Write-up: CEO Series 25 – Dato’ Yusli Yusoff, CEO of BURSA Malaysia
YCM CEO Series 25: Yusli Yusoff, CEO of BURSA Malaysia
Writing credits: Chen Chow Yeoh
Dato’ Yusli was born in Bangsar Hospital. His late father was army officer, so he used to travel a lot. However, his late father passed away when he was about 40. At that time, Dato’ Yusli was 8. His mother brought them up. At that time, they were living at MINDEF at Gurney/Semarak.
He was at Rifle’s Range school, and then St. John, and then went to Sultan Alam Shah in Petaling Jaya. He did his Standard Six in 1970. He skipped a year of school, so he only had five years of primary school.
He was selected as the first batch under Yayasan Selangor to study in Kuala Lumpur under the first year of New Economic Program. The school that he was supposed to go to, ended up does not exist now. He ended up going to Victoria Institution, and the rest went to Methodist Boy’s School and St. John Institution.
He spent his years at Victoria Institution (VI), and it was fun. He left VI at the start of Form 6, as his mother felt that he was not studying enough. He was just made Head Boy then.
He then went to UK in 1977 and did A Level and university, as well as working in UK. He came back in 1990, and joined Renong Berhad, which also does not exist today too. Dato’ Yusli was joking that places he went to, ended up does not exist today.
He went to do ICAW, and joined an accounting firm in UK, Peat Marwick Mitchell & Co (which eventually became part of KPMG). He was in UK till 1990. In between, he got married. However, unfortunately, it didn’t last. His daughter is now staying in UK and now is a doctor there. When he came back, his daughter was 6.
Early Career Prior to BURSA
Dato’ Yusli was supposed to start working with Petronas. Before he went to Petronas, he got “hijacked” to Renong. At that time, Renong just took over UEM, and they were building the North South Highways. Renong was one of the preferred companies then.
During the New Economic Model, Tun Dr. Mahathir selected a bunch of bumiputera businessmen to build a bigger pool of bumiputera professionals, and at that time, Tan Sri Halim Saad was one of them. Tan Sri Halim Saad was Dato’ Yusli’s first boss in Malaysia.
Dato’ Yusli then had to explain to Tan Sri Hassan Merican on he had to turn down the offer. In hindsight, Dato’ Yusli felt that in the fairly new group, like Renong, there was a lot more flexibility and he got a good learning curve.
In Renong, Tan Sri Halim Saad set up a Group Management Office, and that company was HBN Management. He set up with the help of an ex-partner in PwC. Dato’ Yusli’s first job with Renong was to write report on the companies that Renong had. Having worked under Tan Sri Halim Saad, Dato’ Yusli shared that Tan Sri’s culture was ruling by fear. He shared that everyone needs to know everything at finger tips, or else, would “get bitten off the head”.
Dato’ Yusli shared on those quarterly presentations back then, and some of those subsidiaries people were terrified and sometimes they didn’t even dare to sleep. One even fainted in the meeting.
Tan Sri Halim Saad knew a lot about each of the companies, and he could literally ask anything and everything on the company. And if people could not answer, they would be in trouble. Dato’ Yusli highlighted that while Tan Sri’s style “sucks”, his style was admirable, as he was able to get everyone on their toes. Dato’ Yusli credited him (Tan Sri Halim Saad) as the best bumiputera manager that he had worked with.
Others who were working at Renong was Datuk Seri Che Khalib. He worked very long under Tan Sri Halim Saad, whereas Dato’ Yusli worked for five years under him.
After HBN, he moved to Faber Group, and then Time Engineering and then went back to Renong Group as Chief Operating Officer in 1994/1995. At Renong Berhad, Dato’ Yusli reported to Tan Sri Halim Saad.
After that, Dato’ Yusli joined Shapadu Corporation for about 2 years, but he left as he felt that what was promised to him was not carried out the same way.
Dato’ Yusli felt that as country progressed, then people would need to specialize, instead of being “jack of all trades”. In developed nations, there were not many conglomerates.
In Renong, Dato’ Yusli had exposure to construction, infrastructure, property, engineering etc. At Shapadu, it was similar.
At that time, Dato’ Yusli joined Sime Merchant Bankers Berhad, which was joint venture of Sime Darby, ANZ Bank and another Japanese Bank. (And he joked that Sime Bank does not exist today too.) Sime Bank got hit by Asian Financial Crisis and Sime Darby decided to get out of Banking industry. Sime Bank was acquired by RHB.
Dato’ Yusli decided to leave before the bank got folded. The worst thing that Dato’ Yusli felt was that Sime Darby decided to pull the plug. The first thing that Dato’ Yusli chose to join them, was that it was supposed to be stable.
