A true blue Proton staff: Work-oriented performer converting plans, numbers to result

Lim left Proton in September 2012 and came back in December 2017. He says he never really left Proton as it has always been in his heart and when the opportunity came the 2nd time, it was just the right time to come back to Proton

pic credit: PROTON

Q: Tell us a little bit about yourself. How long have you been in the automotive industry?

I have been in the automotive industry since 2000, 20 years to be exact. I graduated from the University of Coventry, UK, majoring in Business Administration. I started with Edaran Otomobil Nasional Bhd (Proton Holdings Bhd’s super dealer at that time) as an executive, and subsequently I moved up the corporate ladder and held various management positions under the group, with experiences in used-car management, collision repair and corporate fleet before joining Proton international sales division in 2009 and responsible for Proton export markets such as Indonesia, Australia, Singapore, the UK and the Middle East. I left Proton in September 2012 and came back in December 2017.

Q: You got back to Proton. What made you decide to come back?

When I left Proton at that time, it was more about the idea of exploring opportunities with a global Japanese brand, focusing specifically on the Asean market, or rather, CMLV countries (Cambodia, Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam) in particular.

I think we all had those moments where we needed to experience what is over the horizon. The experience was good. However, I never really left Proton. It has always been in my heart, and when the opportunity came the second time, it was just the right time.

Q: Was money part of that motivation?

Yes and no. Because, I believe that the excitement from monetary gain is usually only temporary. The money is just the sweetener, nice to have, but this also means shouldering bigger responsibilities. The main driving force was, and always will be, the intention to be part of the team and challenge the status quo.

The larger motivation was to get Proton back on track and into its glory days.

Q: Since you joined back Proton in late 2017, you have been promoted twice within a year, and now you assume the position of the director of sales. You must be doing a lot of right things for the company.

It is everyone’s effort which contribute to the overall achievement and results that the company desire. Basically for me, for goals to turn to reality — the drive to succeed must be present.

We need to be passionate in the work we do and always strive to deliver our best. Being hardworking is another determinant. We should always do more than what is expected of us and be a team player. Another important aspect that I always remind myself — is to be fair and transparent. When all these are aligned, success at whatever we do usually follows.

Broadly, one of my main tasks is basically to oversee that the sales and distribution channels are running smoothly, and that the production forecast and ordering are well in place.

This forms one of the backbones of running sales. Hence, it is imperative to see that there are no hiccups which may thwart the delivery of vehicles to customers.

At the very core, whatever we plan to do is to ensure that we deliver our best services to meet customers’ expectations. This is very important. Apart from this, equally important is managing the authorised outlets to deliver intended sales target.

If I can share with you, I haven’t really taken any leave for the past 2½ years, as most of the time is taken up to ensure that we deliver the results. Like anyone else chasing numbers and goals, there are sacrifices to be made. For our achievement in 2019, I am extremely proud that our focus was right on track.

Q: How challenging is it managing the dealers?

Very challenging. But, not something which is unexpected or surprising. It is manageable. Everyone has their views and a lot of times, opinion differs. But what is important is to understand their predicaments, their concerns and working to find solutions to those issues or problems. Often our decisions cannot please everyone. But I am happy to note that our dealers are working hard to fulfil their commitment towards the brand, and they all want to do their best. Hence, when things do not go as expected, situations happen. This is when we need to communicate with them to avoid any ambiguity from a business perspective.

All in, we have really good dealers and it is a joy to work with them, professionally. They are good at what they do. And the more I get to know them, I get to see their life motivation and what inspires them in life helps me in my work when I deal with them.

One of the things I always say to dealers is this: “Don’t waste your time finding reasons to justify why you cannot achieve the target — just spend more time to look for ways on how you can sell more.”

Q: How do you deal with the stress that comes from dealer owners? Is there a difference between male and female business owners?

Well, all work can be stressful if there is no proper planning, and believe it or not, stress is part of the work. It is packaged in the work.

We cannot run away from it. What is important is to focus on what is most crucial, and prioritise, and delegate the rest.

Of course, there are times when everything on your plate seems equally important. When this happens, I can fall back on my team to deliver what it takes. We all work together and the synergy between us is great.

Male owners are usually more outspoken, aggressive, while lady owners tend to be more subtle. My approach is always need-based.

I hear them out and see where we can meet in the middle, to find a common ground. I think this way, it is fair and it makes everyone happy. That said, I also work closely with Proton Edar Dealers Association (PEDA) to ensure dealers’ issues are addressed effectively.

Q: And what about those who are possibly more business savvy than yourself? How do you manage them? Do they listen to you?

