It has been a long and hard journey but the
boy from Batu Road has found his niche in a venerable old American
company, a household name the world over. K.T. CHELVI talks to VOON
SENG CHUAN, the bossman of IBM Malaysia.
Victoria Institution and University Malaya
aside, IBM Malaysia’s captain Voon Seng Chuan was shaped by the
Batu Road School of hard knocks.
"Growing in Batu Road was tough. It was not
the nicest of neighbourhoods and I was practically neighbours to
thugs and gangsters," says Voon who started facing challenges
head-on from a very young age.
"However, this neighbourhood made me a
tough and street-smart kid who could stand up to challenges."
Money was hard to come by, so at times he
had to support himself by doing part-time jobs after school.
"I was doing a variety of jobs, from dish
washer and mechanic’s assistant to encyclopedia salesman," says
the second of five children in the family. Dad was a mechanic
and mum a housewife.
Despite the lack of money and close proximity
to trouble, Voon stayed on the right side of the law and for
that he credits his father.
"I can’t say that my father was strict, he
let us live a little but he was firm. Family values were strong
and the boundaries between right and wrong clear."
AT THE HEIGHT OF HIS CAREER: Voon joined
IBM in 1987 at the insistence of a friend.
From Batu Road Primary school, he went on to
Maxwell school and then on to the Victoria Institution,
where he came into contact with the more affluent and saw the
opportunities that lay before him.
"The environment was a total contrast to
the place I came from and it made me want to excel.
"My Batu Road days taught me that it was
solely up to me to make things happen. So, I wholeheartedly
embraced all aspect of this new life — academic and extracurricular.
"Soon, I was the president of the Interact
Club, a member of the debating team and one of my proudest moment
was winning the drama competition."
He also excelled academically, securing
the Kuok Foundation scholarship to further his studies at the
University of Malaya, where he majored in mathematics.
"My love for extracurricular activities grew
even more. I became a life-wire, so involved in college
activities and student union that I left it to my roommate
to choose my major.
"This resulted in me being the only non-double
maths student majoring in pure maths.
"Pure maths was tough but since my childhood
had taught me not to mope, I looked on the bright side of
majoring in pure maths — no lab work and afternoon lectures,
leaving me ample time for my student-body work.
"I enjoyed student politics tremendously and
another of my proudest moment was my speech at UM’s famous
speaker’s corner which was reopened for campus election by
the Vice-Chancellor then, Prof Emeritus Ungku Aziz."
Neither the complexities of pure maths
nor a active social programme stopped him from excelling
After graduating, Voon began working in
the insurance industry doing underwriting before branching
out into marketing.
"I had no career preference at that time,
to me all jobs were good as they provided me opportunities
to learn and pick up experiences."
Voon joined IBM in 1987 at the insistence
of a friend and saw his career taking him to new heights.
Before he was appointed as the Managing
Director of IBM, in January 2000, he held several key local
and regional positions which include Channels Manager and
Customer Centre Manager, Country Brand Manager for IBM Malaysia,
General Manager for Business Partners, IBM Asia Pacific and
Vice-President for Business Partners, Sales and Marketing,
IBM Asia Pacific.
"I came in without an inkling of what to
expect and was enthralled to discover a chapter on ‘what
IBM can do for you’, in the employees manual."
Voon embraced IBM fully, and immersed
himself completely into the IBM way of life.
"IBM introduced me to the world of high
performance working culture and I was training and
communicating with the cream of the crop. And all this
rubbed off on me."
In IBM, Voon found a career that
constantly challenged him.
"IBM is one of the top consulting and
technology company in the world and I was working with
bigger clients, on bigger projects and on a much wider
range of products compared to the average technology companies
"I was also working with top performing
teams from IBM offices around the world."
He found the constant need to better
himself invigorating and this made him remain in IBM. The
company, says Voon, nurtures and help develop exceptional
breed of people.
He considers himself a true IBMer who
lives by its core values such as dedication to every clients’
success as well as trust and personal responsibility in
In his 22 years in IBM, Voon saw
Malaysia’s information technology (IT) industry, transforming
from an industry that was merely concerned about fast processors
to an "on demand industry" which increases the competitive
edge of a company by making it highly responsive, flexible
"In Malaysia, IBM has been working closely
with not only huge companies, but also small and medium
enterprises, helping them enhance competitiveness through IT."
Voon says though the majority of the SMIs
need not be educated on IT, some businessmen are reluctant
to invest in it, as opposed to investing in luxury company car.
"Nevertheless, on my part, I constantly
keep reminding them that with IT, the world is their hunting
IBM has over the years brought investments
into Malaysia, and the most obvious one being the establishment
of the six regional offices in the country.
This includes its Asia Pacific South Regional
Administrative Support Centre, Asean/South Asia Regional
Technical Sales Support Centre, Asia Pacific South Regional
Accounting Centre and Regional Contact Centre.
IBM, says Voon, has helped nurture and
bring out the leader in him.
"It’s a concept I had no clue of before
When he is not working, the father of
three is nurturing his children with the lessons he has
learnt from his Batu Road days till IBM.