Writing his first book is a dream come true for entrepreneur millionaire Datuk Azrin Mohd Noor. The non-conformist shares his unconventional stance in life with Putri Zanina
HE looks different from CEOs I have met in the past. Oh, pardon me, Datuk Azrin Mohd Noor’s not a CEO, but Group CEO and founder of his own company.
So how’s he different? For a start, he wears jeans to office. And you simply can’t miss those fiery red sports shoes. Some days, he prefers the orange pair. In fact, you’re drawn to the shoes before you even look at his face. When you do look up, you’ll see just a tinge of friendliness on a rather serious face with deep-set, blood-shot eyes indicating a serious thinker who has little sleep.
Azrin is the new kind of CEO in town. His style may be unacceptable to many but with the Internet spawning tech-savvy, unconventional business owners whose age can get school teachers going ga-ga, the mindset about what a typical CEO looks like needs to shift. Out goes business suits and in comes bold, even outlandish signature styles that underscores the CEO’s personal style.
“We should not succumb to pressure dictating what we are ‘allowed’ to be and do,” says Azrin, making himself comfortable in the lounge area of his office at Kelana Parkview Tower in Kelana Jaya, Selangor. With such a statement, it’s not surprising that his first book is simply titled Non-Conforming.
ONE IN A MILLION
Writing a book is his way of offering his insights, lessons, experiences, philosophies and principles, especially to inspire and motivate the young generation. It’s one of the many dreams which the 44-year-old, London-born and UK-trained lawyer–turned–entrepreneur has achieved.
Though it has taken one long year to finish writing and publishing the book, he says it has all been worth it. “I didn’t know much about the whole process so I learnt from my book project team along the way. In the end, I achieved one of my dreams.”
When he was in his teens, he dreamt of becoming a millionaire. And he did, at 29. With him, it has never been a question of “if” but “when”. Strong-willed, focused and committed, he will go on to achieve all his dreams, even if it means losing much sleep.
Non-Conforming marks yet another milestone for the self-made, award-winning founder of Sedania Group, with activities that include mobile innovation, television content creation, advertising and consumer engagement, energy research and development and travel solutions. His accolades include Deloitte Technology Fast 500, Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year - Top Nominee in Master Category and most recently, the Global Leadership Award in Technology Sector.
Innovative and forward-thinking, he has steered Sedania to chart new waters in the never-heard-before “fulfilment” industry which he created in 2003 to fulfill the needs of global consumers. In just a decade, Sedania has expanded to Indonesia, Vietnam, Cambodia, Bangladesh, Singapore, Thailand and The Philippines.
Why Non-Conforming, I ask.
He replies: “I have my own thought process that doesn’t necessarily conform to the norm. I don’t simply follow even when people say a certain thing is always done a certain way. I can absorb tonnes of data, listen to many views but in the end, I decide using my own thought process based on the facts available and my own specific conditions.”
KNOWLEDGE IS POWER
To have the right thought process, he explains, you must learn to always ask the right questions. “If you ask the wrong question, you’ll definitely get the wrong answer. Only by asking the right question will you have the chance of getting the right answer,” he says.
How do we know what the right questions are? What are the wrong questions? Azrin explains: “People tend to question how other people are born better or born into rich and powerful families. Then they start to wonder why they’re not that lucky. Instead of looking at yourself from that perspective, why not change it and say, “If I live until I am 50 and the knowledge of all people in this world is like a drop in the ocean, and if I try to understand what the rest of the ocean promises, wouldn’t there be lots of possibilities for me? Wouldn’t I achieve much more for myself?
“Our Creator said if all the knowledge of man is pooled together, it’s not even like a drop in the ocean. To me it means there’s a lot that we humans don’t know and have yet to explore. And there are many more new industries and products waiting to be found.”
What’s not in that drop of the ocean is up for grabs. “Think about it!” he urges. “Aren’t the possibilities endless? It’s also important to get the right knowledge for it’s a powerful tool to realise one’s true potential.”
He observes that most people don’t bother to know more than drop in the ocean. “It’s a very profound proposition and it’s only for those who understand the underlying meaning and dare to swim to get it. Those who don’t will just swim near the shore - only at a level that they understand.”
