Write-up: CEO Series 24 – Arlida Ariff, CEO of Iskandar Investment Bhd
YCM CEO Series 24: Arlida Ariff, CEO of Iskandar Investment Bhd
Writing credits: Chen Chow Yeoh
Arlida graduated from an American university. Back then, most people chose UK, but she chose the non-traditional route to go to US (despite her parents’ disapproval). She went to a Liberal Arts College in Portland, and then went to Syracuse and study. She got her engineering degree when she was 21, and she related that back then, in Syracuse, 9 out of 10 top students were female.
She went to UC Berkeley to do her master (instead of Stanford), as she could get the Master in 1 year. She graduated with her master in 22 years old. However, back then, it was financial crisis time.
She then went to Universiti Malaya to become teaching assistant. However, she got stuck at Student Affairs Office. So, she went to organize social events in the university, like organizing annual dinner, events etc. That gave her the perspective of how studying in local university versus US university.
After that, she joined a “Chinaman” Engineering company which worked on foundation contractor. In early days, Sunway used to be tin mining area, so Arlida was one of those in the early days working on it, and making something out of nothing there. She converted less usable places, into more user friendly and potentially viable places. After some time, she realized that she won’t have great future in the company, so she left and join PETRONAS.
During that time, PETRONAS was in a stage of transformation, and she mentioned that it was interesting there. She was put into project management there. In the early years, she was working on PETRONAS project, PGU (PETRONAS Gas Utilization). When she went into it, it was during the second phase.
In the middle 80s, Malaysian petroleum was filled with gas. So, back then, they just burnt it, before a few years later, they found a way to use it. Then, they extracted those gases from oil.
She became gas expert in the pipeline during that time.
Then, PETRONAS bought into KLCC, and at that time, it was called “Sri Kuda”. As she was from civil engineering, she was roped into the project. At that time, she didn’t even know that it was supposed to be the world’s tallest tower.
She spent 15 years in KLCC, honed her skill to be project manager. During those times, she was Chief Property Management, Chief Security and Chief Tour Guide.
The Iskandar Experience
Then, she was being roped into Iskandar project. She said that the toughest job was to create a place that people want to be, and convince people to relocate to Johor Bharu. She said that she had to think of how to convince people from a place where they are comfortable, to go south and live and develop in Iskandar.
As people know, Johor Bharu had a poor reputation of poor security, and it had to be transformed to make it a livable place. So, Arlida and team had to think through it deeply, and make Iskandar not a white elephant. She was thinking of how to make the whole place viable. It has to be visionary.
She advised that before doing anything, we should have a vision and we should have a plan. Arlida quoted on “Failure to plan is planning to fail”. She also advised that we shouldn’t over plan as well. Very often, we do have basic plan that understand the target and the vision that we want to create.
Arlida shared with us that she really believed in Malaysia, and she believed in the future of the crowd who is attending. She said that all of us are those who are going to determine the future of Malaysia. We are all responsible. It is not about leaders, but it is about all of us.
She shared that “the grass is always greener elsewhere, until we went over there.” She shared about how a lot of other countries had it much worse.
She wanted us to think of what we can do and what we want to do, and she shared that we all have the opportunities and potential to improve on things. She said that next time, before we want to complain on something, we should think of what we can do.
She said that we often not learn from history. We should learn from history. History would tell us that civilization lies on the trade route. Singapore was very successful, because they were in the crossroads of the trade. So, if Singapore can be successful, so do Johor.
Arlida said that Iskandar is about 3 times the size of Iskandar (550,000 acres or 2,217 square kilometers. It encompasses 3 districts – Johor Bharu, Kulai Jaya and a part of Pontian. There are 5 local authorities in the district. Currently, population is 1.6 million people, and it is to increase to 3 million by 2025. In normal time, growth is just 5% or so every year.
She shared on each flagship zone has its own economic cluster. The 5 zones are Johor Bharu City Center (Cultural and Urban Tourism), Pasir Gudang and Tanjung Langsat (Chemical), Tanjung Pelepas (Logistic), Nusajaya (Education & Medical tourism, Entertainment & Recreation, State Administration and Finance), Senai/Skudai (Logistic/R&D).
Most of the developments are going to happen in Nusajaya. The target is to grow Iskandar into several times of sizes in all aspects (GDP, Per capita income etc). She highlighted on five main pillars to be reinforced, and then grow higher income as the main pillars.
As of February 2010, USD16.92 billion (RM59.04 billion) has been committed, predominantly from the private sector. As of now, Iskandar Malaysia has attracted over 700 site visits from potential investors, domestic and internationally.
Catalyst and new key investors includes Iskandar Investment (IIB), Mubadala, Kuwait Finance House, Milennium, UEM/Limitless, Genting Property, Central Malaysian Properties, JCorp, Malaysian Mining Corporation, Malaysia Pacific Corporation etc.
She shared that we should learn Mandarin, as with 1 billion population, and there would be a lot of domestic consumption. On India, she said that they understand English, so it is not as important. Having said that, American consumption per capita would be a lot higher.
With small domestic population, Iskandar would have to look beyond the country to grow.
