I have been in Malaysia more than 20 times and I came through various feeling to this country – from hate to love. One thing I can say, doing business there is not easy, but Malaysia has a great business opportunities just waiting for someone to grab.
Malaysian economy, although at the moment (2015) struggles a bit, is a rising economy. I would say it is the 4th most developed country in SEA after Japan, Singapore and Hong Kong – but obviously that opinion might differ from person to person.
It took me a while to understand and learn how to do business there. One of the reasons why it is so difficult is that Malaysia is a highly multicultural country with quite a strong attach to religion and cultures. You not only do business with Malays but also with Indians and Chinese, and all together they are called Malaysians. And from what I could feel, they do distinguish themselves from others.
Here are a few tips that might make it easier for you to do business there:
The dress code is rather formal but definitely less that in Japan for instance and more that in Singapore. Malaysia has a tropical weather, and a little bit more is allowed here than in other countries. Of course it depends who you are going to meet with, but for men suit will always be highly appreciated, though no tie is required. When it comes to women, colourful cloths will be accepted, however remember that you should rather cover most of our body. At the end of the day, Malaysia is a Muslim country.
Try to avoid meetings on Friday. On one hand this day is reserves for Muslims to pray, on the other, Malaysians like to leave the office on this day bit earlier.
When it comes to punctuality, in my opinion, no matter what, you always should be on time, however quite often you will experience that your counterparty will be late. Traffic in Kuala Lumpur is horrible!
Malaysia as well as other SEA countries very much relays on relations, so don’t expect to have any quick decision during the first few meetings. Just take this time to build trust.
Each of three cultures are very hierarchical so try to pay attention how you treat people you are dealing with and always pay respects to the senior ranks.
Taking shoes off
Don’t be surprised if you will be asked to take your shoes off before entering the office! If you are not used to it, at first it might be a quite a big shock to you. No matter how silly it might sound, I would suggest you to practice delivering your presentation without shoes. Westerns subconsciously put a lot of power into cloths and shoes they are wearing. Taking one of them off, takes a bit of a confidence away. And you don’t want that during your business negotiations.
As it was mentioned earlier, Malaysia is a Muslim culture. If you deal with Malays, usually men would not do a handshake with women. They would rather slightly bow, putting right hand around heart.
Thought, while meeting with Chinese businessmen both genders will shake hands. With Indian business partners I would say it varies, so watch around how your partners behave and rather have passive than active attitude.
Call me Mr!
Using a first name is not common here. Especially at the beginning, when you still don’t know each other too well. Usually use “Mr” or Mrs” followed by the last name.
It might be bit different when you deal with government people. They very often use “Tun”, “Tan Sri”, “Dato” and “Datuk”.
One thing you must be careful about. From my experience it is not that easy to say which one is a first name and which one is a family name. So either try to figure it out before the meeting or just ask how you should call the person.
Also, you may hear often people calling each other “brother” or “sister”, though obviously they are not a relatives.
One and I think the most important thing about being successful in Malaysia is being introduced by the right person. Malaysians put a high importance to who they do business with and if you don’t have anyone who could introduce you, it will be extremely difficult for you be successful there
An extra tip…
Patience… from my experience it takes a lot of time before Malaysians can start trust you and take a decision, so if you are planning entering Malaysian market have it on mind and make appropriate adjustments to your business plan.
What are your experiences with doing business in Malaysia?