Work-related success can come as an invaluable employee or an entrepreneur, but which route is right for you? My first attempt at starting my own business was in August 1995, when I resigned from a high paying job as an investment analyst.

The team I worked with was great; our boss P. Gunasegaram (who has just written the definitive book on Malaysia’s worst financial scandal: 1MDB: The Scandal That Brought Down A Government was humble and super-smart; and our office in the heart of KL was fancy. Unfortunately, I felt like a square peg in a round hole. I found myself happy only on payday.

My salary had tripled between June and July 1994 when I left my position as a journalist with Malaysian Business magazine to become an analyst at Standard Chartered Securities. Over time I realised the new job was an ill fit for my personality. So 15 months after joining StanChart Securities I left to start my own freelance writing business — I was 31 years old.

That stab at career independence — my first foray into personal entrepreneurship — was a flop. Through bad financial planning on my part — specifically insufficient cash buffering — I began to run out of money quickly once the safety net of a regular monthly salary disappeared. By November that year, I was stone broke.

Then I received a phone call offering me a shot at a plum job with a Singapore-based start-up publication, Smart Investor magazine. I aced the job interview for features editor and was granted my required work permit. I moved to Singapore and heaved a sigh of relief because back then S$1 = RM1.80. (Today that’s low because we’ve grown accustomed to S$1 = RM3, but to me, 22 years ago, it was great.)

I stayed in Singapore a few months and then moved back to Malaysia. My employer’s plan had been to work out the kinks of the start-up magazine’s operations, systematise them, and then replicate the magazine’s success in other regional markets using local talent and localised content.

Invaluable lessons

So I became the founding editor of the Malaysian edition of Smart Investor. While interviewing the senior management of unit trust giant KL Mutual (now Public Mutual) for a cover story, I struck up invaluable longterm friendships with two icons of Malaysia’s unit trust industry who later helped establish the Financial Planning Association of Malaysia (FPAM): Edmond Cheah and Wong Boon Choy.

Some months later, I resigned as a fulltime employee of Smart Investor. I began taking on more ad hoc writing work as a hired ‘pen’. This time I was better prepared to launch my self-run business.

The following year, 1997, saw my first book published by TIMES in Singapore: Your A-Z Guide to the Stock Market. It was a basic, little book but I was proud of it. My freelance writing continued.

In December 1998 my second book, this one co-authored with Edmond Cheah, Wong Boon Choy and Alex Sito (who then headed KL Mutual’s marketing and nascent financial planning department), was published. It was Malaysia’s first comprehensive financial planning book. Financial Freedom — Your Guide to Lifetime Financial Planning was well received, and all net proceeds from it went to several Malaysian charities.

Working with those three brainy gentlemen on our ambitious book, which we crafted as a novel to make it as palatable as possible to the mass market, taught me much about financial planning, asset allocation and long-term investing. Co-writing it helped morph me into the licensed financial planner I am today.

Tilting the odds in your favour

I don’t know whether your big career goal for yourself is to clamber up the corporate ladder as an employee or to start your own business. What I can tell you, though, is if you diligently do three things well, your career will blossom:

1.Live way below your financial means so you set aside money each month to build up fat cushions of cash to protect you during times of change and financial stress.

2.Become a lifelong learner and never stop honing your professional skills. They will grant you valuable fall-back options should you ever need to take a detour because of financial constraints or adverse market conditions.

3.Never stop learning from people smarter and more talented than you. Make it a goal to never come across as the smartest person in the room. Surround yourself with decent, kind and hypercompetent people whom you can help somehow and from whom you can learn from, always in a spirit of fair exchange.

Just as most little boys dream of becoming an astronaut, most adults fantasise about starting our own business. Such dreams are great yet stark statistics tell us 90 per cent of new businesses will fail.

If that doesn’t scare you and you still want to try, then use my three precepts to tilt the odds in your favour. Alternatively, if that meagre 10 per cent success rate terrifies you so much that you opt to remain an employee your whole working life, more power to you! It’s the right decision for most people.

If that’s your decision, too, then I urge you to harness my three hard-won precepts to ensure that for you the word ‘JOB’ doesn’t end up as a mere mnemonic for ‘Just Over Broke’.

I wish you mega-success.

© 2018 Rajen Devadason

Read his free articles at; he may be connected with on LinkedIn at, or via You may follow him on Twitter @RajenDevadason.

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