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12 Life Lessons from Malaysia “Design King” - Dr. Eric Leong

Interior Design & Decor



In this exclusive interview, we have Dr. Eric Leong – an internationally renowned designer based in Kuala-Lumpur, who is also the creative mastermind behind numerous series of international designer products.


Watch the video below as Dr. Eric Leong shares his 12 Life Lessons for Success


After completing his formal education in Johor Bahru and Singapore, Dr. Eric holds two major qualifications in both Interior Design (ID) and Business Studies. In addition to his Doctorate of Art from Teesside University, UK, he has also just completed his MBA and is currently pursuing his PhD in Education.

He has played multiple roles in his 28-year career journey: first as an interior designer; then as an entrepreneur; a columnist; an author; a television producer and host; a speaker; a consultant; an ambassador; a product designer; an educator - just to name a few.

In 2001, he started his own design studio. In the same year, he launched his first Interior makeover TV show in Malaysia and it earned him the glamorous title of “Raja Hias” or “Design King” in the country. Being “Bold and Stylish” is his tag line, which is an element embedded in his design.

With his diverse experience, he has certainly made more impact to the industry that no one else can compare to.

Here at Renotalk, we have summarized all that he has shared with us into 12 life lessons - applicable to parents, millennials, employers, entrepreneurs and people who are interested or already in the ID industry.

Special thanks to Johor Interior Designers' Association (JIDA) for making this interview possible.

Dr. Eric Leong on the path of the Silk Road.

Lesson 1 - Help your child to cultivate passion from a young age

Ever since Dr. Eric Leong’s mother noticed his passion for home decoration, she assigned a corner of the living room to him which he could decorate in whatever ways he wanted during festive season.

Some parents may tell their child that, “Art has no value and cannot earn you money” - but she did not. 30 years ago, ID as a profession was not as popular as today, but this wise mother allowed her child to develop his passion.

Thanks to her, we have such an iconic figure today who pushes the ID industry forward in many creative ways.

Lesson 2 - Follow your passion

Dr. Eric advises parents not to force their children to pursue ID and accept it if they really do not have interest and passion in it.

Instead of suffering for years, they deserve to be happy during the course of their studies to perform well before continuing on into their career. If not, it is just a waste of time, effort and money.

To evaluate their potential, bring them to any space (it can be restaurant, hotel, etc.) and see if they like to look at the details. An interior designer needs to pay attention to the things seen and unseen in a building. So if they possess this trait along with passion, they can consider this career path.

Don’t worry if they are not creative enough, as creativity is something that can be nurtured.

Lesson 3 - Master Your Core Expertise and Develop from It

Although his first education was in Business Studies, he soon realized that his passion was in ID and thus he started looking for opportunities to develop it.

He worked in a design firm and took part time studies in ID. He then started his own company and grew it into a big team. Due to the economic crisis of 1998, his company was shut down and he joined the workforce as a regular employee again.

The opportunity to venture into entrepreneurship came again, and this time he applied what he had learnt. He made use of his talents in media, producing TV shows and writing articles. He uses the education system to teach people how to do design and decorate. And, from his business experience, he provides valuable insights to business owners in this line.

Lesson 4 - Be a “Multi-Potential” Individual

If Dr. Eric had just one skill (which is ID), he wouldn’t have achieved what he has accomplished today.

Coupled with his knowledge and skills in business management, media, language and education, his achievements are unparalleled. He is a business advisor to many, an icon through media, and now acts as Head of the Architectural and Interior Design School at The One Academy Sunway and Penang.

His life has been much more fruitful and impactful compared to if he had remained an interior designer alone. 

Dr. Eric Leong was delivering a talk regarding millennials, organized by Johor Interior Designers' Association (JIDA).

Lesson 5 - Learn from other Industries

With Jamie Oliver and Lillian Too as his idols, Dr. Eric emulated the ways they make cooking and Feng Shui simple and easily accessible through media.

Sometimes when we are in our industry for too long, we tend to have a fixated mindset on how things should work. If we allow ourselves to open our minds and look at how outstanding people in other industries are doing, we can actually learn from them and apply those lessons in our own work. 

Image via Dr. Eric Leong

Lesson 6 - Build your Personal Brand

  1. Consistency in public image - Dr. Eric shaved his head because he wants people to recognize him easily. It is important to project the true you because fake things never last.
  2. Have a clean and positive social media presence, as people do not want to associate with negative people.
  3. There should be a strategy to tell people how good you are apart from having great skills.
  4. Identify your Unique Selling Point (USP) which tells people what you are offering that differentiates you from the market.
  5.  Make your positioning clear; where you stand, and what your stand for.
  6. Make yourself accessible; people can easily see you and find you.

Lesson 7 - Know when to Stop

It is human nature to want to continue being in the limelight of the world, and when you appear everywhere; in the newspaper, on radio, on television, on billboards - even on bookmarks.

However, Dr. Eric has his own strategy; he stopped everything at his peak of his career.

