More than ten years ago before COVID-19, I recall most of my days (and nights) spent in the office working on ppt slides and having discussions with my VPs and directors. Occasionally when they wanted to work directly on the numbers or show me how something was done, they would come over and sit at my desk space, typing away at my computer while I stood and watched how it was done. It was a simple gesture - fixing a problem right when and where it was needed, in person. And that simple gesture didn't only solve the problem (whether it was a glitch in the model or some formatting on powerpoint), it also demonstrated leadership right then and there.


Today this is very different. No more in-person consultations and discussions, no more live demonstrations. Everything is done over Zoom. No more personal touch. There's a Chinese saying: "fighting the bull from across the mountain" (隔山打牛), which basically translates to trying to solve a problem from afar.


So right now, that's how a lot of things are - both for businesses and down to the professionals working away at their desks (or from home). Clients and suppliers trying to deal with new normal of doing deals virtually without a handshake or sighting of the product. Employees and their line managers trying to make a project or a pitchbook work while being separated hundreds and thousands of kilometers, connected only by email or whatsapp / wechat. To take the challenge up a notch, imagine the difficulty of new joiners who may have never seen their bosses, co-workers and their office desks.


Leadership and management in a virtual world is extremely difficult. It's difficult to show how things done. Difficult to foster camaraderie without a working lunch, chugging a few beers or simply just hanging out after work. Hard to show charisma and motivate others when you don't (in this case, can't) show up in person. Lots of things get lost in translation when you don't see, don't talk directly to the other party. Doing business across the front office to back office gets incredibly difficult.


Zoom calls can only do much in facilitating communication in a physically disconnected world. But in order to restore the current situation back to equilibrium or the good ol' days, we'll eventually need to be able to go out and travel, meet people and forge collective experiences together.


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The last few weeks had been a huge tailspin for me. I relate it to a multitude of challenges compounded upon each other - first, the physical distancing barrier, then the business-cultural aspect of it and then the technicalities of the underlying business. To add on, although the world of investment and banking is not unfamiliar to me, the scope of publicity and investor relations work remains an uncharted territory.


Compared to 5 years ago (or even 15 years ago), perhaps the biggest difference is that the mindset that one takes into any job, any role, any engagement.

  1. Never take on a job purely because of money. This might be one of the most important starting points in terms of getting the right mindset. Money is of course important but the experience of taking on the engagement should enable you to grow as a person, forge new relationships, learn new things that you never knew before, and naturally add to your professional credentials. To add on: Never switch jobs solely because the pay on the other side is higher. The "intangible assets" that you give up from making that move might cost you a lot more in the future.

  2. Never wear your designation / rank like a "political shield" or a "badge of honor", and let it get in the way of what you should be saying and doing. Most of the people that I know like to flaunt their status of being a VP, Director or being in C-suite roles. That kind of ego wears off fast when things go bad. The ability to be hands-on and execute will eventually outlive ego.

  3. Never stop moving or learning.


Towards the ending scenes in the movie, The Martian, Matt Damon (as Mark Watney the astronaut) talks to a class at NASA saying:

At some point, everything's gonna go south on you and you're going to say, this is it. This is how I end. Now you can either accept that, or you can get to work. That's all it is. You just begin. You do the math. You solve one problem and you solve the next one, and then the next. And If you solve enough problems, you get to come home.

He didn't survive the journey back home by squatting in space, flaunting his celebrity status as an astronaut and griping about how people back on earth could have done better in trying to rescue him. Whether it is a Fortune 500 company, a small medium enterprise or a start up company, the most basic mission of any organization is just "getting things done."


A true entrepreneur - whether he/she is running his/her own business or working in someone else's organization - doesn't care about pride or rank. He/she just cares about getting the job done and getting paid for it. Unfortunately, 99% of the people out there aren't entrepreneurs, so they make up excuses saying that they aren't paid enough for what they do or getting the corporate title they want.


And for all the people out there who think that they are "too senior" to be hands-on or doing grunt work: I still take a lot of pride in being able to build a three-statement financial model from scratch. I consistently do this during the classes that I teach at SMU and remind everyone that it is really not that difficult.


If you refrain from revisiting the basics every now and then just because you think you are "too senior" to be working on models, you are going to regret it much later on in life with that kind of mentality. Keep telling yourself that you are too good or qualified for any job or you should be getting more credit for your work and you'll also find yourself in a lot of trouble when you get older.

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To understand and decide whether bitcoin is a good store of value, consider first: real estate, commodities and other asset classes.

The real estate market.

About twenty years ago, I remember hearing folks talk about property being a store of value, something that has that ability to stand the test of time. In some ways that is true - real estate has not only been a good store of value but an instrument that has proven ability to deliver steady returns through capital appreciation and the accumulation of rental income.


