Blog 3: We're Not in Canada Anymore: Team Kentarus on-the-ground perspective
Members of Team Kentarus wrote a brief each day of their experiences while in Kuala Lumpur.
Kuala Lumpur is different, there is no question, it is a beautiful city and the people are arguably more friendly here than back home (they seem to be out Canadian-ing us in this respect). It has only been twenty-four hours that we have been in this city filled with new skyscrapers, ancient temples, and lush tropical jungles. It is certainly a site that needs to be seen.
We arrived after 9 p.m. on Saturday after 25 hours of travel since departing Ottawa on Friday morning. The city was buzzing as we drove for an hour from the airport to the Kuala Lumpur City Centre (KLCC); we were definitely not in Ottawa anymore. The first thing on many people’s minds, other than trying to get some shut eye, was to find some food as the airplane food just wasn’t tiding us over. What better place to explore authentic cuisine than going to a food truck park. Those who were adventurous enough to try the food were not disappointed, although we did stick to the cooked and fried food of satay, fried chicken, and noodle soups that filled the table and everyone was in disbelief about how good everything tasted.
The next day started with a half-day city tour of Kuala Lumpur featuring stops at some of local historical sites including the Chinese temple, Thean Hou Temple, the National Monument, a war memorial memorializing those who died in WWI, WWII and the Malayan Emergency, the Sultan’s palace, Independence Square, and the Central Market.
We flexed our negotiation muscles during our free time in the afternoon either the Central Market haggling with vendors or at the Petaling Market while others took the time to enjoy the beautiful hotel infinity pool before the week of meetings began. The day ended with the Telfer Executive MBA’s Opening Banquet which allowed Executive MBA Candidates, our clients, and special guests to meet socially before the business talk set in during our meetings later in the week. We also had the opportunity to interact and hear from Her Excellency Judith St-George, Canada’s High Commissioner in Malaysia.
After the Banquet, some of the class went out to send a few hours exploring the nightlife of the city, but for our team, Kentaurus, it was time to get to work. Working directly with our client who is accompanying us on this trip, we started our preparation for our first meeting the following day. This included updating the presentation deck, finalizing preparation notes, and strategizing for the day ahead.
All of this in just over 24 hours in the City, We are definitely not in Ottawa anymore and it gave us our first glimpse of the week that lies ahead.
It is Monday morning. It is the first official day of the business week for us, but at the beginning of April we learned it could be a difficult day to schedule meetings with local contacts. Today was recently declared a holiday to mark the Installation of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong; the coronation day of the new king. Our first meeting is over one of the best buffet breakfast we’ve had in quite a while. Team Kentaurus, our client, and Peter Becke, our project advisor, review our day’s itinerary. Given the holiday, today is our ‘light day’ with only two meetings scheduled. Our team goes over our discussion points and goals for each of our meetings. Once everyone is satisfied and confident about our goals, the appointed members who will be attending the first meeting, which is just over 2 hours from now, race back to their rooms to get ready.
The rest of the team sit down to relax but find ourselves reflecting on how the last year has progressed from we’re going to Kuala Lumpur to actually arriving.
Just shy of two years ago, we were individuals who looked at this trip wondering how we were going to complete such a huge feat. Today, we are a team working together to build something memorable, not just for our client, but for ourselves as well. Many of us have never performed in international engagements, much less cross-continental work, this project has pushed us to new heights and we are doing it with relative ease. How? Somewhere over the last two years, we moved from being individuals, to developing into a team, to achieving the goals of high-performing team. And all of us agree, Sophia, Executive Director of the program is right when she told us over the last two years that “we need to trust the process”. While we didn’t know what to expect, the program has a proven track record of transformations of Executive MBA candidates and developing compelling value for clients of our consulting engagements. We are seeing the value of the process come to life for ourselves.
After our morning break, it is back to work. A high-performing team requires putting in our collective effort, and we are not going to slow down now. It’s full speed to the end of the week.
How did the meetings go? They were a success! Everything we have learned to-date in the program about market intelligence, presentation skills, strategy, negotiations, and consulting process with our client have been key to the work we are doing today. The people we have met thus far have noticed how well prepared we are and the result has been the possibility of a partnership for our client. And this just after two meetings!
