Do You Have What it Takes to Succeed? What You can Learn from Robert Tan …


Do you have what it takes to succeed? In his new book, Robert Tan talks about the seven lessons life has taught him. Find out what you can learn from his life legacy.

Robertson Sy Tan is the founder and CEO of Blade Auto Center, the top automotive accessories retail chain in the Philippines. A true trailblazer, he managed to turn a fresh, untested business concept into a market leader, all in the climate of a faltering economy that prevented other retailers from expanding. Barely three months after opening his first store, he was able to open a second branch. A total of six stores in different malls were opened on Blade’s first year. Another seven branches were operational by the second year. Managing to keep the momentum going throughout the years, Tan now maintains Blade stores in 50 locations.


Signed by Robert himself!


His Legacy

I recently received a book Robert wrote himself. It’s called “What Would You Do?” I am the type who leaves dogears on books, but I did not have the heart to inflict my destructive habit on this one. I usually only get careless with books when I own them. Although he had already given the book to me, I still could not claim ownership over it. Robert appears to have poured a lifetime’s worth of learnings into the book, plus it is filled with photos of him and the people he has met along his journey. I felt like I was peering into someone else’s life, and that dogearing it was tantamount to overstepping his personal space. Plus I could tell that the book is a treasure for him – a life legacy.




Why You Must Read the Book

I know a lot of people who view successful businessmen with derision, viewing them as lucky animals who have things in life too easy or as money-hungry capitalists who would willingly step on others’ toes to get ahead. These same people are also the least successful ones, and their beliefs further perpetuate their less than stellar status. In most cases, these self-defeating beliefs are a result of cognitive dissonance (based on my observation). The businessmen’s success rouse envy in them, which leads to spite, even hatred in more extreme cases. The more reasonable side of their mind acknowledges that what they see are actually admirable traits and should not be met with derision, but the more primitive side of the brain, the one run by emotions, thinks or “feels” otherwise. They then make up for the inconsistency in their thoughts by adjusting one opposing thought to better match the other. And as some people are ruled by emotions, their rational side often takes the backseat. In this case, they end up convincing themselves that the envy/spite/hatred is a result of or is inspired by negative traits inherent in businessmen and not of their own failings and irrational thoughts and feelings. Unfortunately for these people, they are missing out on learning from some of the most admirable and inspiring people on this planet.

There are those who are driven by the more benign, albeit also self-defeating, mindset – that of scarcity. They feel that having more takes something from other people. This is self-defeating in that success can cause you to feel guilty and adopt self-handicapping habits. It also makes you resent other people’s success, unnecessarily so.

The closer you look into the lives of successful entrepreneurs, the more you would realize just how admirable they are. Sure some are driven by the wrong intentions, but even then, you will have to admire their ability to get things done and to surpass the most tenuous of situations, for even thriving businesses are only a few mistakes away from debilitating failure.

I love reading about the lives of successful businessmen, as there is always much to learn from them. For one, you would realize that practically all of them went through a series of painful failures and setbacks, but managed to keep going. You would also learn that they are beset by the same fears that nag us, but are determined enough to get past them and just do what they have to do. I would often feel fear when I try to do something that is outside my comfort zone. When this happens, I would often think, “Oh I am way too weak for this. I don’t think I can do this.” But then you learn these successful people feel as much fear as you do and you realize, “Hey, I’m alright. I can do this.” Same goes for failure. The sooner you realize that your failures do not define you, that even the people you look up to have experienced them, the easier it is to steel yourself for the obstacles that always lie ahead. As Robert mentioned in his book (quoted from Business Insider):


“All successful people know that, in order to increase your wins, you’ve also got to increase your losses.”


Robertson Sy Tan has the attitude and mindset that I admire not just in businessmen but in people in general. He is disciplined and determined, and is a proactive self-starter. He also believes in putting his family first and in treating his Blade team well. He makes sure his employees are properly compensated and are treated with respect. Getting to know Robert through his book was a true privilege. 


“Robert offers simple yet powerful insights into achieving your goals, and is living proof that good guys don’t have to finish last.”

                                       – James Deakin, CNN Philippines


(See? Robert’s success and increased wealth led to other people’s employment. That one person gets more, does not mean other people get less. There is abundance in this world [not scarcity], and it is up to us to create it. – note from Tahna. hahah. Because, see???)



Photo courtesy of Public Domain Pictures via Pixabay


The Attitude and Mindset for Success

It is not uncommon to find talented and intelligent people struggling in life, for talent and intelligence are not what propel people to the height of success, but the right attitude and mindset. A rather convoluted book, WWYD appears to have mentioned practically all the attitudes prescribed for better chances at success. Allow me to elaborate on two concepts he mentioned – growth mindset and self-efficacy. I majored in Psychology, so they especially resonated with me.   


Photo courtesy of Geralt via Pixabay


Fixed mindset vs. growth mindset


“A high IQ and a subway token will only get you into town.”

– Richard Nisbett, Psychologist


Why are some people averse to challenges, languishing in the face of difficulties, while others are resilient and assertive, thriving and achieving their full potential?

Our mindset determines our beliefs about our qualities and abilities, such as our intelligence, musicality, and creativity. Dr. Carol Dweck, a psychologist and a leading authority in personality and motivation, reports that our mindset creates our perception of attainable opportunities … that it is the ultimate factor that determines whether we will be successful or not. Dr. Dweck believes that we either have a fixed mindset, the belief that our abilities and attributes are inherently unchanging and fixed, or a growth mindset, the belief that our abilities and talents can be developed and improved. When dealt with a setback or failure, a person with a growth mindset will work harder to improve himself and his circumstances while a person with a fixed mindset will start demeaning his own character and give up.


