When you hear the name Datuk Wira Calvin Khiu, you might not immediately think of a business mogul. But that’s exactly what this self-made entrepreneur is, a maverick who went from attending a gas station to the brains behind the number one brand in the curtain industry of Malaysia.
On His Story
Like numerous entrepreneurs, Datuk Calvin did not start out with a clear goal of where to go.
Raised by his grandmother after his parents’ divorce, Datuk Calvin learned the value of hard work and determination at a very young age. Those traits would serve him well as he worked a variety of jobs; from a factory worker, gas station attendant and to even a salesman, before finally striking out on his own.
In 2005, Datuk Calvin started his first dip into the enterprise world with his first curtain store in Nilai 3, Malaysia with just three employees and a vision for success. And while it wasn’t an easy road, he faced bankruptcy not once, but twice, Datuk Calvin refused to give up. Instead, he developed his own management system, the “12 Steps of Outstanding Entrepreneurship” which would become the foundation of his success.
Using his own system, Datuk Calvin turned his business around and rose to the top of his industry. But he didn’t stop there. In 2016, after eleven years of entrepreneurship, he founded the OE EduGroup to share his knowledge and experience with the next generation of business leaders.
And his passion for helping others succeed is contagious. He wants to inspire and influence at least 10,000 entrepreneurs each year, and he is well on his way to achieving that goal.
But what makes Datuk Calvin stand out from the pack isn’t just his business acumen. It’s his unwavering commitment to excellence, his refusal to settle for anything less than outstanding.
On the Trials That Nearly Broke His Back
As a successful entrepreneur, the road to triumph has not been without its share of bumps and bruises. In a candid conversation with Datuk Calvin, the illustrious businessman reflected on his two most challenging crises that had nearly made him caved.
Recalling the early years of his business, he spoke of a rapid expansion and the opening of multiple branches that ultimately led to a breakdown in cash flow. “I was just a salesman, buying and selling goods every day,” he confessed. “I didn’t know how to operate as a capitalist, as a marketer. I didn’t manage my business accounts, I didn’t manage my personnel.” The lack of financial knowledge and expertise left him in a vulnerable position and caused a significant setback in his business journey.
The second crisis came in the form of a real estate investment that nearly cost him his entire enterprise. A RM7 million dollar factory purchase, fuelled by cash rather than careful planning, left him with frozen assets and insufficient funds to run his operation. “I didn’t have enough money to buy goods, I didn’t have enough money to pay the rent,” he recounted. The capital chain was broken, and store closures were inevitable at that time.
The entrepreneur cautions that the hardships serve as a reminder that even the most successful individuals face challenges and setbacks. It is the ability to persevere and learn from mistakes that sets them apart.
These crises taught Datuk Calvin the need for a strategic good planning and layout. These experiences taught him the importance of having a proper contingency plan for when budget issues arise, especially for small and medium-sized enterprises. “The strong man broke his arm,” he said, describing the painful yet necessary lesson he learned.
On His Factors for Success
Reflecting on his journey, a small indulgent smile played across his lips. Datuk Calvin believes that in the world of business, choosing the right hand can make or break an enterprise. The biggest problem right now, he expresses, isn’t the slope of finding new talent. It is finding your people, the ones who will ride with you in the long haul.
Now the big question is, who are your people? For Datuk Calvin, it all comes down to these 4 important yet simple criteria to discern the right partners.
First, they must be on your side. True partnership comes from mutual appreciation and acknowledgement. It’s essential that they appreciate your vision and have your back, as any lack of support will ultimately hinder success.
Second, they must possess the temperament required for their role. Whether an executive or a boss, their personality and demeanour should fit the part. After all, they will be the next-in-command, and they need to command respect.
Third, they must have the ability to execute tasks effectively and efficiently. A partnership isn’t a one-way street. There is no room for passivity in the world of business, and a right hand who can’t complete their assigned duties will hold the company back.
