Write-up: CEO Series 34: Mohd Nur Ismal, Chief Executive Officer of the Land Public Transport Commission
YCM CEO Series 34: Mohd Nur Ismal, Chief Executive Officer of the Land Public Transport Commission
22nd June 2011
Writing credits: Farhana Roslan
The below is the live-blog write-up on the CEO Series 34 session with Mr Mohd Nor Ismal, Chief Executive Officer of the Land Public Transport Commission (SPAD).
Mr Mohd Nor (MN) started off with outlining the three main items he was asked to come speak to YCM about; the journey of his career, SPAD and of course, the MRT.
When he graduated from university in the US, he took the path every graduate wanted to during the time, which was to become an investment banker. He decided Wall Street was too competitive, and so decided on Chicago. He started his career in CNA Financial Corporation, in an investment-banking job and spent 10 years of his career there, though he claims he made the mistake of staying in the place for too long. He did miss Malaysia and had the idea of returning home at the back of his mind, but he knew if he did, the hit on the compensation was going to be too much.
He decided the best way to go about this problem was to go back to business school. He went to Kellogg for his MBA. Upon leaving business school, there was a shift in the trend from investment banking to management consulting. So he went on from what he called a steady desk job to a career of talking to clients. MN claims this was a challenging experience, but a very fulfilling one; where people “look at you, pour their hearts out and expect you to solve their problems”. He calls it satisfying.
MN knew he had to return to Malaysia, so he did. Upon finding out that AT Kearney, the top tier management consulting firm he works for was expanding into Asia, he took the job offer without even thinking. He spent 3 years in Singapore serving a variety of clients from the Financial Services sector and even microelectronics. Most of the time he was in Singapore and Bangkok, too much so that the apartment in Bangsar that he had, was only stayed in 12 days in a year.
After sometime, MN resigned, and took 1 year off. He spent 6 months in Las Vegas, spending his time deciding whether he wants to return to Malaysia. Las Vegas didn’t work out, and so he returned home. He did not know what to do after, and so joined Accenture, only because they were the ones with most contracts in Malaysia at the time. Malaysia was going through a difficult time, and so he had had to travel, as far as even South Korea.
This was when several leaders on the DRB Hicom board asked MN to come on board. He claims this was the first time; he was playing a “defense” type role, joining a GLC corporation. He also joked that his experience was usually the “offence” player, but now he is playing defense for the government. This was when MN realized that he is already making good money, lived a comfortable life, and could afford to buy anything he wanted, but wanted something more out of his career.
Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed, who was then the Minister of Higher Education, asked MN to join him. He jokes “What did I know about education!?” But at the point of time, they were releasing a strategic plan for higher education. MN highlighted that he thought the contents of the master plan was less than what Malaysians deserve. He convinced the ministry to redo the whole plan, but also became extremely unpopular within the ministry along the way. The revised plan didn’t work out either. The minister than asked him to redo it again. That was when, with him on board, the MOHE came up with the National Action Plan for universities, which involved doing away with egalitarianism amongst universities and release institutions to chart their own paths.
MN then joined the team of Ministry of Transport, under Datuk Seri Ong Tee Kiat, where he claimed he “jumped into” the role. Again, he jokes, “What do I know about transport?” That was also when Datuk Seri Idris Jala was transferred onto his role at PEMANDU, and MN again was sourced into the team for 5 short months, to work on the urban transportation NKRA. Datuk Seri Idris Jala offered him a position in PEMANDU but MN was made to understand that that was against the PM’s wishes. He jokes “Oh, so the PM really does hate me that much.” It turns out that the PM had another job waiting for him. A job he claims, that “no one else wants.” MN knew from the start that this was going to be an impossible mission; there is little chance that everyone will be satisfied.
MN decided, whatever it is that is to happen during the period of his contract as SPAD chief, he told himself he wouldn’t care, as long as he can make at least a little change. This was when he admitted it was his colleague Annafi telling him that the commission was in need of manpower and personnel that he was here talking to YCM tonight. He says he thinks this is a good idea, standing in front of the brightest young Malaysians, sharing his story in hope that some of them would be moved by SPAD’s efforts and would want to find “higher meaning” to their career. He jokes, “so this is the end of my sales speech for today.”
MN started off rekindling how popular public transport was back in the 1980’s, before Malaysia started going through fantastic economic growth. People earned more and hence were able to afford their own cars. There were investments in the LRT, monorail, and the Intrakota buses (now Rapid KL). But, nothing has really changed since the 1990’s. We were back to the problem (inaccessibility) and dread blocks, which MN claims was starting to impair economic growth in the affected areas and the city. MN showed that the modal share of people using public transport declined significantly, with 34% usage in 1985, 20% in 1997 and 10-12% in 2008.
Because things were really bad, our beloved PM saw an opportunity, and agreed to include land public transport and MRT as one of the NKRA under the ETP, where the target modal share of users is 25% by 2012. MN was glad that we are on track with 17% modal share achieved last year.
MN highlights the current issues we face. If we are lucky enough to live near the LRT rail network, we could use it. It was made better slightly with the 4 train car sets introduced. KTM, he points out, is still a problem, but expects this to be better when the new longer train car sets are delivered. Buses, are highly unpredictable, taxis are “as you know…” he claims. Networks are unplanned, ad hoc and driven mainly by suppliers and players. The root cause; the way we govern public transport. MN claims that public transport has always been merely an afterthought. DBKL was much more concerned about structural planning, while the MOT did not have much jurisdiction over local councils. We need a holistic approach to address this; this was how the idea of a single authority to address all this issues, came about (SPAD). For those who might be swayed, MN tells the crowd how he only hear one of two things every time he meets people; either “I feel sorry for you I don’t envy you,” or “Great! You are in the hottest team in the government.”
Public transport is a key NKRA. ETP has a few mega projects under it, and the MRT is evidently at the center stage. Even though they were relatively new kids on the block, people tend to listen to them. Although, MN claims that they did not get much power until January this year, although they were formed more than a year ago. SPAD is to act as a centre of planning, enforcing, regulating. They didn’t have as much power as their Singaporean counterpart; because of the constitution, SPAD does not have jurisdiction over local governments. However, the minister in charge is the PM himself, and so SPAD ten to have a lot of influence. MN shares some of the SPAD’s job scope; from broad planning and drawing up the NPT policy framework and the public transport masterplan, enforcement on operators, “boring stuff” like standard setting, and operating call centers for consumer relations purposes, to the project management of the MRT itself. SPAD, he says, is data driven, and builds up its research capabilities as together with the public transport associations. MN disclaims that he does not want to sound too ambitious. Their biggest issue is they are still fighting for next year’s budget, resulting in them having to narrow down their targets next year. Safety, he notes, is a key area that SPAD needs to show major improvement in.
MN assures us that he knows our careers may have involved us having some very low days. He shares that, in his time since SPAD, when it was low, it was really low. He notes the recent NST article blaming the SPAD for the return of taxi touts, as another very low point in his time as CEO. However, the highs are also very high, he claims.
MN moves on talking about how the MRT is the biggest infrastructure project since Malaysian independence. With lesser intensity, is the public transport outside the city. They are playing this down a bit, since this part revolves about of money. He notes that the SPAD wants to be lead by data. They will not be moved, until the data tells them to. Also, they want to publish the data, so the public knows what they are doing. The SPAD also absorbed two government agencies; the department of railway from the MOT and the commercial vehicle licensing board. In terms of number, the SPAD dwarfs them. Now the SPAD is trying to operationalize their operations under it. Other aspects of include, the national framework, investments and allocation of them so that it would be an equitable manner. Right now, the main focus of SPAD is the Klang Valley, and then they will go region by region, starting from Johor, Penang and then Perak.
SPAD is also about to release the Urban Railway Transformation Plan, then taxis, buses, and terminals and networks. They are targeting to release all this by September 2012. MRT will be their centerpiece. MN shows a picture of the current situation of traffic in Malaysia. Part of the map shows read areas, which represents 300minutes of travel time to get into the city centre. If we do not do anything, the situation will reach a point where the whole map turns red (MN shows another photo of what it will be like in few years time).
But Why Is MRT So Exciting?
This is for what it is going to do to the economy. MN highlights Greater KL as the largest NKEA in the ETP; expected to contribute to GNI by US$12billion. What is central to the Greater KL in turn is the issue of mobility. If the picture is as the 2nd scenario (he refers to second photo, where the map turns all red), this US$12billion is not going to happen for Malaysia.
On its own merit, the MRT alone is expected to contribute US$3 to 4 billion in GNI in 10 years, creating 130,000 new jobs, and will multiply via multiplier effect into US$8 to 12billion in a year. The second major advantage is the effects it will have on property price appreciation. Increase in GDV is expected at RM300million a year. MN thinks even this is understated. A third advantage and the most exciting is the 20billion in time savings it will create, which will translate into a total of RM21billion a year that it will create in productivity, according to PEMANDU estimates. MN adds that we are banking on the success of ETP to generate knowledge workers. This is the point where he shows that 1 MRT coach is to carry enough people that 3 buses or 177 cars will carry, to illustrate the tremendous help the MRT will create.
MN takes a step back and disclaims that it is not that they are just too obsessed with the MRT. It is because of sheer distance and the capacity required. He claims that we need the biggest capacity, of more than 25000 people per hour per day (PPHPD). Secondary transport plans include the Bus rapid Transit (BRT).
MN explains that the MRT is expected to carry 1.2million people within the city centre, with daily ridership of 400,000. The alignment will be as long as 51.0km, with 9.5km of it is underground. There will be 35 stations, of which 8 is underground. There will also be park n’ rides, which will consist of 13 floor car parks. The first of 3 lines will be completed in 2016, and commissioned in 2017. He adds that the status of the alignment is sitting on the PM’s desk as he speaks and pending discussions with him, for the PM to make his final decisions, especially in areas where MN claims “people are very loud.” The details of these will be announced end of June 2011, and further details can be obtained at the SPAD website.
MN then went on to explain the people involved. They have been entrusted as the agency to supervise. Syarikat Prasarana Negara will be the asset owner, and will be doing the heavy lifting. He highlights that SPAD is the one with the ultimate authority, and to put simply, he jokes “If the government knocks my head 1st, and if I am alive after that, I will knock on Prasarana’s head.”
He then shares what they are doing; parking space will be ample, during construction traffic management will also be managed, it will not be hassle free he admits, but it will be minimized. Touch n’ Go will be like Oyster and Octopus and can be used across modes of transports and across operators. They will be developing a fantastic feeder service, to take people to the MRT stations, so that people who really need it will use the parking space. All in all, he assures that there is comprehensive effort to make sure that this is going to be a success.
MN then exhibits a slide on the stakeholders; MoF will be the funding co, there will be value management consultants but notes they will be using as little public money as possible on them, independent checking engineers. Meanwhile, SPAD will play the role of supervising agency, while Prasarana is the infrastructure co. Project Development Partners, the term coined to describe MMC-Garuda partnership that went under public scrutiny, is explained to be chosen for their experience in project management, track record, and financial capacity, above just execution. They will be made responsible for and incentivized to deliver earlier than expected or cheaper than budgeted. SPAD has also compared this project to the likes of Crossrail London, ODA Olympics, the Qatar Civil Aviation Centre, and the Korean High Speed Rail project.
