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Beacon of Enlightenment in Sustainability

As ‘The Captain’ of DSMT ST15, Tio had lead study groups through a journey of breathtaking wonders, stimulating awe-inspiring experiences for participants.

LEGEND has it that witnessing the Northern Lights will lead to a lifetime of happiness.

That ticked PKT Logistics Group’s chief executive and managing director Datuk Seri Dr Michael Tio’s bucket list in early November 2023, when he concluded his fourth visit to Iceland in the recent 14 months — he beheld the Northern Lights.

The allure of the Northern Lights has piqued Tio’s curiosity, leading him to visit Iceland multiple times in search of the right moment to encounter the aurora.

He led a group of 13 entrepreneurs from diverse fields on a 13-day study tour to the United Kingdom and Iceland between Oct 27 and Nov 8, which marked his fifteenth study tour in the past nine years.

Themed “Inspired by the Northern Lights— business sustainability”, the 15th DSMT Study Tour (DSMTST15) to Iceland featured chasing the colourful pyrotechnics that dance across Arctic skies.

When asked why he willingly undertook such tours that others may perceive as challenging, Tio reiterated that many of his friends posed the same question.

However, for him, paying it forward and helping others is the best way to repay kindness.

He advocates for a gentle, moderate attitude, cherishing the spiritual solace brought about by nature.

In the midst of appreciating nature, he finds temporary escape from material life.

“I always look on the bright side. The study tour allows me to enjoy a holiday.

“I am a very curious person, I want to see the Northern Lights again. I want the timing to be perfect.

“I think the perfect time is at the beginning of November when the temperature is above freezing, not below.

“The sun rises at 9am and sets at 5pm, giving us ample time to wait for the aurora after dinner. ”

For him, Iceland is the best place to catch the aurora as compared to Norway or Finland. It is also more suitable for tourists as the country also features breathtaking waterfalls, black sandy beaches and glaciers.

When asked if he would visit Iceland for the fifth time, Tio said with a smile: “Very likely, because I have not fully explored Iceland in entirety yet.”

Sustainability focused

Tio stressed that one of the crucial messages in the trip is that entrepreneurs must achieve “work-life balance.”

He hoped that the study tour participants can learn how to handle their teams and employees more effectively, while enhancing their own business skills.

“Before you can scale up your business, you need to have a strong team, then only we talk about scaling the business to another level.“

He said that employee management is, in fact, a social responsibility under the Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) agenda and is regarded as an important indicator of evaluating business operations.

Moreover, how employees are managed has gradually become a foundational aspect for a company to gain trust from customers and investors.

He noted that the current market promoting ESG is mainly focused on the environmental aspect as that is measurable, while social responsibility can merely rely on the fulfilment of corporate social responsibility (CSR).

ESG differs from traditional assessments of corporate financial performance.

It is an investment philosophy and evaluation standard that focuses on corporate environmental, social responsibility and governance performance, with the aim of encouraging companies to assume more social responsibilities to address pressing issues such as climate change and environmental pollution.

Tio pointed out that PKT Logistics Group has spent a total of 15 years rethinking its business from a sustainability perspective since its transformation in 2008.

The group’s initial four core priorities— community development, education and skills enhancement, arts and culture, and sports and leisure— have since shifted towards ESG.

Educational tour

In addition to witnessing the dazzling light display, the 13 entrepreneurs made a special visit to University of Plymouth, the largest university in south-west England during the study tour.

They participated in a short-term course on sustainability, organised by the university and were awarded certificates upon successfully completing the course.

Tio emphasised that the university is recognised as an innovative leader in higher education for sustainability. It has set a clear goal of achieving nett zero emissions by 2040.

The university’s sustainability development encompasses teaching, research and university operations, with the aim of creating a sustainable campus.

Their focus includes fostering understanding of sustainability development among people and addressing research solutions for the world’s most pressing sustainability challenges.

It is widely known that the study tour organised by Tio is a unique journey, with entrepreneur participants basking in their achievement beyond expectations throughout the entire trip.

Under the discerning selection of “Captain Michael”, as Tio was called on such trips, the seemingly unrelated 13 entrepreneurs generated significant chemistry among themselves, discovering they have the same vibes.

As a team leader and mentor, Tio believes mentorship is a business relationship that goes beyond the industry as he provides them with a form of mentorship and guidance that goes beyond commercial connections.

Tio rarely schedules appointments during lunch time but is willing to make an exception by setting up a “Chicken Rice Session” for the study tour participants.

As long as they bring in a box of chicken rice, they can meet him during lunchtime to seek guidance.

“I now spend only 30% of my time on work, and I have tremendously reduced my business appointments except for the study tour members because I’m always happy to see them.

“If you need guidance, no problem, just bring chicken rice– and I can see you already.”

Invaluable experiences

In recent years, the escalating global warming crisis has brought ESG to the forefront, making it a mandatory course in corporate management.

Companies with higher ESG ratings and a commitment to environmental protection and social responsibility are prioritised by investors and elected as partners.

