By Sunita Chhabra
Her World April 1994
Creativity, flexibility and a strong streak of daredevil is what it takes to succeed against all odds.
One can’t help but admire Pat Lu for her sheer guts. How many among us would dare to set up a business with only two hundred ringgit in our pocket?
After Form Five in Assunta Secondary Girls’ school, she went to India to complete her A-levels. She says, “I learnt a lot of things, like survival, in India. You also learn not to take anything for granted.”
When she came home, she was persuaded by her parents to take up computer studies but soon found that she didn’t have the aptitude for it. Then she chanced on an ‘easy’ way to make money - in the stockmarket. She was a ‘fund manager’ who handled money for friends who believed in her. Everyone was happy for they all made money.
Then came the bear run or slow down. After three months of not being able to make money, she was forced to look for a job. At 22, there wasn’t much that she could do and she became a receptionist cum general clerk. Within three months, however, her gift of the gab was noticed and she was promoted to the conference division as a conference coordinator.
After four years, she was approached by a headhunter to work as a conference manager. At the same time, a friend who was speaker at some of the conferences invited her to set up a business with him. Choosing was a dilemma. On the one hand was a job with a title and a steady income; on the other, was the exciting prospect of going into business as a partner.
When the two offers came, her last drawn salary was RM680.00 and she only had RM200 in her pocket. She asked herself, “How much worse can life be? What is the difference between RM200 and not earning for a few more months?” And, she turned down both offers to start her own company. Her family’s moral support helped tremendously. They couldn’t chip in financially and were shocked by her decision but her father said, “If you don’t try, you won’t know. Whatever happens, you will have food to eat and a roof over your head.”
Pat Lu had a vision. She wanted to be a millionaire by the time she was 30. She thought she would make the money out of the stockmarket but when that didn’t happen she bravely went on to another venture. “When I woke up one morning, it hit me that I only had four years left and I was nowhere near my dream. It was do or die!” She told herself that if she failed, it would be an experience but if it was a success…” And so Rayma Management Consultants was created. Her brother Edward started working for her and Patricia Kew was her dependable secretary. Today, both are vice-presidents of the company with Pat as the Chief Executive Officer.
With no money to rent an office, they used the backroom of Pat’s parents’ house during their first year. “We didn’t make money but we broke even”, she revealed.
How far can RM200 take you? You need to at least print brochures and advertise if you want to organize a successful seminar. What helped her was the support from suppliers. “I just approached the printer or advertising agency and told them what I wanted. When they quoted the price, I told them, ‘I have no money. If you agree to do the work for me, I agree to pay you within 60 days. If I fail, I may have to look for a job but I will return the money to you. If I succeed, you will be my advertising agency or printer for life.’ They all agreed. After all, it only cost them about RM2000 or so, and they didn’t have much to lose.”
However, the hotel people did not agree. They insisted on a deposit because many conference organizers were losing money at that time. She was disappointed. Then she came across an article in a foreign magazine which explained how young entrepreneurs were using credit cards to help them start out.
So she decided to approach a bank. “I had no J form or any relevant document but surprisingly Hongkong Bank agreed to give me credit card.” When collecting it, she remarked, “I didn’t know it is so easy to get a card.” The person who handed the card over revealed that her boss had spoken to Pat on the phone when Pat was working with her previous employers. He believed that she would honour the credit as she is a person of integrity. Apparently she was very honest when asked whether a seminar they organized was worth attending. “If they blindly paid the fees and signed up, it was fine. However, if they asked me whether a seminar was worth attending and it wasn’t, I would tell them the truth. When holding seminars, we must make sure a speaker can deliver. Even if the topic is very interesting, it is not worth it if the speaker cannot convey the message to the participants.”
Says Pat, “Your reputation is your life sentence. Honesty is still the best policy. I am telling you this from my personal experience. It takes you a long way. Once people have the trust in you, they will support you both in good and bad times.”
