Vast travel experience has put Panasonic Malaysia Managing Director Cheng Chee Chung in good stead as a corporate figure. He attests to some life lessons that one can only acquire through experiencing different cultures.
Before the advent of “everybody can fly”, the farthest that Cheng Chee Chung has been away from home is to Hong Kong. It was on a student exchange program as an undergrad at University of Malaya. Subsequently, his frequent travels meant commuting the North-South expressway from his home in KL to work in Seremban every weekend.
Today, Chee Chung, the Managing Director for Panasonic Malaysia counts his miles from around the globe. If travels make a man, then Chee Chung can attribute some of his corporate success to his vast travel experience.
“I don’t know how many countries are there altogether in Europe but here’s the list of countries I have been to,” this seasoned traveller ran his finger down 21 names and stopping intermittently to say how many times he’s had repeated visits in that country.
“I love London,” he continues, “I have been there more than 10 times.” After those numerous visits you wonder what draws him there over and again besides visiting a daughter who was studying there.
“The diversity–mixture of old and new–the history and languages! I love Borough market and it’s a must stop for me.” Borough market is located in the heart of Central London which is a colourful trading square that showcases food stuff from cultures all over the world, gastro events to keep visitors entertained and it’s opened every day except Sunday.
“When you have repeated destinations, you tend to stretch your curiosity to look for different things of interest. To see how each culture maintain its heritage. And everywhere I go I would wake up early in the morning, go for a jog, then off to visit the local markets for the fruits and good food. That is where you get to mingle with the locals and get to know the real culture.”
Chee Chung’s work requires him to travel overseas 3 to 4 times a year. With more than 1000 dealers in their portfolio, the incentive trips are a real challenge to organise as many of them are seasoned travellers themselves.
“You need to better yourself every year. If you think taking them to Paris is an attraction, some of them would have been there several times on their own. So, how do we make our incentive trips an attraction?” he questions.
“To select an attractive destination is to create a wow factor. We need to introduce an activity to get them to learn something on the trip. Last year we took a group of dealers who sell cooking equipment to Europe and we let them attend a hands-on Cordon Bleu cooking class!
“We also encourage them to try local food even though sometimes they are not so keen. Usually on the third day the Maggi Mee culture would start,” he laughed but quick to add this is now less frequent and travellers are more open to try new food.
Travels Make A Man
This open-mindedness, Chee Chung advocates, is certainly a result of having travelled to experience and understand other cultures.
The memory of his visit to Bhutan is still vivid and Chee Chung marvels at how the Paro Takstang Tiger Nest monastery was constructed 300 years ago. It is nearly 7 hours hike up to the monastery, “and the day we were going up it was raining. The group, which include a 70-year-old man was encouraging each other to go on. The aim was to reach the Tiger Nest Monastry!”
“Bhutan impresses me because it is so different from the rest of the world. They don’t kill animals for meat there, so meat are scarce because all are imported. This country is measured by the happiness the residents experience,” Chee Chung said.
Bhutan is ranked 97 in the UN World Happiness report. The measure is defined by an index of measurable and attainable life goals–Gross National Happiness (GNH).
It is a destination that intrigued him so much that he contemplates bringing his family to Bhutan for a revisit. This could be a mutual place of interest for his family.
“Accommodating diverse interests is important when travelling in group. Sometimes the incentive group can range from 40 to more than 100. My children prefer ‘free and easy’ trips and stay in Airbnb which is a little different from how I would travel,” he shares.
He advises against letting language barrier to hamper one from being adventurous during travels. “There is technology these days to overcome this problem. You can use the phone (app) to translate. Also I find that people are generally friendly towards us (Malaysians).
“However, we must always be mindful of personal safety, watch out for pickpockets and physical injury. When we travel in a group of 70-100 people, all it takes is one bad incident to spoil it for everyone.”
Travel vs 10,000 Books
‘Better to travel 10,000 miles than to read 10,000 books!’ Chee Chung quotes a Chinese proverb to reiterate the importance of travel for personal development.
“When we travel and see how people are different outside, we become more tolerant of diversity. It is the same at home or at our workplace,” as he relates how he uses different and more accepting approach when dealing with his wife, his children, his staff in the office, his business partners or even his domestic help at home. He declares that his travels have helped him develop a mindset that everyone is different and as individuals they have different expectations too.
His journey started when he was posted to train and work in Panasonic’s air-conditioner factory in Osaka, Japan from 1991-1993. He was able to pick up some conversational Japanese there as he was alien to a work culture where people worked in the office for long hours and speaks mostly in Japanese.
Being able to accept and adapt to that has led him to rise from his first position as HR Executive to his latest promotion to Managing Director 3 and a half years ago. This month Chee Chung would have logged 29 years in this company. Chee Chung is probably one of the longest serving non-Japanese management staff in Panasonic.
This ManU fan used the analogy of a football team to relate how he applies open-mindedness and acceptance of diversity helped him run his team.
“When I was younger I was very strict with how people worked even though the objective for them was the same–to score goal la! But today, I do it differently.“I make clear the rules and boundaries and how they want to run or score the goal is up to them. So long as they score it before 90-minute and won the game!”
Text YY Chen • Photos Cany Loke & Cheng Chee Chung