The Crowe Mantra: Lend Michael An Ear, No Fear to Admit Failure


The Crowe Mantra: Lend Michael An Ear, No Fear to Admit Failure

Crowe Growth Consulting’s Michael Lim Jr does not shy away from offering unpopular solutions to businesses faced by the dilemma between growing up or losing out.

With every industry facing disruption or have been disrupted, leaders are increasingly confronted with the question - how are they doing things differently to stay ahead? What more value can they bring to the business? Where can they grow?

“That’s where we come in to help,” says Michael Lim Jr of Crowe Growth Consulting, a unit under accounting and audit firm Crowe.

“Businesses often don’t know how or where to grow.”

Lim has been in the consultancy business for over a decade, helping to turn around companies, big and small. Having fast-tracked through the Malaysian education system, Lim graduated from from University of Queensland, Australia and was soon employed by Ernst and Young.

What we needed 12 years ago was profit improvement. What we need today is growth engineering

He was later headhunted to join UK-based RSM Consulting, which gave him the exposure of working with a wide array of global clients.

The 34-year-old says growth for a company today is no longer just about cushioning the bottom-line - it is about unlocking value and instilling innovation in the business so that it can move to the next level.

“What we needed 12 years ago was profit improvement. What we need today is growth engineering,” he says.

Speaking from his office on Jalan Yap Kwan Seng, Kuala Lumpur, the low-profile Lim (“What I need to be most is a whisperer to my client”) tells what companies can do to maximise their potential. And why one of the best business advice he has given is telling a client to shut down its business.

How is Crowe Growth Consulting different from any other consulting firms?

Lim: When I look at the market, there are all these larged sized consulting companies. They do well in what they do; they are the MBB - ‎McKinsey & Company, ‎Bain & Company and Boston Consulting Group. I’m not going into their market space. What we are looking at is the alternative to the market space. Now, most of these top notch companies rarely come to the level of implementation or work to the operational, ground levels. For us, it is different because we employ engineers. So, they are used to going down to the lowest levels within the company to get things moving. I think that is one of the differentiating factor that we have.

We Go Down to Implementation, Not Just Strategy

When a client comes to you with a problem in growing its business, what is your advice to them?

Lim: I say look back into your business and understand the RICE model. R is for what kind of relationship you have in your business, with your suppliers and customers, capitalise on that, I is for idea; what are ideas you can create from your own business, that you don’t see in other businesses and integrate that into your business. C is for capital. Do you have any capital issues? Do you have more cash that you can you use to expand or invest. E is for energy. What is the entrepreneurial energy to drive this project? And of course, if they are willing to pay the PRICE, then the P or passion comes in. Do you have the passion to bring the business to the next level?
How do you see the role of technology in growth consulting?

Lim: What I’ve noticed is that technology alone cannot replace the fundamental of the  business - which is the people running it. So, a lot of times I encourage companies to explore technology but do not get entrenched in it; even if they don’t get access to some of the latest technology, that doesn’t mean the business cannot grow. What is more important is the value proposition to the customers and that value proposition should be made better with technology. So, the technology itself does not replace the value proposition.
What are the examples of the businesses you have worked on that have successfully innovated and grown?

Lim: One of the most interesting case we’ve done was a heritage F&B business, run by three generation of families. The business had to innovate and modernise or risk being stuck with the current model they have. So, we came in and implemented a modern central kitchen, help set up the facilities, brought in the franchising framework and quality control for the whole business. What we did was merge the rich heritage that they have with modern business thinking, which brought about new business model while maintaining the business’ traditional values.

Another one is a clothing company. We brought in global practices to the business, including a systemised warehouse and color coding to their shelf spaces, making shopping more appealing to customers. The company grew from 20 to 60 outlets in a period of two to three years. The business also went online and delivered customised clothing to customers.

In the case of a medical center which was running at a 600 thousand ringgit loss a month, it took us about half a year to bring them to about a million ringgit profit a month.

An education group we worked with was only looking at the local setting when we met. But I told her she has something that is needed globally. After working with her over two years, she has gone global. She is opening up schools in Hong Kong, Japan and Indonesia and an offer for her to open a school in South Africa. She also has an education app that is recognised by Finland.

Apart from P.R.I.C.E, Businesses Must Look at the 7M Strategy

What are some of your most unexpected lessons or cases you’ve encountered?

Lim: I’d be very frank to say that, for some companies, it is better for them to shut down the business. In a case of a gas tank supplier - second largest in a state, it suffered from poor margins driven by the lack of economies of scale. The business owner also made too many errors over the years. So they have a large financial pithole. So I told them to rationalise the whole business. At least that way, the owners can walk away without having to worry about further debt. The owners were quite old and had no one to take over the business. So, sometimes we do advice business owners that growth may not be the answer. The other growth could be for them to grow well and grow old, instead of passing on the business to the next generation who might not even want to run it.
What have been your approach when faced with tough clients?  

Lim: Sometimes what you need is the liking of a person to bring you far. So, always build friendship and don’t burn bridges. That’s an advice I’ve received from a billionaire PC maker in Taiwan. So, instead of saying to the client ‘You are a tough project owner’, I think about how I can really learn from him or her. Sometimes, having a mutual respect and liking for each other helps to unlock the growth a company needs. Otherwise, we’d be stuck arguing about who’s right or wrong, and things will not move.