After a year, they rented a proper office and had their first major seminar led by Dr Eduardo Roberto, a leading authority in marketing research. The first three years were the toughest. She could have given up many times. “There was a time when the three of us had to share a Maggi mee for lunch. We just had no money. But we always decided to give it the one last shot.”
When it comes to daring, it is hard to beat Pat with her all-or-nothing attitude.
In their third year, they wanted to buy the present Rayma building. She only had about RM60,000 but nevertheless, they went to the auction and bid for the building - and got it for RM512,000. How was she going to pay the remaining sum? She remembers going to seven banks and getting rejected by all of them. The seminar business was competitive and they were all considered too young. Furthermore, they had no ‘connections’. She had come to crossroads again. To give up would mean losing the RM51,200 deposit.
They tried for the last time. When Public Bank first rejected them, Pat was at her wit’s end. The underlying message in her fax to them was bold - You have nothing to lose, take a chance on me - and she got her loan! She found out that requirements were based on some C’s like credibility, character etc, and she had scored high on character.
They brought in Professor Philip Kotler in 1991 and this was a good break. From then on business boomed. Prof Kotler was very happy with the organization and recommended Rayma to his friends. One by one, the management gurus came; nobody has managed to do this except Rayma. Pat vehemently believes that you must look for the top notch authorities on each subject.
Unfortunately, 1992 was a bad year. In January 1993, Pat called her staff together to tell them they could be heading for bad times and she could only promise salaries until March. If they wanted to find other jobs, they could go ahead. “But nobody left,” said Pat.
Then came the biggest break of all. Tom Peters, said to be the world’s foremost management guru and author of bestsellers like In Search Of Excellence, agreed to come. As a bonus, the Al Ries and Jack Trout team, marketing strategists and co-authors of bestsellers like Positioning: Battle For Your Mind, also agreed to come in the same month, May.
Tom Peters’ fee was US$80,000 and he wanted half before he came. Explained Pat, “Someone got the bright idea of getting a sponsor and Hongkong Bank came in. Then we wondered how we could get enough people to attend the seminar in such a short time.” Her brother Edward jokingly said, “Let’s go on airtime!” It would have cost them at least RM300,000 and they didn’t have the money. “We decided to talk to TV3 and sent a proposal on whether they wanted to sponsor airtime. We were stunned when they agreed with the proposal. Then The New Straits Times came in as the Official Newspaper and Malaysian Business came in as the official magazine. Of course, the seminars were resounding successes.
“So, do you see the interplay or not? Age is not against you. It’s up here,” Pat emphasized, pointing to her head. “You have to be creative, flexible and a daredevil. You must go against all odds to succeed.”
Rayma is now one of Malaysia’s leading conference organizers and business consultants. However, Pat Lu feels, “There’s still a lot more to be done. There is no such thing a stable company. If you don’t continue working on in, it will collapse.” They’ve gone from strength to strength and are now venturing into ‘successories’. These are self motivational posters, video training programmes and management books which you can buy through direct mail.
Pat Lu’s vision is for Rayma to have its own management center with its own training and accommodation facilities. A place with a swimming pool, tennis court and extensive library. “There are many golf and country resorts/clubs but no one is offering something which incorporates management training. It should be a place for businessmen to meet and improve themselves. Besides being a place where they can fulfill their staff training needs, it should also be a place to have fun, socialize, entertain clients and also spend quality time with their family.”
To Pat, nothing is impossible. “You must have a vision, no matter how unreachable.”
When she wants inspiration, this gutsy lady talks and plays with children. “They are so free with their thinking. We should be like kids. We should treat work like play. When work is not work but a toy, you can achieve a lot. I treat Rayma as a playground where my employees to treat their job as a game, “Win, lose or draw - a challenge to you everyday.”
Her message to all potential entrepreneurs: “Nothing come easy. But if you persevere in what you believe and work hard at it, you will succeed.” At 32, Pat Lu is quickly making all her dreams come true.