For the past few weeks, every Saturday morning, I joined in a gathering in friend`s house. Called “pengajian”, or muslims gathering, usually there`s a preacher (ustadz) speaking, and the others are listening. The topic is strictly religion-related. This one is a bit different though.
First, almost all of the audience are traders; all from west sumatera region. Second, the preacher is a trader too. A millionaire in fact. Third, questions and discussions are most welcome at any time, even if it will interrupt the speech.
Needless to say, every meeting is a heated and lively one. Religious dogma got interconnected with real-life cases seamlessly. The preacher happened to be an expert in Qur’an, instantly citing the related verses for each cases. He also happened to be a senior trader among us, definitely the richest. His responses are very much based on his Quranic expertise as much as on his trading experiences. The audience however doesn’t always accept everything willingly, questioning everything critically. The speaker responded in clarity, satisfying everyone.
There are cases sometimes when he doesn’t know the answer, and he’s willing to admit it. To which of course we have no problem.
Some of the interesting discussions :
- Bribery / commission : The slippery slope. A trader complained that many of his corporate customers are asking for commission. Otherwise, they’ll buy from other supplier, causing him great loss for each customer.
The speaker responded that he definitely avoid marking-up practice; where you inflate the price on the corporate invoice, and give the difference to the person.
However the trader raised another issue, where he didn’t do that, and he actually lowered the price so the company is getting the best deal – and on top of that he still had to give the person some money (out of his own pocket).
Everyone agreed that this is kind of a grey area. First, this can be categorized as bribery, since he won’t give the money if that person is not the company’s staff (this is among the definition of bribe). However, on the other hand, if he doesn’t give the money, that company’s employee will buy from other supplier; which actually sells at higher price with lower customer service quality.
A trader then told his experience as a supplier to a foreign company; he gave gift to the contact as usual; but the contact declined. But the surprise doesn’t end there, a few days later another company’s official showed up on his shop and asked him for name of employees who has received gift from him. To which he said none (which is the case).
He was then told that if there are any of the company’s staff dared asking for gift (bribe) from him, just report them, and they’ll be sacked immediately.
We wished if only all companies, especially local ones, are like this. It will make life much simpler for us.
- Government siding with conglomerates, and killing traders in the process. Especially with the rise of multi-story malls, while ignoring various planning regulations; killing traditional markets in the process.
One of the solution is to move into “modern” market, aka the malls. But this is not always easy, and definitely is not cheap. A shop in traditional market can cost only about 20% of a shop in a mall — and generate more money. In malls, the traditional traders will have to compete with well-known, international brands. It’s as if we’ve gone to the war againts giants.
People will need to go to the malls less often, and to the traditional markets more. And planning regulations (eg; no hypermarket in town, etc) needs to be executed properly.
- Business in the remote areas : surprisingly, this can be very profitable. Reason being no one else is looking to do business there. So when you come, there’s usually no competition. The speaker have even traded in East Timor, during the war time. He made serious amount of money back then, because everyone else was too scared to trade in a war zone.
He noted that other traders have commented that the more dangerous the area, the easier to trade, because “you can make your own laws”. Needless to say, he doesn’t recommend this.
I’m currently looking forward for the next gathering.