EY Entrepreneur Of The Year: ‘To be an entrepreneur, treat your job as a hobby’

  • Datuk Muhamad Guntor Tobeng, co-founder and managing director of Gading Kencana Sdn Bhd
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This article first appeared in The Edge Malaysia Weekly, on November 21-27, 2016.


DATUK Muhamad Guntor Tobeng is optimistic about many things, but can be quite stern when giving advice, though he means well.

“My advice to future entrepreneurs is that you must know what you want, what your forte is and just focus on it,” the co-founder and managing director of Gading Kencana Sdn Bhd tells The Edge.

According to Guntor, the common mistake made by first-timers is that they take pride in being a jack of all trades but only end up failing miserably. Also, he observes that some are eager to diversify into an immature business without accumulating sufficient experience in the industry.

“Entrepreneurship is not for everyone. It is meant for the bold, future-oriented and thick-skinned problem-solvers. If you were to be an entrepreneur, treat your job as a hobby. Only then, you would know you are on the right track to achieving success,” he says.

When Guntor founded Gading Kencana in 1999 with his wife, he was unfazed by the 1997 Asian financial crisis. In fact, the financial catastrophe, which did not spare Malaysia, inspired him to rise above it and prove that challenges can be the seeds of new opportunities.

Gading Kencana is a solar energy services company dealing with the production of solar energy as well as solar panel installation.

Prior to establishing Gading Kencana, Guntor was involved in the production of energy-efficient fluorescent lamps at Philips Malaysia for a decade. He has always been passionate about environmental sustainability.

“I may seem crazy to say that I enjoy pushing myself beyond my limits. When the 1997 financial crisis hit Malaysia, I saw it as an opportunity to escape the wrath and set up my own business. In so many ways, I am able to call the shots and control my destiny,” he says.

Guntor also notes that another perk of being an entrepreneur is that one is grooming oneself to be an innovator without realising it. “The best part of entrepreneurship is that you get to travel and rub shoulders with other industry players. That is when you share and exchange ideas and when you think creatively and critically; from there, you know what you can create next.”

From just a solar panel installer and solar farm owner, Gading Kencana is now branching into the solar panel manufacturing segment. Guntor says that manufacturing can be costly, which is why the company is aiming to set up its own factory and is securing a bank loan.

“We do not have a factory yet and most of the components used to make the panels are outsourced locally and internationally. If can produce everything in our plant, we are looking at a vast reduction in production costs,” he says, adding that once the bank gives the green light, construction of the plant could start by end-2017.

But that is not all that Gading Kencana has up its sleeve. At the moment, the company, which has only one solar farm in Melaka, plans to build a floating solar farm in Perak, which could also be used for fish breeding.

“Everything is still being scrutinised. There are thousands of underutilised tin mine ponds in the country so we would take advantage of this and build a floating solar farm,” he says, adding that Gading Kencana will have to bid for a licence to run the facility, if it were to proceed with the project.

Guntor, who is competing in the Technology Entrepreneur category of the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year 2016 Malaysia award, says that he is more than content with the achievements of the company. “My wife and I sold one of our houses to build this company. To see everything that we have achieved so far, I am glad we started the business.”

“When you have been in an industry for so long, the only source of satisfaction is seeing your efforts and creations being recognised,” he says, referring to the company’s involvement in the SuriaKU (Projek Suria Koridor Utara) initiative which was recently re-branded as MySuria in the Budget 2017 announcement last month.

The pilot programme, which was completed in Perlis late last year, saw 21 houses belonging to the Bottom 40 (B40) income group installed with 4kW solar panels to generate electricity, which is then sold to Tenaga Nasional Bhd, generating income for the occupants. The next instalment of the programme will involve 1,600 houses and each participant will receive RM250 a month.

Still, what is behind this successful man? “I owe everything I have achieved to my wife. Before marrying her, she told me that even if she were to marry a soldier, she would build him up to be a general.”