MN notes that in the past, the government has tended to have a narrow view of just cost. If they could afford it, they went ahead with it. Now, they are looking at other aspects such as whether the project will present opportunities to further create value. They focus not only on rail but also property. They have looked at Hong Kong and predicted the values in dollar terms receivable from the project. The appreciation of the land will pay for the shortfall in development costs. There is a 5- 38% chance of increased value, when there are MRT facilities nearby. Because the lives are not initially interconnected, when they are, it will create tremendous values, he notes.
MN points out that these values are being looked at to offset the cost of development. He gives the example of how the Docklands Railway Network, and the Kowloon Station created value for the Canary Wharf development and Hong Kong Kowloon district respectively. MN finishes by suggesting the use of these values, to compensate the public money, and not just benefit the private developers, riding on these value creations.
Live blogging of event, done in point form:
- Sajith started by stating that Google started in a garage. YCM is not that different because its CEO Series started with humble beginnings in an old bungalow.
- Sajith stated that YCM, like Google was and is still worth doing as “It is better to be part of something than be a bystander”
- The presentation revolved around Google’s Mission statement, and the emphasis of its words. Google’s Mission statement is “To organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”
- Eric Schmidt, Google’s former CEO and current Chairman, said that this is a 300 year goal
- Sajith showed a 2D map of the world, showing volume of Google searches in 2000. Key areas were US, Europe and Japan
- Through Google’s 20 pc time, a Google Engineer developed a tool that showed it in 3D
- Sajith demonstrated Google Instinct, where by playing the Beatles’ Hey Jude, as playing and typing the lyrics, Google search is able to predict what you are looking for
- Sajith demonstrated the integration of Google Maps with Google Streetview and stated that this is among the things Google Malaysia is planning to bring to Malaysia
- Sajith demonstrated Streetview at New York, and even Antartica!
- He then demonstrated Google Art Project, Google is bringing Streetview into museums, as he demonstrated Vincent van Gogh’s painting zoomed to the tiniest details
- Sajith then spoke of Google’s book scanning project. They estimated that there are (arguably) 129 million books in the world, of which Google has scanned 5.2 million books. That is equivalent to 500 billion words!
- Sajith then spoke of the uses of having scanned 500 billion words. Sajith demonstrated Googles Books Ngram Viewer (accessible here: http://ngrams.googlelabs.com/), able to scan particular words in books from any time.
- He asked, in the books from 1800 to 2000, what is the pattern of mentions of “Men” versus “Women”? Results showed more men than women, but mentions of men declined starting 1920 and women mentions overtook men mid-1980s.
Are the words “money”, “love” or “power” more popular? Unfortunately, its Power.
- Sajith demonstrated the pattern of SMS at New Year where the spikes of one day, are tremendous
- Information is one thing, how and what is Useful? His context is a question: What time of the year do most men propose to their girlfriends?
- You only search for something when you have a need. He demonstrated Google Insights for Search (accessible here: http://www.google.com/insights/search/#) and searched, “engagement rings”. It shows the pattern when people search for the word. It shows that the spike is in December. And unsurprisingly, the search for “wedding dresses” spike in January. How is this useful? As a business, why not have a marketing campaign for a ring near December?
- Next question: When is the highest peak for movie goers? Its December. The highest grossing film of all time is first Avatar then Titanic, both launch in December and both released by James Cameron!
- Question: When do people care about their weight? The spike is in the 1st week of January.
- Question: Consumer insights for laptop purchases. Do people want long battery laptop or light weight laptop? Searches reveal that people search for long battery laptop. This information is useful as manufacturers can know what laptop to design for.
- What can we do to make information universally accessible?
- Sajith demonstrated a Google graph of mobile penetration. In Y2000, China has 10 million phones, a single digit percentage of its population. Past 2000, it boomed to 50% penetration with 600 milion phones in 2008, a tremendous growth. Its an indicator how fast business change.
- In Google’s opinion, Indonesia will have more queries on mobile than PC. More people are searching Google on mobile.
- The kind of person Google is looking for is one who is able to adjust to the fast pace of change.
- Sajith noted that the new generation is introduced to the internet first through mobile than through desktop. Mobile searches actually spike during weekends, when we are not in office.
- More and more media content, TV content, are available online. How much media is uploaded on YouTube every minute? Every minute, 35 hours worth of content is uploaded on YouTube! People do not consume TV content anymore, they consume Internet media.
- He demonstrated a YouTube video Double Rainbow, which someone then made a reply and made a song out of it. Go YouTube Double Rainbow Song!
- Original video: (link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OQSNhk5ICTI)
- Double Rainbow song: (link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MX0D4oZwCsA)
- How is this information useful? Windows Live Photo’s advert was out of the Double Rainbow! (link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8jXz7NrfzsI)
- Overall Malaysian searches in Google:
- Queries on mobile phones went up 10 times the last 5 years.
- Queries on financial and insurance information went up 6-7 times the last 5 years.
- Queries on travel went up 3-4 times the last 5 years.
Vishal (Question 1): Does Google earn financially with such projects like the Art Project?
Sajith: Google’s philosophy is that if the product is good and user uses it, revenue will come in. As a company, they allow customers to define how applicable and how useful a product is. Google wants to make a difference in people’s lives.
Helmy (Question2): What is Google going to do about Facebook? Is it seen as a rival or a partner?
Sajith: We want more and more companies to encourage people to surf online. Such moves enrich the ecosystem. It is not a zero sum game. The more companies encourage people online, everybody benefits.
Sajith hopes that in 5 years time, there will be 3 local internet companies in Malaysia.
Question 3: When is a movie about Google gonna come out?
Sajith: Let’s ask James Cameron.
Brendan (Question 4): What kind of person are you looking for?
Sajith: We are looking for people with the X-factor, beyond just good grades. People who have demonstrated they can do something else. With all that has been shown (the product demonstration), you need to have more than just good grades.
Question 5: Why did Google hire you Sajith?
Sajith: It helped that I had a couple of Masters. It helped I played sport, I played cricket for Singapore. I debated, I have worked in 4 different industries. It helps I speak 3 languages. Do you do something at work over and above the usual call? We are not looking for someone with just online experience.
Eric (Question 6): Why does Google set up an office in Malaysia?
Sajith: Hey, are you Malaysian? With 30 million people, more and more people choosing to be connected online. Malaysia has the highest number of average friends on Facebook. Malaysia is the first Google office in 3 years in Asia Pacific.
Guru (Question 7): What is Google +1?
Sajith: The second largest search engine is YouTube, owned too by Google. When we search, there is a social element that we have missed. Such as the question of “How does Siti feel about this event when she speaks to Alia?”. Google +1 adds an additional layer of social signal to make searches more meaningful.
Guru (Question 8): How do you determine 20% time in the 80:20 time concept? How do you quantify?
Sajith: Trust is implicit in all we do at Google. We don’t have timesheets. What Google is most interested in is the outcome. You are intelligent enough to be trusted with what you do with the time. You are surrounded by intelligent and driven people so we don’t need to answer how to ensure people to work 80% of the time. They just do. It’s a desire to make a difference and we hope it would inspire people.
YCM CEO SERIES 31: NATASHA KAMALUDDIN, MANAGING PARTNER OF ETHOS & Co
Writing Credits: Farhana Roslan
The below is the write up from the session with Natasha Kamaluddin, Managing Partner of Ethos and Company.
Natasha began the session assuring the crowd that she had only a maximum of 15 slides.
Natasha then informed the crowd that she has decided to talk about Malaysia, making a slight comment of her favourite topic; political economy. She joked that most of us in the room at the time were either too young or were not even born yet, to really understand the NEP and its justifications. She did not discount the fact that she was standing where she is today, as a result of the NEP.
Back when the NEP was originated, 60% of Malaysians were in poverty. Up to the year 2000, the NEP was largely successful. Economic growth was ranging between 5 to 10%. It was only after 2000 that we have come to realize and find that our growth prospects weakened considerably. Natasha notes that this was probably attributed to the two major economic recessions Malaysia suffered from (Late 90’s and 2008). She asserts that the cost was too high (cost of recovering the economy), for an economy like Malaysia (to sustain incredible growth we enjoyed in the past).
Then Natasha went on with the stimulus packages that Malaysia has had. Malaysian government debt grew (CAGR) more than 12% (federal government debt as a % of GDP). She informed the crowd that we are now at an (alarming) 74% level. However, she notes that this is true if we use national income as denominator. Arguably, the experienced economist that Natasha is, she would prefer using government income instead, which would bring the debt level to 26%. In both cases, she notes that the government debt is still considered very high.
Natasha went on to explain a chart showing that Malaysia is still very much a resource based economy; with crude oil only is making up 73% of our GDP. But, Natasha points out that investment and consumption (private investment as a share of GDP) is very low. This will one way or another translate into very low productivity growth in Malaysia, suggesting that fundamentals is very concerning.
Because productivity growth is a problem, Natasha points out that the aim for Malaysia to be a high income nation is going to be a tough pursuit. She pointed out that the middle and bottom 40% income is stagnated. Talent in Malaysia is so scarce, that there is so much room for the slightly skilled labour force to demand higher wage levels. Natasha supports with some statistics that only 5% of the Malaysian labour force earns more than RM5,000 per month. She jokingly congratulates any members of the audience earning RM 5,000 or more per month, saying they would be the top 5% of Malaysia’s income earners. Referring to these arguments, we are, she says, in deep trouble (as an economy).
REASON NUMBER 1: Execution
Natasha proposes that the ONE single most important reason this is, is execution problems.
She recollects 1970’s Malaysia, where we started off with a commodity-based economy, however most of the plantation estates and mines were still majority owned by the British colonial masters. She highlights government initiatives, citing the example of PNB, as some of the organistaions who made a considerable effort to acquire back these assets so that Malaysians will start to actually own these resources ourselves.
But then we went on to still having Multi National Companies (MNCs) develop and establish their presence in Malaysia. She poses a question to the crowd, asking us what sort of MNC-type of companies were based in Malaysia; mostly resource-based organizations and hence, there really weren’t much competition.
She supports this with another alarming statistic; 28% Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) into South East Asia went into Malaysia in the 1970’s. Now it is 11%. Natasha began explaining why this is.
Most value chains of services start with R&D then component and ingredient and manufacturing, assembly, final assembly, and then marketing.
Essentially, however thriving with FDI Malaysia was back then (being the electronics hub), we were sadly but true, only mainly the final assembly hub. The FDIs were resource seeking (namely cheap cost of semi skilled labour) and not as many value or technological know-how and substances were actually imparted onto us. This translates to only 15% value-add.
So essentially, Natasha claims that our failure was to develop ENOUGH backward linkages in the value chain of services and products. So that we had all these FDI come in and go with not enough knowledge transfer onto us.
