Leadership Reminders from Tun M

Tun M MSLS

A refreshing keynote speech by Tun Mahathir at MSLS XII on Aug 11 2018. I can’t recall the last time a Malaysian politician spoke about the importance of having good values and be so genuine.

Tun M spoke of how given his age, he has seen the rapid rise of nations and nations that fail to mobilize. Nations that thrive are of a people with a good value system.

He spoke of Japan. He clarified he’s no blind fan of Japan, he remembers what the Japanese did during WW2 but it’s important to acknowledge their value system enabled them to rapidly rise after WW2.

The value system of the Japanese is that of a strong sense of shame. If they are entrusted with a task, failure to deliver will have them committing suicide.

Tun Mahathir spoke about the importance of having a good value system and how we must demand it of our leaders.

1) The first value is that of hard work. We need to learn to admire and aspire to be people that work hard. (He joked that its self praise but he works hard)

2) The second value is that of honesty and trustworthiness. He linked it to PTPTN – it is given to you as a trust and you should pay it back. Else your leakage is no different than that of 1MDB.

3) Tun then spoke of the importance of a leader having ideas, of having more ideas than one’s followers. To have ideas, you must have experience and knowledge, which you can attain by reading. With ideas, you will be equipped to tackle problems.

4) A leader needs to be brave and ready to take risks – more risks than his/her followers. Be like the generals of the olden days who are in battle with the soldiers, not one today and far removed from the risk.
#malaysia #malaysiabaharu

7 advice from my 10 years of working

2018 marks ten years since I joined the workforce. As I reflect on my career of ten years, it was interesting to see the effect of my decisions and the career risks I took. It was also interesting to see how my friends and peers, knowing how they were in school/university, have done things differently – and how some have achieved career success faster. These are seven things I noted, some are my own advice and some are what I observed people who had rapid success in their first decade of work do:-

1. Keep In Touch With Everyone
The working world, regardless of where you are in the world, is a mix of who you know and what you know – what differs is that in different countries, these two elements appear in different ratios. Although my career has always been based in Malaysia, I’ve had plenty of opportunities to interact with global investors to know this to be true. Information is power and you would never know who would be of help to you in the future. In this day and age of social media, keeping in touch can be easily done by dropping a birthday message on FB or wishing seasons greetings on Whatsapp. Of course, as the world is so small, keeping in touch only works if you yourself maintain a good reputation.

2. Join A Society/Club and Widen The Type of People You Socialise With
In my time doing YCM, I observed that work has this unconscious effect of narrowing the types of people you hang out with. An example of a lesser extreme would be wanting to only network with people in your industry (bankers with bankers, oil&gas with oil&gas people, etc) and a greater extreme, only wanting to network with people in your own company (where even attending external events, you herd together). To me, this limits your understanding of how other industries and how the world works in general.

My advice would be to join and be active in a society regardless of its type – may it be work related, community based society or even a political party. From my experience, joining societies provides an opportunity for you to meet people (and you learn the most surprising things from unsuspecting people) and participating in its organisation provides you an opportunity to learn useful skills in a safe environment: leading peers and depending on your society, understanding how to build brands, managing event and even fundraising. Some of the best people I’ve met were through my involvement in YCM.

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YCM hosting YBhg Dato’ Sri Nazir Razak, then CEO of CIMB as part of our Special Series
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Hosting YBhg Tan Sri Mokhzani at my cafe, Double A Cafe, as part our mentorship program

3. Keep Good Notes That You Can Refer Back
There have been a number of times where I find myself in a discussion referring to a point (either related to something I recently learnt or something I learnt from a previous employment) I knew I had noted down before but couldn’t find – either I didn’t know where it was in the same notebook or it was in a different notebook altogether (from a previous employment). My work notebooks were organised by dates and not topics so it was not easy to flip back to find the last time a particular topic was discussed. Not forgetting notes often get jumbled with To-Do lists.

While there are many ways to organise notes, I find using Microsoft OneNote effective. You can organise your content by tabs (which can be your different projects) and pages (which can be content from a particular meeting). Together with a Search function and separate To-Do checklist, its easy to keep your notes in check.

4. Have A Hard Skill. Make sure you are professionally known for something and if possible, certified.
It is not sufficient for you to just be strong in your know-who. It is important for you to be strong in your know-how. I believe one should always have a skill and be professionally known for something – corporate finance specialist, HR specialist, urban planning expert, etc. In the corporate world, you should pursue a certification – getting yourself certified is the easiest and perhaps best way to be known for a capability – CFA, PMP.

Do not mistake tenure of service in a function or an industry as indication of competence. I’ve met my share of individuals who have worked in an industry or function for a number of years but when probed, their understanding is surface level as their work is somewhat transactional. Be conscious of what you are learning daily and make sure you understand the core business of your company and read up on the latest in your industry – as an example, when asked about where oil prices will go, a HR staff should not answer “I work in HR, I don’t know what my company does or what oil & gas is about“.

5. Have an opinion
While this sounds obvious, you should, where possible, have an opinion about everything. This is easier said than done. Most outstanding individuals I’ve met are great conversationalist who are able to speak on just about anything – able to speak about national and current business issues to the serious crowd, able to speak about arts and culture when they are put with artsy folks and even able to speak about the current celebrity gossips when placed with the gossip gang.

Having an opinion requires you to be able to connect dots together and good first step is always to be diversely well read – my personal mix is The Edge Weekly, TIME and Pancaindera (those who know will know).

