Name: Roshan Thiran
Designation: Founder & Kuli(Official Title)
In 2007, Leaderonomics co-founder Ang Hui Ming and I had so many questions. With a small movement kicked off by the anti-corruption group Bersih calling for a better Malaysia🇲🇾 and a more accountable government, with many of my friends involved, together with the success of groups like HINDRAF asking questions of our government on equality, equity, and corruption, numerous questions popped up which we could not answer. Both of us were working in cushy global Corporate roles with General Electric (GE) and we both had decided to leave GE and “try something else.” I had spent almost 14 years at GE and took up a super offer from Johnson & Johnson to drive their Global Talent work. She decided to help run an NGO.
Amongst the questions we asked, were the following:
➡️ Why are some communities more successful than others?
➡️ Why do some succeed whilst others fail?
➡️ What are the secret ingredients to a great organization?
➡️ And how do we even start a transformation? Be it an organizational transformation or a national transformation.
These were the fundamental questions we asked and we set about finding the answer. After countless years of searching, the answer became apparent – leadership. “Everything rises and falls on leadership.” This idea that ‘growing people into leaders could transform communities’ drove us to set up Leaderonomics and I set out to lead a small team of visionary and passionate leaders who strove to transform lives throughout Malaysia by democratizing access to leadership development.
Both of us had witnessed the effects of how leadership programs, when deployed in rural areas, could help to lift up and transform whole communities, impacting lives beyond expectations.
As anyone who knows me well will tell you, I tend to get impatient when I have an idea pop into my head. Seeing how one or two young people could be so transformed as to affect their whole community, I thought, “Why stop at one or two? Why isn’t there a social enterprise doing this for many youngsters throughout our country?”
Of course, I then thought that I needed to start such an enterprise (why to wait for someone else, right?), and so together with Hui Ming we teamed up with some hard-working, driven friends and we decided to put our collective skill sets to even better use than we’d previously been doing for various global MNCs (after all that what would be better than transforming own nation!)
The idea was really to serve a cause much greater than ourselves. We wanted to develop leaders, build communities of love, and transform the nation, one leader at a time. A lot of people still say it’s an impossible vision. But deep down we know that everything achieved was once thought impossible. Just look at the stories of Benjamin Franklin, Stephen Hawking, Rosa Parks, and Roger Bannister to name just a few who achieved the “impossible”.
Over the past 13 years, Leaderonomics has enjoyed countless highs and navigated several lows, and we’ve had to adapt to the winds of change along the way. It hasn’t always been an easy journey, but it has always been a rewarding✨ one, and I personally feel so blessed to have met countless inspirational people who have been – and continue to be – part of the Leaderonomics story and family.
When I started this social enterprise, I had little knowledge of how to run it. Sure, I had decades of experience working across Asia, Europe, and the US in leadership roles for companies such as General Electric, Johnson & Johnson, and NBC Universal…but this was an entirely new ball game.
I’ve always preferred to learn by doing, so we just dug in and kickstarted operations. As a friend once told me, “You’re the kind of guy who would jump out of an airplane and figure out how to build a parachute on the way down!” I’m 90% sure he meant that as a compliment!
As we began our journey in mid-2008, the leadership team was initially driven solely by our vision to develop leadership here in Malaysia. Wherever you go, there’s just so much talent, and I felt that so many young people were missing out on the kind of development that would truly make them flourish.
We wanted to change that and so, for the past 13 years, I’ve led a social enterprise whose members, both past and present, proudly made the vision their own and helped us to develop leaders across all levels, through many programs and initiatives, whether they be in schools, universities, or through our popular leadership camps. We also transitioned to help other companies and institutions to nurture their own leadership pipelines and enhance their current leadership approaches.
Everything we’ve done has been geared towards one shared goal: helping to make Malaysia the best that it can be, by developing the leadership talent of tomorrow and extending a helping hand to those who need to be lifted up to see the limitless talent they possess. Circumstances should never limit a person’s growth, especially when they have the potential to pay so much forward to their communities and wider society.
So, what have I learned over this past decade of being at the helm of Leaderonomics?
Here are four key🔑 lessons I feel have really opened my eyes up to what it means to follow your passion and bring your vision to life:
➡️ You will need to constantly learn, unlearn and relearn – This is possibly my biggest lesson. In the early years, it was all about figuring out our USP, value proposition, and product-market fit. We kept developing new products and services and were quick to market, establishing ourselves as an innovative, pioneering organization. We quickly built a content business and even started growing it with a weekly newspaper pullout that was highly profitable. However, as the digital wave swept the world, we had to unlearn all the ways we knew to communicate, teach, develop programs, and even how engaged and develired on our promises.
We experimented crazily on so many different digital platforms, spent millions building new tech (even from the early days), and kept unlearning and relearning new ways to scale the business. This happened continuously and the COVID-19 pandemic, it helped our need to unlearn and relearn and change even more rapidly. That is the biggest lesson I learned as the leader of this organization.
➡️ You have to be patient…but also impatient – Whether it was setting up our media arm or our digital platforms later on, I had people tell me the same thing, “You need to slow down and wait a while.” No doubt their advice was well-intended, but I don’t have the patience to wait.
Why can’t something be done in three months instead of six? Why does there need to be so much deliberation when there’s a wonderful opportunity staring at us? While I’m impatient to get things going, I also have the patience to realize transformations don’t happen overnight. Even when we get ideas off the ground, we have to make what we deploy effective, and then we can start to see the results coming in. If you expect major change immediately, you’ll be sorely disappointed. Be impatient on the micro level, but patient on the macro level.
➡️ Never fear failure – it’s the surest way to lose your faith – In Dan Brown’s book, Origin, an AI program explains to his human companion that computers have one distinct advantage over humans: they never lose heart. It describes how it could fail at a problem a billion times and still maintain the same enthusiasm looking for a solution.
Conversely, we humans tend to lose heart very quickly, and that can be so demotivating. As Thomas Edison said, many of us quit just when success is starting to appear around the corner. Life is full of challenges, obstacles, and setbacks – struggles are what makes success taste so sweet when it comes. Never fear failure – learn from it, and make it your teacher.
➡️ Never forget your Why – It can be so easy to get caught up in the daily tasks, meetings, and other commitments when you lead an organization, to the point where you lose perspective of why you signed up for this venture in the first place. Whenever I feel myself getting critical or dismayed, a voice appears and reminds me, “Remember your reason for starting this journey…keep going.” Being reminded of the Why of Leaderonomics helps me to refocus and renew my energies, ready to take on the next challenge, knowing that overcoming it will help to take the team closer to seeing our vision manifest.
I constantly am grateful to Hui Ming, who has been my business partner for all these 13 years and has been resolute in driving the vision, together with the more than 1000 people who have been and still are part of this amazing journey with us.
As the African Proverb says, “if we want to go quick, go alone; but if we want to go far, go together.”
Looking forward to more amazing partnerships and friendships👬 with us as we journey to the next era of our growth and scaling!