She provided the example of Palm Oil. Palm Oil was THE Malaysian thing; most major FDIs were coming in under the pretext of Palm Oil development. This was when the government imposed rules on how each FDI must operate in the form of JV with Malaysian home-grown partners in the ratio of 50:50. This saw the establishment of major Malaysian based Palm Oil developers. Natasha uses the example of P&G, Felda, Cognaise, Golden Hope.
Natasha claims that this is quite counterproductive, because the FDI sides were the ones to design their processes so as to ensure minimal transfer of technology.
What we could have done instead, was to collaborate with MPOB/ PORIM, do collaborative research products, and impose the Malaysian ownership of the end legal entity since we had a hand in the development of the end product.
As a result, Malaysians high end technical skills were not created, which brings to exactly why now, there is no reason for any FDI to come into Malaysia and establish value-added services in Malaysia!
REASON NUMBER 2: Privatization of Government Linked Conglomerates
Natasha recalled the era of this privatization of conglomerates back in the 80’s to 90’s period. She explains that this was the time when the experimentation of the creation of mega entrepreneurs such as the likes of Tan Sri Halim Saad and Tan Sri Tajuddin Ramli.
The government had these major entrepreneurs buy these entities in order to privatize them. But, Natasha points out again, that because of breakdown (between government ran organizations and privatization, corporate governance and ability to establish economic relevance as a private company), almost all these organizations had to had the government come back in to re-nationalize those assets.
Natasha however, does not discount how Khazanah Nasional, for example, had done a successful transformation to some of these assets. This brings us to today, where we allow entrepreneurs to manage these assets again.
Natasha then digresses, stating that she acknowledges that the intention to rejuvenate corporate Malaysia was not wrong; it was again back to the execution issue.
Natasha said that the government of Malaysia actually does care about Malaysia a lot, proposing a less cliché outlook than what is probably on most of the Gen-Y minds sitting in this room today. This brought grins amongst the audience.
She simplifies this concern of our government with a few illustrations:
Foreigners taking our resources
Foreigners steal our jobs
Infant industries not getting a level playing field to grow
Consumers’ rights are not protected
These were all fears which justified the protectionist policies that the government establishes.
Hence, Natasha says, these brought about the forced JVs (that the government imposed on FDIs), control of expatriates, and the need for JPPD to sign off assuring the job given to this expatriate employee absolutely cannot be done by any Malaysian, as well as trade barriers, citing the case of Proton as the typical example.
This, she says, is where the government “failed”.
These coupled with of course, the usual inconsistency, corruption, lack of financial discipline, Natasha mentions briefly.
Tun Razak, she says, was the era where the government was deemed to know best and where government protectionist policies were needed to protect the rakyat. Through time, the private sector capabilities become better, leaving the government policies being left in the hands of people with comparatively (arguably) less capabilities.
Natasha compared (simplistically) that the Singapore approach was simple and effective- “Hey, actually we just want to create growth, an environment that supports (incoming and creation of) talent, and an environment for businesses to thrive.”
This is in contrast with the Malaysian approach; we take the approach of jump starting a few industries which we think is the next big bet. She lists down a few examples of our previous attempts and big investment themes; steel, Proton, Information and Communication Technology (ICT), Biotechnology, and then of course, there was the Halal industry.
By the way, Natasha does not discount that these could (individually) have been right, but we (Malaysia) just wanted to kill too many birds with one stone.
What should we have done instead?
(1) Use top-down approach
But be efficient, minimum level is only this size. She illustrates by giving an analogy; If, for example, we need only 3 why create 13? (referring to capital expenditure (CAPEX) orders of National Oil Integrated producer, Petronas). This is why as a result; Petronas gives licenses to about 300 companies, when only 30 are needed.
The Innovation Ecosystem in Malaysia is very very weak, Natasha argues. This means that only very projects translate into executable projects from idea generation stage. And this is referring to the best government projects funded!
Natasha points out another statistic; Only 10% of the ideas made it to commercialization stage and only 3% managed to reach profit-generation stage.
She then rhetorically asks the audience: What do we need to create a conducive environment for innovation?
She names deal flow as one of it. She uses the example of the U.S. where high quality scientists are able to come up with a solid market value adding product to sell. More importantly, they have a strong fund management expertise, which can really tell the value of a firm and its projects.
This makes it easy to consummate a deal.
In our case, Natasha says, we have very poor quality deal flow. (One reason is probably the fact that) only 8% of entrepreneurs have degrees in Malaysia.
(On the asset management side), the major institutional players in Malaysia are really only essentially the involvement of pension funds. She points out that of course, these funds generally like the dividend story, not so private equity and “growth-type” stories.
Furthermore, Natasha informs us that in Malaysia one would struggle to get a 10- to 20 times return on your investment (ROI), whereas other countries can churn out more than 1000 times returns for investors. Again, she explains, this is why there is no reason (for FDIs) to want to come to Malaysia, for her lack of scale and ability to generate these kind of (return) multiples.
Natasha points out that specialization needs scale and generalists cannot really come up with a value proposition. Malaysia lacks content, depth, competitiveness have traditionally been anchored on cost. As liberalization of prices and markets intensifies, it is going to be even harder for Malaysian industries to compete. She also notes that although our trade deficit is still positive, it is declining.
There is Good News!
Since 2004, Natasha notes that there has been a concerted effort to transform Malaysia (by various parties).
Phase 1, she notes, was the revamping of GLCTs, with names like Khalid and Wahid Omar taking leadership. These leadership positions also, she says with subtle hint of gladness, are contract-based. This means that these top positions are well governed with KPIs, paid well but possibility of being replaced is always there in case of non performance. She quotes that between 2004 and 2006, most senior management positions (in corporate Malaysia) were converted to contractual based positions.
These makes salaries become more adjusted to the market. Also, because of this move, it is (more likely) that these companies have the right people (at helm) which allowed the company-level sort of transformation (that Malaysia so badly needs to complement industry and country level transformation plans). This is done through proper rationalization and execution of strategy.
This then allows for the not only domestic but also international growth of these companies! Why? Natasha says that this because economies of scale in these growth sectors have been exhausted, so now it’s about finding economies elsewhere, which brings Malaysian companies to the strategy of expansion abroad.
Now, Natasha points out, it’s about the government using legislation to actually force rationalization and liberalization. This PM, she assures, has made some efforts to address key enablers which did not happen before.
She points out the NEM reform initiatives which included Talent Corp. Natasha says in all seriousness, there has been a demonstration of some form of success. We have seen a number of sectors which have undergone and seen industry consolidation, enabling building blocks for this industry to move forward.
Essentially what we were doing, Natasha says, that a few years ago we compared ourself against giants like Singapore, Japan and the west. Now we are struggling to compare (our competitiveness) against the likes of Vietnam.
Natasha speaks about her the subscale fabrication industry, which happen to be a subject she’s passionate about.
First it’s the labs. Then move forward. When it is more rational to consolidate, Malaysia says OK, we consolidate.
But she says there are no economies of scale. For example, how do we consolidate one north plant and another one down south? She points out the problem with merging 2 players with similar capabilities is that it is hard to extract consolidation benefits and economies of scale when these assets were not in the first place created strategically and holistically looked at in the country wide perspective.
Also, Natasha highlights the fragmented delivery system, on the government side. She asks rhetorically how it is possible for the government, when the delivery system is so fragmented, say want to support a company. She points out (based on experience) one to go through 22 different government agencies to coordinate across just to set up a business in Malaysia. This does not only apply to foreign ventures, but also for Malaysian initiatives.
The problem with government bodies is that nobody wants to give up their power for all these processes. So the idea of a one stop centre cannot happen.
What in the NEP started off with pure objectives, Natasha points out, over time became a Bumiputera agenda. She acknowledges that however this may be debated; she does not believe that this is the true spirit of the NEP. She claims that (arguably) the NEP now has been widely misunderstood. (Unfortunately), some members of the citizen have tended to believe they are entitled to different privileges just because they are Bumiputeras.
Natasha recalls that when we had the 30% equity allocation for bumiputera ruling, it started from the intention of transferring ownership from foreigners to locals. Now, these resources are owned in joint by Malaysians, so that the transfer now can only go from non bumiputeras to bumiputeras (which were not the intention).
Natasha then touched on the topic of the Malaysian education system. The difference is that we are so content driven (that we have forgone method of gaining the knowledge itself). She asserts that the point (of education) is not to cram content into a few years of education).
She cites the example of a British example, where only 2 things are meant to be achieved at the end of a 2-year learning period. (She recollects her experience undergoing her A-Levels in the UK).
These two are the aims to impart students with the knowledge of how to learn by themselves, and the love or learning.
She rekindles her deciding to take a History paper in her A-Levels (she was the only Malaysian to, as pointed out by her course advisor).
To illustrate how she as a Malaysian has been taught to concentrate too much on content and text; she recalls an examination question: The Wars of the Roses between the York and Lancasterians. The question was “Why did the duke of York become king of England?” She laughed while telling the audience how she tried looking for the answers to that question frantically.
She couldn’t find the answers.
Upon realizing that the answers really are not there, she then points out that the British system is a system that forces you to find the answer for yourself, instead of memorizing.
Natasha explains that only 0.4% students are sponsored to study abroad every year. This translates to only a few of the currently High-performing Bumiputeras (who earn RM20,000 to RM40,000 a month). These, she pointed out are foreign graduates (which makes it unfortunate, given the earlier statistic).
The sad thing is that such a small minority gets a foreign education. She recalls recruiting for clients, a national cause that attracted 900 resumes (all local grads), and they only made 1 hire for the client.
Natasha then claims that we are only improving because we are an open economy. This means, we improve as the world improves. In 15 years time, which country will be comparing ourselves to?
When I was in Accenture there were a bunch of women managers, the sad thing is that, I was kind of the only one left. All decided to part time, then not to work at all, but work in an environment and consciously allowed their careers to plateau. 8 years later there are still managers, so my journey is very relevant to all of you here. (That’s why I want to share with you my story).
Only 13% of women in Malaysia are in professional and managerial positions.
Where I am, it is lonely. They are all men. I even find that the women at my level, do not have kids.
I went to boarding school, got a Petronas scholarship to study at Millhill High Barnet for 2 years. I learned absolutely nothing but it was good fun. Got into Cambridge, and learned a lot of things.
In 3rd year in Cambridge, I decided that they wanted to further mankind’s knowledge and have PhD and work for World Bank. I missed the application deadline.
Accenture, which was then Anderson tracked me down and had an offer. I spent my time in Accenture for 8 years. I was fortunate that was the time when people were willing to pay a premium for Accenture–type skills.
Now there is Tatas and the other IT consultant Indian companies (which costs much less). On top of that, the lack of competition afforded new people like me, time. What now is sold for 3 months, was sold for a year.
American firms are good at documenting their knowledge capital. Most companies were at the time to automate a lot of things, so consultants get a good overview of how the company works. Nowadays, we’re only working for very specific solutions you don’t get the end-to-end picture.
Because I am the type to put myself into what I’m doing passionately, I got my PhD plan canceled.
