From rap star to businessman

KRUKRUNorman (centre): “Even when we were just performers, we already had a vision of building up a business that was sustainable.” (photo credit: KRU Facebook)

KRU is a household name in Malaysia. And it’s no surprise. The group first emerged in the early 90s as a rap band but over the years, has managed to evolve into a business entity that runs one of the most successful entertainment companies in the country.

Not many Malaysian artistes or groups have managed to survive for such a long time in the entertainment industry, and even fewer have managed to build a career that transcends performing. But KRU has.

KRU consists of three siblings Norman Abdul Halim (the eldest) and his brothers Yusry and Edry. As their company grew, Norman felt one of them had to focus on the business side of things, so he left it to Yusry and Edry to continue work on creative matters.

Norman spoke to Business Circle about the evolution of KRU and how they managed to survive and indeed thrive in the competitive entertainment industry where the next new thing is always round the corner, waiting to eat your lunch.

“Even when we were just performers, we already had a vision of building up a business that was sustainable,” Norman recalls. “We saw how some older performers couldn’t even make ends meet and had to rely on charity to get by. We didn’t want to grow old that way.”

There was no grand plan that they had. Instead, their business grew organically and they adapted as they went along. For example, when they were still performing, they owned a sound and lighting company because these were equipment they themselves needed. When they stopped performing, they sold that off.

By the 2000s they were doing visual effects for TV commercials. That led to them starting to create their own movies. And eventually they built their own entertainment conglomerate KRU Studios which deals with movies, TV shows, animation and music. These days, Norman’s even looking at publishing books and e-books.

None of this would have happened if Norman, who has an accounting background, had not sacrificed his creative passions to focus on the business aspect of things. “In deciding to leave the creative parts to my brothers, I don’t compose songs anymore, I don’t write scripts, I don’t direct music videos. I just focus on running the business. Somebody has to.”

But what if a performer or a group wanted to do something similar – build up a long-term sustainable business – but was not business-savvy? Norman says in such cases, it’s imperative they take on someone capable as an equal partner. “If that person was just an employee, there is no incentive for them to work so hard,” he says.

Another thing a good businessman must be able to do is be willing to let go and let others run aspects of his business. Norman says he’s just recently hired a few chief executives for the various subsidiaries in KRU Studios.

Hiring the right people is not easy. Norman says he relies on instinct a lot when he assesses potential candidates but there are certain things he looks for. Having a track record in the entertainment industry is important because he wants them to hit the ground running. The other thing is communication skills.

“They must be able to articulate their thoughts and communicate well, especially in English,” he says. Such skills are particularly important now that the company is increasingly doing business abroad. Penetrating the global market, in fact, is a key goal for the company going forward. “The way to go global is to use English as the medium for our film and animation productions,” he adds.

Oon Yeoh is a new media consultant.

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