Daryl Foong is a pretty known figure in Malaysia. He’s the son of prominent entrepreneurs and venture capitalists Dato’ Simon Foong and Datin Mina Foong, who have countless successful ventures, among them being Aquaria KLCC and The Body Shop.
I wanted to write about Daryl because while he’s one of the most privileged people I know, he’s surprisingly unpretentious and self-effacing. He’s no shy and retiring wallflower though; his closest friends will find themselves the victims of his snide wit.
“I studied marketing but I really didn’t like marketing.”
Daryl went to Australia for university but quickly discovered marketing was not a passion.
“Marketing is one of those fields that you go into when you don’t know what else to do. People who haven’t quite found what they want to do, are missing a calling or are just general lazy layabouts end up in marketing,” he says with an irreverent wink.
“Don’t pretend and say, ‘I joined marketing because I wanted to be a Starbucks director.’ It’s all a bunch of lies! Marketing is something that you can learn from a textbook. You go to Borders, you pick up a book. If you love a product and you know a product, you are a marketeer, it’s as simple as that. So, yeah, because I didn’t like marketing, I ended up taking all kinds of weird, subjective topics that I enjoyed. I even took astrology, which, I right away figured was very different from astronomy! I didn’t like astrology at all, but I was interested in astronomy. But the reason I took these courses was just a lack of better things to look out for. You know, in Malaysia, the school system is terrible. In government schools, you’re either in the science stream or the arts stream, which is regarded as being in the ‘failure stream’. I probably would have been much better in the arts stream, but because being in the arts stream supposedly meant you were an imbecile, I went to the science stream.”
“In Malaysia, the school system is terrible.”
I can completely relate to this point. I went to the Arts stream when I was 16. Here, I feel the need to justify my PMR results (6 As and a B, damn it Geography!) so I qualified for the Science stream. Like Daryl, I definitely felt the stigma of being in the arts stream – the smart stream was the science stream while those in the arts stream were seen as not as clever.
“It’s so clear in government schools. When you look at classrooms, everyone is sitting there just because the government is forcing them to be there. I found this a poor decision on our education ministry’s part. Once you get to an international school or a university overseas, especially in more developed worlds, something like telling your parents you would like to be a sports doctor doesn’t mean they’ve failed as a parent! Here, if you say you want to be a sports doctor, your parents are probably going to say, “Ha? Nak main sports? Buang duit lagi!” (What? You want to play sports and throw more money away?) But, if you’re overseas and you say you want to be a sports doctor, parents there are more like, “Oh, good! Do what you like, practice it, and make a decent living!” You could be a plumber overseas and make tons of money. You’re a skilled professional. I think it’s only after I went to university and stopped being drunk, I discovered there are a lot of things you can do which don’t need to be business related.”
To put it bluntly, Daryl was born with a nice big silver spoon in his mouth. What I wanted to know was if there was any reverse discrimination for him. Did people think everything came easily to him? Did people discredit him for his skills and efforts, thinking it was only because of his good fortune he had come so far in life?
“On my very own personal level, I wanted to prove to people that I wasn’t a useless sack of meat, so I didn’t start working with the family business.”
“It’s very subjective, depending on a person’s personality. I find that, with a lot of rich people, it really depends on how they approach their identity. Some people are the sons and daughters of ministers, and they have a certain entitlement to them. I don’t know a lot of them, because I don’t have a very positive view of people like that. For the most part, and I could be wrong, I think that because of all their entitlement, they don’t see that there’s anything wrong with how they behave. They’re very insulated and protected from regular people. They don’t see themselves behaving like assholes, as being an asshole. They see it as part of their privilege and prerogative. It’s the same with a lot of business owners who act like humongous assholes. They say, ‘I have built my business with my own two hands, therefore I can shout at whoever I want! You’re my fucking employee, so I pay you to take this shit!’ So for me, personally, I didn’t grow up rich per se. When I was born, my parents were already pretty well to do but we were still living very modestly. We had a comfortable life, and never really wanted for anything, but I grew up with the kind of mindset that I had to do things for myself. I had enough pocket money to buy stuff to eat in school, but beyond that, if I wanted to buy a toy I had to save money from my pocket money. My parents, when they went travelling, would go on first class or business class, while my brother and I would travel cattle class! We’d say to my mom, “Mum, mum, can we use your card that you get 50% off to travel?” And she would say, “You use your own money and pay. If you can pay, by all means, do whatever you want to do!” It’s this kind of do it yourself attitude. On my very own personal level, I wanted to prove to people that I wasn’t a useless sack of meat, so I didn’t start working with the family business. My first job was at a PR company where I was tortured profusely. My second job was with a marketing company and then I joined the family business.”
