I live and work in Singapore but Malaysia is like second home. Business takes me there at least 10-12 times a year. People in Malaysia, be it clients or colleagues are quite easy to deal with. They have certain warmth; some connect that makes you feel belonged instantly.
Recently, I visited a prestigious client with my Malaysian colleague for closing a deal. The main aim of the meeting was to finalize our approach and if everything went well the project would be awarded to us. The client manager was a high ranking officer but extremely very warm and friendly. Meeting began on a very positive note with hot coffee and snacks were served well before the meeting started. I was expecting this to be a meeting with tough negotiations, debate about our approach, capability, project team etc. I was preparing myself for an intense debate. But things panned out very differently.
Meeting began with exchanging customary pleasantries then instead of getting to the main agenda directly; the client started talking about football match last evening which Man U had lost very badly. I made a futile attempt of broaching the main topic, only to be blocked and ignored by my own colleague. This was quite a contrast to a discussion with a Japanese customer, let’s say, where everything is governed by norms and rules. The client was discussing things in free flow without any particular direction or agenda in mind and we were towing the line. Finally, we started discussing about our proposal. He had read it thoroughly and surprisingly he was quite cool about everything. He asked for a few superficial clarifications and we shook hands. I was half happy, half surprised.
Obviously this was the topic of discussion over lunch which immediately followed the meeting. We had gone to a Nasi Campur, (mixed rice) restaurant. My colleague said, “Malaysian clients are very cool. They are businesslike but they like to go beyond business discussions. In fact if you start with business discussions directly they might be offended. They might perceive you as too hardnosed person who does not care about relationships. Another thing you must ensure is client is in control of discussions at all times. He may go with the flow but you need to ensure he in control at all times”. Wow, that’s quite profound, I thought. Immediately, I looked around if I could connect this insight to “How they eat, How they do business”. To my surprise, I saw the manifestation straightaway at Nasi Campur.
Malaysia is a land of thousand tastes and multiple food types. You find Chinese, Indian and Malay food types side by side. There are various formats in which food is served. But Nasi Campur (which literally means mixed rice) is a truly unique experience in Malaysia. Nasi Campur type of restaurants are popular joints for lunch and it can be found almost everywhere in Kuala Lumpur. It serves rice, vegetables and a large variety of meats with some condiments, garnishing all in Malay style. What sets this apart is the way food is served! This neighborhood restaurant serves everything in buffet style. You are handed over a plate with a bowl of rice and you could pick up anything you wanted from a wide range of meats, vegetables, curries and garnishing available. There are no set rules. Indulge in anything you want, as much as you want. As a customer, you are always in control about what you eat and how much you eat. The restaurant informally passes the control to you by asking you to serve yourself and you stay there all the time. You can go with the flow and always stay in control!