Up Close & Personal with Instacom Group Bhd CEO Anne Kung
BY CHERYL POO
ANNE Kung has made her career count.
A lawyer who later took on an accounting qualification as well, she paved her way first in a law firm, then corporate recovery in several industries from retail, manufacturing and financial institutions before moving on to business development and finally, into director roles.
This past decade, the Kuching native has made her presence known in the telecoms industry through her role as Instacom Group Bhd chief executive officer (and executive director as of last October).
At first impression, Kung comes across as frank, assertive, matter-of-fact; and from her narrative, a go-getter, resourceful and unapologetic about what she wants, why she wants it and how she will get there.
She makes for an eloquent conversationalist, needing little prompting for elaborate answers. In fact, she arrived at this lunch interview famished but much of her salad is untouched as she regales her 30-year career in the corporates and key lessons from it.
She remembers that people were not surprised when she joined the industry without experience in telecommunication.
“They already knew of my abilities and their respect for me heightened when I secured the necessary contracts,” she says. “And then the public got a pleasant surprise as things started turning around for the better when major contracts rolled in.”
Instacom was founded by a group of experienced civil, mechanical and electrical contractors and was still in its infancy when Kung came on board.
Kung was intrigued that the total solutions company had done some RM3mil in turnover without capital funding.
It had all been done on the executive director’s credit card and at that time, there wasn’t even enough money to pay their 60 staff members.
“For two weeks, I sat with the team, nagged at them, and pulled details on how the business was being run,” Kung says.
She learned that the company had RM6mil worth of work that hadn’t been invoiced.
“They were good at delivery and known in the industry for good work,” Kung says.
She also credits Axiata Group Bhd president and CEO Datuk Seri Jamaludin Ibrahim (formerly group CEO at Maxis Communications Bhd, Instacom’s early client) for his modality in getting the company off the ground with their network rollout through vendor financing in the early days when business was still limping along.
In the first six months, Kung sought funding from the bank based on her relationship with them, offering personal guarantees of up to RM4mil.
The capital intensive industry didn’t allow progress clamps, she says, everything had to be rolled out.
Malaysia Debt Ventures Bhd (MDV) showed its support by giving Kung a RM43mil colateral.
“They had faith in our ability to do work. They took on receivables and to this day, I can’t thank them enough for giving me that break,” Kung says. “But I was very firm with my team. I said: You must listen to me. If this sum has to last us a month, it has to. It was cash for survival.”
As it happened, they ran out half a year later, and that’s when Kung took it up with the bond market and convinced them to give her RM200mil.
She recalls that people were astounded that such a small company had managed to achieve all that without a single penny into capital.
“All that was because my accounting and legal background allowed me to understand what it took. I talked to rating guys, accountants, I drew up seven-year projections – all of which funding couldn’t have been gotten without. And without funding, the business couldn’t grow.”
“We never put our own money down. It was sheer sweat equity.”
In those difficult years when many companies were going under, Kung came away with a lesson that proved to go a long way: Learn from others’ mistakes.
Over the decade, there have been many interesting aspects to her work in the various sectors especially the friendships with work affiliates.
Her work as business development manager for Encorp Sdn Bhd in the early 1990s quickly comes to mind as she remembers her working relationship with Datuk Seri Effendi Norwawi, who was a member of parliament at that time.
At that time, she was also finance director at then Quality Concrete Sdn Bhd, a major manufacturer of ready-mixed concrete and concrete products in Sarawak.
(At that time, Kung was responsible for putting in place an expansion plan to enable the company to list on the Kuala Lumpur Stock Exchange.)
“Effendi had various investments, so I took on Quality Concrete,” she says.
She was his first CEO, running the business for three years until he became Agriculture Minister and had to relinquish his stakes.
She remembers her former employer as an “incredibly charming, charismatic person who never raised his voice even to the lowliest in hierarchy”.
Then, there were the hard knocks that helped Kung wise up, like the time she was deceived into a recycling business where she lost half a million ringgit.
She says: “I was young, gullible and I put my guarantees on the line. I was shocked that it happened but three months down the line, I felt relieved. Those guys went on to another lady, and then to another and those ladies and I have been friends since.”
It was a costly lesson, and Kung became a better discerner from it.
Finally, she takes a dig at her meal and the conversation lightens. We talk about her children and her need for time-out from work several times a year – with the family, another with just her husband, then with her girlfriends and another just by herself. Work-life balance, she says, has been worked out thanks to the smartphone.
There was a time when people couldn’t imagine paying RM150 every month for a line, Kung says. “Today, they can’t do without it.”
She picks up her mobile phone.
“This is such an enabler. Today I can take off and still attend to business at home. The industry is growing with such astounding leaps and bounds. The business is continually evolving and you just can’t tell what’s coming,” Kung says.
All we know is that people are beginning to understand the potential in teleconnectivity,” she adds. “People now want instant access.”
“I don’t do five-year projections anymore. Samsung has just announced that 5G will be ready soon but we haven’t even launched our 4G services,” she says, explaining that telecommunication needs companies like Instacom to build its equipment in upgrading the technology from 2G to 3G, 4G, long-term evolution and more.
“It’s very expensive but it increases national productivity,” Kung says.
Kung wants to keep building up Instacom’s streams of income, raise its staff count up to 500 and not have to worry about their next paychecks.
“When the time is right, I want to get involved with the Gramin Bank. I want to transmit what I know,” she says.
Highest qualification: LLB from LSE
Career: Lawyer for 4 years in Kuching after called to the High Court of Borneo, chartered accountant at Deloitte Touche London with an ICAEW, CEO of Quality Concrete Bhd before joining Instacom
Hobbies: bread-making and travelling
Favourite place: London
Favourite food: Kuching kolok mee and laksa
Values: loyalty and tenacity
Inspiration: No guts, no glory
Publish date: 17/08/13