Datuk Jaafar Hamid, who had worked with Tan Sri Halim Saad, planned to do Management Buyout for Intria Berhad and Metacorp Berhad. So, Dato’ Yusli decided to join them as Managing Director of Metacrp Berhad. After Tan Sri Halim Saad, Datuk Jaafar Hamid was the person he admired the most.
However, two days before Dato’ Yusli joined them, the MBO fell through. So, Dato’ Yusli had to report to Tan Sri Halim Saad again. He was asked to be Managing Director for both Intria Berhad and Metacorp Berhad.
At that time, Intria then bought into a UK firm, and had to take a huge Pound Sterling loan. At that time, the exchange rate was about RM4 to 1 Pound, but during crisis, it became ended up to RM8 to 1 Pound at one pound. Intria ended up going into receivership.
During back then, Tun Dr. Mahathir encouraged local big companies to venture abroad, but, not many of them succeeded, as they were not ready to match the foreign “con” people, until Petronas was successful abroad.
Usually when Japanese companies wanted to invest abroad, they would be there for some time to observe, whereas for us, we usually just went out.
Dato’ Yusli shared on the reason of Asian Financial Crisis, due to too fast growth and companies went on too much gearings. And the Western world didn’t learn the lesson, and ended up in crisis recently.
Dato’ Yusli was always in fascination with financial sector, and one day, Datuk Seri Nazir called him and he joined as Chief Executive Director of CIMB Securities Sdn Bhd. That was in 2000, and he stayed on for 4 years. And then he joined as CEO of KLSE.
Dato’ Yusli was always willing to try to new things, and he was always involved in general management. In this manner, one does not need to be technical expert, but one builds expertise in organizing and managing people. Technical expertise would help, but not a must.
Dato’ Yusli shared that having some knowledge of finance and accounting would help in progressing in corporate world. Like when one is a CEO, one has to speak to analyst, and the analysts would not be impressed, if the CEO does not know about finance and accounting.
Bursa Malaysia requires all listed companies to have briefing to analysts and media.
Prior to end of 2003, KLSE was owned by brokers, and the brokers gave a guarantee for the exchange. And then KLSE was demutualized and became a company limited by shares. So, they wanted a new board and a new CEO, and Dato’ Yusli came in as CEO of KLSE.
Dato’ Yusli then responded to a bunch of questions.
Dato’ Yusli shared that every time one joins a new company, it would be a new set of experience and new set of challenges. He was fortunate to have the chance to move into various industries. As of now, he has been in stockbroking industry for 10 years.
Being in general management, it gives us the ability to influence the culture of the place. Dato’ Yusli tried to learn from the bosses that he had worked along the way, and extracted the good thing and not to take on some of the not so good things.
Having worked abroad, one of the things that Dato’ Yusli found more common in MultiNational Companies or companies abroad, is that they probably treat their employees differently. Things like respect for the individual are different in the more developed economy. Over there, people tend to pay more attention to quality of life. In developing countries, it is easier for employers to “force” people to work hard, as people here are less likely to complain.
Dato’ Yusli felt that people should have a good work life balance. He felt that if people work all the time, then people would become unproductive. If people do that day in day out, productivity must decline after a certain point. Dato’ Yusli preferred that they go back and rest and energize, instead of staying back late.
Dato’ Yusli felt that sometimes lower-ranked staff don’t dare to go back earlier, because their boss don’t go back early, and sometimes the boss don’t go back early, because they don’t want to set the wrong example. So, ended up people stay back later.
In corporate life, people are different, compared to students’ days. So, in a group of people, there might be difference in personality, and people might not work well together. So, if one is unlucky, then one would have to work to get people to work together. So, as one moves up the ladder, then one would have to handle that.
In any position, people are still people and would have character. Dato’ Yusli always advised that people should be firstly professional at work. That means one should do the job that one is paid for. One is not paid to not like a person, not paid to not cooperate with another person.
Dato’ Yusli does not expect people to like each other, but do expect people to work together. That sounds simple, but almost impossible to do. That is probably the biggest challenge for anyone. If people don’t talk to each other, someone has to break the ice, and professionals would do so, to get things done.
There are close to 1,000 companies, which they are quite diversified. In Malaysia, we are quite blessed with resources and we have enterprising people, and generally, people are quite well educated. Dato’ Yusli felt that the challenge is not too many people invest.
Securities Commissions is the commission that approves listing. ACE board is meant for businesses that do not have much track record. Lets say that there is a younger company that wants to list, they could find with a sponsor investment bank, and then they can list.
A lot of people do not want to let go of power, and that is especially so, for entrepreneurs. So, as the number of employees grow, entrepreneurs need to learn to give up the power, or else, it might be hard to grow the companies. It is important to look for professionals to handle the companies.
Most of the problems we have today is due to dishonest people. So, it is tough for entrepreneurs to find someone that they can trust.