What is Daryl’s ikigai? (His reason of being)
“I guess I don’t really have an ikigai yet. If I’m not mistaken, an ikigai is not just about the job that you do, but the purpose behind it. Going back to what you were saying, about being born with a silver spoon – if your parents own a business or a legacy that one day they would pass down to you, this tends to be something to think about. I suppose on one hand, you are very free to choose your own path, and you would have the support and backing of your parents. You could utilize some pre-existing infrastructure, for example starting your own coffee chain like a lot of people have. But I feel a lot of them step out of their parents’ shadow to be their own boss and do what they wanted instead of working for their parents’ company. There is a responsibility as an Asian son or daughter, that one day you will help out with your parents business. In any family gathering, you will always get questions like, “Oh, how come you’re not helping mom and dad? Have you joined the business? Taking over yet?” If you still haven’t started helping out with your parents, you get comments like, “How? Why ah? Not nice ah working for your parents? Oh, that one over there isn’t working for his parents! I don’t know what he’s doing, he doesn’t have any drive!” There’s a lot of this Asian stigma attached to it. Part of Asian filial piety is about helping your parents drive the business. So, unless you can come up with a better reason to work in another company, you might as well work for your own parents company. Unless you are going to go out, start your own company and be your own boss, you might as well work for your parents. It’s just one of those things. If I remember correctly, an ikigai is about having something you love, something the world needs and something you do. That usually creates a true sense of purpose. I’m sure the world needs plenty of things, but whether it is something I can do, or be happy doing is another question entirely. I may be happy doing charity work but I don’t know if my parents would be all that pleased.”
What about challenges? What are some of the hardest things Daryl has gone through in life?
“They say dying is easy and living is hard. I think, when I stopped being drunk in Melbourne, and realized how much I didn’t like it there. There was a lack of sense of belonging, and a sense of displacement. Some may call it homesickness, but I think it was a combination of that and the fact that I don’t do well in cold countries. I have SAD – Seasonal Affective Disorder. I stopped drinking because most of my drinking buddies graduated from drinking to doing drugs, and I really wasn’t prepared to make that step. I sobered up, and once I was sober, I didn’t quite enjoy life without all that drink. I found Melbourne to be a very small city. I only knew the CBD (Central Business District). I didn’t enjoy going for road trips for miles and miles just to look at twelve rocks. I also found a slight undercurrent of racism in Australia. Not so much in the CBD, which is pretty much filled with Asians. But you pick it up from a lot of Australians. When I go to a store, I say to the cashier, “Can I have a carton of milk?” and he goes “What’s that? Excuse me? English please.” I am speaking English. It’s the assumption because you’re Asian and they didn’t hear you properly the first time, you’re not speaking English. And then, there are random bits of racism. You get random people who yell at you when they drive by, “Dim sum! Dim sum!”
Many people have an idea that studying or working abroad is the glamorous thing to do. It’s the ‘cool’ or ‘smart’ thing to do. Daryl is the opposite. It’s clear that Daryl loves being in Malaysia and staying in his home country makes him very happy. Given that we’re not in the best of times, and many of us are disillusioned with the way things are turning out, I find it refreshing to have someone say the reverse.
“I have a lot of faith in this country. Maybe not in the way that the current government is running, or the way it has been in the past, but more of the promise of what Malaysia was supposed to be. Malaysia was, and is, a melting pot of culture. Malaysia, Truly Asia! That was a really good tagline by our tourism ministry. Part of what makes Malaysia difficult to manage as a country is also part of its strength. You find people of different races and creeds. Malaysians, on the whole, are a pretty tolerant bunch. They’re polite, full of heart, and are very willing to give and to help. You see small acts of kindness every day. Sure, you get the people screaming about their rights as a certain race or another, or how people are being trampled down, but that’s no different than what Donald Trump is doing in America. So you get it everywhere, it’s just that it tends to make better news. But there are so many small acts of kindness that keep the madness of bay, and Malaysia is full of it! It’s all the more compelling because everyone is so different. Even with all this difference, Malaysians still go out of their way to help you. A good example of the promise of Malaysia is why a stolen Malaysian passport is so valuable. If I’m not mistaken, a stolen Malaysian passport retails for about 30K USD according to the buyer. The fact that you have a Malaysian passport means you can be anybody. You can be Chinese, Malay, Indian, Caucasian or Eurasian. I myself am 1/8 Indian, ¼ Malay and the rest Peranakan! We have a huge community here of mixed bloods and races that is accepted anywhere in the world. Malaysians have the potential to be quite the international citizen. This is the promise of Malaysia I still hold on to.”
If you’d like to get to know Daryl a little bit more, follow him on Instagram!
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