That is why people will always remember the best moments of him, and it is this image that will appear in people’s minds when they talk about space makeover TV shows, interior design, and when people Google search for Malaysian designers.

He has left a legacy behind and it was a wise move, indeed, to preserve it.

Image via The One Academy

Lesson 8 - Be Open-minded and Creative

Talking about how to deal with a team of interior designers who want to have their own personal branding while you as the owner are working on your company branding, Dr. Eric has a very innovative approach.

Company branding is actually more long-lasting if you can provide good quality products/services and you are well-received by the market.

If the team wants to have their own personal branding, the owner can have a different business model in which he makes his firm an agency. He would rather associate with them rather than starting everything all over again.

And in a era of shared economies, it is better to join forces rather than compete whenever possible.

However, the owner of the brand must be able to offer to millennials the benefits of following him. He must be somebody who has proper positioning and market value, if not he cannot afford this.

Dr. Eric Leong pointing out that millennials will make up 50% of workforce by 2020.

Lesson 9 - Be Empathetic and Understanding 

While many Gen X employers may blame millennials for their behavior, Dr. Eric sets himself apart by trying to understand them.

Gen X employers like to control but millennial employees want flexibility.

In order to let millennials unleash their ultimate potential and release all their creativity, we need to give them flexibility, in terms of working schedule, work space and resources; while at the same time giving well-defined expected outcomes, clear deadlines and mentoring.

Talking about the job-hopping trend among the millennial workforce; while there are personal factors involved, Dr. Eric looks at the organizational factors more because it is something that can be managed by the employers.

There are various factors that can influence an employee's choice to stay or leave:  work environment, competitive pay, work life balance, career prospect and learning and development opportunities. These are the elements that can determine a fulfilling working life - and a satisfied employee is far more likely to retain his or her services with a company.

It therefore falls to employers to use their power to decide if they want to retain their talent for the long term.

Dr. Eric Leong together with Shaun Ling (Managing Director of Renotalk). Renotalk is proud to be a media partner of JIDA Design Awards 2019

Lesson 10 - Understand your customers, know your market

In 2020, millennials are going to occupy 50% of the workforce and thus 50% of the market.

As the Chinese saying goes, “Knowing your problem is solving half of your problem.”

In other words, in order to capture this market, we need to understand their needs and likes.

Millennials look for something new, flexible, innovative and creative. The only consistent thing for them is change. So, we need to constantly change to fulfill their needs.

And, with the growing ID market in Malaysia, it is up to the service providers to tap into

“Design with purpose” – you need to design solutions that match the space usage of each individual hom

Dr. Eric Leong posed with his students.

Lesson 11 - Take Advantage of the New

The fittest survive. Those who can adapt and embrace new things are the ones who can thrive.

Keep learning.

Keep seeing things.

Keep talking to people.

Keep building your network.

Be prepared to accept criticism and new ideas.

Know your market, so that you can make money and build a sustainable business.

However, due to information overload, you need to identify and find out for yourself which information is true, trustworthy and applicable.

Dr. Eric Leong acts as the Chief Judge of JIDA Design Awards (JDA) 2019, photo taken together with JDA 2019 committee and media partners. 

Lesson 12 - Strategize, develop system

[Personal strategy]

Dr. Eric has been very strategic and systematic in planning his career.

He knows when to pioneer something and when to leave.

He shares his knowledge with audiences and students in a structured and easy-to-understand way.

He upgrades himself constantly so that he is knowledgeable enough to fill in certain gaps he detects in this industry.

[Industry strategy]

Dr. Eric pointed out that the Unique Selling Point (USP) of Malaysia is our labour cost and exchange rate. We can still engage plumbers, contractors to do things affordably.

Unlike countries like Europe and USA, DIY shop is a good business because the labour cost there is high. It is also good to export our furniture, product and services.

And local people still can afford to pay for ID services, bolstered by new buildings that keep popping up.

In addition, advanced countries look to revamp their existing design. Developing countries like China, Vietnam and Indonesia all need ID services, so there is a huge market demand.

The strategy here is to allow the market easily get to know and contact you.

[Management strategy]

Only become a boss when you are able to manage business, people and resources.

Never go too big. Keep your team small, compact, competitive and up to date so that it is easier to manage.

If you want to expand, you can have different brands and outlets through creating different small groups.

Dr. Eric Leong together with the attendees of his talk organized by Johor Interior Designers' Association (JIDA).

In conclusion, Dr. Eric inspires us with his spirit of lifelong learning and the drive to promote the interior design industry further, who now gives back to the community as a mentor.

Moving forward, he aspires to become the Dean of his university and to build the next generation of interior designers in Malaysia.

He is also looking forward to share his business management knowledge with business owners in the design line.

And, true to his motto of “Bold & Stylish” in his design, he is also recreating education and business in ways that is revolutionizing the industry.


Visit the Johor Interior Designer's Association (JIDA) website and learn more about Interior Design in Malaysia.


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