Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Nice Guy Who Finishes First

The Young Pariah from Pasir Ris GRC is exceedingly upset with me because I told him that he doesn't have what it takes to play politics and climb the corporate ladder. Instead of being enamoured with the more glamorous people in my life like Datuk Vinod Shekar of Malaysia's Petra Group, I told him he should follow the example of Bijay, the Naan Maker. Bijay has a simple formula for success - find a skill, hone it and work very hard. Sooner or later, you get the breaks that you need.

His reaction was "FUCK YOU. Bijay?!?!?" I know why he's upset - Bijay works in a kitchen and in the Young Pariah's eyes, he's too good for that. At the age of 20, he's learnt the key to success - join a political party's comity, thus learning the art of absolving yourself of all responsibility and developing a mentality that you're entitled to huge salaries for doing nothing.
In his mindset, the very idea that the path to success requires an ounce of honest work is a major anathema.

To be fair to the Young Pariah, he's not alone when it comes to looking down on certain professions. I have met top notch executives who have been retrenched but would rather do nothing than work as a cook or waiter or dare I say a dishwasher. In the minds of many Singaporeans, it is nobler to live off your friends than it is to actually wait on tables or scrub a few floors. Doing that is considered a sign of failure, I guess.

However, when I look at my friends, I think Bijay, the Naan Maker has achieved the most. Let's start with where he came from and then look at where he is today. Five years ago, Bijay was in the shit. His wife of a decade decided to walk on him and to take his beautiful daughter. As a result, he had to leave the house, which was in her name. He went from a Executive apartment to sharing a space on a floor for migrant workers. His job paid him a grand total of S$1,500 a month and he worked a 12-hour night shift for a roadside store in Little India (It's actually on the junction of the downgraded Red Light District).

Didn't help that he got himself a girlfriend, who subsequently became his wife. Lazy cow decided that she wasn't going to work and so Bijay had to find a way of stretching that S$1,500.

Somehow the guy persevered. His manner was such people liked him and one day, he got a lucky break. Today, he is the Sous Chef (Number two in the Kitchen - he's in charge of the Indian food) in a five-star hotel (Orchard Hotel). His income has shot up from $1,500 a month to S$3,000 today. He has found the means of buying his own property and he manages to support his wife and new baby on his single income.

Now, if you look at the way he's moved from a cook in a street side shop to being a sous chef, in a five-star hotel, you cannot argue that this man has not moved in the world. You would say that this is a bigger leap than say an assistant brand manager in a multinational becoming a brand manager. When you look at the fact that he's an immigrant from Nepal, with what barely passes for O-levels, his achievements are even more amazing.

How could this guy move up in the world? His education is minimal. His English is passable but not good. He speaks no Chinese, Mandarin or Malay. You cannot call him the brightest spark in the room.

Having said all of that, there is a simple secret to this guy's achievements. He keeps things simple. He does his job and he goes out of his way to ensure that customer satisfaction in assured. What he lacks in natural wit, he more than makes up for with an exceedingly likable personality and an ability for hard work.

Sometimes being simple and likable has its drawbacks. Bijay has an attachment called "Macha Pundek," his former brother-in-law who is constantly trying to find ways to scam money of Bijay. He's even tried it with me - after my second meeting, he decided that he wanted to talk about doing "Big Business." Yeah, right, like I'm going to rush into doing business with a chap who can't pick up a round of drinks but is exceedingly generous when you're picking up the rounds.

However, being nice has lots of benefits - namely everyone likes you and when you are not nasty to people, nobody wants to be nasty to you. OK, let me phrase that, once in a while, some shit may decide to be nasty to you and because you're so nice to everyone - they'll kick the shit out of the nasty.

Personality counts and Bijay has that in his favour. He's polite and respectful and somehow, when it comes round to Chinese New Year, you find Chinese customers being generous in their Ang Pao's to him (more so than to the Mainland Chinese staff). When you're nice people want you to succeed.

There is a simple law of Karma - which give and you shall receive. Bijay was a good employee to his previous bosses. As such, they'll always welcome him back and the guy will never be out of a job.

Bijay, in many ways reminds of Forrest Gump. A simple fellow who does good things with the purest of intentions. Somehow he gets people to be on his side and he ends up in the right direction.

We live in a violent and complicated world. Sometimes you have to get nasty to get what is due to you. I surprise myself by the extent that I sometimes have to go through in order to get simple things. I live in a world of complications. I take my most recent project, which a business partner rightly describes as being like "mee siam" - which to non Asians is a dish made up of very thin noodles - it's impossible to take out the bits and pieces. Because I live in a world of complications, people like me end up pursuing complicated pleasures.

By contrast, Bijay keeps life simple. He does a job, is good at it and his personality is appreciated by everyone around him. He also keeps his needs simple. His house is an ordinary 3-room HDB. He and his wife share the house with some friends who provide some financial contributions to the mortgage and hey - they live pretty darn comfortably for a family with only one-income (something which people from a higher income range can't manage).

Meet the man and look at where he came from and where he is today. It gives you faith in the human spirit and things that are important. It makes you realise that in this crude and nasty world, nice guys can finish first by being......nice. It's a lesson most of us could do well to remember

No comments: