A few short years ago Miriam Shastri founded multi-disciplinary consultancy TOP Beraten Malaysia, focused on helping foreign investors access the Malaysian Market. In this interview with Asia Law Portal, Shastri explains what inspired her to found TOP Beraten Malaysia, its’ key services offerings, how a hybrid services offer helps attract clients, her background in law in consulting and what opportunities exist for foreign investors in Malaysia.
What inspired you to found TOP Beraten Malaysia?
What inspires me in business is passion, as people passionate about a company or product will add much more value to it than otherwise. I am also inspired by the humanitarian, charitable angle in business – using the profits made from one’s own labour to help others, can there be a more rewarding thing?
I find love for what you do professionally and in life highly contagious, and it gets me truly engaged and inspired, therefore many ideas were born on the wings of passion.
Because I am passionate about transparency, innovation and a personal approach to service, I founded the management consultancy firm TOP Beraten, with a very active CSR programme.
I wondered, why can’t these values guide a multi-disciplinary company and how they deliver their service?
Because of this, we do not go after every client. Instead, we serve a niche market of European-based companies, entrepreneurs and expatriates, as this is the target group where my team and I can add more value and the customer receives a better Return on Investment.
Our values of Transparency, Out-of-the-box Thinking and a Personal Approach to service (TOP) also help us find more loyal clients with whom we develop closer ties than other service firms would.
It reminds me of British anthropologist Robin Dunbar whose research with primates suggested that humans can only really maintain about 150 connections at once. That was the average size of a village.
In the global village, I don’t think much has changed. I prefer depth rather than breadth of connections, though of course a good network is fundamental in business.
Many clients come to TOP Beraten to not only use our expertise, but to make use of my network, which is a game-changer for them.
What are TOP Beraten Malaysia’s key service areas and to whom do you provide them?
We collaborate with government agencies and partners in our network to offer clients a suite of services that, in the present climate, allows them to travel to Malaysia, have a market research or feasibility study done, or even establish a subsidiary remotely.
In the time before the COVID-19 crisis, we have built a portfolio of corporate advisory services that include company setup, corporate best practices, regulatory compliance, and in collaboration with other firms, IP, data protection, HR and other legal advice. Our business support services, also performed with our trusted partners, include accounting, payroll, tax, audit, application for licences and work permits, recruitment services and digital consulting services, as well as customisable BPO/outsourcing services.
For many expatriate clients, we also deal with ‘paperwork’ issues between European countries and Malaysia, especially on inheritance and legacy issues.
The firm operates a hybrid consulting and legal and accounting service offer. How does this help you attract and retain new clients?
Our clients come to us through our network and usually by word-of-mouth. In today’s hyper-connected world, a single recommendation has a larger impact than before. Most people trust a recommendation from friends and family over any type of advertising.
You trust their word, and trust can affect the intention to procure our services.
We as a company also believe that if a basis of trust does not exist, then we cannot provide services for you – trust and ethics are essential for TOP Beraten to build close ties, whether it is with clients, suppliers or business associates.
Trust in our reputation and brand, which is amplified by social media and digital strategies directly influences our perceived usefulness to clients.
Along with word-of-mouth, I find we attract those clients automatically that believe what we believe.
These clients are already looking for a new, different type of consulting firm – and once they trust us, they usually want us to do the full service, “one-stop-shop” package.
Your background is in law and international trade development. Tell us more about this experience and how it helped shape your professional career.
It’s actually quite a funny story (in my opinion)! As I am Malaysian-German by ethnicity and grew up between continents, I always knew I would want to do something with an ‘international edge’ to it.
As a student I loved journalism, Classic literature and social studies, so I was not immediately fond of the idea of studying law. But when I thought more about this subject, I realized it can be applied in so many areas, and that I would be open to so many career paths as a law graduate.
Thus, I read law at Cardiff University, which greatly inspired the ‘lawyer’ in me, and then read the LLM in German Law at the JGU University in Mainz. This enables me to contrast and compare different jurisdictions and Iegal interpretations even better than a graduate of only one legal system.
Once I returned to Kuala Lumpur, I realized how useful this background would be.
It led me unto the career path of advising European, mainly German-speaking clients, in particular when it comes to issues of bilateral trade, market entry and regulatory compliance in Malaysia.
We are now considering opening an office in Europe (once travel restrictions ease) and have recently joined the EXPANDEERS network, which means we have partners all over the world to provide similar services as our own, should our clients require these.
What prime considerations should European businesses consider when looking to do business in Malaysia, and vice-versa?
As with any investment, the main thing to consider before signing the dotted line is having a plan. I like the German approach, where the opening of an entity in Malaysia is usually planned up to minimum 1 year ahead, meticulously. It helps put investment goals into perspective and makes it clear for all sides what milestones need to be achieved.
Malaysian investors looking to invest in Europe should take note of this planning style in particular, as it will not only help them but be expected by their European counterparts.
I’d also advise considering the client’s timeline and tolerance of risk. It is essential to realize how much time you will give yourself to reach your financial goal and how much risk you can tolerate getting there.
This is where the advisors, such as us, come in – it is crucial when entering a new, foreign marketplace to have advisors that can guide you through cultural pitfalls and a maze of compliance requirements!
Investors should also consider hiring a more diversified team. I am a true believer of diversity at the workplace, as this creates more cultural understanding and a better relationship with customers, who are also as diverse as they come.
If you are purchasing a company overseas, other than due diligence, also find out about the company culture. If their values do not sit well with you, it may not be your best option.
I’d also help them research the market. It’s critical to find out what factors could impact your investment. For example, with the Covid-19 vaccine coming soon, glove makers’ shares might be going down if the market feels people will not need the product as much in the future.
We would work then with clients to develop a plan based on what they want to achieve. Often, we are described as “Problem Solvers” or high-level Project Managers by our clients, owing to our diverse service portfolio.