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Alia and I featured in Women’s Weekly as couples working together

6. Build Your Personal Branding Effectively Through Public Speaking
Most of my peers who are successful quickly in their 20s are those who excel at personal branding. In my opinion, the most effective form of building personal branding is public speaking. In a society where many are too shy to speak up, it is common, as a first impression, for one’s charisma to be quickly interpreted as a sign of competence. People who ask questions at forums, volunteer for speaking engagements (e.g. becoming MC or moderators) or speak for a cause are those who are best noticed by their peers and the public as outstanding individuals. This then leads to career opportunities.

Many Malaysians I meet don’t consider themselves as natural public speakers, regardless of language. If you’re one, my advice is to work on this skill – practice in front of a mirror, talk to yourself and be comfortable with your voice.

As a note, while public speaking is a powerful form of personal branding useful to the working world, there are other forms I have observed that could be effectively used – like passionately speaking about a cause on your social media accounts – blogs, FB, Twitter, Instagram.

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My day job: Presenting to Chief Secretary to the Government of Malaysia and other VIPs

7. Plan and Review Your Achievement
Time has an unforgiving aspect where if you don’t keep track of it, it will just pass you by and before long, 10 years would have passed. Although I don’t take new year’s resolution so strictly (like my resolution to lose weight is from 2015 and keeps getting carried forward), at the start of the year I would have a mental conversation with myself asking “what would I want to achieve this year?” and come December, “what’s my biggest achievement this year?”. I believe as you look back at your life, you should be able pick an age and recall your biggest achievement of that age – like, what’s your biggest achievement on the year you turned 25?

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Double A Cafe won Best F&B Set at the 2016 Boss Awards

YCM CEO Series 67: Tan Sri Abdul Wahid Omar

For YCM’s 67th CEO Series, we had the privilege of hosting Tan Sri Abdul Wahid Omar, Chairman of PNB. 


I’ve hosted YCM many times enough to realise that different people resonate to different styles of leadership. I have learnt that the leadership style I admire is one steep in humility, decisiveness and a person of good moral character, evident in what one speaks about and how one reacts to things. To me, Tan Sri Wahid ticks many of these boxes and he is easily one of the corporate figures I admire. 

In his talk, Tan Sri spoke of his family background and shared his ambition and journey. He spoke about how he thinks the accounting profession is one of the more versatile professions in the corporate world and of his early ambition, to be a CFO in a listed company. He fulfilled this ambition at age 37. 



Tan Sri shared his lessons learnt in personal leadership, corporate leadership and management. These principles I believe, make for great personal reflection regardless of where you are in your career, a young executive, middle manager or even a CEO:



Tan Sri’s advice on personal leadership is something all of us can reflect on and I echo his points on need to be articulate, need for leaders to go to the ground (“gone are the days CEO can just tell people what to do”), that you don’t need to be loud to be heard and that you should focus on doing a good job on your tasks and not worry about your next career move – your reputation will precede you. Tan Sri’s lessons learnt on management principles are valuable reflections for both senior management and entrepreneurs/businessmen alike. 

As part of his presentation, Tan Sri reminded us of the importance of the Rukun Negara and he emphasized the last point of the Rukun, which is Kesopanan dan Kesusilaan, that we as Malaysians should remember we live a multiracial multireligious community and Good Behaviour and Morality is required of us. 


In his final words, Tan Sri imparted advice to the crowd in the form of six points. Of note, Tan Sri spoke of embracing the attribute of Integrity, Competency and Humility. Lastly, he spoke of the importance of gratitude and you should be grateful, especially to your parents.


It was an inspiring evening session with Tan Sri and I’m looking forward to see how he transforms PNB.

What makes a good Malaysian CEO

I had a chat recently with my colleagues at Young Corporate Malaysians and we spoke about ‘what makes a great CEO?’ and ‘what makes a great CEO in Malaysia?’

I noticed immediately that one’s view and expectation of a CEO varies on what stage you are in your career (this observation shows that a good CEO needs to be many things – a different person to different staff groups. The common adjectives were mentioned: visionary, teamplayer, driver, empathic, timely decision maker, able to decide when to be what kind of person. 

I have worked for nine years and I’ve spent my nine years in three distinctly different types of organisation. I have worked in a global management consultancy, an entrepreneur set up headed by a Malaysian billionaire and also a Ministry of Finance owned government linked company. My understanding of what makes a great CEO comes from my experience in these companies.

To me, one attribute not mentioned often enough when talking about the context of Malaysian leadership is this – that to be a good CEO you need to be an effective lobbyist. An effective lobbyist is defined by having a good degree of influence on private sector leaders and a real access to political leadership (I say ‘real’ because many GLC CEOs can say that in their company structure leading civil servants or ministers are board members but in actual fact, he/she doesn’t have the relationship to pick up their phone to call the person to push ideas). Malaysia is a country where the balance tilts in the favour of who-you-know over what-you-know. CEOs of multinationals in Malaysia and private Malaysian companies alike need to be effective lobbyists to be able to cut through red tapes and participate in lucrative government opportunities. CEOs of GLCs need to be effective lobbyists to drive ‘transformation’ (the popular word now) and drive results. 

Too often I see GLCs hire smart individuals – those with the right work experience and academic grounding but with very little influence. CEOs such as these are able to craft, or sit with consultants to craft frameworks, ideas and envision a transformational change but after paying millions of dollars to consultants to craft these, the CEO is not able to access political leaders to present these great ideas and influence it to execution or not having access to other private ‘big boys’ to finance it. 

If a CEO does not have this influence, he or she is no better than a manager. I often stress to young corporates that I meet, value your professional relationship and that you will never know who can be of help to you. The cost of keeping in touch is low – it comes in the form of sending a text or card during major holidays (Raya, Chinese New Year, New Year). This simple gesture goes a long way and may benefit your career in the long run.