Dato Timothy Ong is a leading Brunei businessman and the Chairman of Asia Inc Forum, he is also an acclaimed facilitator of business and public policy dialogue in ASEAN and beyond. He served as the Acting Chairman of the Brunei Economic Development Board (BEDB), Brunei’s leading economic agency from 2005 to 2010
Inspire: Asia Inc Forum is a tiny company in terms of its size (head count of about a dozen people), but it has a huge impact on policy makers as well as the business community both locally and internationally. Tell us about your original vision for this organization and has this vision been realised?
My original vision for Asia Inc Forum is still the current vision: that we will be a platform for influence within Brunei and the region.
Have we achieved it? No. But we are moving in the right direction. We just finished organizing a very successful APEC CEO Summit in Bali. Indonesia is a huge country, over 200m people, and they engaged this tiny Bruneian company to work along side this project. This was a very inspiring experience for us because it shows us that you can have a major influence, even if you are very small and come from a small country.
People often ask us: are you in event management? Event management is part of what we do, but it is not the core part of our business. The core part is that we bring people together – people who matter. We create a situation where they talk to each other.
In Indonesia, we helped to frame the program, we created the right situation for the right people. For example, we had a very good panel with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Long from Singapore together with three other business leaders who had a discussion about the right topic.
This requires an understanding of what kind of person fits in where. We believe that when people come together and speak to each other without fear or anxiety, it brings out the best in them.
Inspire: And opportunities happen?
And opportunities happen. A lot of people would ask, what opportunities come from the event? I don’t look at it like that, because opportunities come in unexpected ways. You meet someone, nothing happens, 6 months later you get a call from them. Sometimes, it’s two years – and then something happens. I met a Bruneian businessman who told me about a very interesting encounter with a retired Indonesian tycoon. During the meeting, the tycoon said he had retired and was not interested in business anymore. So the businessman said never mind, and they chatted. The chemistry was very good, the tycoon liked him but he then left the meeting thinking – nice chat, but nothing came out of it. Two weeks later he got a phone call from the tycoon. “I have a piece of land in Bali, I have no ideas for it, I am retired. But if you have any ideas, it’s yours to develop.”
I think we must not think of opportunities in a literal way, where one must get a return right away. People often make the mistake of doing that – I’m going to meet him, I’m going to ask him for the contract.
Inspire: But isn’t being measurable important for the productivity of the meeting?
What we do is that we create a situation where people are comfortable with each other. If something happens, great. I believe there is something positive in every encounter.
Inspire: So, you are in a way, a very polished match making business?
We don’t see ourselves like that. When I go to these (networking) meetings, I see all kinds of people. Some are very alert – they are watching (for opportunities), I see people who are very detached, standing in a corner and expecting people to come to them. I see eager faces, people who put up their hands everytime there is a question. And I see those who are always waiting to ask the perfect questions, but who never ask. I see those who rush out to give business cards and brochures. If I were to coach them, I’d say I know you are hungry, but have some restraint, as being overly zealous can be annoying. So it is all about being watchful and alert.
In business, luck matters. Those who are alert tend to be more lucky. There are those people who claim that they are always unlucky. But they should look at themselves and ask “Why am I so unlucky?” Maybe you have made the wrong decisions, maybe you mix with the wrong company, maybe you are not alert.
Inspire: So, it is also a skill to be productive in networking meetings.
It is a skill. And it is also about being alert; which is something that everyone of us can do. It is about being in the present, about being mindful.