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Wanna be King? Listen to Kong

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[Photo of Francis Kong]Award-winning author Francis Kong shares modern business techniques — and a dollop of humo — with the Chinese-Filipino Business Club

“What’s the difference between a boss and time?”

Francis Kong asked this question before a puzzled crowd of around 500 businessmen, employees, educators, and students at a recent leadership seminar in Binondo hosted by the Chinese-Filipino Business Club.

Silence filled the conference hall of the Auditorium Skytower as the audience, expecting a new nugget of entrepreneurial wisdom, awaited Kong’s reply.

“The difference,” he finally explained, “is you can kill time!” The crowd roared.

The even funnier thing was that even old-school Tsinoy (Chinese-Filipino) businessmen, often the targets of Kong’s blunt humor and affectionate criticism, gave him the loudest applause, sometimes grudgingly.

Indeed, what keeps Kong busy these days are his Chinese paisanos (compatriots) wishing to learn modern techniques in running their businesses. Rumors have it that Kong is fully booked till 2009 with the country’s top companies to give leadership seminars for managers and employees.

Debunking Tradition

Kong, president and CEO of Funworks Inc., among other business concerns, surely has a lot to tell colleagues about the pitfalls of traditional Tsinoy management. Most of his management prowess was learned in the hard-knocks garments industry back when it topped the country’s exports.

But much of his advice today would probably have been scoffed at by Chinese entrepreneurs 20 years ago.

Just a few of his tradition-shaking maxims, which likely challenge what modern Chinese-Filipino businessmen have been taught by their parents:

“Run your businesses in an atmosphere of cooperation and collaboration.”

“If at first you don’t succeed, try something else!”

Listening to Kong speak on business is like watching a stand-up version of Dilbert, with the street-smart frankness of Trump, and the subversiveness of Kiyosaki, delivered in Mandino’s inspiring language.

And all his talks are peppered with sound bytes that stick to ones memory (Success in business is easy, but succession is not.)

Another thing Kong belied is the traditional belief that if you taught your best employee the secrets of the trade, you would be digging your business’ grave. You’d wake up one morning to see your right-hand man setting up shop right in front of you, applying a better version of your strategy to his own business, and being your staunch competitor. This, Kong said, is an old, backward, reactionary belief that should be discarded.

He said modern Tsinoys should apply a more Western approach to succession, by building second-liners and nurturing their loyalty. Instead of guarding trade secrets, he encouraged bosses to share them with subordinates who sought out their wisdom. Impart knowledge to the next generation, he exhorted.

Kong reminded the audience the old masters actually did it right. They handed down knowledge and education from one generation to the next, loyalty being a byproduct of this generosity.

If those you nurtured one day tried to make their mark with their own businesses and profit from your teaching, wish them luck, Kong told the audience. Society will have a way of rewarding you.

No Sacred Cows

[Photo of Francis Kong]Part of the Kong’s trademark is his willingness to question everything in his discussions, even himself. He said even speakers like him may not teach the right things. He admonished businessmen to not only keep an open mind, for that won’t be enough, but to also think critically.

He also had a bone to pick with hypersensitivity, a trait common to both Filipinos and Chinese, businessman or not. He said hypersensitivity retards critical thinking and, therefore, hinders progress.Put yourself in a state of disbelief, Kong advised, but welcome truth when it presents itself to you.

Manage Systems, Lead People

Leaders are made, but first they have to be born, Kong quipped. A leader is made two ways, he explained. Some are born leaders, like the Dalai Lama. They show an inherent ability to lead and influence people even at an early age.

Others rise to the demands of a situation and emerge as leaders. In that case, anyone can become a leader if the situation presents itself. Leaders of this type are often not aware of their potential until the occasion arises.

But if you looked at how businesses were run in the last century, Kong said, emphasis was placed on management — the implementation of systems to run industries.

A remnant of the mechanical mentality learned during the industrial revolution, this thinking subjected people to the same treatment as products in an assembly line. Workers were regarded as implements of production; eating, breathing robots.

The result? Workers rebelled and the labor movement was born. In essence, it was the businessmen — not the unions — who spurred the labor movement, Kong said.

“Management is all about production and control,” he explained. “When it comes to systems, you manage. But when it comes to people, you lead.” He called leadership THE management tool of the 21st century.

The author of the humorous business bestseller “The Early Bird Catches the Worm But the Second Mouse Gets the Cheese,” ended his talk appropriately.

“We are not here to produce products,” Kong reminded the businessmen. “We are here to produce children.”

print ed: 12/07

 

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