RJ Liow: “Public speaking is a form of corporate social responsibility for me.”
Speak to many business people in the consulting business and they will tell you they wish they could “product-ise” some of their services. The harsh reality is that the ideal of creating products is something elusive to many service providers.
Perhaps the grass is greener on the other side but interestingly enough, RJ Liow has gone in the opposite direction. From being a manufacturer of halal products, he has transformed himself to be a consultant for that industry. And he is glad he did it.
An accountant by training, he used to work for a halal cosmetics company and over a course of 14 years rose to the position of Chief Operating Officer. He was doing good there, yet he left his steady and high-paying job behind to try his hand at entrepreneurship.
“There were both push and pull factors,” he says. “I was tired of corporate routines and endless reporting. But I also yearned to achieve personal freedom.”
Liow established AYS Sdn Bhd in 2008 to do some halal business of his own. At the time, he wasn’t specifically looking at the food industry. But he was sure that whatever he did, he wanted it to be halal because the market for such goods is that much bigger.
Opportunity came his way when he got to know about a dormant halal food factory. He had the idea of reviving it and turning it around to produce frozen ready-to-eat halal meals under the Sri Kulai brand name. “It was very successful,” he says, adding that the company supplied such frozen meals to airlines, food service providers and retailers.
He even came up with a franchising program to open up eateries serving the food he manufactured. In 2013, one of his franchisees liked the business so much, he offered Liow a buy-out.
Without much hesitation, Liow sold the business. “I’m not sentimental,” he says. “My business model all along, since I started becoming an entrepreneur in 2008, was to sell off successful business units under AYS.
Liow made enough money from the sale that he could have easily retired. But he decided to use his expertise in the halal food industry to coach other businesses who want to become halal-compliant.
“There are a lot of talks and seminars on why one should consider participating in the global halal industry but very few on how one should go about doing it,” Liow says. “AYS provides practical handholding consultancy services on how to set up a halal business; how to manage a halal business; and how to market a halal business.”
The company also conducts conferences and seminars on halal-related topics. In recent years, it organized events such as the “National Conference on Marketing Halal & Funding Solutions 2014”. It is also launching in October, a quarterly seminar called “Opportunities in Japan’s Halal Industry”. It’s even venturing abroad and will be organizing the “Global Entrepreneurship, Investment & Trading Conference 2016”, to be held in March in Suzhou, China.
Above all, Liow loves speaking about the topic. “I enjoy public speaking the most – it gives me a sense of fulfilment,” he says. “Public speaking is a form of corporate social responsibility for me too. I often speak to students at campuses at no charge.”
Perhaps all those service providers who aspired but failed to productize their services can learn a thing or two from Liow, who seems to revel in the services industry. “This is way better than being bogged with operations work in manufacturing,” he says.
Oon Yeoh is a new media consultant.