Interview with Howard Leong – Non-Executive Director at JA Alumni Asia Pacific | Ex-Gather Reporter at JA Worldwide | Ex-Regional Alumni Lead at JA Asia Pacific | Ex-Officer at JA Malaysia | FinTech Entrepreneur
Written by JA Malaysia Alumnus – Richelle Khor
When technology was incorporated into the labour-intensive textile industry in the 1800s, it was vehemently opposed by the radical Luddites who viewed it as a threat. However, the world did not take too long before realising that men have the potential to harmonise the polarities and make technology our friend. As we venture into the twenty-first century, the world witnesses another formidable wave of change: the increased emphasis on digital marketing and electronic retailing. Entrepreneurs across the world hop onto the bandwagon to explore the dynamism offered by technology as the engine of growth. Intrigued by the efficacy of digitalisation in modern commercial practices, our alumnus Howard Leong is present to expound his realisations with us.
Equipped with splendid presentation skills and blessed with business acumen, Howard first crossed path with JA Malaysia during International Trade Challenge 2018 National Finals when he impressed the panel of judges with his mature insights. Upon being inspired by the impact of JA Malaysia in cultivating student entrepreneurial mindset, our budding entrepreneur decided to join the talent pool, specialising in digital innovation and digital media production. The internship eventually opened up another learning experience at MacroKiosk, a partner of JA, where he proceeded to enhance his prowess in product development and market research. Still dashing through a blaze of opportunities; and his energy and vigour representative of the JA spirit, he is currently the alumni ambassador, showcasing to us the infinite capacity he harbours.
One year ago, the alumni network in Asia Pacific was still at its embryonic stage. Despite the cloud of vagueness, Howard’s faith in the impact of JA propelled him to take on the challenge, believing that a favourable win-win situation will emerge for everyone. When students graduate from a JA programme, they leave with ideas. Regardless of it being an instantaneous spark of thought or epiphanic moment of change, the connections chart up possibilities for the ideas to undergo a more concrete conceptualisation. Experienced alumni can update themselves with fresh ideas from the younger; student alumni can receive guidance directly from corporates; alumni volunteers, amidst striving to bridge alumni across countries, can survey opportunities for oneself. We are looking beyond the linear relation of JA influencing 12 million students; we are broadening our vision to the potential of each alumnus and tentatively the amplified impact brought by them as a whole. The future landscape of JA will be transformed as we explore more missions, liberating it from the traditional bounds that have been limiting the effectiveness of NGOs.
Nevertheless, beneath his glamourous achievements, Howard addressed hard work and grit as the deciding factors to attain success, “You may not have a great environment but the same rule applies. Do not blame your circumstances because with perseverance, you will eventually open up doors for yourself.” It is arguably true that advantages in social and financial aspects establish strong foundation but the reality, in fact, does not allow this group of people the monopoly on success. The world itself is a white-hot furnace that manufactures dreams and ambitions, to which everyone has access to throw ourselves out for the challenge. The closest example to us is definitely our esteemed alumnus, who zealously pursues development and improvement through various certifications in data analytics and public speaking before becoming the powerhouse of JA Malaysia.
Despite the vital need of programming skills in streamlining business software, Howard still accredited critical thinking and problem solving as an entrepreneur’s important skillsets. Elements in the technology landscape are evolving as software-as-a-service companies mushroom, in which he elucidated in the interview, “A simple example would be JAM Mall. It is built without any codes, only plug-ins and software assistance service.” We are transitioning into a phenomenon whereby there is abundant expertise in developing business platforms for customer relationship management, supply chain management and human resource. The cognitive ability to identify problematic areas and propose the most pragmatic solution to remedy business quandary remains the fundamental of entrepreneurs. Staunch knowledge is undeniably the rudiment but a human’s capacity to fumble through the sea of codes is limited; the computers outsmart us in this aspect. The volatile environment that consistently encumbers an entrepreneur calls more urgently for agility to counteract cut-throat competition from rivals and market fluctuations.
Under the influence of extensive digitalisation, what would become of the society then? Borrowing Howard’s words, the future is bleak. It is a valid argument that the sagacity of the human race is capable of ensuring the protection of people’s welfare; that the unemployment caused by automation will be compensated with the creation of new job markets. However, alas, not everyone possesses the same flexibility. Embroiled in poverty trap, such people are not cushioned from occupational immobility and will only be fed the crumbs of the knowledge-based economy. Howard then expressed his belief that technology companies should be conscientious to pay higher tax in support of government’s financial incentives, considering their substantial level of profits.
His advice for the students is to constantly pursue growth and knowledge. It will be a difficult terrain- one that requires courage to discard our ego and digest criticisms; endurance after having our confidence repetitively demolished; and faith for the fruits of our labour. Seek enlightenment through tenacious self-edification; then we shall be welcomed with the possibility of metamorphosis. Passion, on the other hand, will come as a by-product, “I would like to suggest one validation method: if you think about something when showering, that’s your passion.”