone there once told me that Tan’s favourite saying is: “Don’t be shy, no harm trying.” It’s a saying I can personally connect with. Because in life and business, we should always be brave and embrace challenges wholeheartedly.
How do you stay abreast of issues affecting your industry?
Every morning, I make it a point to spend at least 30 minutes to read about the digital economy and latest technologies from both local and international news outlets. Due to information overload, I select the topics I want to learn about, more so since I am in the tech industry and being constantly updated on products, solutions, platforms and operating systems helps us pivot appropriately.
Being a Microsoft MVP for the Asia-Pacific region, I am also lucky to be in constant touch with people in Microsoft’s Redmond headquarters who are generous enough to share relevant information with me.
If you could have an hour with any thought leader in the world, who would it be and why?
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, whom I view as a tech genius, and who took the company further after the era of founder Bill Gates and former CEO Steve Ballmer.
What has been the biggest challenge you have faced? What did you learn from it?
There are two: First was when I started Gain Secure 13 years ago. From the corporate world, I had to learn the entrepreneurship ropes and faced numerous challenges, including at, at that time, cash flow as we were just starting out. We needed to stretch our ringgit cash flow further to get “bang for the buck” because I never believed in compromising on quality of solutions that we were developing then.
Second, the Covid-19 pandemic which started early last year did take a toll on my team and, as their leader, I needed to ensure their mental health is constantly taken care of.
For example, many of us like to exercise and feel the sun after coding and developing software in our homes (as we were and still are working remotely). With restrictions then that we couldn’t go out, quite a few of us felt really “cramped” and “locked in” as we were pushing our brains to the limit as demand for our services and solutions were overwhelming during the pandemic with companies rushing to automate their operations.
Hence, we developed a “virtual family” culture whereby every single team member would be there for the other, and that team members can safely pour their hearts out and seek help or encouragement when needed.
What was the most outlandish business proposal you have ever heard of?
Somebody once came to me with a solution which he claimed was technology from outer space and aliens. Due to the non-disclosure understanding, I am afraid that I cannot share more about this.
What man-made innovation confounds you? Why?
The personal computer (PC). When Bill Gates first proclaimed the need to have “a PC in every home”, it was really far-fetched at that time. Today the PC, and accompanying mobile devices, are now all pervasive in life and business. With the internet, the world has also become “borderless” – whether it’s trade or human relationships – and made the human race come closer than ever before.
Malaysia’s greatest brand.
Berjaya – which encompasses much more than just the name of “success” and has lived up to its tagline of “Strength in Diversity”. The group’s various operations and investments have changed people’s lives for the better: Such as bringing Borders to Malaysia to inculcate a culture of reading and knowledge, and Starbucks which promotes remote work cultures and collaboration pre-pandemic.
A must-read for every business owner/manager is …
A senior MNC corporate friend recommended this book to me Crossing the Chasm, 3rd Edition: Marketing and Selling Disruptive Products to Mainstream Customers by Geoffrey A Moore. After I finished reading it, it totally changed my view on how business lifecycle works.
I would say this is definitely one of the most impactful business books I have ever read in my life. I would strongly recommend this book to all business owners/managers in the industry.
How do you expect policies on climate change to impact businesses in the future?
Climate change and sustainability will continue to be high on the agenda for a number of countries – and with good reasons. I foresee a shift whereby consumers would start developing preferences for sustainable developed products due to our inner sense of responsibility towards the planet.
The Paris Agreement, a global framework climate initiative, has the main objective of addressing global warming. I foresee more countries and corporations taking on a more proactive role in years ahead.
What are the top three factors you would attribute your success to?
First, would be innovation and creativity. Ever since I started work in this highly vibrant industry, I always knew that, to stay ahead of the competition, one would need strong technology knowledge and expertise so as to accelerate business growth through breakthrough innovations and creative ideas.
One also must not be afraid to fail: Gain Secure had developed three different solutions which did not do too well. However, our fourth one was an industry breakthrough, and, until today, it has become the “gold standard” and widely used by the industry.
Second, having a constant positive outlook and being cheerful. I tell my team that a smile is worth a thousand words. A smile break barriers even when meeting people for the first time. And when challenges arise, rise above them and embrace challenges with a positive mindset. Keeping your daily life more cheerful makes life much more beautiful.
Finally, it’s about always being prudent. There is no need to show off and buy, for example, an expensive fleet of cars when the money could be better used nurturing and growing the team.
At Gain Secure, we instead invest the money by providing high end equipment for our team members like the best laptops in the market and gamer laptops for them to unwind in their spare time.