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Birmingham MBA Turns Trash Collector

Oh's idea is sustainability at its finest

By  Sunny Li

Wed Feb 3 2010

BusinessBecause
 

Birmingham University MBA Frankki Oh is an inspiration for business students everywhere, especially the great numbers of you struggling to find a place in the credit crunched job market.

story in Malaysian paper Kosmo describes how the 47-year-old, who had the foresight to do an MBA back in 1987, quit his marketing manager job in a multinational firm to start collecting trash from the streets of Malaysia’s capital Kuala Lumpur.

For those of you who don’t read Malay, here are Oh’s key points: 

  • Trash collecting offers better returns than his previous fixed-salary job. The city’s paper and steel waste can fetch a high price from recycling firms. At the multinational firm he could only get a pay raise if he put in hours of overtime.
  • The corporate life wasn’t all it seemed: “A high flyer with a fat pay check looks good to friends, family, peers, business associates, society… Who knows the sacrifices, expectations and pressures he has to endure to ensure the perceived comfortable lifestyle,” he says.
  • He wanted control of his life and he wanted out of a world in which he was forced to play political games with management. Also, running his own business means he retains 100 per cent of profits.
  • His first business, distributing food to markets, failed. But Oh, who is from a poor family of seven siblings, always kept it real. He stayed in touch with three pre-MBA friends who tipped him off about the recycling business – they were in it themselves.
  • Starting with capital of about RM4,000 (US$1,186) he started collecting batteries, steel doors, used books, washing machines, clothes hangers, bicycles and fans from the streets of KL: “I did my collection rounds as early as nine in the morning to two in the afternoon. After that, I would do my second round from five in the evening to seven at night.
  • He made RM150 profits on his first trading day. His monthly income is now between RM4,000 and RM5,000: slightly more than what you earn on a graduate training scheme in KL.

  • Oh lives in a modest house in Seri Kembangan, 18 minutes' drive outside KL, furnished second-hand. He is married but has no kids.
  • His goal is to work “without constraints”. Being self-employed he is now free to do anything “without reprimand” from employers.
  • He plans to stay in the trash business “as long as it remains lucrative”, but he’s also on the lookout for potential ventures to enhance his cash flow.
  • He’s proud of “working hard and making an honest income”. He’s even published a bookThe Money Makers: Crisis & Opportunity, to teach young people how to overcome pride and other people’s perceptions to find ways to make money in hard times.   
  • In an email exchange with BusinessBecause he re-emphasised that the recycling industry offers high profit margins and cash flows that “not many industries enjoy”.

  • “As the saying goes, every profession creates heroes.” Damn straight Frankki.
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