In business especially, Azrin doesn’t like to “swim” where thousands have swum before. So he crosses the boundary of that congested pool and heads for unchartered waters. Because he’s non-conforming and dares to go where others haven’t gone before, he’s now ahead of his game. Today, he is a highly successful entrepreneur with a bagful of innovative, global products, the result of him creating and pioneering the fulfilment industry.
Among many of his business ventures are the partnership with Blackberry’s RIM and the creation of award-winning intellectual properties for mobile such as Airtime Share (buying and sharing of airtime), Green Billing (managing and paying bills via mobile phone), LocalSIMKad (mobile phone SIM card that allows one to enjoy local charges when one travels overseas) and As-Sidq (fully syariah-compliant Islamic personal financing product).
When venturing into new business territories, Azrin admits that he often doesn’t know the rules. So he creates his own. It’s a bit like the Calvin & Hobbes cartoon, his favourite. For the uninitiated, the cartoons feature the imaginative adventures of Calvin and his tiger, Hobbes. It’s a make-believe tiger toy but for Calvin it’s real. And he creates all sorts of games and plays with the tiger. But the tiger always wins because it creates its own rules.
“I’ve adopted the concept. I create, so I set the rules,” he says, adding that the process of creating global products can follow some very simple steps which he outlines in his book. One must never downplay the power of dreaming, he says. A lot of things that happen begin with a dream.
MAKING DREAMS WORK
A dream will push the boundaries of what’s limited only by your mind, says Azrin. “But a dream will stay a dream if you don’t apply strategies to it, if you don’t apply your thinking process to it and if you don’t go on and implement it,” he says.
Having a dream is a good start. What’s needed next is to take action. This is where many people fail, he notes. “They give up. So their dream remains a dream. As for me, when I really want something, I’ll put everything in place to get it. Like when I dreamt of becoming a millionaire, I planned my strategies to get there.”
How did he get there? He laid his foundation by first acquiring knowledge and experience. He joined Astro in its pioneering days in mid-1990s and eventually became the country’s first intellectual property (IP) specialist in the field of syndicated TV programmes. He led the production of award-winning and localised syndicated programmes, such as the hugely popular Roda Impian, based on the concept of the Wheel Of Fortune. He also secured more rights to air live football matches from the English Premier League (EPL), the Union of European Football Association (UEFA) and others.
He says a programme is intangible and it can exist in perpetuity. It can be resold over and over and you still hold the IP rights. It was on this premise that he left Astro and formed his own company. His first syndication deal to air UEFA Champions League matches in Malaysia was worth RM3.5 million and he became an instant millionaire. Then he went on to secure the biggest syndicated game show in the world, Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, and produced the local version. It was a fitting programme coming from a millionaire himself.
Foreseeing consumer demand for IPs shifting from television to mobile even way back in 2003, Azrin swiftly shifted to developing IPs for mobile under Sedania’s stable of products and services.
A NEW DREAM
So what’s next? Azrin has a new dream. He wants to be a billionaire! But his vision is not all about money. He says: “A billion ringgit can empower me to do more things and to touch as many souls as positively as possible. Being strong enough financially will enable me to be in a much stronger position to make positive changes. I’d like to help to make changes in the country.
“And it’s based on this observation: If Bill Gates, being the richest man in the world, can have a say on how the USA should progress, likewise I could do the same for my country. I want to take a similar route to try and improve lives through education and other means. You need money to help make changes.”
Despite his millionaire status, Azrin remains rooted in values. This father of four places priority on family values and balances his life with strong religious convictions. These, in fact, are part of his recipe for success.
“When it comes to Islam, I conform. I just don’t conform to another human being’s expectations. My philosophy is this: If it’s man-made, it’s meant to be changed or improved.”
Azrin spends time with orphans and coaches kids football on weekends. He says he’s happiest when he has positively touched the lives of others, especially the young. He also gives regular talks in universities to help nurture future leaders and entrepreneurs. By writing his book, he hopes to extend his reach even more. Sharing his thoughts, beliefs and experiences is something which he would like to leave as his legacy, if not for the young, at least for posterity.
Non-Conforming by Datuk Azrin Mohd Noor (pp 224)
Available at most major bookstores. Details at www.facebook.com/Non-Conforming: Datuk Azrin’s 1st book