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

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Need for National Housing Commission

  1. Affordable housing is an issue whose severity is jointly agreed by the previous and current government. Pakatan Harapan in its manifesto, commented on the ineffectiveness of PR1MA in delivering its mandate and committed that it will develop 1 million affordable homes. 
  1. Affordable housing delivery under the Barisan Nasional government was fragmented – surprising given the fact that it is such an important issue, unsurprising if you consider that perhaps everyone wants to take credit. There were four (4) ministries involved in affordable housing with every state having policies obligating developers to develop housing below a certain price as part of their larger development.

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    MOF has Syarikat Perumahan Negara Berhad (SPNB), KPKT has MyHome, PMO has PPA1M and PR1MA and Federal Territories Ministry has RUMAWIP.

  1. A review of PR1MA reveals that though it was mandated in 2011 to deliver 500,000 homes, it was not well equipped. Land availability was a major stumbling block – it obtained only 108 acres for development and after 7 years of being established, PR1MA only completed 11,000 homes. 
  1. KPKT has called out to the states to request that land be made available for affordable housing development. Selangor was the first (hopefully first of many) to reply that they will allocate land. While this is a good development, there is still room to optimise economies of scale.
  1. KPKT has spoken to say that a National Housing Council will be established and that a single entity will be created, bringing together PR1MA, UDA Holdings, SPNB, RUMAWIP, PPRT, PPA1M under one roof. These statements begs further clarification – will National Housing ‘Council’ be like ‘Council’ of Eminent Persons meaning it is a platform for deliberation? What is required is an entity for delivery. On the single entity to be created, the unavailability of land is still left unaddressed.
  1. Commissions are useful to centralised delivery and give regulatory powers. Using the example of Suruhanjaya Pengangkutan Awam Darat (SPAD), it was created to address fragmented delivery of public transportation and under one roof, it achieved streamlined planning and delivery.

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The Idea

  1. Putting #5 and #6 together, I believe KPKT should consider creating a National Housing Commission.

    At inception, the Commission must receive allocation of land from each state and its role would be to design, develop and manage affordable housing. The commission would also be tasked to do planning and policy research, which among other things, coordinate collection of data so demand and supply on a district level could be analysed.

    Given the size of acreage and standardised designs, the commission should work with supplier to order in bulk so material costs can be driven down. As designs are standardised, the commission may engage contractors to construct. States must give discounts to land premiums and statutory costs and if MOF can consider, facilitation fund should be provided for external infrastructure costs should certain lands require additional infra to improve accessibility.

    As a matter of governance, the commissioners can consist of representatives of each State as well as private sector players.

 

The government of the day should learn from past shortcomings and its idea of a single entity must be properly enabled at inception – it would be unfortunate to see a half-baked entity complaining of tied hands down the road.

 

 

Ideas For Housing

Housing in an area of national development I feel strongly for and with the advent of Malaysia Baru, I hope government may have stronger political willpower to address housing issues which have been addressed somewhat unsuccessfully by the previous administration.

Khazanah Research Institute and Bank Negara individually have conducted a thorough as-is analysis of the housing/affordable housing situation, both providing well thought solutions to address the situation. I would like to provide additional ideas to the ones provided by KRI and BNM:

1. Revitalizing community centers

Community centers in Malaysia is an underutilised asset. Every constituency has it but it is used mostly for badminton or weddings.

A good neighborhood design is one that facilitates interaction – a community center needs to do exactly that, to enable frequent interaction.

In Singapore, community centers are being transformed. The concept is as follows: lots for F&B are added to community centers. There will be an anchor tenant (usually McD or Starbucks as it brings the crowd) but other tenants are given a ceiling price per item for them to sell. The idea is simple – if you live in an affordable house but don’t have affordable food to go to, it’s not really an affordable lifestyle or community. Community centers is also a place for people to teach and learn skills, from casual to proficient. Have a piano for people to teach and learn, hall for tae kwon do and halls for free movie. As how the economist Raj Chetty mentions, good neighborhoods enable upward mobility, making our community centers more useful is a good first step.

