From Scientist to Businessman – Dr Lee Toong Chow

Dr Lee Toong Chow

Dr Lee excels in scientific research but is lost in the art of communication. He is now finding his way in this delicate subject and learning from other CEOs.

Dr Lee Toong Chow, a pharmacist with postgraduate degree in toxicology and doctorate in clinical pharmacology, describes himself as a reserved person, who only comes ‘alive’ when he is doing research. He is totally absorbed in the technical details, procedures and processes. So much so, the scientist finds it difficult to be a good boss and businessman. His stumbling blocks are in communication and networking. Dr Lee admits that he has picked up many lessons after joining Vistage but is still on the learning trail.

In scientific research, Dr Lee has made an impressive mark for Malaysia. His company Info Kinetics Sdn Bhd, incorporated in 2001, is a home-grown Clinical Research Organisation (CRO) which has gained international accreditations and worldwide data acceptability. The company is among a handful in Asia which has secured the OECD GLP (Good Laboratory Practice) accreditation, which means its laboratory facilities, testing processes, audits and inspections are of internationally-recognised quality. This gives it the edge in the very niche market where reputable pharmaceutical, food, cosmetics and herbal product companies do clinical research to test and authenticate their products before commercialization.

In the business world, Dr Lee realizes that he cannot just park himself in the laboratory and bury his attention on research. Thus he was keen to join Vistage with the quest to turn himself ‘from technically-oriented to business oriented’. He acknowledges that he is not transformed yet, but says the exposure to real life experiences of CEOs of large companies has been very positive.

‘For a scientist, it is either pass or fail. For a businessman, everything is possible’ – is how he sees the differences in perspective. Through mingling with other CEOs in his Vistage group and processing of issues, Dr Lee says he is learning to be less rigid.

‘Scientists are quite blunt in their choice of words. In business, we must know how to present our case or reprimand people ,’ Dr Lee notes. He believes that he has modified his style of communication and become more moderate. ‘ I used to follow the direct Western style, now I am more Confucian style… with Chinese values. I no longer fight to win but fight to get results,’ is how he puts it.

A constant challenge for him is how to get people to work together well. Info Kinetics has 40 full-time staff and 15 part-time personnel, comprising research and support staff, nurses and doctors. When dealing with employees, Dr Lee says he has to work on motivating individuals and creating group harmony.

The modest Dr Lee claims he is not yet a good CEO, just an ‘academic entrepreneur’. However, his leadership has steered the company on the right track. Turnover has grown from less than RM2million in 2001 to about RM6 million in 2008. Growth has come from increase in the number of sites (hospitals where clinical trials of drugs are carried out) and testing of new products.

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