Cikgu Leonard the original ‘Mr Milo’
Chance in one’s life plays a big role in charting one’s unexpected journey in life and Leonard Wee Chen Liang is living testimony to it.
He had his heart set on becoming a mechanical engineer, but this was not to be.
Starting off a swimming life guard before was when fate chose him for teacher’s training in England, and subsequently spend the next 23 years in classrooms.
He then joined the Selangor education department for a spell before leaving the world of education for good to become sports executive and public relation manager.
Leonard who turned 79 on 21st February, a product of St John’s Institution (for nine years – double promotion twice and left in 1954) grew up in the notorious area of Princess Road (now Jalan Raja Muda Abdul Aziz – near Chow Kit and Kampong Baru) and experienced the tough life from an early age.
“I used to wash plates for this chow keow teow after school and at the end of the job, was given a plate of his chow keow teow ,” recalled Leonard of his early days.
“I am a street wise kid and that helped me a great deal in my life.”
An active member in school where he was the head librarian, secretary of the school’s drama society, played hockey cricket and football at inter-house level, was a member of the school choir, a Queen’s scout and earned the Royal Life Saving Society bronze medal for life-saving.
“I was the only St John’s student who could train at our arch-rival’s school – Victoria Institution (VI) – swimming pool.
“I has meet the VI swimming teacher, Lim Hock Han, at a swimming meet and begged him to allow me to train at his school because I needed to get the lifesaving badge to become a Queen’s Scout. He gave me permission and the rest was history.”
Leonard after school got a job at Chin Woo Swimming Club as a lifesaver.
Olympic Council of Malaysia (OCM) assistant secretary, Datuk Sieh Kok Chi is among the many who trained at Chin Woo and Leonard and him as good friends.
“I was paid handsomely then, but I worked there for only six months. I had applied for scholarships to further my studies in mechanical engineering which was my favourite and also a teachers’ training in England.
“I was caught by surprise when I got a letter that I had secured a place at Malayan Teachers College at Brinsford Lodge for a three year teacher training. I was elated and packed my bags left immediately. Imagine going to England.
“With the six hundred dollars provided by the Ministry of Education, I left with this inaugural batch of 150 of us in 1955 which included the likes of Datuk Peter Velappan.
“Being on a full scholarship we provided board and lodging and received ten pounds for pocket money. While we saved the money to go hitching hiking around England during our semester breaks, I knew of friends who would send back half of their pocket money back home to their parents.
“That was my first chance of my life which I grabbed without any hesitation.”
Leonard returned from England at the end of 1958 to be posted to Sekolah Dato’ Abdul Razak, Tanjung Malim (SDAR) a boarding school when he was from January 1958 to July 1971.
He had attended the Specialist Teachers’ Training Institute in Cheras for a year in 1861.
As an English and physical education teacher he transformed the relatively new SDAR to an iconic school in no time.
The headmaster at SDAR then (now Datuk Ariffin Nam) wanted to transform the school to be well known entity and Leonard suggested to use sports to make it popular.
Leonard soon became the sports secretary of the school and saw his school catapulting in prominence in athletics and he even hosted the Perak Combined Schools athletics meet in 1971.
“When I first suggested that we bring the meet to Tanjung Malim, everyone laughed. But we did it.”
That every year, Leonard was transferred to Selangor Education Department as the physical education supervisor for Selangor where we worked with likes of Datuk A. Vaitilingam and late K. Balachandran.
He was appointed the contingent leader of the Selangor schools athletics contingent for the national schools meet hosted by Selangor and the state emerged champions.
Leonard used to source for sponsorship for sports in Selangor and it was one of those meetings where he had to meet with Nestle’s advertising manager, Lim Khing Fong, that changed his path from a teacher into different world.
“Mr Lim was a strict man who was a stickler for punctuality. I had an 8am meeting with him and was I there at his office at 7.30am,” recalled Leonard.
“When I arrived, I was told that Mr Lim had an important meeting and will see me after that. I waited for a good two hours before he emerged.
“I told him that this division which handled sponsorship was important and that someone must always be there to handle the clients. He shot back me and asked me if I wanted the job.
“I of course said no and that I was there to seek sponsorship.
“And he retorted - I am not joking. Do you want the job?
“It was then that it dawned upon me that he was serious. I just told him I will think about it.
“And he told me not to take too long. He told me to prepare a paper on how Nestle can market its brand to become a popular brand and gave me a month to come up with the paper.
“I presented the paper the very next day to him. After reading it, he asked me he when I can join the company. I told him I need to give a month’s notice. He told he wanted me yesterday and asked if I can join immediately if they paid my one month’s salary to my employers.
“And I joined Nestle the next day!”
Leonard said his connection with the schools and his many students who had gone through him made his new job easy as he embarked on making Nestle products household names.
“Through sponsorship of various events, especially at the schools level Milo because a household name. I also had other products to promote and managed to do equally well.”
But everything was going well for Leonard, his boss, Mr Lim called him to his office one day and told him: “I had enough of this. My calls going to you and your calls coming to me.
“I told Mr Lim I did not understand what he was saying. It was then that he told me that his name was also Leonard.
“I was shocked as I never knew that. Then he told me that there can only be one Leonard. In mind, I thought that it was the last day I was going to be known as Leonard.
“But to my surprise he said that I will be known as Leonard while he will be known as LKF!”
Leonard said he was soon known as Mr Milo for the brand got big into sponsorship and supplying drinks for almost all functions.
“Even when we did not have vehicles to send out for the drinks, we would make arrangements for the drinks to be made and sent the cans to the venues and collected the empty cans later. We used to cater for about 30,000 cups on weekends.”
Leonard said Milo was big into sponsorship which included the brining of Manchester United, Boca Juniors and the Danish gymnast team in the early 80s and pioneer sponsors of the Malay Mail Big Walk and a major sponsor of the 1975 World Cup in Kuala Lumpur and bringing the Miss Asia participants for a nationwide tour.
Leonard was responsible for building his successor to the job, Datuk Dina Rizal, who had joined Nestle as a sport marketing executive and he had requested to him to transferred from Penang in 1981 as his understudy and eventually took over Leonard’s role when he left in 1983 to join as the marketing director of Caldbeck McGregor Malaysia when he head hunted where he served till 1986.
When Dina retired in 2003, Ng Ping Loong (pix below with Leonard) who was Dina’s understudy took over as the sports and marketing manager.
Leonard for two years (1987-88) was involved as a marketing consultant and involved in education counselling with the Australian Scholarships and Trust group before retiring.
Indeed Leonard has led a colourful life and a man who was always on the go. His hobbies included biking with the club he formed – Road Knights Club – who went on a ten days around Malaysia biking tour with a total of 168 bikes, trampoling (trampoline), driving antique cars and the nine-day canoe expedition in 1963 from Tanjong Malim along the Bernam river (Sungei Bermam) to Pangkor Island when he was with SDAR with three students (Zahid Muhamad – head prefect; Anuar Latif and Murad Ismail and two teachers – an American science teacher Robert Bojannowski and a British teacher Michael Irving.
Leonard has slow done a little these days, but his eyes sparkled as he spoke of his heydays.
He aptly summed up his journey when he said: “Life is an ongoing challenge where experience and knowledge never stops and one always has to be on the go to discover it.”
Leonard is a man for all seasons and his story is by all accounts amazing.