For S.T. Rubaneswaran – better known as Ruban – there was nothing in his life that indicated that he would be a successful entrepreneur. He came from a typical Malaysian Indian family, where every child was expected to become a doctor, lawyer or engineer. “I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do, but I knew I did not want a standard 9 to 5 job,” he said.
Ruban did qualify as an engineer, but was unfortunately unable to find work upon graduation. Rather than wait for the perfect job, he decided to do something to earn money – by becoming a door-to-door salesman. This shocked his family and friends, who thought that the job was demeaning – certainly not what an engineer is supposed to do.
Looking back, Ruban feels that taking on that job was one of the best decisions he ever made. It unearthed a skill that he did not know he had – the art of selling – and he realised that he was an effective salesman, who would make a convincing presentation to customers, and entice them to buy his goods. “Going from door to door; walking around in shopping malls, looking for customers; getting 10 rejections before making a sale – these things teach you to take risks, to not be afraid of rejection and to be bold,” he said.
Ruban makes use of his early experience to advise young people – especially, fresh graduates. “Don’t be choosy about what job to take,” he imparted. “Just because you were trained in one field does not mean you must only take a job from that field. Every job gives you an opportunity to discover skills that you never knew you had.”
The rise to entrepreneurship began when Ruban was hired to work for KnowledgeCom Corporation Sdn Bhd as a business development manager. In 2008, an opportunity presented itself when he was offered the chance to buy over the company. Ruban – who was 26 at the time – decided to take the plunge, and gained control of the company. He put in a substantial amount of his own savings into the company, as well as securing a loan. He became the owner of a company that was running at a loss, and which had creditors knocking at the door. Again, his family and friends thought that he had made a very rash move.
Ruban reveals that it was the eternal optimism of youth which played a part in his decision to buy the company. “I always tell people that if they want to become entrepreneurs, they need to start as young as possible – because youth is the time when you are brimming with energy and positivity, and you think you can do anything. You have the will and the drive. You also have a longer time to invest in your project. For example, you start at age 23, and spend 10 years working on it; if it does not work out, you can still start fresh, as you’re still in your early thirties.”
He admits that age is an important factor that influences a person’s decision to become an entrepreneur. “If I was offered the same chance now in my 30s, I definitely would have thought about it for a long time, instead of immediately jumping into it like I did.”
After the initial years of struggle, KnowledgeCom is today acknowledged as a credible homegrown solutions and ICT-related (information and communications technology) training provider that has conducted training in specialised ICT skills for more than 800 companies. Its big break came when it initiated the first highly sought-after SAP Certification e-learning course in Malaysia. KnowledgeCom was the first training company that showed that the difficult SAP courses – used by all industries – could be learned online, and over the years, the company has trained more than 4,000 people for SAP Certification. Additionally, the company holds the distinction of producing the highest passing rate for SAP Certification candidates in ASEAN – for which KnowledgeCom was awarded Best SAP Training Partner (2011) and Partner of The Year (2013).
In 2012, Ruban (pic) sold KnowledgeCom to CENSOF Holdings Bhd, thus making KnowledgeCom a subsidiary of the listed conglomerate. Ruban, who remains as the company CEO, said that he sold the company in order for it to grow and expand which meant changing his mindset about how he ran the company. “Most entrepreneurs who start off with an SME still think they can run it like an SME when it expands. That’s not how it works.”
Initially, Ruban found it difficult to come to terms with the fact that he could not make all the decisions for the company on his own, as he had to refer to a board and to deal with other CEOs and shareholders in the company. Although there were times when he regretted selling his controlling stake in the company, Ruban began to see things differently over the next few months, and learned that managing a limited company requires a different set of management rules and regulations compared with running an SME. He also saw obvious benefits for the company: the profits grew threefold, and the company could expand by opening up offices outside the Klang Valley, and in around ASEAN itself. This year, KnowledgeCom started UP Magazine, a publication which claims to hold the largest circulation for a training magazine in the country.
Ruban’s hard work seems to have paid off, as both he and the company have been recognised for their pioneering work with regards to SAP courses online. He was presented with the Young Indian Entrepreneur Award (YIEA) in July 2015 by the Malaysian Indian Entrepreneur Cooperative (MIEC), while the company was recognised as being among the Top 100 SMEs in Malaysia in October 2015.
The YIEA win is especially meaningful for Ruban, because he remembered attending the function in the early challenging days of running KnowledgeCom. “Tony Fernandez won that year,” he recalled. “I was sitting at the back row – and I told myself that one day, I too would get it. So for me, winning the award is a very special moment.”