Richard Tan: The Man Behind A $100 Million Business Providing Educational Content
When Richard Tan talks about how he has built a $100 million business, as one of the leading global providers of educational resources, seminars and workshops, the word “persistence” seems to encapsulate his journey.
“When I was ill and had to undergo chemotherapy, I still worked from 7:30am to 10pm,” says the sprightly, bespectacled founder and CEO of Success Resources. “My vein even collapsed, but I had to turn things around and fill up the seats for our seminar in Hong Kong.” Although that incident occurred many years ago, and Richard is now in the pink of health, he believes that as a leader, one should always lead by example.
“If my staff tells me ‘it cannot be done’, I will show them that it can be done. The reason why at that time, we only had 300 people for our seminar was because the team couldn’t work together. So, I decided to fly over to Hong Kong to inspire the team and create cohesiveness. I strongly believe that if you’re only willing to work for 8 hours a day, don’t expect your staff to work for 10 hours.”
Starting out as a small conference organiser in 1992, Richard has slowly grown Success Resources to a significant level of prominence by offering a suite of courses and programmes in the areas of personal growth and professional development, as well as getting world-class speakers like Tony Blair, Robert Kiyosaki, Tony Robbins, Nick Vujicic, and Bill Clinton to inspire, transform and impact lives through their oratory skills.
To date, Success Resources is running like a well-oiled machine, holding over 500 events across the world every year, with footprints in 30 countries and 70 cities. With the support of his 200 staff, Richard has his sights set on something bigger. “In the next 2 to 5 years, I want to be the biggest aggregator for anything related to personal development by providing the best content around the world, so that we become a one-stop place.”
WY-LENE YAP: In the course of 27 years running Success Resources, how did you build your brand to become a leading provider of life-changing education?
RICHARD TAN: When you have a brand, it increases people’s perception of your company. So in order to build a good brand, anything that you do regardless of how small it is, you have to over-deliver. The small things actually do matter, because it will lead to bigger things. Success Resources started out doing very small seminars with not so well-known speakers, and over time, word started to spread because we would always deliver on our promise to our customers. Slowly, that was how we gained the trust of our customers too.
WY-LENE: How do you ensure that you have brand loyalty among your customers?
RICHARD: First, you must have loyalty to your staff. Once you have that, your staff will provide the best service to your customers. I, myself, can’t create brand loyalty alone because I don’t deal with the customers directly. If I love my team, then they will in turn love all my customers—that’s my approach.
WY-LENE: What percentage of your revenue comes from new vs. existing customers?
RICHARD: The percentage of new attendees for each event is around 60 to 70%.
WY-LENE: Are you planning to diversify your revenue stream down the line?
RICHARD: Yes, we also have an app called New Tycoon which is a mobile seminar platform that delivers video live streaming access and you can get coached by various experts. It works on a paid membership model.
WY-LENE: What are the main reasons why people attend your workshops and seminars?
RICHARD: First, people want to be more than what they are right now. It could be in terms of making more money or climbing up the corporate ladder. Second, we offer the best content in the world at a very affordable price.
WY-LENE: What do you think you do better than TED or Masterclass?
RICHARD: I don’t know if we are better than them… they could be better than us in many ways. But we have our own market. I have never attended a TED event, although I have seen a lot of TED talks online and they are really good.
WY-LENE: Who are your direct competitors then?
RICHARD: In all honesty, I don’t feel like anyone is our competitor—unless they are running a seminar on the same day, with a similar topic. But even then, I am too busy to notice who are our competitors.
WY-LENE: I attend a lot of conferences and seminars, with a great lineup of speakers. I feel inspired when I attend the event, but the next day, it’s back to reality and the “magic” has kind of disappeared because there is no continuity. It’s a one-off thing. What does Success Resources do to ensure some form of continuity?
RICHARD: You’re right, but the reality of the situation is such that nothing is permanent. I think it’s better to be inspired for a short period of time than not be inspired at all.
WY-LENE: Where is Success Resources heading to in the next 2 to 5 years?
RICHARD: We want to be the biggest aggregator for anything related to personal development by providing the best content around the world, so that we become a one-stop place. Basically, I want to create our own version of a Netflix-style platform, but instead of movies and TV shows, it’s everything to do with personal development.
WY-LENE: How have you incorporated technology to deliver a better experience for your customers?
RICHARD: We use HumaGrams when our speakers can’t be physically present. They are not live, but it is in real time. And it’s also three-dimensional. We have done it before in the Gold Coast with Tony Robbins.
WY-LENE: What are your biggest threats at the moment?
RICHARD: The biggest ones are those that I can’t predict. [laughs] We were supposed to do an event in Turkey, but we had to cancel it because of the uprising. Another time, due to the Bali bombings, the speaker decided to cancel. When the Manchester concert bombing happened, suddenly, when we had our event in London, there were so many security checks—even bags were not allowed. As a result of that, our event started 2 hours late. During such instances, we try our best to do what we can, but we end up losing money with all the additional costs.
WY-LENE: What causes certain people to become world-class leaders and changemakers?
RICHARD: They have a compelling reason; they are unhappy to a point where they had enough, and that fuels them to make a change in their own country or in their personal life.
WY-LENE: What are a few resources you would recommend to someone looking to gain insight into becoming a better leader?
RICHARD: Many years ago, Mr Lee Kuan Yew said, “When you reach 35 years old, and you are still not a leader in your company, then you will never be one.” That statement made me a little worried because it assumes that leaders are born, not made. Personally, I believe that leaders are made. You can learn to become one by undergoing training, coaching, and reading a lot of books. At Success Resources, we have a popular leadership course called Enlightened Warrior Training Camp that helps to unleash an individual’s potential, and we hold it twice a year.
