Malaysian ‘Seniorpreneur’ Sets The Pace For Senior Citizens


Retiree Wan Yew Leong truly believes that to have a healthy retirement, senior citizens need to keep working.

“A lot of people see retirement as a chance to have some well-deserved ‘me time’. People dream of spending more time with their family and friends when they retire but in reality, this is only wishful thinking.

“You may have more time on your hands but your family and friends are busy with their own lives. You have to find things you like and want to do to keep yourself active in retirement,” advises the 62-year-old retired banker.

Getting a job when you are over 60, however, can be difficult particularly since Malaysia doesn’t have strong legislative or social support for seniors seeking re-employment, says Wan. Add to that, companies too don’t have policies in place to hire or safeguard the interests of retirees, some of whom may prefer to work part-time.

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The solution, says Wan, is for seniors to turn their passions and experiences into business opportunities.

“I read an article about ‘seniorpreneurs’ … retirees who start something on their own after the retirement and I think that is a great way to go. In Malaysia, many senior citizens, especially those in the lower and middle income group, cannot afford to retire at 60. But, who will employ them? We don’t have a good hiring policy for seniors as some of our neighbouring countries.

“When I was in Singapore recently, I ate three meals: one in a food court, one in a Chinese restaurant and another at a fast food outlet. I was served all my three meals by seniors over the age of 65. We can learn a thing or two from Singapore’s hiring policies when it comes to seniors,” opines Wan.

Wan Yew Leong doesn’t buy into the belief that retirement means that it’s time for seniors to wind down. Photo: The Star/Norafifi Ehsan

Until there is a policy on hiring seniors, the father of four is encouraging his peers to think beyond re-employment and consider starting businesses of their own, leveraging on their knowledge and talents.

“We seniors have years of experience. We have been working for 30 years. And, we all have something that we are good at or things we are passionate about. Why not use all this to start something?” he says.

It is exactly what Wan did when he retired ten years ago.

An avid runner, he started his own business built around his passion: offering technical support to organisers of marathons.

Specifically, Wan’s company manages the drink stations that are located throughout the course of a marathon.

Anyone who has ever participated in a run, no matter the distance, will realise how crucial water stations are for the wellbeing of runners.

“It can be a matter of life and death,” declares Wan. “As a runner, I know how important the water stations are. And, as a member of the Pacesetters club I have had a lot of experience organising runs.

“So, when the race organisers of the Standard Chartered KL Marathon approached me, I offered my help. I have been managing drink stations for the SCKLM since 2010,” says Wan, adding that he also works with organisers of smaller runs as well.

Runners in the PJ Half Marathon stretching to get some cool water during the race.

Wan started running in 1984 when, at the age of 26, he signed up for the Kuala Lumpur International Marathon simply because he wanted the coveted running vest that was being distributed by The Star, who were media partners for the run.

“I signed up for the free tee shirt, attended the running clinics and then got interested in running. I joined the newly established Pacesetters Athletics Club and today, I am still a member of the Pacesetters,” says Wan.

The Pacesetters Athletics Club is a recreational running club to promote running as a healthy form of exercise. Wan was one of the clubs past presidents. Although he doesn’t run long distances anymore due to a slipped disc, Wan is still very passionate about the sport: he’s still an active member of the Pacesetters and for the past nine years, his passion has been his vocation.

Although Wan Yew Leong doesn’t run marathon distances anymore, he is still passionate about the sport and has turned this passion into a vocation. Photo: The Star/Raymond Ooi.

Is organising a marathon as tiring as running one? Not quite, but making sure all runners are hydrated is a heavy responsibility that Wan takes very seriously.

Managing water stations, he explains, requires detailed planning and impeccable organisation.

“It isn’t just making sure that there are sufficient water stations at specific intervals but making sure the stations don’t run out of water and have enough volunteers to hand out water to the runners. If a race runs out of water, it’s a disaster. And it does happen.

“Our operation requires massive co-ordination. The work begins early in the morning one day before the marathon and it only ends once all the runners have passed the finish line the next day. For last year’s SCKLM, we used 38 five-tonne lorries, 11 water tankers and three forklifts to transport the water to the 28-stations that we plotted along the 42-km course of a full marathon.

“We had 5,000 cartons of (isotonic) drinks, 600,000 cups of water. Each cup is filled with 140ml of drink – not too full that it spills and not too little that the runners are left wanting more. Time, in a race, is important,” shares Wan.

Although he gets 650 volunteers (provided by the organisers) to distribute water at the stations he manages, Wan has a team of supervisors that he hires to make sure the smooth-flow of operations on race day.

It’s no surprise that he hires seniors for his crew.

“My team is made up of people I’ve met in the running community. And, I employ a lot of seniors on my team. For last year’s KL Marathon, more than half of my crew were seniors over 60 years.

“They may be a bit slower and I don’t expect them to do the heavy lifting but they are excellent in terms of handling the responsibility of the job involved. They deliver. And they are extremely punctual. And they enjoy it,” he says.

Apart from marathons, Wan is also programme director for the Olympic Solidarity and Olympic Council Malaysia’s (OCM) sports management programme, particularly aimed at sports administrators and coaches in national and state sports bodies.

Because of his experience in the Pacesetters Athletic Club Malaysia (PACM), Wan Yew Leong was sought for his technical skills in organising runs as well as by OCM to be a part of their Sports Management programme. Photo: The Star/Abdul Rahman Senin.

“After I retired, the former secretary-general of the OCM, Datuk Sieh Kok Chi encouraged me to sign up for a the course, since I was very active in organising run events with the Pacesetters. I finished the course and a year later, they called me back to be a facilitator. Then a couple of years later, they brought me in as programme director,” he shares.

Wan has no plans to slow down. There isn’t any need because he is the boss of himself, being an entrepreneur.

“The good thing about running your own business is that you can determine your schedule. My work with OCM keeps me busy only between March to September every year as that’s when the course runs. With my own company, I can decide what projects to take and when I work too. For example, I don’t work in April and October because I like to travel in spring and autumn. But the rest of the time, I’m as busy as I want to be,” he says.

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