Pictures from Tampines West Community Club, as an example:

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Starbucks on Ground Floor with more F&B outlets on 1st Floor

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Sports court which doubles up as a Screening Hall

2. Policies to reduce construction cost

Buying a home is much like buying anything, it is a function of two things: the price of the item and how you pay for it. From the media engagements with the new minister, a lot of focus is given to fixing the latter – working with MOF and BNM on fixing loan eligibility, encouraging Rent-To-Own. More needs to be done to address how you drive sale price down – and as developers simply push cost to customers, asking how stakeholders can drive construction cost down.

Affordable housing in Malaysia is a cross-subsidy model. What this means is developers make a loss building and selling affordable homes but make their profits from building commercial/service apartments on adjacent plots. For the government to deliver 1 million homes, this model cannot work. Developers need to innovate to be able to build and sell homes at ~RM250,000 and still make a profit. To complement innovation, the government needs to assist to drive construction costs down via addressing policies that push costs up.

Compliance cost needs to be addressed and reduced for affordable housing projects: statutory costs to CIDB, IWK, TNB, Syabas should be reduced. Different states also charge various costs differently – this should be reduced and standardized. State governments need to reduce land premiums, standardize cemetery cost and contribution to Improvement Service Fund should be waived.

The other area which requires standardisation is planning requirements. The final say on most matters lie with local authorities which makes standardisation difficult. One planning guideline that needs to be addressed is number of car parks. Certain local authorities require 1.5 bays per unit with 10% of total bays for visitor carpark. Car park bays are expensive – on a podium, it could cost ~RM35,000 per bay. If the government provide public transport infrastructure (which is in line with PT modal split targets), reducing car park bays to 1 bay for 1 unit would enable cost reduction.

 

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

What’s Your Skill?

“I’m not happy here. I’m keen to explore new job options. If you hear of any good opportunities, do let me know”

“Yeah sure. So what’s your skillsets and strengths and what are you looking for in general?”

“Right. So I’ve been in consulting for 5 years. My core strength would be strategic thinking and strategic communication. I guess in that sense, I’m a good fit at many places”

“So I take it you’re a…generalist?”

“Yeah.”

I’ve had a number of conversations such as the above. Executives having worked for a number of years and unable to pinpoint a skill. Being able to pinpoint a skill is important – in an increasingly competitive corporate setting, knowing your skill is a matter of personal branding and ensures continued relevance.

Inability to identify a skill is especially prevalent among management consultants who work across many industries who are thus unable to develop a strong competency in an industry or a function. I have also met people in industries who fall into the same trap, and oftentimes these are people who spend too long in roles dubbed “strategic planning” and “business development” (these roles are important functions of a company but if you are a new graduate in these departments, you often can’t absorb much due to lack of perspective).

I was a management consultant at a global consulting firm for 4 years before I transitioned into an industry. I observed that it is not uncommon for your peers and your management to quickly form a label of you, based on your competence. The guy who has worked in a bank for some time has a “Finance” label, the guy who has worked at site for some time has an “Operations” label, the marketing guy, “Marketing”. To senior management, your label becomes the basis to what you are being consulted. The unfortunate truth is, management consultants who transition into an industry often have “???” as a label. People may acknowledge that your paper qualification makes you one of the smartest people around but they don’t necessarily know what you are good for.

To clarify, in no way am I discounting skillsets such as strategic thinking and strategic communication. These are important aspects of problem solving and while it is true these may be your strength as a management consultant/strategic planner, oftentimes people in the industry would not want to accept that they have weak problem solving skills and it is more probable for your ideas to be discounted on the basis of industry inexperience.

I firmly believe that everyone should have a skill they can strongly associate themselves with professionally. Ask yourself this question, “professionally, what do my friends know me for?” and hopefully your answer includes a hard skill, may it be finance, urban planning or construction. Another way to do this is if you were to write your short profile on LinkedIn, what would you write about – what are your skills and what are you passionate about professionally?

