KV Soon loves a good challenge. And alternatives, which are found in good measure in the man as a parent, a professional worker and as a person.
While everyone else was peddling IBMs back in the 80s, he sold Apple computers across the country. His tour of Thailand was not to soak in the exotic sights and sounds of a seductive Siam but to pay homage to the Buddha. He skipped the pristine islands of Phuket for the pristine light of enlightenment. A novice monk for three months, he studied the life and early teachings of the Buddha and engaged in Anapanasati meditation.
Married with two young daughters, he has even decided that school is out for the kids, preferring instead to homeschool them. He figures an education in life is far more practical than the exam-oriented environment found in traditional classroom.
Fresh out of school, at age 19, Soon worked as a personnel administrator in a bank. Desk-bound and devoid of any real challenge, he quit the job after 2 1/2 years.
Eager to rejoin the job market, he found his niche in sales and marketing. From selling handphones to personal computers, the experience paved the way for a promising start in merchandising. He was particularly impressed by Apple Computers, whose spirit of free enterprise was both refreshing and radical at a time when conservative brands like Big Blue reigned supreme.
“The idea of a small outfit making it big in an industry still in its infancy appealed to me. Then there was its culture which was all about innovation and creative freedom,” said the 37-year-old Soon.
A penchant for books
He eventually dropped out of the retail race to explore other business options. Together with his wife Wai Leng, Soon decided to venture into publishing. The commercial concern, he admits, was a modest set-up involved in printing local biographies and religious books where business was often times seasonal.
Still, it was an arrangement that worked well as it allowed him to concentrate on his mini bookshop. Which was actually a rented small booth in the Punca Emas shopping complex, the only major shopping mall in Seremban, Negri Sembilan at that time. So when publishing jobs were few, his job description changed to that of a book trader, selling magazines and a variety of western literature from the classic and modern genre.
“Ours were the only shop selling these reading materials. We realised that there was a niche market for it and decided to relocate to a bigger space,” he adds.
Following this, they moved from the mall to an office lot located within the vicinity to set up Book People, a bookshop cum learning center that conducted English and educational courses.
“Our motto was good books for better people. Then, a friend and I started discussing about alternative education, of going beyond conventional books”.
Taking the cue from that brainstorming session, he formed TransEducation, a company that would provide a platform for exploring ideas on alternative education. By then, he had ceased operating his publishing business and so was able to invest more time and energy in this new project. Through perseverance and a strong conviction, he managed to transform concept into reality.
“TransEducation explores education transcending the normal way we would regard education, it explores education in its spirit through training programs and alternative approaches to learning which tries to bridge the head and heart.”
“It wasn?t meant to be a profit-making business, but more of an experimental endeavour. Our mission might?ve been too idealistic for some people, but that is what thinking out of the box means. What I like about having alternatives is not having to play follower all the time,” he said.
Soon guides Samanta in her drawing while his wife Wai Leng and younger daughter Amrita look on.
So confident was Soon of this teaching method, also named after the company, that he made the conscious effort of homeschooling his daughters Amrita, 5, and Samanta, 7. They understand that theirs is an education without teachers, classrooms and syllabus subjects in the normal sense. Yet, says Soon, there is never lack of social activities, learning experiences and room for character development.
“Learning comes naturally to children. Our daughters are still young and we approach homeschooling with what is known as “unschooling”, which is based on a child-led, or interest-led approach to learning. Our children spend more time interacting with us and other adults and this make a great difference in their social and emotional maturity. This interaction not only has very little peer pressure, it also helps a child?s socialization behaviour.
For someone schooled in the traditional classroom setting, he says it has nothing to do with going against the system, but should be appreciated in a more positive light.
“Homeschoolers are not against mainstream education. It?s simply a matter of choice by parents who wants to play a bigger role in aspects of their child education.
“What is important is what suits you and your family. If traditional mainstream education suits you better, go for it and be committed to it – do not take it as an ?out-sourced? job and leave it to the teachers.”
“Traditional classroom has its merits. I am a product of the traditional classroom system and I appreciate the good teachers who have taught me, especially those who have taught me to expand my minds and be not afraid to make changes to be a better person.”
“We have to go beyond the walls of the school and beyond the walls of our own minds,” he says, adding that parents of homeschoolers are not overly protective of their children.
“There?s a difference between locking a child at home and homeschooling. The latter is neither the former nor cutting the evil away from the child. It?s about allowing the child to grow naturally and reinforcing a hidden potential.”
The social entrepreneur
Today, he is the corporate warrior, working as country manager of ECnet (M) Sdn Bhd. It all began in 1995 when he and five others formed the IT start-up to provide supply chain solutions to manufacturers. Today, the company has grown into a 200-strong workforce with sales offices in eight countries including Singapore, Taiwan, Japan, Hong Kong, China and Malaysia.
Says Soon who started its Malaysian operations, “We went full circle, riding the wave during the emergence of e-commerce and surviving the storm that crushed a many dot-com dreams.”
That experience proved to be a valuable lesson. Achieving milestone after milestone, ECnet is today among the top e-commerce solution providers in the Asian region. The 1999 issue of the Fortune magazine mentions the company (formerly known as AMO) as one of Asia?s Most Hopeful E-Commerce Venture to Succeed. Its impressive track record includes winning the Star of E-Business at OracleOpen World, listed at the top position in Enterprise 50 Dotcom awards and garnering numerous awards from the Internet World Asia Industry Awards including Internet Company Of The Year and Best B2B Internet Site.
On the family front, he dotes on his daughters, sometimes bringing them along his business trips. And because his wife also accompanies him during those long hauls, baby-sitting is not a burden. Moreover, having the family close by remedies any feeling of homesickness.
Describing himself as “a very happy father who enjoys the seemingly opposing worlds of a loving family and the corporate arena”, Soon is also a prolific writer concerned with the challenges faced by today?s young families. His articles pursue radical ideas on parenting and communication skills as well as alternative approaches to the education system.
Also the community man, Soon teamed up with his wife to set up a parenting website called familyplace.com.my. Since its inception in 1998, the site has become a parenting portal for exchanging experiences and sharing parenting tips. It also features online discussion groups and forums that culminate into seminars and workshops conducted by Soon, Chong and invited speakers.