Within Asia, the real estate market has not only demonstrated resilience through the ups and downs, but also a beneficiary of strong and steady economic growth, buoyed from the prosperity of its regional titans: China, Japan, Korea, as well as Southeast Asia. A rising tide lifts all boats.


Today, that thesis still holds to a certain extent. The returns are not as attractive but property is still pretty much the go-to choice for investors in search of a relatively safe-haven, even during a recessionary phase.


Property - especially in the residential segment - is an asset class that survives relatively well during times of turbulence and economic downturn. Rain or shine, the brick and mortar asset stands. People continue to 'trade' and invest in real estate because fundamentally, they know that a roof over the head is a basic foundation of life (at least based on Maslow's hierarchy of needs).


It is also a good proxy to the overall global economic cycle i.e. the more resilient the economy, the higher the value of the property.


Although the initial investment outlay can be high, real estate is a relatively liquid asset in a manner of speaking. And liquidity is an attribute in valuation that tends to be severely overlooked. In layman terms, this loosely translates to how easy it is for an asset to change hands. You can list your second-hand car for a million dollars on Carousell but at the end of the day, it's still worth nothing if it can't be sold. The price of a company's share is only as accurate and realistic as what it trades for, not the bid-ask price. Liquidity, furthermore is also driven by the concentration of buyers and sellers in the market and also shaped the perception of the asset by the broader market.


Lab grown diamonds.

Consider for a moment:

A diamond is valuable only because people say it is, not because of its clarity or cut.

Jewelers and advertising companies around the world have done an extremely successful job in positioning the diamond at the apex of all precious stones. But the raw material for diamond is carbon - one of the most commonly available elements found on earth, ranked many times above gold, silver and platinum. Yet despite being available in relatively large quantities, consumers continue to pay absurd amounts of money for a small rock mounted on a ring or co-joined in a necklace.


To add to the paradox, lab-grown diamonds are significantly cheaper than their natural counterparts, even though they share the exact same properties and make. In fact, according to this website:

"If you buy a lab-created diamond, you’d have a beautiful stone, yet no jeweler will buy it back."

Bitcoin as a store of value.

There's much talk lately about bitcoin being a store of value. I know very little about the world of bitcoin and cryptocurrencies - only limited to the banter that I read on Twitter and the news.


Is bitcoin a good store of value? Only time will tell.


Just like property, gold and other precious stones, it is considered a safe haven only as much as others see it. In this case, the devaluation (or eventual demise) of the dollar is one of the key catalysts in the appreciation in value of bitcoin i.e. investors are buying bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies largely because they have lost faith in fiat currency. And to take it to a certain extreme, they believe that the guy over the McDonald's counter will take only a bitcoin-equivalent and reject cash as you know it today.


While this may not mean much to most people, for a billionaire or any large institutional investor sitting on heaps of cash - a commodity that the US government has committed to producing even more over the next few years - this implies an erosion of their financially advantageous position.


Cash is no longer king.


I think that crypto-exchanges were created largely because of this phenomenon. These platforms are only viable and commercial if there is a sizeable market i.e. a significantly large pool of investors willing to seed the initiative and make the market. This is similar to early stock exchanges. They serve to provide an avenue for companies to raise capital, but also functions as an alternative route for investors looking to 'diversify' or park their money somewhere where they can (at some point of time in the future) re-allocate them to other asset classes. Everyone else in the 0.001% of the liquidity makes the market — smaller funds, family offices, retail investors, sheep, etc.

If you have written code before, you'll understand how painful and tedious is it to do software development.


There's a reason why successive versions of Microsoft Windows in its early days were so slow and buggy. One can of course attribute it to processor speed and memory space (software blaming hardware), but the reality is that it's simply too lengthy and costly to eliminate the bugs by re-writing and building an entire operating system from scratch. Why demolish and re-build something when customers are willing to settle for a product with some occasional bugs and flaws? Far easier it is to patch the errors than to re-invent the wheel.


So our financial system is not perfect: Benchmarking (or rigging) interest rates, opaque currency controls, money laundering, fraud, etc. But the undeniable truth is that paper currency (since its inception a thousand years ago) still works as a medium for the exchange of goods and services. To revamp today's highly complex financial system with bitcoin would take several generations of change and reforms; or a "grand reset" involving the total collapse of fiat currency (and breach of trust on a global scale), sending us all back to the barter trade economy.


Just like how asset values move in cycle with the economy, bitcoin will probably follow the same trajectory. However little we think about the value of cash, there are many commodities and asset classes out there which serve as good alternatives to what we define as a "store of value" and Bitcoin is only one of them.

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