An old friend was having a conversation with me recently about how one of the best decisions he ever made was to sell his Porsche and buy a Honda Jazz. And no, he has not suffered any loss in income, in fact his business is booming. In that same conversation he talked about a guy he met recently who was just starting his business and was adamant on buying a Mercedes. His justification was that because he was starting up he needed the ‘image’, and my dear friend who has been in business for years tried hard to convince him not to jump into that trap. The conversation struck a chord with me because i’ve gone and made such decisions, hence been on both sides of that fence.
So today we are talking about the need to maintain a perception of image created by societal pressure, with a focus on cars. There are many ways to look at this subject and of course each individual’s view on this matter is different. This post isn’t about whats right or whats wrong, as this blog isn’t about showing whats the best way to get through life, merely sharing my thoughts from experience in hopes that it helps you find your own way. And to be honest, both sides of this opinion have their merits.
Here’s my story. At many points in my life i spent more than i had and i spent most of it on my cars. Buying and modifying. Boys don’t stop buying toys when they grow up, their toys just get a whole lot more expensive. I continuously upgraded my cars and when one day i decided to buy a Honda after owning a Mercedes , questions and comments i received by phone and in person were along the lines of “hows business bro? everything ok?” “How caaaannnnn….. hondaa worrrrrr” “Your Mercedes to a Honda??? why????”. Much to my annoyance at the beginning to amusement after awhile. I was happy to hear from some friends, means i’ve got good friends who are concerned about my financial wellbeing.
It was however a clear representation of our society and how success is measured by material things, cars in particular.
Starting a business without unethically stealing some clients from your previous employer can be difficult. Without past credentials and a concrete portfolio, it can be a long uphill challenge to secure new clients. Hence, many argue that creating a perceived image of standing beyond your current reality would give your potential clients the confidence in you. Most obvious item being the largest that you can bring with you for show is your car (cause even if you lived in a 10million dollar mansion, nobody cares, nobody can see it, you can’t bring it to the hottest club). Watches along with designer duds can all be high quality fakes (which are abundant), so the biggest impact is the car. Kind of explains this article from The Star – “Car Ownership in Malaysia 3rd highest in the world” (another view is just how horrible our public transport system is, but we are in Malaysia and we all know its a status thing to have a car). And this article from Malaysia’s number one automotive blog speaks alot about the need for image here in Malaysia. The need to portray success has led many people to take on 100% car loans with a 9-year tenure, only to not have a buffer for incidentals and a major repair can send them into debt. With a flashy car, we tend to need to live up to the image of the car and spend even more on unnecessary lifestyle indulgences. There are winds of change though, as i notice the bulk of the younger generation doesn’t place as much emphasis on the car they drive as the generation before (us?) and instead view cars as a means of transport.
So did owning a car that appeared beyond my then current means do my business any good?. Well back then i honestly believed that i needed to continuously upgrade my car (every 2 years) and that it did create the right image for me as a business owner, and i preached it and lived it. I’ve never actually took notice of or evaluated if the car contributed in anyway but if i had to quantify it, i would say it probably helped with creating alot of exposure. People assumed that my company was doing very well and depending on who and how you look at it, means we were doing extremely good work and had lots of clients. I honestly have to say, the car probably didn’t give our potential clients more confidence in us, it did give me personally more confidence. There was a sense of pride and achievement that helped in the confidence department. With that confidence i was able to market the company better and was always ready to pick up a big potential client.
On the flip side, having a flashy car probably created some red eyes of envy amongst some clients. Some quarters viewed it as us making alot of money off them and that we were overcharging, often chucking a spanner into the works. While there were pros to buying a car beyond my means and i’m sure there are many other successful individuals out there who could substantiate this strategy, I say let your work speak for your capabilities, always deliver your best work and let that be your image of success. If you want to reward yourself with a nice car that you like and can afford, go ahead and buy it. Heck, go ahead buy it and paint it pink if that makes you happy. Just don’t go out and buy a car because you think your potential clients need to see you in one.
always deliver your best work and let that be your image of success