Investors are aware of the importance of incorporating ESG ratings into the analysis of corporate value and financial models.

By observing a company’s ESG performance, they assess its potential for development and prospects based on contributions to environmental protection, sustainable economic growth and fulfilment of social responsibilities.

Tio looks forward to these new standards and investment criteria followed by investors.

He advocates that Malaysian entrepreneurs should prioritise this new indicator to evaluate their businesses, thereby achieving the goal of sustainable development for enterprises.

The 13 entrepreneurs had the privilege of attending a relevant short-term course on sustainability at the University of Plymouth during this study tour.

GoMaldives Holiday Sdn Bhd managing director Andrew Goh Chee Beng, 36, said that the short course was an eye-opening experience that provided him with the key insights to break through in business.

He said ESG is an unstoppable trend, creating differentiation for businesses, gaining a competitive advantage to stand out.

He has participated in three study tours and likens each trip to regular car maintenance.

The process involves observation, learning, absorption and gradual self-improvement, all requiring a step-by-step approach.

ITG Industrial Sdn Bhd marketing director Carrien Chong believes as more companies recognise the importance of implementing ESG for the sustainable development of enterprises, ESG has become a new business card for companies to enhance their comprehensive capabilities.

“Clients want us to share a common philosophy, and ESG plays a crucial role in enhancing the corporate image.

“This is a future trend which demands immediate action.”

She considers herself fortunate to enrol in the ESG-related short term courses in the UK, and said the experience provided her with a clearer concept and ideas about implementing ESG.

Inspiring journeys

Mactex Sdn Bhd managing director Joshua Ong Kah Wah, 44, believes ESG is a grand vision, and the time, effort and financial resources required for its implementation are substantial and should not be underestimated.

He has been continuously contemplating ESG’s feasibility upon returning from the UK, after all, achieving nett zero is a challenging task and he foresees numerous obstacles and challenges in its implementation.

With Tio’s guidance, he has started actively planning with his company team members, executing ESG initiatives carefully and appropriately aligned with the company’s development.

The study tour to him yielded unexpected harvests and results, allowing him to meet like-minded individuals who can mutually encourage and support each other.

Floor Culture Holdings Sdn Bhd general manager Rachelle Toh Leng Yan, 42, mustered the courage to enrol in this study tour with her husband’s encouragement.

A self-professed introvert, she had navigated between her company and family without allowing herself any personal space.

The journey allowed her to appreciate herself and enjoy the learning experience.

“Tio is very humble and selfless. He is able to answer any question and I appreciate his straightforward and upright style, which aligns with my consistent philosophy.”

She also plans to emulate PKT Logistics Group’s own award-winning CSR programme Anak Belajar Ibu Bekerja (ABIB) by creating more employment opportunities for women.

Enlightening revelations

Sense Embroidery Sdn Bhd managing director and entrepreneur Stephy Low Mei Yee, 33, described Tio as a lighthouse, serving as a guiding light in her lonely entrepreneurial journey.

She described her entrepreneurial journey as lonely and being helpless.

“I am not well-versed in marketing and team management, and this is something I wish to learn urgently.”

She appreciates Tio’s sincere and selfless dedication and has been much enlightened in the study tour.

Beautypedia Sdn Bhd and Amani Wellness Sdn Bhd’s CEO and founder Yap Yann Fang, 43, described the study tour as an exhilarating journey, with Tio being the most unconventional mentor she has encountered.

For her, the study tour is not just a trip but a masterclass: “I got more than I asked for.”

She said previously, she only knew of Tio through social media and had decided to join the study tour without hesitation.

She regarded Tio’s and her fellow participants’ support as a reliable compass, a shining beacon amid the chaos.

NCT Logistics Company strategy director Christoph Robin Ng, who was the fifth-generation successor of his family business, returned from the UK a few years back and the 26-year-old Sabahan was fortunate to join the study tour under Tio’s mentorship.

As the youngest participant in the history of the study tour, Ng is burdened with the responsibility as an heir and understands the importance of business sustainability due to his position.

“For me, the study tour has had a positive and healthy impact.”

He emphasised that under Tio’s guidance, he internalised three key points: preserving business interests for generational continuity, transforming the family business into a scalable company, and cultivating high-intensity self-discipline by adopting sustainable measures.

The interviewees in unison shared that they had no regrets as it was a mind-stimulating study tour and they would sign up for another session if given the opportunity.

New encounters

Over the past 15 sessions, Tio’s study tour has gained fame through word-of-mouth, leaving people anticipating the next one.

The upcoming study tour is tentatively scheduled in July but currently, no study tour is open to the public, as 2024 will stage a reunion study tour to Africa.

Tio said he will launch one for the public, urging keen entrepreneurs to stay tuned for updates on his social media.

With his motto “Dream of it, talk about it, plan for it, work on it, get it!”, Tio continues to be an inspiring leader with his sincere dedication in paying it forward via his knowledge sharing study tours.

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