Tuesday, December 25, 2012

The Unglamorous Chairman

Unexpected in the month of December 2012, I volunteered myself as the committee member of the Management Corporation (MC) of my apartment while the ex-committee and management company decided to quit due to financial difficulties and disappointment with the residents. In the next 2 days, I was voted as the Chairman because I was late for the meeting 5 minutes. Now, I am the Chairman of the MC of my apartment, on a rescue mission to save the apartment from turning into a cowboy town, with only RM 7,500 in the bank account, RM 40,000 of water debt, 30% cost overrun and residents reluctant to pay maintenance due to the worsen situations.

I landed on an unglamorous job (with a glamorous title) with a whole load of shits to handle.

Why shit happened?

The apartment is having a water leakage problem since 2007 (suspected due to aged water pipes), and our monthly water billed had increased from 2007’s RM 7000 to 2012’s RM 13,000 (at its peak, we are paying RM 17,000 per month). Countless committees and management companies for years had tried to solve this issue, but the water bill fails to go below its RM 13,000/month mark.

Poor man can’t be chooser; as we get poorer due to the water leakage (loosing between RM 6000 to RM 10,000 per month), we still try to maintain the “luxury” life of 3 security guards per shift, a private management company, full-time cleaners and etc. Even though the maintenance fee is raised 50% last year, it just couldn't sustain its current operations. Any logical person would ask why not reduce the services? I believe the answer has very much to do with the psychology of the residents, which I shall explain shortly.

To Rescue or Punish

Like all company with in bad financial situations, it’s time to come up with some serious cost cutting measures and prioritize spending. It’s slightly “easy” for us that the previous management terminated all the services, thus we basically start with zero cost.

In the beginning, some residents suggested that we should “punish” those who didn’t pay the maintenance charges by not restoring the security guards and let SYABAS terminate the water, thus forcing these people to bear the consequences of their actions. I was swayed by this argument for a while, until I realize this is not wise for various reasons (I got persuaded by another Committee member):

  • We will end up disappointing 70% of the “good residents” just to punish 30% of the bad apples
  • If someone get hurt due to the lack of security, it shall haunt my conscience
  • Water termination will cause much inconvenience for the children and old folks
  • If we punish everyone (even though some agreed to be punished), there shall be no hope in restoring support and order

Basically, we acted against the will of the vocal residents and restore security guard. Then we went to SYABAS to negotiate an installment plan for the debt, the tabled the solution in the resident meeting, where a majority (sadly only 10% of the residents attended the meeting) voted to pay SYABAS to avoid water termination.

Our plan is to control the expenditures, increase the collection rate, solve the water leakage, restore operations and restore fairness. Luckily we have a cooperative committee, and some helpful residents.

How people think?

After talking and interacting with lots of residents, I realize I learned a lot about human nature in one month than the last 30 years of my life.

  • During the week where security is absent, security is not at risk but parking chaos happened. Residents who park used to park their cars outside the apartment compound (they have 2 cars but no second car park) started to park their car in the compound on others’ parking space, or park inconsiderately on the walkway.
  • Surprisingly, when only one security guard is restored and stationed at the gate entrance (there is nothing much a one man guard could do), the parking chaos is 90% gone.
  • Surprisingly, some residents’ main concern is whether someone sweeps the floor of the compound, not about better security or solving water leakage or financial problem.
  • Even in time of crisis, most people couldn't make the painful choice of cost cutting.
  • Most residents despise unfairness, wanted the committee to take action against those residents who didn't pay maintenance charges.
  • Most residents just wanted an avenue to rant about the problems, but still willing to pay the maintenance charges and be a “good citizen” for the common good. The main tasks of committees are listening to the residents, and assure them things are under control. Talk less, listen more.
  • Some of the debtors refuse to pay due to “personal” reasons, such as broken relationship with the committee members, clerical errors and disappointment with the services, lack of communication channels, etc.
  • Even at time of crisis, some people still expect optimum services and refuse to participate in resident meetings, and perhaps think that things will magically be restored.
  • Most people would start to make their own assumption without approaching the committee for clarifications, which allow false rumors to spread easily. I personally believe communication channel are important, where we put notices on notice board, request for resident’s email to send out weekly updates, have resident meetings, but I believe we hardly reach 60% of the residents effectively.
  • The chicken and egg situation: some residents expect “the good old days” and optimum services to return before they are willing to pay the maintenance charges, but the entire operation could collapse if less than 70% of the residents pay the maintenance charges.
  • There is always a 10% hardcore people who resist or oppose, and another 10% who are helpful and supportive. Another 40% are "good citizens" who do their part and continue to pay maintenance, while another 40% sitting on the fence with a wait and see attitude. Our job is to convert the last 40%.
  • Personal conflicts between people, lack of tolerance for people with different views and harsh tone and languages are the main causes of failure in this conflict. Be polite, be listening, willingness to sacrifice, explain your plans and views, and ask for support and show gratitude. It's somehow like a politician running for election, except that there is no financial or power gain here.

Take for Granted Expectation

There are certain things in life where we take for granted, where we assume as long as we pay our taxes, there shall be policemen, firemen and doctors to take care of us; as long as we pay our bills, there shall be water, electricity, communication and Internet; as long as we pay our apartment maintenance, there shall be services like security, cleaning, maintenance of basic amenities and etc.

What if these things suddenly disappear, and what should we do? Suddenly it’s bestowed upon us to take over the management of the country, or become policemen, or required to take actions to restore water and electricity supply.

Would you rather sit still and hope for the “good old days” to return, or decide to take actions and make it happen? Or would it be possible that someone unconsciously prevented order from being restored?

Why become the unglamorous Chairman?

Logically, it doesn't make sense to become the Chairman of an apartment in dire financial where the supportive level of residents are dwindling. The job doesn't pay, and consume plenty of hours and sleepless night, and the committee would probably be blamed if we fail to turn this around, and we don’t really expect rewards or thanks even if we made it. Why not spend the time and effort with our family, or develop our career and business?

Initially, I refuse to accept that this situation could not be solved, thus I volunteered. Then, I hate the lousy feelings of having to quit and give up. Perhaps in a certain sense, I felt it’s time for me to do good to others (besides my family), to give back to the community so to say. Now I try to convince myself this could serve as a valuable lessons in my life, where I could learn something from it. Deep down, I naively wanted to believe that human are intrinsically good in nature, that there is still hope for humanity so to speak. I believe in kindness and hope. I refuse to believe that residents in my apartment are somehow more inferior than others.

In the time of darkness, hope and trust is the only beacon of light: trust that people are genuinely good, and hope that people would be understanding and do the right thing.


kahfei bak said...

At a time that we are about to move in to a gated and guarded environment, your story resonate a lot with me. We have had 2 meetings already, Chairman and other committees already been elected, I am not in the team, but I guess I will be the 40% good citizen, at least :-). And I think the committee, and the chairman job especially is really important, take a lot of effort and times yet a lot of time a thankless job.

A hat off to you for taking up the challenge, and I think with your positive attitude, you could turn things around. Good luck to you.

d_luaz said...

Still plenty to do. Thanks.

oDiN said...

good luck and all the best :)