Plasticity of the brain – Your brain can literally grow

Did you know that your brain has this characteristic called plasticity? Plasticity is the brain’s ability to reorganize after damage or to build new pathways in response to experience and learning. Your brain is far more malleable than you may realize. With practice, neural networks strengthen existing connections, grow new ones, and build insulation that speeds up the transmission of the impulses. Neuroscientific studies have shown that learning, practicing, asking questions, using good strategies, exercising, adopting healthy eating and sleeping habits, and exposing oneself to a nonstressful and stimulating environment can increase neural growth.

When you become an expert in a specific field, the relevant areas in your brain grow. London taxi drivers have a larger hippocampus, particularly in the region specialized in acquiring and using complex spatial information, which these drivers use to navigate the city efficiently. Bilinguals have a larger left inferior parietal cortex than monolinguals. Musicians have higher gray matter volume in their motor regions, inferior temporal areas, and anterior superior parietal areas. Medical students’ brains reveal learning-induced changes in regions of their parietal cortex and posterior hippocampus.

Plasticity may even occur after serious brain damage. For instance, therapists use Constraint-induced Therapy to rewire brains and help improve the dexterity of brain-damaged patients. Case in point, therapists may force a stroke victim to use his bad hand or leg by restraining his fully functioning limb, gradually reprogramming the brain. One such stroke victim, a surgeon in his fifties, was made to clean tables with his good hand and arm restrained. His bad arm slowly recovered its skills, as the functions of the damaged brain areas were adopted by other brain regions. The surgeon gradually learned to write again and eventually even got to play tennis. 

While these neuroscientific discoveries were gaining traction, researchers were also beginning to understand the link between mindsets and achievement. For one, if you believe your brain can grow (I hope you do now), you put in more efforts to improve and be more of an achiever. Researchers conducted a series of studies and interventions to see if they can change a person’s mindset from fixed to growth. For instance, they taught 7th graders that intelligence is malleable, showing them how the brain grows with effort. This resulted to a clear increase in Math grades among the young students.



Photo courtesy of Geralt via Pixabay



Self-efficacy is known to play an important role in determining a person’s success, with some psychologists rating it above talent in the recipe for success. Self-efficacy is the belief in one’s competence and effectivity at accomplishing a task and creating a favorable outcome. It leads people to set challenging goals and to persist. As Henry Ford famously put it, “Whether you believe you can or you can’t, you are right.” More than a hundred studies have shown that self-efficacy is a good predictor of worker productivity. When confronted with problems, workers with a strong sense of self-efficacy stay calm and look for solutions, instead of wallowing in feelings of inadequacy. Competence coupled with persistence result to accomplishment.

If you feel that you fall short on the virtues mentioned above, fret not. If I may share some of Robert Tan’s parting words on his book:


“We are all in different places in the journey. In the beginning, it will be a struggle. Negative thoughts would pop up and it would feel like you are trying to fool yourself into becoming something you are not. With practice, you can become skilled and you can spot which part of your life is working and which isn’t.

Do negative thoughts still continue to pop up in my head? Yes. For as long as I have lived. I notice that there are still thoughts that are holding me back. Any feeling, attitude, or thought that doesn’t feel quite right is a negative piece. But by now, I quickly correct it in my mind. This creates a shift in me. It creates a change which I can feel in an instant. And in this book, I have shown you how you can create that change for yourself.”




Photo courtesy of Geralt via Pixabay


What Would You Do? [If This Was Your Last Day On Earth]

The title and the spirit of the book resonates with me in that we need a sense of urgency if we are to make something out of our life. Turning 30 was one of the most tumultuous periods of my life. For the first time, I felt like I was experiencing real anxiety. It felt as if I wasted my youth away, that I have allowed life to pass me by. Although I always tried to live up to my responsibilities, even joining my older sister as a young girl in shouldering the heavy weight of being the breadwinner of the family, it felt as if I was only fulfilling basic needs and not living up to my full potential. I was too chill for my own good. I never gave my best to anything. Now I feel I’ve grown too old, and have run out of time. But as Robert emphasized in his book, it is never too late to live out one’s dream.

It is important that we make the most out of each day we’re living … for a day could easily turn into a month, then a year, and then a lifetime. Adopting the mindset that this day could be our last can help us have that sense of urgency to get things done. Appreciating the importance of each passing day can also help us become bolder and focused on making our goals a reality. As Robert put it:


“Holding on to the premise that I have only today to live eliminated all the fear, doubts and concerns I had. It also allowed me to focus on the task at hand.”


Emboldened by the attitude and mindset of living like there’s no tomorrow, Robert accepted offers of mall spaces at a time when the economy was bad and retailers were refusing to expand. Turning an unfavorable circumstance into an opportunity, he got good prime spaces at a time when demand was low.

What would you do if this was your last day on earth?


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Author: Tahna de Veyra

Voracious eater. Coffee dependent. Book sniffer. Music addict. Profound thinker. Certified ambivert. Life-hungry maverick. Nonchalant realist. Hesitant blogger.

10 thoughts on “Do You Have What it Takes to Succeed? What You can Learn from Robert Tan …

  1. Very good review! I will definitely read this book!! I particularly liked the part about negative thought and how we should learn to control them!
    And what would I do if this was my last day on Earth? Well, I would go to some nice mountain and I would spend that time with my family! 🙂

  2. Excellent, well written and detailed review. I used to love books like that but stopped reading them. I guess I fell into that negative mindset. While I truly do believe that luck can play a huge role in success (Have you read The Outliers?) I am starting to become more willing to go back to reading inspirational advice books. I think I’ll start with Robert tan. Thank you.

  3. Awesome and well written review with some great advice in it as well. I can certainly align myself to a few of the examples you have given. I will have to check this book out ion more detail. Cheers.

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