With unconscious flair and confidence, SS Patricia relates her personal journey as an entrepreneur and how two key decisions made while in her mid-20s have shaped her professional career.
The first was to leave her comfortable position as Head of the School of English at a private college to foray into public relations (PR) and the second, to venture out in partnership to establish a PR consultancy.
(This article appeared as part of the “Special Tribute to the Women of Malaysia” series of interviews and reports by Dr. Barbara Tey and Seow Mei Ling.)
Charting new waters
“I began my working life as an English and Economics lecturer and was later given the onus to establish the college’s School of English. I found teaching and interacting with students immensely satisfying and meaningful. Establishing the School of English was also a highly rewarding experience and will always be numbered among my career achievements.”
“However after two years into the job, I felt I needed to expose myself beyond academia. I wanted a more challenging and stimulating career in the commercial world.”
… You have to be strong and resolute. You cannot be hemmed in by problems. You have to think on your feet, adapt to the many different situations and come up with solutions.
So Patricia decided to capitalise on her penchant for project management and “seeing things come together”. Back then, PR was relatively new and there were very few consultancies around. Checking with a friend working in PR confirmed Patricia’s gut feeling that this industry offered the opportunity she sought.
So she called it quits in education and donned the hat of a PR executive in a consultancy firm with a considerable pay-cut; this was the price she had to pay to switch industries and start from the bottom.
In the deep
“It was not an easy adjustment from education to PR. I felt I had thrown myself into the deepest end, with no lifeline. Many times I wondered if I had made the right decision, leaving education where I had carved my competence.”
“But if there was one thing I was taught from young, it is to persevere and to believe in myself. I was determined to make my new career a success. Sink or swim… it was up to me.”
With that resolve in mind, this former educationist enrolled herself in the ‘university of hard knocks’. She looked for avenues to learn on the job, made friends with the people she worked closely with e.g. the media and other business associates, and literally took on the role as ‘student’ to learn the ropes from those around her.
“It was not an easy task and there were times I actually lost my confidence, but yet I was not about to give up.”
Sheer determination saw her through and within two years, she found that she had gained a good foothold in PR. It was here that she also met her colleague, Azlin, who would later become her business partner.
Make or break
An opportunity soon came knocking and Azlin and Patricia were offered a chance to start out on their own.
“Never one to take big risks, I am amazed how I went along with the idea. But I did. Both in our mid-20’s then, we ventured out with a great measure of reservation and trepidation! How would we get clients?”
The duo gave themselves six months to ‘make or break’. That was in 1992. They named the company Pat-Lin Communications Sdn Bhd, a combination of both their names.
Not keen about having a bank loan hanging over their heads, they adopted a low capital and minimalist investment approach. And so business began with office tables bought from a junk yard, a borrowed computer and usage of a friend’s fax machine. They worked from a room in either one of their homes, taking on jobs of any size.
In the first few months of their operations, Azlin and Patricia faced one of the greatest challenges of their business. Their very first client who had previously promised to support the duo by channeling them different projects, now refused to pay them and they almost ended up in court. A good lawyer friend of Patricia’s kindly stepped in and handled the matter. They got their money without going to court!
Perhaps that incident toughened them up to survive in the business world. But it also meant an end to a source of business.
“Our friends and families were great and supported us all the way. Job referrals came from them instead. We made sure we completed each task well and with that, we began to build a reputation for quality work. Before we knew it, the six months was up. We were busy with our different projects.”
Pat-Lin had made it! Today, 14 years lager, the company has its own office lot in Phileo Damansara 1 in Petaling Jaya and has a team of 13 and also works in close collaboration with several associate companies on projects.
Although Azlin is no longer with the company ever since she left the business to pursue full-time motherhood and now resides overseas, she remains a good friend and a shopping companion when Patricia gets a chance to visit Hong Kong.
In dealing with the many challenges over the years, Patricia’s focus is always on resolving issues.
“When you are heading an organisation, you have to remain strong and resolute. You cannot be hemmed in by problems. You have to think on your feet, adapt to the many different situations and come up with solutions. This is something I also impart to my team. There are no dead ends. There’s always a way around things.”
Chemistry and trust are very important for a successful client-consultant relationship.