I like the fact that we have, among us, very successful dealers. Some of the new dealers are also dealers who have established themselves with other car marques in the market, even competitor brands. So, at Proton we actually have an unlimited pool of talent that we can tap into. They bring with them different levels of professionalism, business aptitude and business acumen. At the sales division, it is a normal practice for us to seek and adopt dealers’ views in making certain decisions related to sales policies and market acceptance.

For me personally, it is not so much whether they listen to me, but how we can work together in order for Proton to grow from strength to strength, and gain the trust and confidence from consumers.

We need to constantly think of how we can convert buyers from other brands to consider Proton as a choice. The question is how do we do that? How can we ensure all dealerships are profitable? At the end of the day, it is about meeting the company’s objectives and deliverables.

Q: How proud are you of your dealers?

Very. They are committed, serious and they work hard in trying to make a difference. The numbers will not be possible without their effort and contributions. Their dedication is second to none. I am extremely proud of their achievement. It also means that they have a lot of faith in the brand. My meetings with them are always lively. We give feedback, and among dealers, there is a healthy competition. So this is very good. Competition breeds excellence.

Q: We observe that 2019 was a turning point in the market. Proton sales hit past the 100,000 units mark. How did that happen?

The 2019 results were a very satisfying one for us. Under the guidance and stewardship of Dr Li Chunrong, our CEO, we managed to outperform the target set for the year. The plan was to sell 96,000 units for 2019. We sold 100,821. For the record, we have not hit pass 100,000 units since 2015, hence, this is a delightful news.

I think that somewhere in the middle of last year, some of us were wondering whether we could pull this one off. We didn’t want to lose sight of the end target so we kept going, and December was a crucial one. It turned out to be a five-figure number for that month. 11,117 to be exact. That actually sealed the deal. I think everyone really gave their best in making sure that we pass 100,000 units. So when we finally did it, it was an exciting moment of celebration. It felt as if it was not over until the final whistle was blown. I think the sales team actually partied at the end of the sales closing date. It was a well-deserved one — evidence of great team spirit and teamwork.

This record sale has also marked another important milestone in my career. I am really honoured and proud witnessing this success.

Q: We can see that sales for January and February this year surpassed that of last year’s. Proton is really pushing hard. Usually February is a slow-down month, considering it is just after Chinese New Year. Proton did otherwise. How do you see the trend for the rest of the year?

We are happy that our sales are on an increasing trend. Nothing feels better than this. Our February sales were fantastic. We sold 9,974 units. We championed almost all the segments. Our Persona, Iriz, Exora and the X70 were all leaders in their respective segments. Proton market share rose to 23.8%, the highest since August 2013.

Going into the rest of the year, we will take each day as it comes and work towards the intended target. The intention is to sell as many cars as possible. The more we sell, the better it is for us.

Q: Let us get to know the other side of you. How cool are you as a person on a scale of 1-10?

Well…that depends on the situation. Is the platform a serious one or a goofy one? Haha. I think I am OK, on the coolness level. And if you ask me, definitely my answer would be a 10!

But I am a very serious person when it comes to business. For this, I think I will probably score on the negative scale! I am demanding and I expect the best from my team.

Q: Tell us something we don’t know about you?

I was brought up in Kota Baru, Kelantan, a small town where most people there live a simple life. I guess this has somehow influenced my personality, to be kind and sincere. As I’m from Kelantan, my “loghat Kelate” is perfect, and naturally, because of this, I can also communicate well in Bahasa Malaysia. I can also speak good Mandarin as I went to a Chinese school.

If there’s anything you should know is that, I love local Kelantan delicacies more than nasi lemak! They are the best.

According to Lim, the 2019 results were very satisfying for Proton and under the guidance and stewardship of CEO Li, they managed to outperform the target set for the year – pic by ARIF KARTONO

Q: How were you as a kid?

A good one! I was an obedient kid. And because I was the eldest, I was actually more grounded than my younger siblings. I have two younger brothers and a sister. I was also the Head Boy in school — so you see, I was already assuming leadership roles early on in life! (Said in jest.)

Q: What do you do to keep your stress level in check?

I try to exercise whenever I can. Normally every weekend I will have an hour’s walk around my housing area. I also watch the food I eat. Mostly, I enjoy the time with my two young daughters. That’s the time I could really relax.

Q: What makes you happy?

Good sales result, of course! And being able to spend quality time with my family and loved ones. It is very important. It is the reason I work hard, so that I can give the best to them. When they are happy, I am happy. Happiness is also seeing the organisation that I work in, ie Proton, fly high and blaze trails, and importantly, being part of it.

Q: One last question. Who do you admire in life, and why?

The late Tan Sri Lim Goh Tong who was the founder of Genting Bhd. I admire his work ethics. His tenacity in crafting business deals, his relentless pursuit of his dreams, his imagination and his far-sightedness in looking for business opportunities, and importantly, having developed a sustainable business model for future generations.