If you find yourself unable to identify a skill, my advise is to identify an area of growth you would like to pursue and grow into it. Invest time and deep dive into the content. If there is a certification in the field, get certified (e.g. PMP, CFA). And in this age of social media, promote your professional personal branding – speak about the topic on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram and let people know what you are professionally passionate about.

Stretch yourself and whatever your passion may be, be known as an authority in it and hopefully, more professional opportunities will present itself to you.

How Property Developers Cheat You

To most, buying a house may be the most expensive purchase you make in your life.

And it is in purchasing a property that many would find out that they have been cheated.

In Malaysia, in purchasing your property, at most times you are only provided two reference documents to base your decision which will cost hundreds of thousand or even millions. These two documents are: (1) floor plan and (2) artist illustrations. The next time you visit a property booth in a mall or go to a property expo, see what they give you, it’s just these two documents.

What most don’t realize is that these items are not binding and that is how and why many get disappointed. When homeowners, after waiting 3 years for their new condo or house, get a poor product and gets upset, the property developer would tell you it’s not binding.

You are upset that your lobby is not equipped with quality furniture per the artist illustration. Developer will tell you artist illustration is not binding.

You are upset that the condo changed name from a expat-friendly English name to a Malay one. Developer will tell you the local authority now requires a name in Malay. Developer will tell you that in your SPA, there is a catch-all clause that says developer is empowered to do anything to deliver the product (and tell you this is industry standard). The developer will not care that a different name in Malay may make the property to be perceived differently in value.

You are upset that the overall quality of the condo is poor – surfaces are not coated with sufficient paint and/or common area not completed. You suspect the developer is rushing the handover to not get hit by LAD (the fine paid to end buyer for not finishing project in time) and tell you – “if you have a problem, raise it with the architect, they gave us the CCC, to us that means it’s good to go”. Better yet, they spin the story by further lying, attempting to confuse customers by saying they have 2 year defect rectification period. Think about it, it’s in the name, defect rectification is to rectify defect, not to give you an incomplete product to begin with.

In truth, the most expensive purchase you’ll ever make is subject to the good will and integrity of the developer.

You may be inclined to tell yourself, let’s buy from a reputable developer, a listed property developer, a developer whose management are in REHDA but these are not sufficient assurances. I have heard to listed companies whose CEOs are in REHDA and their product is appalling. The association is represented by industry players and if the players have established so well the means to cheat the game, how do we protect the buyers?

This is a problem that appears at every price range – from moderately priced homes to luxury ones. When deep pocketed owners of luxury units are short changed, they have the resources to pursue the issue legally but you will be surprised to know that upon consultation with a lawyer, they would be told that almost no action can be taken on the developer. The level of collusion between developer and architect and other players is strong.

What I would like to see is the property development industry in Malaysia to grow to be more consumer friendly. Consumers are making the biggest purchase of their life – it’s only fair that the authorities set expectations higher for property developer. Perhaps periodic updates of the unit progress should be made mandatory (not just the bank telling you the loan has been disbursed). Perhaps a better mechanism for end buyers to contest a cheating developer should be in place.

As of now, the best advice I can give is perhaps for you to buy from a GLC developer (with the government equity in majority). From my experience, GLC developers are more inclined to eat into their profits and spend more to deliver a good product.

Here’s wishing to a more mature property development industry.

Special Officers – What’s So Special?

I recall a time when becoming a Special Officer (SO) was the coveted job of graduates. In student body circles such as UKEC, among others, becoming a SO to a Minister or a CEO of a big company became the aspiration of its Chairman. Student leaders in Malaysia are no different.

Becoming a Special Officer is sexy – it’s a validation that a person of power acknowledges your ability over your peers, that you are smarter, more proactive, more driven. It entails an unprecedented learning access to seasoned influential individuals and as you stand at the fringes of power, you wield for yourself a degree of influence. And with influence comes power and respect.