After a while I got bored, I met the partners of the then start-up Ethos. It had lovely red carper in 900 sq feet office. I liked the people, they had a journey in mind, not a destination. I knew after a few minutes into the conversation that they could not afford me. I proposed to them ok, I didn’t mind being paid 5000 a month but compensate me when you land big deals.
Ethos itself has been an interesting journey. We were struggling to find meaningful work.
In the GLC transformation phase, we were lucky to get our big break, Nor Yaakob awarded contracts to start up Malaysian consultants: Bina Fikir took MAS, and Ethos was given the MAB contract.
That’s how we built the firm. We were ambitious, in 2006 we wanted to venture into finance and started Ethos Capital. Since then, were happy that it has come to a point that the same clients employing BCG and mc Kinsey giving us the same work. We’re now at time where even companies would want to buy us. Our aspirations grew us by 5 fold in 5 years, and it was all through hard honest work which was fulfilling.
Back to life story- 2006 had my 2nd child boy in the middle of project. In 2009-while we were working on PEMANDU and EQUINAS, my 3rd child is born so now I have a 13 year old, 4 year old and 1 year old. My advice:
Have kids early, get married early (you meet no one)
Always do what you’re over qualified for
To succeed as a woman:
1) Emulate male behavior
2) Be a woman, use charm and influence and getting your way all the time
Always realize the male ego is most important- must be willing to use that to your advantage
Always have options, always be prepared to walk away (career and relationships)
Financially independent, so I can move out of my marriage. I know I am there for the right reasons. It’s because I love my husband and my family, and not because I am there for the financial support.
CEO SERIES 30: AZRAN OSMAN-RANI, CEO OF AIR ASIA X
Writing Credits: Farhana Roslan
The below is the live-blog from the session with CEO of Air Asia X, Azran Osman Rani on the 21st of March 2011. Today, Azran decided to go for the casual look and do without the signature red Air Asia cap. The Master of Ceremony started off with a brief background of his alma matter; Azran graduated from Stanford University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Electrical Engineering and a Master’s Degree in Management Sciences.
He started by answering questions asked to him prior to his presentation. How does he manage risks? He doesn’t. How did he come about the many different paths he went down in his career? Random.
Azran then went on to how traditional corporate planning takes up a company’s valuable time citing the example of how the company has gone through 5 iterations in 2011 and that it’s only March, which goes to show how we can’t really plan about the future. He believes that living in this time, running a business, is not so much more about planning and budgets. Especially in the sort career he had in the aviation industry; H1N1, Volcanic Ash, the catastrophic winter in Europe as well as the latest earthquake and Tsunami tragedy hitting Japan.
Write-up: YCM Special Session : Keeran Sivarajah, Executive Director and Co-Founder of Teach for Malaysia
YCM Special Session : Keeran Sivarajah, Executive Director and Co-Founder of Teach for Malaysia
Writing credits: Chen Chow Yeoh
This is the posting of live blogging of the Young Corporate Malaysians Special Session. Today, we have Teach for Malaysia with us.
Keeran Sivarajah, Executive Director and Co-Founder of Teach for Malaysia would be speaking tonight. He met Dzameer at PricewaterhouseCoopers and they worked together to start up TFM. He would be speaking today with Yong Su En.
The statistics shown was 1 out of 4 people do not have required level of numerical skills. 4 out of 5 working Malaysians only have education up to SPM. 3 out of 5 head of poor households only have education up to primary schools or less.
There are 9 Million people between age 7 and 17 and there are 400,000 who never go to school. For those from Orang Asli, only 6% finished high school. (Hope that I got the stats correct.)
Keeran shared on his experience visiting a school in Klang. It is March and one parent just brought the kid to school, and the kid missed two months of school, because he didn’t have money to buy school uniform.
Keeran shared on another experience yesterday in Gemas, where a parent wanted to take the 16-year-old kid out of school, because he has lost faith in the schooling system. He felt that even though the kid goes to university, the kid might still be unemployed. So, the kid might as well started working now and helped to earn a living.
These kids breathe the same air as all of us. They eat the same food as us. A lot of these kids do not believe that they can achieve big things.
Keeran shared on his experience attending the 4th Young Corporate Malaysians CEO Series of Talk and the speaker was Seelan Singham, Managing Partner of McKinsey & Co for Malaysia. Seelan said that everyone should have a scary dream, and that scary dream of him makes him to dream big. Seelan stressed that being idealistic is good and once we lost that idealism, especially after we worked for 18 hours a day and busy to go on dating/marriage, as well as paying for mortgage, we might look back and see “what the hell has happened to my dream/idealism”. Seelan shared that it is important to have a sense of purpose.
Keeran shared this dream of Seelan and he sees the dream of getting there for Teach for Malaysia. TFM was incubated by a company called Khazanah Nasional Berhad. They wanted to find 50 most eligible Malaysian youths, who want to make a difference in Malaysia. They want to build a movement of people, where people can make a difference to the community.
TFM is recruiting heavily in universities and young professionals. They are looking for people who want to make transformations in high needs schools. These people would be having the mandate to transform the outcomes of the kids, after going through the training.
TFM get their fellows to lead in classroom and community. These two years would be most exciting and rewarding tothese people’s lives.
Keeran shared on the exciting bit of him quiting his job. This program started with Teach for America 20 years ago, and by now, Teach for American has 18,000 alumni who are now in various sectors to solve this huge challenge of providing opportunities to attainan excellent educationfor all children.
Teach First is now the 5th most popular recruiter in UK, even ahead of KPMG. They are the top recruiter in Oxford and Cambridge. They also reject a lot of people from Oxford and Cambridge.
Malaysia is the number 3 in Asia, after India and China. Pakistan just joined the network recently. Malaysia is the first in South East Asia to join the network. There are another 20 countries that would join this network within the next 2 years.
54 years after independence, not every Malaysian kids have the access to quality education. Teach for Malaysia hopes to build the next layer of leaders, who could one day be a minister, Prime Minister or any other leaders, who would have a mission to solve this education issue.
Teach for Malaysia hopes to look for the best 50 in the country to join this year. The first deadline would be in two weeks’ time. This group would be the founding cohort for Teach for Malaysia.
Su En just took over the rostrum. Su En studied Economics at LSE and her favourite class was developmental economics. She did a lot of case studies on how initiatives that can transform the world. While those are fascinating, those were just theory. She went into management consulting in UK for 3 years, and decided to come back to Malaysia to serve the mission of developing the nation.
She initially found that there wasn’t a lot of initiatives from grassroot in Malaysia, especially compared to developed nations. She also spent time in China to help with migrant kids. She was then introduced to Dzameer and Keeran through a mutual program. She had known about Teach First back when she was in UK.
She came on board to join Teach for Malaysia in October 2010. She hoped to recruit the best and brightest among Malaysians to join this movement.
This is going to be the most challenging experience for TFM joiner. They would have to engage with 40 disenchanted teenagers and having to engage their attention. TFM required its fellow to go into the school and change the mindset of the students. The fellows would need to have huge confidence and solid teaching skills.
The Teach for Malaysia Leadership Academy would have an 8-week experiential, residential training in end-October 2011. These trainings are developed in collaboration with Teach for All, corporate partners and Minister of Education. They would practically be applying teaching, learning and leadership theories, based on the Teaching as Leadership framework. The trainers would be from Teach for All. This would adopt the methodof Teaching as Leadership, by Steven Farr from Teach for America. The TFM fellow would have the opportunityto practice teaching, live in a real classroom.
There would be ongoing support and training. There would be Leadership Development Officer, providing personal coaching, resources and guidance. There would be mentor, who would be senior teacher in the same school. There would be Business Coach, who would be senior manager from one of TFM’s corporate partners. There would be workshoips by training partners to share innovative teaching methods and best practices. There would be seminars by corporate partners on a wide rangeof transferable skills. They would also be getting Post Graduate Diploma in Teaching after first year of teaching, as well as earning credits towards Master’s degree.
The role of TFM Fellow is to make a difference in the classroom. They are expected tolead students towards academic achievements that defies traditional expectations, and they would be engaging, teaching and challenging students inside and outside the classroom. They would also work collaboratively with other teachers and school staff to build skills, share knowledge and obtain resources for the classroom. The fellow would lead by example and be inspirational role model to give the students the courage to dream big.
Scott Thomas, Teach for America Corp member shared on his proudest accomplishment was starting an after-school tutoring program. They had 8th graders tutoring 6th graders, who were struggling in Mathematics. It was a fantastic experience watching the older students play this mature role, not only being academic stars, but also developing patience and empathy.
Su En shared on the kids that she had mentored back in UK, where a lot of kids might not have the perspective beyond their backyard. They hoped to do something that is better than their parents, but they might not have the visibility to know of any potential beyond that.
TFM Fellow is expected to impact the wider community. The role would provide unique opportunity to design, implement and manage a sustainable, transformational project in the school or community in which you serve, with the help of your Business Coach and community leaders. They are expected to develop a deep understanding of the many barriers to achievement and complex problems associated with achieving equity in education.
Zeenia Anwar, Teach First Ambassador shared on “If you want to stretch yourself and become a person you never thought you could in your wildest dreams, do it, apply for it. You’ll have the two best years of your life.”
TFM would also provide professional development opportunities. In Malaysia, TFM aimed to help on internship and employment opportunities with top-tier organizations in Malaysia. BCG, McKinsey & Co, PwC have helped tremendously in this early stage of TFM. There would be professional development workshops run by corporate leaders. There would be exclusive networking events with senior figures in private and public sector firms. There would be Business Coach as well.
TFM has gotten approval from the following programmes to do deferral, including Harvard Business School, Stanford Graduate School of Management, Harvard Law School etc.
There are five stages of admission process. It would start with online application, and then phone interview, and then a 30-minute long online assessment, with a full-day assessment including a group case study, a mock classroom activity and a one-to-one interview and then would be final offers.
The first round of deadline would be 21st March, and the second round of deadline would be 27th June. TFM practices rolling admission. So, do start apply now at Teach For Malaysia . Please help to spread the words to others too.
The starting pay for teachers would be between RM2,300-RM2,700, which is similar to the starting pay that Keeran had when he was with PwC.
TFM Fellow would also engage the community and keep abreast with the parents. There are a lot of opportunities for TFM Fellow to reach out to the parents and community, but it would be up to the creativity of TFM Fellow and the TFM would be supporting the Fellow.
Keeran related on a case from Teach for America, where a parent wanted to take the kid out of school, as the kid doesn’t seem to learn anything. The Teach for America Fellow asked the parent to give him/her a month to transform the kid. The Fellow put in efforts to educate the kids and keep the parents updated from time to time, and after a month, the kid can read a full page.
After the stint in Teach for Malaysia, the Fellow is flexible to do whichever route that they would want to explore. This TFM program aims to develop leaders and it would be up to the Fellow to chart their pathway. During the two years, there would be a lot of developmental support to help shape the leader. What is needed from this Fellow is that after the two years, they would be asked to support this TFM mission whereever they are. They would be alumni network too, that would support their mission.
One of the Teach for America Fellows said that if he is still not convinced that his children can get quality education in any school in America, then his job is not over. There is still a lot of work to be done.
TFM Fellow would be assuming full-time teaching positions in secondary schools, where they would be teaching English or Mathematics/Science-related subjects. What is important is not to change the curriculum, but the TFM Fellow would go in and set high academic and non-academic goals, to mould and guide the students. TFM is looking into Educational Impact Evaluation and they are looking at partnering universities or Teach for All on this area. TFM is working hard on this, to be able to quantify more objectively on the performance of the TFM Fellows.
One of the attendees highlighted that there might be possibility of putting the students at risk, if the Fellow is not able to perform up to expectation. Keeran and Su En reiterated that the Fellows would be getting continuous training beyond the 8 weeks, and there would be full-time staff who would meet with the Fellows continuously to guide them. There would be mentor within the school too, to guide the TFM Fellow.
For the first year, the 50 TFM Fellows would be placed in Kuala Lumpur, Selangor and Negeri Sembilan, so that more monitoring can be done. TFM would be investing a lot in training and building a leadership movement. TFM would be investing to develop the leaders.
TFM selection process would be very rigorous to select new joiners who have strong competencies in leadership, as well as their capacity to handle situations.
TFM Fellows would be fully responsible for their class and they would be expected to teach the normal school syllabus. For TFM, they are also interviewing the schools and the school heads, so that they would get the support needed.
Ministry of Education and Management Consulting firm ranked all the schools in the country, and they are looking into those 70 schools within KL, Selangor and Negeri Sembilan which fell into the grading of Band 6 and 7. TFM would be visiting most of these 70 schools and eventually select 17 schools, where they would be putting 3-4 TFM Fellows in each school. It is very important that those schools selected would have supportive leaders there.
TFM applicants would also be subjected to Subject Audit Test during the application process, so that those TFM Fellows selected would have working knowledge in the subject and they would be getting help from more senior teachers on subject matter issues.
There is a suggestion from the audience where those who are not selected for TFM, could be put into a mailing list, and they could be put to good use by helping others in the community, for example teaching at orphanage etc.
Another audience shared on the practical training of being in real classroom would shape the teachers, no matter how much training is provided. He also shared on teaching students how to fish, instead of giving them the fish. He suggested on potential opportunities to partner with other organizations, to help the students and Fellows.
One of the big responsibilities for TFM Fellows would be to ensure that all students in the class are taken care of. There would be collaborations with various parties on this.
Finally, don’t forget to apply for Teach for Malaysia. Please help to spread the words too. Lets make a difference, by providing every kid in Malaysia with the opportunity to attain an excellent education.
YCM CEO Series 29: Rejina Rahim, Managing Director of Nomura Asset Management
Writing credites: Chen Chow Yeoh
Today is the 29th Young Corporate Malaysians CEO Series of Talk. We have Nor Rejina Abdul Rahim, Managing Director of Nomura Asset Management Malaysia. The talk is still at our usual place, but the name of the hotel has been changed from Nikko Hotel to InterContinental Hotel. Below is the live blogging.
Education and Early Career
Rejina graduated with LLB (Hons) from University of Kent at Canterbury, UK in 1995. She started by being Legal Office at Pengkelan Securities, Malaysia. She did her Barrister at Law, Lincoln’s Inn, UK in 1997.
She became Compliance Manager at Commerce-BT (now known as CIMB-Principal). From there, she became Head of Legal & Product Development, and then Head of Legal & Risk Management, as well as later on as Head of Institutional Marketing & Business Development. In 2006, she became the Managing Director of Nomura Asset Management Malaysia Sdn Bhd.
Rejina made a disclaimer that what she said tonight would be her personal opinion and not the opinion of Nomura or Nomura Asset Management Malaysia.
Malaysia: Journey to 2020
Life is an adventure and change is the only constant. In the Last 15 years, we saw Y2K, Asian Financial Crisis, Global Financial Crisis
etc. Today, even the developed countries are not as stable as we thought. Lehman Brothers, which had a history of more than 150 years, went down during the crisis.
In the globalized world, what happens in the other side of the world does affect us. Good news is that news coming out from US is getting better. US housing prices are improving. Investment spending on equipment and software are up sharply. 2010, it was a very bad year for Europe. Things are still very shaky over there. Although investors are still very cautious, things are not that bad. The leverage level of Europe is not that high. There seems to be outflows from emerging markets to developed market in the last two weeks.
However, things may not be so bad in Malaysia. Despite Malaysia is coming from a higher base, the Economic Transformation Programmes would create excitement. We have been getting news of expansion of production from oil & gas sector.
Journey to 2020 would not be easy for average Malaysians. We would have more traffic jams before MRT is ready, and housing prices would go up before MRT is ready.
Rejina shared about her holidays in Malaysia, and said that it is very beautiful. If foreigners can make Malaysia their 2nd home, we should love it more.
Malaysia, as the Islamic financial hub, we should take advantage of the unrest in Middle East, to grab the market share.
Despite what is said about broadband prices in Malaysia, we still can easily get free wifi at mamak here.
Just as Rome was not built in a day, we should not expect things to change within very short time.
2010 was a great year for Malaysia, and we do have strong fundamentals in Malaysia. Growing 6% a year is not going to be easy, but with the talents in the younger generation, we should be able to value add and grow Malaysia at that rate.
The path to developed nation status is not going to be easy. Our valuations are not as cheap as our neighbours. Global investors are looking at our neighbours first, before looking at us.
We are going up in a world, where competition is getting tougher.
Back in 1980-1990, a double storey house in Subang was RM80,000. Today, RM80,000 would get you a low cost flat in Bangi. Back in 1996, Rejina got a starting pay of RM1,500. Today, fresh graduates earn an average of RM2,000 and the extra RM500 would just get you a room (and not a house).
Lessons learned from the global financial crisis can be useful for us. Greed is not good. Lets get back to basic. Be nice to neighbours. Grow your own herbs. Think before you buy a nice handbag on credit cards.
Make your street a nicer world and your world would be a better place. Some might called her an idealist and it might take a lot more hard work to get things work. Even though we have the technologies like Facebook, Twitter, face-to-face communications tend to get the messages across better. We don’t always have to rush. She always finds it easier to speak face-to-face.
Back to the Future mentioned 2010 as the future, but now it is in the past. Today’s world has changed a lot, and it is a world of changing everything. Like when we reach the peak of Mount Kinabalu, we can take a photo there and tweet it to the world. Everything is so instant. There is also some “down” for things that are done too instantly. We got irritated when others don’t reply within a few hours.
Markets around the world are now watching nervously what is happening around the Middle East. Are we having information overload? Before, one person can’t make real change in the world. But today, each of us can make real change in the world.
Management and Human Resources can track what your track record even better. She would google her future employees. Taking charge of one’s life may not matter to your CEO or your boss, but you should want to make the impacts on people.
People are inspired because they are passionate of what they are doing.
A Late Bloomer
Rejina called herself as Late Bloomer. She was lucky that her parents were not from the traditional mould. She got an early stint at Malay Mail. Back then, Datuk A. Kadir Jasin offered her to stay on, and told her that she doesn’t need to go to university to be successful in journalist.
She got married in 1996. The managing partner of a law firm questioned her of her recent marriage and asked whether it made sense to hire her, since she would get pregnant soon.
She left legal practice and joined as Complaince Manager and from there, moved on to other roles. She did get pregnant soon after she joined the firm, and her productivity went up and not down.
She started Nomura Asset Management Berhad in December 2006. When she went over to Japan, she couldn’t speak Japanese, but she had a point to prove and do well.
Do not expect people to react the way you want. If you do, 9 out of 10, you would be disappointed.
She trusted her maid, Wati greatly and she would trust her just as much as she trust her colleagues. As a women, the expectation of her role is higher. Even though she has spoken around the globe, she would still go through the homework of her children, whether directly or over internet.
She has learned a lot over her 38 years. She learned that her kids can teach her a thing or two. She learned that her husband can still surprise her even after getting married for a long time. She learned that making mistakes are ok, as long as one learned from it.
Innovation and lessons can come from anywhere. Steve Jobs didn’t even have a college degree. He has a passion to learn. He took a calligraphy course. That same course helped him design the typography in Mac.
Questions & Answers Session
She shared that sometimes we won’t know that we screwed up until it happened.
Compliance usually takes in those from legal or accounting background. For her, she is always going out to learn what others are doing, and learning up on it. Be inquisitive and tries to find out what is available in the firm. She said that most people are always quite surprised that managers and bosses are quite to it.
Nomura Asset Management Malaysia managed equity global and fixed income out of Kuala Lumpur.
She hoped that she should be running a lot faster in the next 10 years. She aimed to run half marathon in less than 2 hours.
Nomura as a group has exposure to Islamic Banking/Finance since 1980s.
She felt that if one wanted something badly, then one would make the time to do it. She joked that if one wanted to sleep, one can sleep after one is dead.
She knows the industry pretty well, so she is still in it. If she does not have any financial obligation at all, she might end up being physical education trainer. She loved her job pretty much too. She met all sorts of people around the world.
There is a lot more interest in Malaysia lately, compared to previously. Eventually, for a global investor, and if they wanted to benchmark with MSCI, Malaysia would make up for a very small part of exposure. So, some investors could decide that they would be investing it in other countries, like Indonesia and Thailand.
We talked a lot about Malaysia here, but we don’t promote the country internationally. Not many public listed companies in Malaysia do not even have investor relations department. We need to have more companies going around internationally to promote the companies and country.
She enjoyed running. She used to do yoga. She is looking to do pole dancing. Any kind of exercise is good.
We need to know what we are looking for, and we shouldn’t just be looking for a big pay cheque. Malaysia hasn’t come to the level of Singapore and Hong Kong, where they can get bonuses of 3 years. She definitely sees that pay is increasing in Malaysia, especially in asset management companies.
She says that everything goes back to perception. We can say cup is half full or half empty. It is better that we take the challenge.
One advice she could give is don’t get emotional. We should gauge who we are speaking to, and different people would give different responses. Body language is important. It is very important to be listening. Today, it is very easy to read and glaze over things, but we should focus on listening.
Need to be strong numerically and also would need to have good writing skills, to do well in Asset Management firms. Usually people would start from research. And she adds on, having a good look, would help the firm in doing marketing. She would suggest that people have some form of finance learnings. She knew of people with both legal and accounting degrees.
CFA used to be something difficult to attain. Very few people in the industry had it. But today, with lots of courses, it is much easier. Having CFA would be good to show the prospective employers of your interest. One of the best fund managers that she had worked with, do not have CFA.
Thoughts on Singapore
Her personal take is that Singapore needs to survive no matter what, whereas we are blessed with natural resources and do not think ahead as well. 20 years ago, Singapore has already gotten their MRT sorted out, and we are still in the planning stage today. We need to think ahead, be passionate and be hungry. If we think that life is easy and we don’t need to work as hard, then we can’t go as fast.