Today is the heavy day. After our last meeting yesterday we met to plan for Tuesday and we met again this morning at breakfast. It is going to take team work to push through our schedule today so we are reviewing and getting ourselves ready. Four meetings, two of which are set for the same time at 3 p.m. and a final one at 9 p.m. It isn’t a 9-5 business day while on the ground, we are making use of every hour we can in order to maximize the learning for our client. The only way to get through the meeting schedule successfully was to divide and conquer. We divided our team into two groups, one would attend the morning meeting and one of the afternoon meetings, while the other would attend the second afternoon meeting and the evening meeting. I was part of the latter group where we were fortunate to experience what we believe to be a typical meeting experience in Malaysia.
So far our meetings have typically been consistent with our North American format for meetings; we arrive at the meeting, exchanging business cards, go through our client’s pitch, and then a discussion.
This afternoon meeting, however, was slightly different. Upon our arrival, the Chairman of the organization was late, so his managing director “offered” or what we felt to be strongly suggested that we sit in the boardroom and drink tea or coffee and just casually chat. None of us had ever met before, however the hospitality of the Director was so earnest that it felt as though we were meeting with a friend or family member. Once the Chairman arrived we proceeded with the meeting, mid-way through snacks were brought in along with a fresh pot of tea and coffee – it was tea time after all. We were ready to offer our guests a Canadian gift of good old fashion maple syrup as a thank you for taking the time to meet with us as we were advised to do this by our project advisors who have experienced the cultural norms within the ASEAN area. Our hosts today were the first who took the time to offer us a gift in return.
This meeting illustrated the richness and genuinely richness of the culture in Malaysia. It provided us with a meeting which none of us will forget any time soon.
When planning the trip to Malaysia, we wanted create an ‘anchor event’ - something which we would attract attention to our client’s product and provide opportunities to meet with potential buyers in an informal yet impactful way. Our client, whose product is focused on the maritime defense domain, was excited at this prospect. The result is an event we are unlikely to forget anytime soon. Timing is everything and so is a bit of luck. Through our research in Canada, we learned that two Navy Frigates would be moored in Port Klang, about an hour outside of KLCC, during the same week of our trip.
Through some hard work and some luck, we were able to invite members of the Royal Malaysian Navy to attend our client’s presentation in the Wardroom aboard the HMSC Ottawa, a recently retrofitted Canadian Navy frigate! Officers of the Canadian Navy offered a tour, adding diplomatic work element to the business engagement. It is difficult to imagine how to create more of a lasting impression than a tour of a Canadian Naval ship that aligns with our product.
This meeting also created the unintended benefit of not just creating a strong lead with our client, but also reaffirmed relations between both the Canadian and Malaysian Navy. To say it was influential would be an understatement.
While, the team had worked hard to bring us to a point where we could organize various successful meetings for our client. Special kudos must be said to Michael Bell whose contacts in the Navy allowed such an event to happen. It was incredible! Not only did our team get to board the HMSC Ottawa but Mike was able to secure entry for the rest of our cohort and clients. They travelled to Port Klang later in the evening to learn more about the frigate and the Royal Canadian Navy. It was an amazing adventure that shows what that hard work mixed with a bit of luck and good timing can create opportunities that will last a lifetime!
Today is crunch time, groups are diligently putting the finishing touches on their report to hand off to our project advisors in just a few hours. Our body language emanates intent focus but our hearts are light; we are moments away from the end of a Twenty-one month transformative experience.
It is hard not to think about how far we have come. Twenty-one months ago, many of us looked at the graduating class of 2015 with a mix of emotions, awe, envy, amazement, and a slew of other adjectives. We wondered how we would be able to do it, how do we go from an eclectic group of individuals to high performing teams executing an international business development engagement alongside a Canadian organization. But here we are, we did it!
Every team has had successful engagements for their organizations and clients have been impressed with the work accomplished in such short time. Over the last week, clients have created footholds in Malaysia, MOUs have been signed, and follow-up tasks and meetings have been established. It has been amazing and rewarding experience.
Looking beyond the academic side of the program, it is impressive how a group of alpha personality-type people have become such a close group of collaborators. Each of us helped each other this week, even if we are not part of our team. Informal talks over Tiger beers at the hotel bar have led to ‘ah ha’ moments. These relationships and friendships are what will help us all in the future, both in our careers and our personal lives.
However, time is running down and it is time to turn back to the final report so I will be signing off to focus my efforts on closing it off. Our word of advice for those who are considering the program or already enrolled and worried about this project - don’t be worried- you will succeed and not even realize it. Remember to “always trust the process.”
To those who are looking to join the Telfer Executive MBA: Candidates and alumni alike will say that it was hard work, but they came out a stronger leader and do not regret their investment or commitment to “the process”.