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Learning the Wisdom of Morning Markets

Early Bird Exec Telly Kuo


Among the growing ranks of early risers are more than a few corporate leaders. Optoma Corporation general manager for Asia Telly Kuo frequents traditional morning markets, for fresh fruit and fish, and entrepreneurial inspiration.



Early Bird Exec Telly Kuo

By Alice Lu
From CommonWealth Magazine (vol. 390 )

The 42-year-old son of a fish vendor who started his career in sales, Optoma Corporation general manager for Asia Telly Kuo has helped his upstart projector company pierce the lines of defense of the industry's leading Japanese manufacturers. Established in 2001, Optoma is now the world?s second-leading projector brand, and has experienced rapid annual growth in sales, organizational scale and revenues. Optoma?s earnings per share have gone from minus NT$0.9 when the company was first listed to NT$5.1 in 2006.

Kuo reveals that his professional drive has been forged during the early morning hours when he is alone, and his perseverance in building a brand was spawned by the spirit of traditional market vendors.

Every morning at 6:30, Kuo dons a black sleeveless vest and jogs 3 km around Taipei's National Dr. Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall. Then he heads to a nearby traditional market, buying some fruit for himself as breakfast and picking up some fish for his wife.

During his solitary early morning runs, Kuo ponders his schedule for the day, thinking about what he needs to discuss at upcoming meetings or items he needs to bring up with customers. The mental and physical preparation allows him to arrive at work in the best possible frame of mind. Kuo admits, however, that, "getting up early to exercise is hard."

"In wintertime, like everybody else, I want to stay under the cover of warm blankets a little longer. Also, running and martial arts training leave me short of breath and very tired, but when you've finished running or working out, you get a feeling of accomplishment from meeting or exceeding your goal,"Kuo says.

Thinking back to his college days when he learned Taekwondo from a retired marine, Kuo recalls that he had to repeat every move 200 times with his coach at his side holding a baseball bat, ready to hit him for every misstep.

"You can't think of it as a chore. Heroes are forged by trial. Ability is perfected through practice and effort,"says Kuo, whose unswerving determination was fostered one drop of sweat at a time.

When he has finished his run, Kuo heads to a traditional market, where he invariably knows which stall has the freshest fish and which fruit shop has the most reasonable prices. The women in charge of the fish stalls Kuo regularly patronizes know that he does not need to touch the fish to make his choice; one look tells him if the fish is fresh or not. That skill comes from helping his father sell fish as a child. On weekends he would get up at 4 in the morning along with his father to open the shop for business at 7 a.m.

That childhood experience left Kuo with a special sensibility for traditional markets, and led him to apply the spirit of the market stalls to managing a brand. Kuo says there are many frustrations and setbacks in building a brand, and perseverance is a must, as reflected in the message small stall owners often impart to their customers. A typical conversation might begin with the question from a customer: "Is your fish fresh’And the vendor would bluntly reply: "Of course it's fresh. I've been in business for more than a decade, and we have our credibility to protect."Kuo believes that although companies and small vendors operate at different scales, the work attitude is similar. Both need determination and persistence to establish their own brand.

"It's an example of great wisdom from an unsung personality,"Kuo says.

The Optoma executive believes that getting up early is the battleground of the future in competition among individuals.

"Comparing employees who are early to bed and early to rise with those who go to sleep late and wake up late, the energy level of the two is quite different. But there aren't many people who see the opportunity or are willing to do anything about it,"says the creator of the Optoma miracle.

Telly Kuo's Early Bird Secrets

1. Want to be different: Getting up earlier than others provides a sense of accomplishment.

2. Look good on screen: When appearing at a company activity, getting up earlier enables you to look better.

3. Think of the benefits of getting up early ?for example improving your health and maintaining your physique.

4. Get others to watch over you: By telling people around you that you are getting up early, their supervision can help you reach your goal.

Translated from the Chinese by Luke Sabatier