Lastly, for Datuk Calvin, your people must possess self-discipline both in their work and personal life. Those who can focus on work and maintain discipline in their personal lives are more likely to achieve success in business.
On the Right Leadership
As organisations grow, leadership becomes an increasingly critical factor in their success. But what exactly does it take to be a good leader?
When posed to shed some light on the importance of leadership traits in an organisation, Datuk Calvin responded with a dichotomy of his own. “Is there a difference between a good person and a good leader?” he began. “There is a big difference. What a good person can do, a good leader may not be able to do.”
The distinction, the entrepreneur explains, is that good leaders are responsible for the overall direction, vision, and future of the company, and their decisions are focused on the big picture. They have to consider shareholders and a team of people who are relying on them to make the right choices. In contrast, good people are only concerned with themselves and don’t have to answer to anyone for their actions.
“As a person, you don’t have to answer to anyone for doing something. You can be emotional, you can do whatever you want. But as a good leader, you can’t be emotional, you can’t do whatever you want. You have to remember that there is a team of people below you who can fight the battle.”
Datuk Calvin’s words are a powerful reminder that in the world of business, leadership is not just about being a good person or making popular decisions. It requires a deep sense of responsibility and takes a special set of traits to be a good leader. For those who aspire to leadership, he encouraged it as a challenge worth embracing.
On the View of Family
In a world where business often seems to be all about results and profit margins, it’s refreshing to hear talks about the importance of human respect and family values.
On the thoughts of his management skills, Datuk Calvin shares his belief in treating everyone as family. “No matter what we do, we must maintain a kind of respect,” he says. It’s not just about the bottom line, but about valuing each individual as a person.
As a man of philosophy grounded in the military tradition of discipline and scientific management, Datuk Calvin applies it in a way that emphasises humanity and compassion. He speaks of waiting for people to learn from their mistakes and treating them with patience and understanding. This is why, he whispers in delight, his company’s turnover rate is so low.
But it’s not just about keeping employees happy. He affirms that treating people as family members is the key to success in business. “If you treat me as family, I will treat you as family. This is my principle,” he explains. By building a culture of love, teamwork, and partnership, he believes that performance will naturally improve.
In a world where many businesses are focused solely on the bottom line, Datuk Calvin advises that there is another way. By treating people with respect and compassion, an organisation can thrive with values on both people and profits.
On the Future Generation
No stranger to the turmoil of the entrepreneurship world, Datuk Calvin has seen his fair share of successes and failures. His insights and advice, he would like to share, is that entrepreneurship can be divided into four stages, each with its own unique challenges and opportunities.
He calls the first stage the “motorcycle period,” where a budding entrepreneur starts a business alone or with one or two employees. In this stage, the focus is on buying and selling goods to earn a profit, without the need for complex management or models. Hard work and determination are the keys to success.
As the business grows, the entrepreneur enters the “car period” where they start to hire four or five employees. The noble businessman emphasises the importance of hiring the right people, as those who don’t fit with the team can be quickly let go. This stage still relies heavily on the entrepreneur’s personal efforts and expertise.
The “bus period” is where things really start to pick up. In this stage, the entrepreneur must manage and direct a team of 40 to 50 employees, with a clear direction and responsibility for each team member. Understanding models, brands, and roadshows becomes essential to influence and motivate the larger team.
Finally, the “aeroplane period” represents the fourth and most advanced stage of entrepreneurship. At this point, the business must have a perfect system, culture, and brand to effectively lock in customers, shareholders, and investors. He stresses the importance of roadshows to attract the right professionals and create a strong, unified team with a shared sense of purpose.
As he once said, “If you can be outstanding, why be ordinary? If you are a diamond, you will always shine!” And shine he does, as a shining example of what it means to be a true entrepreneur.
So here’s to Datuk Calvin, the entrepreneurial maverick who defied the odds and proved that anything is possible with hard work, determination, and a little bit of maverick spirit.