Thoughts on Education
Her children used to go to government school. She is a member of Parent Action Group for Education (PAGE). She used to go to Sekolah Kebangsaan and she didn’t think that she is more stupid compared to those who go to boarding school. What things that she does not like is that our education policy keeps on flip-flop. She took her children out of national school. Both her children are learning Mandarin. She is hoping that one of them would start learning Hindi.
She doesn’t care much about how others looked at her. Back then, she would need an interpreter, but today, meeting notes are in English.
Understanding Youth and Embracing Facebook & Twitter
A lot of companies do not allow Facebook/Twitter, but what they do not realize is that youths today can multi-task. She does not make any deal if her staff is on Facebook/Twitter during office hour. One thing she would know is that they would be a happy staff. She is very amazed at how the 6-degree of separation is a lot less. We can do words of mouth much better.
Just like if one opens a restaurant, a blogger can help promote the good things or bad things of the restaurant. She still did her business traditionally. If all the regulators in the world would allow more cross-border selling, then it would be a lot better. Of course, would need self regulation and people need to do it more responsibly.
The world is your oyster. Opportunities do come around from around the world. There are people who are working in Malaysia, and yet they write iPhone apps that bring them USD20,000 a month. There are a lot of success stories from here too. The internet is a very powerful tool.
YCM CEO Series 28: Ahmad Izham Omar, Executive Director of 8TV
Writing credits: Chen Chow Yeoh
Live blogging for the 28th CEO Series of Talk for Young Corporate Malaysians – Ahmad Izham Omar, Executive Director of 8TV.
You can follow Ahmad Izham Omar at http://www.twitter.com/ahmadizhamomar and Young Corporate Malaysians at http://www.twitter.com/ycms . The hash tag for tonight is #ycm. There would be live tweeting there as well.
8TV broke even in a record of 18 months. Izham became the COO of 8TV, before being CEO of 8TV. Recently, he was promoted as Executive Director of 8TV. He is also the CEO for Radio Network.
Izham’s main theme is “Making a Difference”. He now works in TV, Radio, New Media and Music. He would be sharing a story about his journey.
Back in 1998, when he was 28 years old. He was in charge of a company, called Positive Tone. He wanted to grow the artists in his company, and EMI heard of his problem of funding, so EMI wanted to own the company 100%. It is a company that is part of Izham. The EMI people are very professional and have done extensive studies on Positive Tone.
The EMI people talked about Net Present Value, due diligence, cash flow of Positive Tone and EMI, and it really overwhelmed Izham. They told Izham that they loved him, because he was different.
Music/content comes first and then comes marketing/communications. Without great music, nothing else moves. Usually if lack of sales, it is due to bad product, and not due to bad promotion.
Back in 1995, he was hanging out with a 31-year-old guy, Tony Fernandes outside Dynasty Hotel. Tony Fernandes shared with him that “if you have one million dollars, but if you have bad music, it won’t sell.” So, product/service comes first, then comes marketing/communications.
The first P of Marketing Mix is Product. So, that is the most important thing.
The typical record industry infrastructure back in early 1990s are divided into Malay songs, Chinese songs, International/English songs. The TV, Radio, Press, Retailers, Record Companies all do the same, where they have different divisions/departments for it. The Mostpit said that the infrastructure is wrong.
In the 1970s/1980s, people start to gradually move into urban area, and move beyond their parents’ generation. They are the urban group, who tend to be more racial blind. The urban people tend to have aspirational values. They tend to aspire to move up the value.
Then they produce OAG, which is different from the typical records. They were laughed by the infrastructure back then. Izham brought the album to MCA (which is now Universal), BMG etc. However, people can’t see the value of this music.
Izham brought the song to a music shop, where the owner told Izham that he didn’t know where to put the cassette. It is neither Malay songs, nor Chinese songs, nor English/International songs. People can’t appreciate this different form of music.
So, at that time, Izham decided to go straight into the urban market. He decided to go straight to the indie market. This was the time he worked the hardest. He had to make flyers, distribute flyers outside the mall. He even went into toilets to stick flyer of buying OAG.
There was a time when Izham did not have money, so he even had to go back to his mother to ask for money. He finally found a distributor, who was a pirate, and it became into triple platinum. It even outsold Sharifah Aini and KRU.
However, in the end he had to turn down the distributorship, as it was a pirate.
He shared on his newsletter back in 2002. The database grew to 20,000 in a year, and then 70,000 after 3 years. He replied to all emails that he got. Izham shared that most marketers missed the main ingredient of it. Marketers today rely on others to win over their customers. Marketers often felt surprised that Izham won over his customer one by one. Izham shared that often those marketers would filter the information that is supposed to reach the top management, so all those information has been “scanned and filtered”.
Izham shared that his biggest success of music industry is to transform the infrastructure of music industry. He managed to urbanize the market.
People often said Positive Tone is an innovator. Izham said that it is not original, but copied from other companies, like Motown, which has artists like Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross etc. They made Black music for White People.
Do look for clues from around the world. Learn from around the world, but not just fight within Malaysia.
Izham eventually sold Positive Tone entirely to EMI. He became EMI staff and took charge of artists like Sharifah Aini.
One day, he received a call from Abdul Rahman Ahmad, which he didn’t know who he was. He found that he was CEO/Group Managing Director of MRCB. He brought along Sharifah Aini and KRU CDs when he went to meet Abdul Rahman Ahmad at Crown Princess Hotel. He was not intimidated by him, as Izham had more hair.
First thing Abdul Rahmad Ahmad said to Izham is “Dude, are you interested to start a new free TV Station”. Izham’s reaction “Are you mad? Are you nut?” Abdul Rahman Ahmad said that he wanted Izham because he didn’t know anything in the field, so won’t make the same mistake as others in the industry. The mission is to start a new, cool, free terrestrial TV for the urban young adults.
Abdul Rahman Ahmad told him to do the same thing as he did for Positive Tone, but on TV. Izham stayed cool when in front of Abdul Rahman Ahmad.
Immediately after that, he called out his friends in TV Industry. Everyone said that he won’t succeed. There won’t be money in it. He remembered his moshpit’s days, and he asked those people who are crazy of TV, and they were excited. He took the offer.
He created a free TV, never like this before. At that time, Astro’s penetration was 25%. So, he showed MTV for the first time to the remaining people who were not on Astro. He used the content strategy, and show the best shows from around the world. He got Grammy Awards, Oscars, F1, Euro 2004. He went to Hollywood a week before to get the shows, and created innovative local content, like Quickie, So you think you can dance etc.
Izham went on the street to get the publicity. In the Star youth 2 Cool Pool 2005, 8TV won 40% of the votes, and AXN was the 2nd channel at about 18%.
Izham let the young people run the show, and he stayed aside to let them make the difference. 8TV was the no.1 station for the target music, and broke even in 18 months.
Abdul Rahman suggested to start a couple of radio stations. Izham went to see his friends at Hitz, Era, Red etc. They all told him that there was no money. The moshpit told him to go ahead. Infrastructure said no and people said yes, so he decided to go ahead. He launched Hot FM in 2006 and became no.1 radio station for age below 35. Fly FM became the no. 2 English radio channel. In 2009, he started OneFM.
He wanted to keep on making music, so he started Monkey Bone. Then, Abdul Rahman Ahmad asked him to go and do digital. He was asked to take charge of Alt Media.
Today’s audience has many options. People now watch things in all sort of media. Malaysia is no.3 in the world for the number of people spending over 20 hours a week on streamed/downloaded contents. Malaysia is the world no.1 for online advertising click-throughs. Malaysia are digital media junkies. He didn’t need research data to tell.
He shared on his family trip, where his brother-in-law was going online next to swimming pool. Even older people are online, and of course the youngs. He introduced Catch-Up TV, where people watch online exclusive contents, online contests and make it mobile portable. He believed in an amazing, engaging, interactive future for media.
Recently, they launched TonTon in 2010, where it is world-class, intelligent and all about video. The Catch-Up TV has 1.8 million registered users. No. 1 show on TV has 4 million viewers, but the show online has 64 million video views online, and we don’t even have 64 million population. He shared on people watching it during lunch time. People can chat on it, and have nice interface. There are 30,000 hours of archive video.
All those old TV programs are now on TonTon for free, and by January 2011, everyone can create their own channel. Tonton sat on intelligent media platform, and it would recommend content you like and it would serves advertising relevant to you. It would focus on showing the right advertising to the right people at the right time.
You can never imagine what wondrous things await you until you start moving.
He shared on the most important thing to making a difference is having a solid team. When he interviewed people, he looked at whether people have done something crazy. He would be observing on whether you would die for the mission.
George Bernard Shaw said “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”
When you have the right amount of unreasonable people around you, you can do the impossible.
He shared on his lessons learnt in making a difference.
a) Do it from the heart – The type of things that you would be excited to do when waking up at 5am.
b) There is always a new way to do something.
c) Product/Service Comes First – Google hardly do any ads.
d) Roll up your sleeves and jump into the moshpit. – hang out with the crowd
e) Look for clues from around the world
f) Leading the market is better than being a slave to it – The best way to predict the future is to make it. Give them what they don’t know they want.
(Henry Ford said that people would want a faster horse, but he created car.)
g) Win your consumer one by one.
h) Have a team that will die for the mission. Surround yourself with a team that is smarter than you.
i) A little naivety goes a long way. – Izham was naive, so he was lucky. He was young and foolish and thought that he could control the world, he went and do it. He would throw people into the deep end of the pool, and see whether they can swim.
j) Have the balls to try it. If not going to try it, it would never get done.
Elvis said that he would play the black man blues. He shared on how people really go out and do it.
You can’t hit a home run unless you step up to the plate.
Izham shared on William Hung, and William Hung didn’t know he can’t be a star. He went on to do it anyway, and he sold more than 1 Million and he went on to become a platinum in Singapore.
Izham shared that for those who are age between 0 to 12, 80% of influence would be by parents and 20% by media. But by age of 13, mentality would have get stuck already. So, if people are racist by age of 13, then it would be the influence from age 0 to 12.
In his media, there would be children watch it as well, so they would get influenced. For Malaysian movies, often we don’t lead them to some positive conclusion, but usually internationally, there would be such a lead into positive message.
Izham shared on his future would be on content. When he was in music, it was content. For TV, it was partially content, but not all contents are owned by him. He is looking into going into making content. He believed that he could make an internationally-known content maker company.
Izham’s main goal in life is to make the Pak Guard at TV3 to love the things that he do. If that succeeded, he would have influenced the mass. He wanted the whole of Malaysia to like it. He remembered his first day at work, when the guard was listening to the song of – Anak Ayam, a Too Phat’s song.
Izham shared that people have to open the eyes, and then the luck would swim by you. If people close the eyes, then you would not see the opportunities, even if opportunites come by you.
The higher you go up, the tougher it is for luck to reach you. So, make sure you build up your foundation – education and experience. The more you build you luck, the closer it would get by you.
Some people who have good education and luck went by them, yet they don’t sense it.
Izham that he had a degree and master. He did Bachelor of Music, Music Production & Engineering at Berklee College of Music in 1988-1991, and then MBA at Suffolk University in 1992-1994. He did Executive Education at Harvard Business School.