Arlida was sharing on opening a new hotel, one would need to have 12 approvals, and the whole process would take 1 to 3 years.
With that, IRDA would be set up to take care of the processes. Iskandar Investment Berhad would have to create projects that would catalyze the region and also bring in Return on Investment.
IIB has the shareholder of 60% of Khazanah Nasional Berhad, 20% EPF and 20% Kumpulan Prasarana Rakyat Johor. Iskandar Investment Berhad has a land bank of 10,000 acres.
Medini is an international zone, and for those who are in certain sector, they would be able to get certain incentives. Now, focusing on the northern sector of Medini. Legoland (76 acres) is built to cater for the young (2-12 years old) and also their parents. The reason to focus on this area is that entertainment for youth has been well catered in the region, so it is better to focus on the entertainment area for the young.
Now, with us working with Singapore, so we are doing things that are complementing with Singapore. In Medini, there would be Lifestyle Retail Mall (21.1 acres, built-up area – 1,000,000 square feet). Back then, when go to shopping mall, it was go shopping, but now, it has become entertainment place.
IIB tried to build Medini North, to be a place where people would enjoy being. For Legoland, there would be 6 Million Lego bricks, and now, they have hired 12 people to be Legoland Model Builder. One of those 12 people is a lecturer.
For incentives, Medini would have specific incentives, similar with Multimedia Super Corridor, example corporate tax exemption for 10 years.
EduCity @ Iskandar is being built – Newcastle University Medicine Malaysia, Management Development Institute of Singapore (agreement just signed yesterday) and Netherland’s Maritime Institute of Technology. Hopefully all those would be opened by September 2012. Arlida aimed to have 2 more universities announced by end of this year.
Arlida also spent 5 years in Putrajaya during the planning phase and phase 1 building of it, including Prime Minister building. She highlighted on the 4km boulevard and 13 parks. She highlighted that it is important to create events and usages for the infrastructure to be used properly. She said that it is easier to build, but tougher to make it usable.
Arlida said that she has learned that things built to be practical. For the stadium, it would be with capacity of 12,000 people.
Marlborough College Iskandar Malaysia is built, with target completion date in June 2012. It is one of the top 5 colleges in UK.
As part of the social responsibility, there would be Workers camp and Kampung Tersusun as well. Arlida also shared that in her career, she has migrated graves of all religions/races (Muslim graves, Christian graves, Chinese graves, Hindu graves and Orang Asli graves).
Arlida shared the importance of the warming of the relationship with Singapore. There is a joint ministerial committee to look at various issues in Iskandar.
Arlida shared on the work in progress for Iskandar, and it is a city to be the place for the future.
Arlida shared on what kept her awake at night, and she said that the challenge is how to change mindset. She said that one could do marvelous thing, but one need to convince the rest of stakeholders to do it together.
On mega projects, it is not too difficult to do, after one have learned on what to do, but it is tougher to get others to do together.
Advice to Future Leaders
She shared that we have to be in the proponent of change, and we are all together to bring the positive change together, to make Malaysia a better place. We should be together build a place that we want to stay and we want our children to grow up.
Arlida shared that it is easier for our generation to change, since we are still new in our career, and she said that if we tell the stories from our heart, then we can convince others to change.
Arlida said that there are more opportunities for young people now, than before. 20 years ago, opportunities were limited, and there wasn’t internet. Now, mobility is also widely available. Arlida said that the limitation is by our mind. Opportunities today are at least 1,000 times more than before. Our limit has been expanded.
Today, the region that surrounds us is the world. The real problem is recognizing the opportunities. If we are not aware of the opportunities, then we would be limited. Today, we are at the finger tips of the world. We should read more.
A lot of time, we don’t learn from history. A lot of lessons can be learned from there. Be there, watch, look and listen and eventually, we would see it. We need to build the experience and knowledge, and observe around.
Don’t look at salary, but keep on learning all the time.
Arlida used to play piano at lobby of Shangri-la Hotel back then, and she said that the learning she had through observing what others do back then, it is crucial for her to plan for the hotel development.
Arlida shared that for a good CEO, one has to have a vision. It is important to be emphatic to the people. One has to have experience and knowledge. It is very easy for one to just scold, but one should know how to do. Arlida has seen young CEOs, who went in through a stroke of luck, but don’t have the desire to run it.
Arlida shared that one has to respect the people who work for her. One has to earn the respect. One can earn the respect by caring the people and understand the people. Even though being a hard master, one respects the team.
Arlida shared on many different bosses and CEOs that she has worked with. She said that what makes her difference is she tried to learn from what she sees. She said that the intention has to be right. Everybody can teach one something. What is important is that one is willing to learn from subordinate and listen from them. One of the best lessons that Arlida learned is from her technicians.
Pressure can be a good thing, and one needs to learn how to manage the pressure. For this kind of mega project, one has to go through some pressure. Arlida focused on managing the pressure, and not making it bigger than it should be. It is important to have good work life balance.
There are times it could be tough, as one juggles roles. Arlida shared that everyone can come and go, and everyone is replaceable, but one is not replaceable in family.