Let’s get the boring stats out of the way. SMEs make up 97% of businesses in Malaysia and contribute nearly 37% of the country’s GDP.

That said, the AmBank BizConference on 1 November at the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre (KLCC) was anything but boring.

The event featured several notable speakers and industry leaders who highlighted some of the crucial factors important to grow their businesses.

These include diversity, investing in people, technology and discipline.

 The event kicked off with a welcome note by Dato’ Sulaiman Mohd Tahir, GCEO of AmBank, who emphasised the bank’s commitment to helping SMEs in the country “grow to the next level.”

 Roshan Thiran, CEO and co-founder of Leaderonomics followed with an energising discussion about how he, with his team, transformed a failing aircraft parts repair shop to the world’s best. He pointed out that talent isn’t everything. Rather, it’s the effort that people put in that counts.

 The importance and impact of diversity, not only of race or gender, was highlighted by Haresh Khoobchandani, CEO of REA Group. He encouraged SMEs to go beyond boundaries and be innovative in their solutions, citing how old and new are combining in India where modern Amazon is collaborating with the traditional Dabbawalas to deliver products to consumers.

 The audience was also treated to a special live TV interview session as part of the AmBank BizCLUB Show with Ganesh Kumar Bangah, co-founder of MOL and interviewer, Roshan. Ganesh talked about how he identified a gap in the market for his product, being the first company from Malaysia and SEA to list on NASDAQ, and lessons he learned in the process.

Vimaleswari K. Ramasamy, MD of IHS Markit Malaysia; Lam Mun Choong, CEO of SelfDrvn Enterprise and Nettium; and Sinan Ismail, CEO of Digital Durian Animation Studios came together for a panel discussion. In the interactive session, the panellists talked about how tech is transforming SMEs and why it is crucial that SMEs adopt modern technology to stay ahead.

They explained that as technology and access to data has become easier and cheaper, the only limiting factor for SMEs in their willingness to take up new technology. Mun Choong pointed out that while the free trade zone in Malaysia creates opportunities for SMEs to sell their products to the world, it also opens them to increased competition from global brands that have since adopted modern technology.

Hannah Tan, COO of Qiibou Group of Companies, in a chat with Roshan (which was aired on Facebook Live) talked about challenges she encountered growing your companies. Her advice to budding entrepreneurs is “Make it your goal to be disciplined and success will follow.”

The AmBank BizConference also featured a special CEO Masterclass with Vishen Lakhiani, CEO of Mindvalley, who shared seven key points that business owners and leaders can use to create top-performing teams. These are creating attraction, find the right fit, establish a common code, happiness, growth, meaning, and significance.

In the closing speech, Christopher Yap, AmBank’s business banking MD, thanked all the participants for being there. He also called on SMEs to join the AmBank BizRACE where they can win prizes worth over RM2 million, which include CEO coaching and mentoring and a leadership development programme.

A recurring theme throughout the conference was the importance of employees in building a world-class brand. As competition becomes global with advances in technology, it is crucial that Malaysian SMEs explore ways to create diverse teams and invest in them to develop a winning mindset.