The Star – Hitting the bull’s eye on top a galloping horse
In his first interview since returning to the corporate scene with an executive role after a three year hiatus,?GREEN PACKET BHD founder and CEO CC Puan talks about his personal development and goals for his company. This includes a 100-day stint in the Himalayas that reinvigorated him.
He is seeking to bring that energy back to Green Packet to create a fintech giant and nudging his leadership team “to be able to shoot an arrow while on a galloping horse and still hit the bull’s eye”. Below are excerpts of the interview:
It has been around 100 days since you have made your entry back into Green Packet, the company you founded some 20 years ago. What does it feel like and what key priorities have you sought to achieve in this period?
Yes, it’s been quite a journey and you can say that I am a man in a hurry. After the sale of P1 to TM, it was conditional that I serve as interim CEO to oversee the transition and co-develop the transformation blueprint.
After that role, it felt like the end of a chapter and I wanted to seek clarity on “What’s next?” So I spent three months alone in the Himalayas and came back reinvigorated and motivated. It wasn’t until July 1 this year that I came back as Group MD and CEO, but being the founder, my heart never left. I stayed interested and active on the sidelines as a non-executive director. I even remember the intense leadership retreat we had in mid-2017 to map Green Packet’s future and plant the seeds for many of our new ventures today.
While I was away, my leaders ran with it in full startup mode. They had two years to find viable businesses around the triad of technologies we identified, namely Fintech, AI and IoT. The timing for my return is perfect as I’m good at scaling up businesses. My team knows I can draw in partners and resources and will excel at being “Chief Promoter”. That being said, my key priority was to ensure these businesses are ready for scale.
I spent time diving deep into each of the businesses to find out where they are on the growth journey and what they need. And I worked on the fundamentals for Green Packet 4.0. In the short time since my return, we operationalised a curated mix of current and proven business tools like the lean methodology and market acceleration principles. Essentially, we are creating stability via systems, processes and operational cadences to enable speed and agility.
I want my team to be able to shoot an arrow while on a galloping horse and still hit the bull’s-eye. I am also adamant that we create products people want in alignment with our purpose. To do that, everyone was trained on design thinking and we adopted a disciplined approach to finding product market fit.
New significant developments have taken place since your entry. Some examples are Green Packet’s tie-up with Bank Islam and local universities to offer e-wallets to the underserved student market; the tie-up of G3 with SenseTime to build Asia’s first AI park and more recently the entry of Kendall Court into Green Packet. Are these all your doing?
Nothing is achieved without teamwork. I lucked out because my team is passionate in pushing our digital agenda. They want in on our purpose that “Every Human Must Thrive With Life Improving Digital Innovations”. Technology used wisely can help people thrive but it had never been fairly distributed. A good example would be our kiple wallet targeting the underserved student market.
Sure they do not have much of a purchasing power, and therefore, are not on the radar of most other e-wallets. But we really want to help this community thrive with the convenience afforded by cashless for on and off campus purchases. Students can also more easily keep track of their finances with our e-wallet. At UUM, we enabled the distribution of zakat. It’s efficient and easy to track. We can do the same for the disbursement of any funds including student loans if given the opportunity. As for G3 partnering with SenseTime, I just did my part as a value creating board member.
I introduced the management team to SenseTime and supported discussions to attract them to Malaysia. The management team at G3 should be credited for developing the details of that transaction and other developments. To address your point on Kendall Court’s entry into Green Packet, the PE fund is not new to us and we to them because they had previously made a profitable investment into P1. They know how we work and appreciate our progress, especially in fintech.
Your detractors say that Green Packet has always been a “concept” play and that it will always remain so, in the sense that the big profits still seem elusive despite the company announcing very interesting ventures. Your comments please.
We have real products and real traction. But really, all great companies, especially in the technology space start out as concept plays. Without the process of ideation and the ability to capture opportunities of worthwhile problems for targeted segments, you will have little to go on.
Green Packet began as a software solutions for enterprise in 2000. From there, we grew into an international provider of connectivity devices and wholesale voice – these staple businesses still generate healthy revenues. After that, it was P1. We captured 40% of market share very quickly and broke a local record for fastest telco to be operationally profitable. It went great until large global telcos decided to go with LTE and hence suffocated the WiMAX device ecosystem. But we survived that episode and divested P1 in 2015.
After stabilising the business, we began to make a big push into digital services and fintech in particular in 2017. The kiple wallet powers all of the other kiple brands, each working up to be the strongest player in their selected verticals. Our target is not unrealistic. We know our route to profitability and in spite of future focused investments, we have a healthy balance sheet.
Can you elaborate a bit more about Green Packet’s aspirations to become a digital bank?
Our ambition is to be a digital financial institution, which can take many shapes and form. All I can say is, if Malaysia issues the licence, we are going for it.
With Green Packet’s focus on digital solutions, how do you see the development of the group’s solutions and communications businesses?
Solutions and communications are profitable businesses but we don’t expect very exciting growth from these pillars. However, we just came out of our AHA session with inspiring ideas for these two business segments. AHA stands for Annual Hypothesis Assessment -- something we started this year for a more robust annual operating planning process. I challenged the team to grow 10 times but it’s too early for me to share more.
The Communications pillar has launched our Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO) business this year for Singapore’s migrant market. We are on track to develop a super app for the migrant community to help them save, grow and send money home.
Green Packet started many new business ventures in the past two years. Can you describe how these startups operate in a corporate environment?
I always say that working with Green Packet is saying yes to exciting growth and opportunities that you won’t get elsewhere. The businesses that are launched into the market have four new CEOs from my senior leadership team. Guided by our big picture ambition, they really have a free hand in crafting out their own business opportunity. They are modestly funded like how startups should be funded and they can leverage corporate shared resources like finance, human resources, technology centre of excellence, legal and regulatory, as well as marketing. Help is lean, considering that the shared resources support so many businesses. But that’s fine, as they are all just coming into product market fit and preparing for scale. It is okay to be scrappy during the early validation stage but once they are ready, we will properly allocate resources to support their growth.
Fintech, AI, IoT – is the time ripe for all these frontier technologies and in Malaysia?
Absolutely! Practical real world applications using these technologies are abound. Just google it and you will find lots of examples. Digital payment, blockchain, machine learning, artificial intelligence, and connected things – we must adopt them without delay because they can significantly enhance a country’s competitiveness. Unfortunately, as a country, we are lagging.
That is why initiatives such as the AI park is hugely significant for Malaysia’s development because it will play the role of advanced technology enabler. Industries need to understand, experiment and apply new technologies in order to spike productivity and quality as well as reduce costs over time. More importantly, we have serious work to do to fill the talent gap and development pipeline. Additionally, the education sector needs to quickly inculcate useful AI and emerging tech syllabi. This is why G3’s teaming up with global AI leader SenseTime is so important.
What are some key strategic imperatives for Green Packet in 2020?
The year 2020 is a hallmark one for us as Green Packet will turn 20. The theme for next year is definitely growth. Not growth for the sake of growing, but growth that get our validated products out to more people who will appreciate the benefits. We will be “blitz scaling” the frontrunners in the portfolio while getting the rest ready. I am feeling confident about next year because we are well prepared. Next year is a big year and we would want to get more awesome people to say yes to growing with Green Packet.