Izham always went down to the street, to know what really happened at the ground. All the management team would wear 8TV’s vest at least once in a quarter to go down with the troop to learn what’s happening at the ground. And also go to Tweetdeck to listen to what people are saying, although those tend to be peole who have a lot to say. What needed to hear are those who might go out and tell.
Izham really enjoyed the hardship. He enjoyed the experience of having 40 cents to go to the toll. He learned from the failures. There was once, when he turned back when Jaclyn Victor won the Malaysian Idol, the crowd is 1Malaysia. He was very touched with it, and that was the highlight of his life! Usually, in entertainment area in Malaysia, people tend to be one race. In that occasion, he felt like in stadium watching badminton, where all races cheer for Malaysia.
There would always be people buying piracy, so for Tonton would provide it for free and have nice interface, so people would use it. And there is a platform for advertisers.
In TonTon, it would show relevant ads, example when the show has rice being shown, there could be advertisement of rice by a hypermarket, or when the artist wears a jacket, there could be an advertisement to buy that particular jacket. There is a lot of potential for it.
For those piracy, Izham shared that only 6% of people would be using stuff like bittorrent, but the mass would still not be exposed to it.
Izham would lead by example and do things that are beneficial for the community and the target market. He would only take advertisements that are credible.
As of now, Tonton is only available for Malaysians, due to the bandwidth issue, but hopefully by end of the year, it would be available for the rest of the world.
Work life balance can be achieved over time. Izham started work in 1994, and he got married in 1996. He cannot rest until he got things solved. He would solve the problems, whether it is portal or transmitter. He tried to control himself now.
When he first started, his wife didn’t get to see him much. Now, Izham went to work late and came home early, so he would spend time to have breakfast at home. He can now rely on his talented and capable staff to make things done. He would have time to think through.
Now, he is CEO for 3 companies, but he is more relaxed than he was a manager at Positive Tone. He shared that many bosses tend not to let go. He shared that he tries to make him redundant. He shared that he only go for 1 meeting at 8TV every fortnight and responded to some emails for Shouts Award. Swee Kim handled the things and perhaps checked with him when necessary.
Principal of business, you must suffer for four years. Izham learned a lesson, one has to either becoming a millionaire or bankrupt, then one hasn’t tried hard enough.
One very important thing is to hire the right people.
Both Media Prima and Astro have both invested a lot more into local content. Internet is giving them a lot of competition and it kept them always on the toes. It is not just the channels.
Izham shared that one has to make money to do good stuff. Izham has to roll the profits that he makes. Izham used to tell Too Phat to make profit, so that can make better albums. To increase everyone’s talent and creativity, then one has to make profit. ONe has to weigh between social good and profit, and balance it. The problem is that people with no ethics take care of companies. The main problem is that people doing CSR due to tax credits. Eventually, the stock market would look at the financial number. So, it has to be a balance. And what matters is goes with your heart.
Izham wants to see them selling Malaysian contents to the world. Izham is only 20% of where he really wanted to be.
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.
YCM CEO Series 24: Arlida Ariff, CEO of Iskandar Investment Bhd
Writing credits: Chen Chow Yeoh
Writing credits: Chen Chow Yeoh
He started his venture into music industry when he was 18 years old. So, he is now close to 20 years in the business, with his age at 37 years old.
CEO Series 22 – Jason Lo, CEO, Tune Talk
Writing credits: Chen Chow Yeoh
Jason was born in Kuching in 1975. He was a sheltered kids in Kuching, just like other Kuching kids. When Kuching had its first flyover, everyone jammed up to take a look at it.
Jason has always been on stage since young, and he really found the world when he studied together with Khairy in Singapore.
When he went to University of Hull to study, he made 3-hour trip every weekend to London. He always tried to get musical deals there, but it was tough. He was very used to get rejection.
Then, he tried to stay longer in UK, and he told his father that he is doing MBA there, as Malaysian Chinese people would want their kids to do courses like business.
Eventually he came back to Malaysia, he started to produce his album.
He joined EMI at the start. Back then, it was tough to get songs to go on radio. He has always been begging around. Hitz gave him a break, when they initially put up his song at 4am, and after he begged for it, they played it at 6pm.
Jason always focused on his fan, and even went off stage to meet the fans.
His partner, Nik ran the business, whereas Jason produced the album.
Once, he spent $100,000 and the revenue was $4,800. That was not really working. And at one point, the debt was $200+K.
Jason had to read the book on how to editing, and throughout the process, he was humiliated many times, from people of Datin class to other people.
He would have to contact supplier last minute, to get the drum sets, as sometimes organizer didn’t have the sets ready, and he had to tape the wires sometimes.
Jason started to get calls, from landlord and suppliers, especially to ask for money. So, time was tough.
Fat Boy was having a tough time, and the phone line was cut and the salary of the staff was not yet paid. Jason asked Zaid to go and convert his guitar which was signed by top star. The cost was RM5,000, and thought that he could sell for RM10K, but eventually it was RM900. Jason cried in the car, as he asked Zaid to go in again to convert the guitar. It was tough time, especially he took a lot of efforts to get the guitar autographed by top star.
With the RM900, Jason used RM200 to pay for phone bill, RM200 for electricity, RM300 for Zaid and RM200 for buffet in Subang. Jason said that when things get very tough, go to buffet. It would be worth it.
Jason that when he was CEO of Fat Boy, it was as tough as being CEO of a telco.
Then, Jason went to do Latte 8 at midnight, and the show ended at 1am, and by the time, he left was 2am and went to bed at 3am. Then, at 5am, he had to wake up for his show at Hitz.
Jason also talked about once he fell asleep in the studio, when Ralph Marshall brought some investors around.
Jason also talked about how he called up Khairy one day, and brought up idea of MyTeam. It was great seeing the kampung boys took their first flight to UK, and drew 0-0 against Manchester United Reserve Team. MyTeam also played against National Team and scored first, before losing 1-2.
Before Tony Fernandes started Air Asia, he did ask Jason on what he thought about airline business, and Jason thought back now that he should have jumped on it back then in 2000 to invest on it. Jason was also asked before Izham went into TV station.
When Tony Fernandes started, he asked Mark Lankester to join, but he refused, as he felt comfortable. But when Tony started his hotel, Mark jumped on it, to be CEO of TuneHotels.com .
Jason even went on knee in boardrooms to ask for support for local artists, but Malaysians often just supported foreigners, especially Westerners.
When Tony Fernandes asked Jason Lo to join telco, and Jason eventually invested a bit on it to have some stake. Jason relied on wikipedia to learn, and during his initial business meetings, he learned his way to learn the key terms.
Jason shared about how his dream of people, when they are in Singapore, they could call back to Malaysia on local call rates and on same number. After that, it would be expansion to Indonesia. It would ride on the Air Asia’s network
Jason talked about how Tony Fernandes warned him before hand that the dealers would hold him to ransom, but Jason thought that it won’t happen. But it did happen. Jason said that Tony was always spot on things.
Jason was sharing on various tricks that telcos use to make money from the customers. Telcos are like commodities of this century. For Tune Talk, it was a flat rate of RM0.16 per minute (flat rate).
Jason talked about how his RM0.5 Million went down to drain, when the incumbents forced the dealers to take out their posters.
Jason said that he is now working on his 4th album, after putting his children and wife to bed. Jason advised that we should always do creative and innovative things everyday.
Jason shared that Star Trek really showed things way in advance. Example, back in 1950s, handphone was there already, and “iPad” type of notebooks were used there too.
Jason hoped that he would achieve the following before he died.
a) Made 20 albums
b) Played at Wembley
c) Went on top of BillBoard
Part 8 [Final]
He said that we should always work very hard to achieve our dream.
As of now, he is making his 4th albums. He had played to 35,000 people in Sungai Petani, hearing them singing his song.
Jason talked about how we could set up platform and went off the ground, and went up bit by bit.
Jason loved wikipedia, and he felt that everything is there. He also felt that dare to fail is important and we could learn from mistakes. Entrepreneurs all dare to fail, and if you do that, then your learning curve would be steeper. When fail, learn from it.
Don’t close yourself off when you are learning, and always go to talk to people, and learn from people. It is very important to learn from everyone. Even a beggar can make us learn from it. Make it a point for us to always learn.
Jason has a management style, which is full transparency. All the staff know everything that is happening, and all the team discussed together for everything, example the company’s marketing plan.
Jason also talked about “Chinese whisper”. He hated it very much, if people do it. Communications would get distorted, if people whispered.
Jason said that it is very important that people don’t have temper. People should be having fun at work. He tried to be very approachable too.
Sometimes his staff would go to him and ask him to make decision, but Jason always wanted the team to discuss and decide. This would empower the staff, and no decision is made without the knowledge of everyone.
Sometimes, Jason might get voted out by his staff, when they all voted for a certain decision. Of course, sometimes wrong decision could be made, but that is unavoidable.
It is very important for Jason that when his staff left, they moved up. Sometimes, he would try to make it very clear to his staff who wanted to leave, if they are not moving to a more established roles elsewhere. He would do his best to convince them to stay back.
Tony Fernandes chose Jason Lo based on his strength and weakness, and he was not from telco background. Jason has also started a company before.
Jason said that a lot of things that happened today, he didn’t plan for it. But when opportunities come, he seized it. Tony, Jason and Mark Lankester all came from music background.
It is very important to communicate with the staff, and have a laugh at things. Jason said that we should be more laughing at ourselves, and not be as touchy on things. It would break the ice and have more fun.
Jason shared his phone number and email address with the audience, and he said that as the bosses, one should be very approachable. One can’t do great things, if one is not approachable.
Malaysia should be do a lot more, but often we are scared to fail, and we don’t reach our potential.
CEO Series 21 – Wing K. Lee, CEO, YTL Communications
Writing credits: Chen Chow Yeoh
Wing was born and raised in Hong Kong. Grew up alone with mother. Mother was small print shop owner, and she went to see clients and Wing would go together. In 1980s, the clients would have a computer, and it is more of showing off.
Back then, his mother bought an Apple for Wing, and what Wing did was playing games. And after approached by his mother, Wing then started to use computer for actual learning. That was in Form 4 in Hong Kong.
In Form 6 in Hong Kong, his mother asked what he wanted to study, and Wing said photography, and just like any Chinese mum, his mother said that he had to pay on his own. So, eventually he went on 2nd choice of Computer Science.
Wing chose the colleges in US, which offer computer science curriculum. University of Texas, Austin was one of the top programs. He applied for University of California, Berkeley, Brown, University of Minnesota and University of Washington, besides Texas, Austin. He got acceptance to all 5 of the universities. Brown, Minnesota and Washington are not his choice due to weather. Then, he was left with 2 options.
Choosing between Texas and Berkeley, and he heard that big earthquake would happen in San Francisco, so he dropped Berkeley and chose Texas, Austin. That was such his frank sharing on how he actually chose his universities.
Back then, his first job was janitor. And today, Wing really respected the janitors. He learned hard and always reminded himself to be humble and learn the value of money. Later on, he was promoted to lab assistant job, and then took up teaching assistant job.