WY-LENE: Tell me more about your Enlightened Warrior Training Camp.
RICHARD: We have a set of programmes that are centred around experiential learning. We make participants go through situations and learn through reflection on doing. They can also see how they behave in certain situations, and that process forces you to decide if you want to be a leader or not.
WY-LENE: What advice would you give someone going into a leadership position for the first time?
RICHARD: There are two kinds of leaders: those who are appointed and those who volunteer and rise to the occasion. In both circumstances, the person must ask themselves a very important question: What is the final outcome that I want to achieve? From there, you become very clear in your direction.
WY-LENE: What is one characteristic that you believe every leader should possess?
WY-LENE: What is one mistake you witness leaders making more frequently than others?
RICHARD: When their personal life affects their professional life—a good example would be adultery. If a leader is not careful, his position can be compromised. I’m very happy that our political leaders in Singapore don’t have extramarital affairs.
WY-LENE: But leaders like Bill Clinton have managed to bounce back from such situations.
RICHARD: At that time when Bill Clinton had an affair with Monica Lewinsky, we were about to bring him to Singapore to speak. However, because of that incident, many of our sponsors like OCBC Bank pulled out. Although Bill Clinton was eventually acquitted of all charges, he wasted a lot of energy and time to battle the allegations, which could have been channelled to something more meaningful.
WY-LENE: What is the toughest part of being a leader?
RICHARD: Well, you are pretty much alone. Yes, you might have a team but many times, you are ahead of them because of your vision, thinking and beliefs.
Success is making sure my two kids grow up to be confident adults, who are able to take care of themselves, and my wife voting me “the best husband in the world”.
WY-LENE: Do you feel lonely?
RICHARD: [laughs] Sometimes. I realised that people do not mind working hard, but they do not like being kept out of the loop. It’s important to keep your staff in the loop, and it makes the journey less lonely too.
WY-LENE: How do you measure success?
RICHARD: The normal definition of what “success” means to people is how much money you make, what kind of car you drive, how big is your house, etc… but that is not a true measure to me. In my eyes, success is making sure my two kids grow up to be confident adults, who are able to take care of themselves, and my wife voting me “the best husband in the world”. Achieving success can also be very a small thing like a 5-year-old learning how to draw a chicken. At the end of the day, it boils down to an individual’s own perception of what success means to them.
WY-LENE: How do you go about resolving conflict?
RICHARD: I would say that 98% of conflicts arise due to miscommunication.
WY-LENE: Are you a good communicator then?
RICHARD: You have to ask my staff. [laughs] I do tell them to communicate well with one another.
WY-LENE: What do you think is your greatest weakness?
RICHARD: It’s actually hiring the right people. I don’t seem to do that well. When I meet a person who has a good resume on paper, and decide to hire them, they don’t seem to be able to perform. Not too long ago, we hired a professional videographer with an impressive resume and I thought that we had found a gem. He only lasted for a week because he couldn’t deliver and do a decent job. Sometimes I feel that it is better to be lucky than smart.
WY-LENE: I agree, luck plays an important factor.
RICHARD: In my business, there were many times when I made certain decisions and judgement calls with people that did not turn out the way I wanted, and it cost me a lot of time, money and opportunities.
WY-LENE: What is the most significant change that you brought to your organisation?
RICHARD: Leading by example. If my staff tells me ‘it cannot be done’, I will show them that it can be done. The reason why at that time, we only had 300 people for our seminar was because the team couldn’t work together. So, I decided to fly over to Hong Kong to inspire the team and create cohesiveness. As a boss, I strongly believe that if you’re only willing to work for 8 hours a day, don’t expect your staff to work for 10 hours.
WY-LENE: How do you encourage the development of your employees?
RICHARD: I encourage them to go for training programmes, but that is not the most effective way. The most effective way is by inspiring my staff to take on more responsibilities that can help them grow. If they feel inspired, they will motivate themselves to do more than what is asked of them.
WY-LENE: Can you give me an example of how you inspire your employees?
RICHARD: I like to invest in people, and spend a lot of time talking to my staff to get to know them. It’s important to build relationships because it is a lot easier to get things done when you have established a rapport with your employees.
WY-LENE: What’s an important takeaway that you have received through your interactions with all these influential speakers?
RICHARD: It was from Bill Clinton, when we had lunch together. I remember asking him a few questions. The first was: When was the first time you ever thought of being the President of the United States? The second question was: Now that you are out of office, what would you like to do? At that time, I heard that he might become a talk show host. Okay, so the third question was kinda stupid. I don’t know whether you have ever experienced this before whereby the minute you open your mouth, you immediately regret what you’ve just said. And I asked him: Do you think it is right or wrong for America to invade Afghanistan? To which he replied, “It is not whether it is right or wrong for America to be in Afghanistan. It is about making it right.” From that, I realised that it is not about making a right or wrong decision, because who knows what might happen in the future? But if you decide to commit to something, do it to the best of your abilities.
WY-LENE: Last question: What do you want to be known for?
RICHARD: I want to be known by my team for being a good boss. I want to be known by my friends for being a good friend. And finally, I want to be known by my family for being a good father and grandfather.
This interview is part of Influential Brands® Top CEO of the Year series, which recognises and profiles a select group of CEOs who are exemplary in 5 areas; Brand Leadership, Brand Expansion, Financial Performance, Innovation and Personal Integrity.
InfluentialBrands® recognises Brand Excellence & Leadership in Asia. Through our unique channels and methods, InfluentialBrands® aims to be a platform and champion of brand thought-leadership. The programme is tailored to enrich brands’ relationship with their consumers through meaningful conversations and engagement.
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