Dato’ Yusli credited YTL group to have a balance of professionals and family members.
As company promotes staff up, the skill sets needed would differ, and company should ensure that the skill sets is built up.
Dato’ Yusli felt that there is nothing wrong with subordinates who are better than the boss. In fact, it is better, as it can help the boss to do a better job. Then, Dato’ Yusli’s advice would be for one to be better than one’s boss.
Dato’ Yusli shared on Bursa Malaysia, where there are only 600 staff, so there are limited jobs on the top. However, there are some specialist roles, which those people would choose to stay there, as there is only one exchange in the country. Of course, Bursa Malaysia did face the challenge of being poached by other banks.
Dato’ Yusli shared that Renong took on too many projects, and funding obtained was often short term, and the projects were long term. And interest rate went up, so it was harder to get income matched. So, cash flow problem could happen. It ended up with Khazanah Nasional bought over Renong.
Dato’ Yusli shared that back then Prolink, a Renong subsidiary, was the master planner for Bandar Nusajaya. And if not due to the crisis, Renong would be the one that took charge of Renong.
Dato’ Yusli felt that there is a trend for the Robert Kuok’s linked group to list abroad. Dato’ Yusli said that if followed logic, then they should have listed in Malaysia.
Dato’ Yusli shared that it is challenging to attract Indonesian companies to list here.
On his goal when he joined Bursa Malaysia, he wanted to improve the culture of Bursa and created a better atmosphere. He felt that he hasn’t really achieved that yet. There are some people who prefer to be told what to do, and if there is no instruction came down, then there could be problem. So, if things are not doing well, then one has to change. Change is always difficult. People don’t like to change, especially if they have always been doing something for the last many years. This is another thing that one has to deal with, as one progresses.
The skill required would be to learn how to sell the idea. That is a skill that everybody needs to have. Looking back to those at school, the one who is doing well at corporate life are those who don’t do well at school. They were the ones who were really socialing around. Those who don’t have good social skill, would find it hard to do well in society.
Bursa Malaysia is in service industry, and there are a lot of stakeholders. Pretty much everyone has opinion on Bursa Malaysia. In dealings with direct stakeholders, Bursa tries to be as efficient as possible.
Dato’ Yusli’s comment on 10th Malaysia Plan, the plan is on the right plan, but the challenge is to get everyone to work together with Prime Minister. First is to get all the ministers to work together, and then to get all the civil services to work together and then all Malaysians to work together.
Dato’ Yusli felt that when he was younger, inter-racial thing was better. But over the years, society has lost some of that, but what our Prime Minister tried to do with 1Malaysia is to find ways to get everyone to work all together, for the country to progress.
Dato’ Yusli felt that we should have more solid government schools, so that schools can produce better quality people. Maybe today, there is more pressure, life is more stressful, and there could be some structural issues, and the government should definitely find a way to quickly fix the education system. That is about the future of young Malaysians. This should not be politicized.
In life, there are many decision points, and one makes decision and one can’t turn back the clock. Dato’ Yusli thought that most of the decisions were correct. Perhaps one of his personal choices would be to bring his daughter back, but he can’t turn back the clock. Once a kid grows up, it would no longer be the same.
He wanted to create high quality professionals, and people would work together. It is easier said than done. One is paid to do work, so one does work for the salary, instead of one does work for the bonus. The bonus is just if people exceed the performance. One should look at whether one contributes more than what they were contracted to do. Nobody works eight hours flat out, although in theory, that was what one was paid for.
Dato’ Yusli would like to see Corporate Malaysia to have very high corporate governance standards. He wants companies to run with high transparency, and a lot of failure that we see in the past, was due to lack of corporate governmance, for instance fraud. Fraud could happen at all sort of level. It could be people stealing cash or selling fictitious products to fictitious people, and sometimes even public listed companies.
If one buys a share in a company, then suddenly we find that one month later, the company goes bankrupt, due to auditors said that the stocks or debtors in the companies would be worthless. Of course, people have paid money earlier, and one would lose money. If one knew that the company would go bankrupt, then one won’t invest it. So, Bursa’s attention is on companies disclosing it. If dishonest people discloses things, then chances are things might not be honest. So, Bursa has to detect those. Fact of life is that there would be dishonest people.
Directors of companies are meant to monitor the performances of the bosses in the companies. Bursa Malaysia did set up mandatory training for board members, but it was taken away after Directors were against it. So today, only first time board members of public listed companies go through a few days of training.
Today, public listed companies do list down the trainings that the directors went through.
Dato’ Yusli ended with hoping that all the attendees would become investors, and also to make sure that one read the annual reports. As long as one buys reasonably low, then sells reasonably high, then it would be good.
Dato’ Yusli felt that it is important to know the management of the companies. If one trusts the top management, then one can invest in the company.