He worked very hard, and carried 18 to 20 credit hours per semester. Nevertheless, the tough time was also the memorable time.
He graduated in 1989. When one goes for US visa interview and the question of whether you would stay in US is being asked, the answer is always no, or else you won’t get your visa. And Wing back then did truthfully answered no, when he was asked back in 1986.
In June 1989, when Wing was hiking in Canadian Rocky mountains, and on 4th June 1989, Tiananmen Square incident happened, and Wing’s mother asked him to find ways to stay in US.
Wing’s mother lost her father due to communist and Wing’s mother had to be refugee in Hong Kong. So, she advised Wing to stay in US, so that he could have better life and eventually, Wing decided to stay in US.
Wing then picked up his 2nd degree in Business Management, and when he is done, it was recession in US. Fortunately, Wing managed to get 20+ interviews and he was given 4 offers. He chose 1, JC Penney, which is the largest retailer in US.
One of the offers is Tandem Computers, another is Mobil Oil and Halliburton. Halliburton asked Wing to build a Computer-based training. Mobil Oil asked to help on building system. Tandem Computers was mainly used in financial institution and Wing was asked to help in operating system.
In 1989, US has this new “strip malls”, where it is row of shops along a mall, and it grabbed market share from bigger players. For retailers, having scale is one thing, but fast reaction is important. Thought that he can helped a company to restructure, so Wing joined JC Penney as management trainee.
Back then, he has to learn a new programming language – COBOL, and he realized that university education teaches him to be adaptive and able to learn something fast. He was able to help JC Penney to launch JCL within 20 months of joining. A lesson learned from here is that a company always needs to learn to reinvent itself.
If you deliver on business promise, people will reward you, but people may not continue to reward you all the time. So, you have to reinvent.
2 years later, Wing approached the HR of the company to apply for Green Card. But they can’t, as they have to advertise in 1,500 outlets, and to show that no American is qualified. So, Wing had to look elsewhere, although his supervisors there were very supportive of Wing. Wing has delivered a lot of value to his computer, so they valued his contribution.
Wing spent 15 years at Sprint. He chose to get into Sprint, as it was looking to reinvent itself. Sprint was the first to launch the fiber optic network. Wing was tapped for his skill in distributed network and messaging system. This time, he got them to put in offer letter to help him to get green card.
Back then, when Sprint got problem, they would called Accenture (management consulting company). So, when Wing joined Sprint, 80 people in the office were from Andersen Consulting. So, Wing was asked to report to Accenture guy too, and back then, there was an Andersen Consulting partner in the board of directors too.
A good architect is someone who knows the whole landscape. Back then, there was a lot of hierarchy too in Sprint. Wing lives the notion of life of always ask “What can I do”. Wing has a list of task list, and he gets it done quickly and at high quality, and then he offers help to others. People would reciprocate, and help him too. So, whenever Wing puts his name on anything, it has better be very good. So, he would always make sure that it is the best thing that he can deliver.
Started out as Software Engineer 2, and within 2 years, he became Manager of the team. Wing became Director of Sprint at age of 29, and was the youngest director there.
Wing has 9 patents, and they were filed in late 1990s and early 2000s, and he still had 20+ in the pipeline. The entire process of getting patents would take about 5 years in US. Patent system is also quite abused, where a lot of people file it, just to provide defensive or offensive mechanism. So, there is something wrong about it. Wing only filed a patent, when he managed to solve a real problem.
Wing used to spend a lot of money to call home, during his time at University of Texas, Austin. So, when he got the chance to move to Sprint’s headquarter, he took the opportunity, as he was charged to work on wireless network.
In 2001, high speed internet means 80 kilo bit per second, so back then, to stream the picture, is still very slow. And it cost USD2 billion worth of investment, and the picture is still look pixelized. Wireless network can never compete with wired line, purely on speed, so have to fight on other competitive landscape. That was a turning point.
Back then, he made pilgrimage trip to Japan, as it was still the technology hub. In Japan, people started take photo and made it into wallpaper. So, Wing found an area to look into using wireless network to move picture.
Wing they all went to the guy who wrote Turbo C++ and Turbo Pascal, Philippe Kahn. Philippe has sold off Borland, and became millionaire. And he had a baby. Philippe has built a prototype of transferring photo, and Sprint wanted to commercialize it. So, the value that wireless can provide is that one can take a photo and then send across the network within seconds. Picture Mail product charged USD5 per month and need data plan which cost USD10 per month. It was the biggest phenomenal success of the company.
So, the breakthrough paradigm is to cross-link two different fields and bring value. Software brings life to things. The company was growing very fast then, and the fastest growth in wireless history.
Sprint was the first one to launch J2ME game in mobile device. Mobile video was launched too.
Through these exercises, Wing was asked to head the innovation team. So, he went from infrastructure, and then architecture and then innovation. This was the first 3 of the 5 jobs in Sprint.
Wing led the innovation team of Sprint for 5 years, and it was very satisfactory.
Sprint looked at various technologies post 3G. And that’s how Sprint launched his career into Wimax. Next generation CDMA upgrade definitely makes sense, but Sprint made the bold decision of not upgrading to CDMA. The royalty of CDMA is quite high, and Sprint’s goal is to democratize internet. What got them excited about Wimax is the ecosystem, and it is the IEEE technology. When a technology is an IEEE technology, it can scale easily. That’s how people can do plug and play, and cost will go down and people will pick up.
Sprint then merged with Nextel, and a big mistake is that they didn’t take good care of the customers of the acquired entity. Sprint lost their mindshare, and they started to churn, and then people started to cut cost.
So, Wimax operation has to be scaled back due to operations issue. Wing was leading the product development team of Wimax. Sprint has to spinoff Wimax business and merged with Clearwire, and then go into clearwire company.
Andy Rubin started Android, and he loved robotics, so he created Android, using his name and his love of robotics for the company name. He went into Google to ask them to invest in his company, and Eric Schmidt heard the pitch and offered to buy at a cost of about USD80 Million.
Andy Rubin had the blank check from Google, and he invested hundreds of millions to buy the best applications. Wing was doing the due diligence on Android and brings Sprint on board.
On why WiMAX was chosen as the platform to deliver Malaysia’s mobile network, Wing highlighted that it is the only technology that can deliver it at the right cost. LTE is not yet a matured technology and yet the royalty is very high, and hence, it might be difficult to deliver in the right price.
Wing was instrumental in delivering the 1st 4G network on Android at Clearwire.
In Summer 2008, the government of China created Thousand Talents program, where it tried to attract top talents to ensure that China’s state-owned enterprise, universities, research laboratories and space programs can be world class and compete globally.
Wing was then headhunted to lead the Innovation Team at China Mobile, which has 500 Million subscribers (even more than total US population), and Wing has this opportunity to change the experience of 500 Million people.
Then, he got a call from YTL Director, and he came to visit Malaysia. He found it very interesting, where the country has very poor connectivity, and yet YTL is a company with strong resources and determination.
Wing had a hard time deciding on whether to go to China or Malaysia, and the book “Clock Speed” influenced him. In that book, it talked about how fast things are changing, and Wing believed that being at YTLe would enable him to bring fast transformation to large group of people and improve people lives faster.
In Malaysia, only 25% of people are connected to internet, yet the average age is 26. The people here know the power of internet, but can’t really enjoy the connection experience. So, Wing sees this opportunity to make impact at national scale immediately, and improving people’s lives.
For Clearwire, it won’t be able to launch nationwide in less than 2 years in US and to launch for whole of US would cost more than USD5 billion, but Wing can do that in Malaysia in shorter time and also at a cost of USD850 Million. Wing lamented on the very slow uploading speed of 60 kbps that many people experience here in Malaysia.
The WiMAX experience is not just to connect people with internet, but to enable people to have applications that satisfy their social needs.
For this WiMAX, YTLe is working with 3 world top player in it. For IP Backbone, it is working with Cisco. For wireless network, it is working with Samsung. For WiMAX chipset, it is with GCT, and YTLe just made a commitment order of 1 million devices and it is the largest acquisition in the world, and with this economy of scale, it would drive down the prices.
On expansion to other countries, Wing planned to do it very well at its homeground in Malaysia, before looking to expand it elsewhere. Talking about internet, it is really about getting developers to make it happen. With internet, it is equal opportunity for everyone, and to really make it possible, especially with mobile internet.
Wing also introduced mYprize, which offers USD1 Million as prizes for incentives of 4G applications, devices or ideas. It offers USD120,000 prize money for Malaysians anywhere in the world too. So, hopefully, this can tap on the talents of Malaysians globally, as well as other talents to get involved.
The soft launch of YTLe WiMAX would be in Q3 2010, and nationwide commercial launch would be in Q4 2010.
Wing promised that YTLe WiMAX would be a new experience and customers would reciprocate with the support. While Wing did not disclose the pricing or package of WiMAX, he promised that there would be surplus value for the users. He talked about the 20 Mbps network that he had in US, and hopefully soon, Malaysians can enjoy similar or even better network.
Wing shared on Clayton’s book of “Innovators’ Dilemma” and “Innovators’ Solution”, and he said that it is good that YTLe is brand new, so there won’t be legacy issue behind. With legacy, there might be inertia to move. And to make it work, it needs disruptive innovation. He cited Intel Centrino as a way for Intel to reinvent itself. It created a lower cost low-end product, that undercut itself, but it allows Intel to grow market share.
One of the issues of 3G was that the network was used to cater for voice and data, but for 4G, it would be packet based and used to carry data.
While AT&T enjoyed a great exclusive partnership with iPhone, the huge amount of data that iPhone used took a toll on AT&T network, which affected the call quality.
Wing shared a few tips with the audience, where he talked about working very hard and always producing the best. He talked about having mentors and also reading a lot. One good resources would be iTunes applications, where a lot of top universities resources are available. He talked about ability to have platform to bring idea to the world, and among the largest developers’ network are Microsoft, Java and Adobe Flash.
He ended with 4 key components to innovation, which is having original idea, building and applying idea, being financed by someone and have a platform to distribute.
It was a great 140 minutes of talk non-stop by Wing. Really engaging and it attracted the largest crowd of Young Corporate Malaysians CEO Series of Talk, with more than 150 people turned up, and it was reduced to standing room only.
After the talk, a large group of attendees surrounded Wing, and he attended the questions till well past 11pm, and at that time, he hasn’t even had dinner. That speaks volume of his dedication and passion to share with the youth!
On behalf of Young Corporate Malaysians, great thanks to Wing for sharing with us, and to all those who attended, hope that you manage to learn from Wing.
Wing K. Lee is the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of YTL Communications Sdn Bhd, the communications arm of YTL Corporation Berhad. The company envisions a modern broadband nation enhanced by the Internet and supports technological innovation. In November 2009, it created the YTL 4G Innovation Network and opened a testing centre at Sentul Park. In January 2010, it launched USD1 million ‘mYprize’, a global competition aimed at challenging developers to create original applications and devices for its world’s first nationwide 4G Network set to be commercially launched later this year which will leapfrog Malaysia into an innovation-led economy as envisioned by the Prime Minister.