When I first started my company, Asia was reeling in the wake of the 1997 financial crisis. The situation was bleak – companies folded overnight, scores of people lost their jobs, the economy had collapsed. It’s a scenario familiar to many Americans since it would play out 10 years later with America at the epicenter of the 2008 global financial crisis. The loss of more than eight million jobs and trillions of dollars from retirement accounts. Lives and businesses ruined and whole neighborhoods emptied out.
It has been 20 years since I started my business and Asia today has a stronger economic outlook. It has been a decade for America and the economy has recovered in many ways. Does that mean we can finally relax? If there is one thing crisis teaches us it is that nothing can be taken for granted. Life is fragile and the comforts we enjoy could be snatched away at any moment.
I know many talented entrepreneurs who have built their businesses from the ground up through sheer hard work and resilience. Who risked everything to chase their dreams. These men and women embody the spirit of fearlessness that is necessary to succeed in a fragile, uncertain environment. In this new world we live in with the extreme threats of everything from gun violence, to road range to nuclear annihilation, it is imperative that we live with a sense of urgency.
What seems like another lifetime ago, I was once a complacent youth coasting along waiting for life to happen to me. I did not know what I wanted to do with my life and was in no hurry to figure it out. It seemed like there was plenty of time. I failed to see my life was stagnating.
A chance encounter high in the mountains changed this perspective forever. Whilst trekking in the Himalayas I came across a monk meditating alone on the edge of a steep precipice. Beneath the sliver of rock on which he sat, the deep mountain valley stretched out below. One wrong step, one careless move, he was in danger of disappearing down into the abyss.
“When people ask me what the secret to success is, they probably expect me to share a formula. I wish there was one.”
I watched transfixed for several minutes, amazed by how calmly the young monk rose from his position, stretched, and began making his way back up the mountain trail. Wanting to understand the secret of his tranquility in the face of danger, I rushed after him.
“How can you do that?” I asked, “Isn’t it dangerous to teeter on the edge of such an abyss?”
His reply was as profound as it was simple: “Are we all not just two minutes from the abyss anyway?”
His words shook me from my stupor. How right he was. All these years later, in these uncertain times, his simple words are more relevant than ever.
My work in building the QI Group is the perfect example of the urgency that has driven me since that day in the Himalayas. I come from an average middle-class family in Malaysia, my college education was funded through a combination of scholarships and me driving a cab part-time. When I embarked on this journey of entrepreneurship, all I had was a dream, a business partner who believed in me, and a burning desire to succeed.
It has been 20 years and I am proud to say that we were able to build a global conglomerate together. Today, the QI Group has interests in industries as diverse as retail, direct selling, hospitality, education and real estate.
Every time we expanded into a new market, or made an investment, or launched a new product, we were taking a risk, and my advisors made sure I knew it. But our sense of urgency and sense of adventure paid off – we started 1998 with nothing and by 2003, we had expanded to over 30 countries! Without this chance encounter with a danger loving monk high in the mountains, my life would look very different.
Today, the organization has grown into a multi-million-dollar company, and I am proud to say that our businesses have empowered more than one million entrepreneurs around the world to take control of their lives and follow their dreams. The common theme for those that succeeded was approaching life with a sense of vitality and urgency.
When people ask me what the secret to success is, they probably expect me to share a formula. I wish there was one. In my new book Two Minutes from the Abyss, I try to share some principles that have held me in good stead through my journey. Mind you, I do not offer a blueprint for success in it. Too many successful entrepreneurs mislead people into believing that the only way to succeed is by following their instructions. Instead, the book is a thinking tool, a way to help each individual analyze their own unique circumstances, and develop a sense of urgency to achieve their goals.
The reality is that there is no one path to success. Each individual must be able to assess their strengths and develop their own unique path to achieving their goals.