I myself was a Special Officer for 3 years and as I reflect on my career, these are five (5) things I observed about the Special Officer job and how it has affected my career:


1. All Special Officers Differ In Job Scopes (and Usefulness)

The title may be general but from my experience meeting other SO, all are different. Not just in who they report to (e.g. a Minister or a Corporate Person) but in what the job scope entails. If a spectrum could be drawn of their job scopes, at one end would be those who are only additional hands and feet to their bosses and at the other end, owners of unassigned portfolio. So you’ll meet some SOs who do special projects that others in the organization can’t or won’t do and you’ll meet some SOs who just simply carry bags.

2. Power is Intoxicating and Damages Your Humility

SOs are often bestowed by others the respect deserving of their boss (people treat you as if you are the Minister or CEO themselves) and over time, you will fall into the trap of telling yourself that this respect is earned, that you deserve it. People who retire from positions of power often remark how the loss of people respecting you is one of the hardest thing to adjust to. SOs who leave their job without going to something bigger or have not created a reputation beyond their job may find themselves stuck with an ego of not wanting to report to a less powerful person and simply thinking I’m too good for this.

3. It’s a Ceiling Job

For most SOs, it’s a ceiling job. Some SOs are fortunate when their organisation structures their career path that becoming SO automatically becomes a stepping stone (e.g. fast track promotion). For most however, SOs are left to figure out what to do next. The ones who are strategic are able to maximise their influence and find something better as a next step, like a Ministrial SO who gets a political position and makes a career as a politician.

SOs need to be smart to be able to have sufficient influence over their boss to be able to frankly speak to them about what’s next for them. E.g. After 2 years of working 24/7, make me a HOD or CEO somewhere. The worse ones are those who make a career being a Special Officer, deliver little and can’t transition.


4. Limited Hard Skill Growth

Yes, Malaysia is a country where who you know matters more than what you know. And the job of an SO means you get to meet people of power and influence on a daily basis. I personally believe the most effective executives (political or corporate) in Malaysia are ones who have a strong network, good access to influencers and at the same time, grounded in content and ideas. As SOs mostly coordinate, they almost never go to the level of detail that enables them to develop a hard skill. If you simply know powerful people, can open doors and coordinate between working level and your boss – what skill do you sell on your CV and what are you employable as?

The more proactive SOs are the ones who are aware of this dilemma and request for a portfolio to own and deliver, who possibly takes courses and professional qualifications (PMP, CFA) to strengthen one’s skill and are perhaps smart enough to use his influence and work on an opportunity himself, may it be for private growth and gain or for social purposes. Because at the end of the day, unless you transition to become an entrepreneur, CEO or HOD somewhere, you almost always need a hard skill to bank on.

5. Understanding How the Country (and World) Works

One of the biggest personal takeaway from my SO role is understanding how the country works – how business and politics, power and influence intertwine. Some aspects of this is disappointing to realise, like why the best ideas don’t win, but the maturity gained in understanding how things work means you know how things could and should be done. Prior to becoming a SO, I was a management consultant for 4 years, fresh out of university.

As a professional, we were good at what we do: understanding global mega trends and having efficient work ethics. But more often than not, my then colleagues and I care little about how governments work, understanding why business we consider cronies are the one’s leading the change and understanding what it takes to make a difference. We were just too engrossed making Powerpoint decks.

In general, I advise fresh graduates not to take up offers to be Special Officers. Despite the glamour and power associated with the job, joining as a fresh grad is an easy way for you to be delegated to do menial transactional work as your boss (and even you) would not know your strengths and weaknesses. One should always, where able, start with a job that provides rigour in a hard skill, work at a place that provides training and feedback. Should you be considering the offer to be an SO or if you are already one, you should think of the transferable skills that you would want to develop so you may have a clearer future after your stint.