Stan Zabolotsky is equally drawn to finance as he is to tropical weather. As the CFO and COO of Malaysia’s Ta Win Holdings, he has managed to score both. Not that getting what he wants was ever out of reach for this high achiever. Stan learned at a young age that if you’re being beaten, just work harder.
“It was something my dad taught me,” Stan reveals. “He told me when someone got a better mark than me, don’t worry about them being smarter, just study harder to get a higher mark. It clicked, and ever since, I’ve never accepted anybody being better than me at anything I am passionate about.”
Stan also has trophies and medals in ballroom and Latin dancing, and in sport and martial arts to prove his determination – something he needs in bucketloads to turn around Ta Win, a publicly listed investment holdings company focused on manufacturing copper products.
Unlike Stan, copper wiring is something that largely goes unnoticed. But, just like Stan is to the company,
it’s essential for making things run. “It’s everywhere and you just don’t think about it,” says Stan. “All the wiring you see in construction, electrical equipment, electric cars; it’s all copper wire.
In the previous century, it was all about oil, but digitalisation is quickly changing that. The way I see it, copper and aluminum are going to be the new oil.”
Stan says it’s undisputed that Ta Win supplies the highest-quality copper in Malaysia, and the company has aggressive fundraising and expansion plans. It is making a move downstream with plans to acquire some of its customers, vertically integrating into higher-margin and more technologically advanced businesses producing power cables and other end products.
In addition, Ta Win has formed a joint venture with a Chinese company to enter China’s huge market, a move that is expected to double Ta Win’s revenue base within a year.
Stan knew little about copper when he joined Ta Win as CFO in mid-2018. But he’s used to hitting the ground running, having held senior finance roles across a broad spectrum of industries, including technology, ecommerce, energy and commodities.
In addition to his accounting designation, he has an MBA in investment banking from the University of Toronto, with a semester abroad at the Chinese University of Hong Kong where he wanted to get a grasp on how Asia’s business world ticks.
“I’m fascinated by finance. From my education to my career, it’s always been about finance and business,” Stan says. Having worked across diverse industries and geographies, he is in a unique position to draw parallels and insights that may be overlooked by others.
This also transcends to window cleaning, it seems, which was the first business Stan launched at 18 to get himself through university. He hired friends to door-knock and drum up business in very affluent Toronto neighbourhoods where windows were plentiful, and very high.
“They were huge homes, very challenging,” Stan remembers. “But the thing about luxury neighbourhoods is that everybody talks to each other and they’d recommend us.
“All of my guys had proper training and insurance, and we’d operate during our summer holidays. Our pricing wasn’t cheap, but I honed my sales skills and we appealed to customers because we were university students trying to make money for tuition.”
Stan’s next business venture was producing online tutorials on statistics. “Yeah, I’m one of the weird people who actually like the subject,” he laughs.
Always the entrepreneur, Stan was lured to Malaysia last year by a start-up company. “Investment banking was always going to be a stepping stone for me,” he admits. “I’m an entrepreneur at heart, and I like the tropical weather, and so I thought I’d give it a shot.”
After a year at the start-up, he learned enough to quit and co-found his own venture in the last-mile delivery space.
“I had no plans to get another job, but the offer from Ta Win was super exciting. Selfishly, to be able to turn around a stagnant publicly traded company, get some growth and profit, some mergers and acquisitions, that would be a home run for my career. I really couldn’t turn it down.”
Meanwhile, as the only non-Asian employee in a primarily Malaysian–Chinese company, Stan is spending 20 minutes a day learning Mandarin. He’s also appreciating the cultural differences.
“I come from a very direct and aggressive culture of investment banking,” he explains. “Here it’s different, even email etiquette is different. I have to be very understanding and patient, and adapt my communication style to this company.
It’s definitely challenging. But I think my colleagues see how passionate I am and how much I love being here.”