Leave a comment

Posted by on November 29, 2012 in General


Malaysia’s Glory Years 1971 – 1996

As a society, Malaysian’s have in the past demonstrated both the political will and social cohesion to change and as a result of that, Malaysia is only one of thirteen countries in the world which has managed to sustain an average of  seven percent growth rate for 25 years.   This was our glory years from about 1971 to 1996. Together with Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, and Thailand, China, Hong Kong, Japan, Korea and Taiwan are also in the thirteen.

To explain the glory years we must recognize that  there is a very strong Asia -> Asean -> Malaysia link.  (Note that the 5th member of ASEAN, the Philippines did not make the list.)

The uniqueness of these 9 countries is built on the fact that there  was social and political cohesion within the countries and across the countries.

The formation of ASEAN was a major reason for the growth of this region.  Quoting  Kisore Mahbubani, ASEAN achieved three things for the region:

a) no two ASEAN states have ever gone to war with each other (remember this was just after the Konfrontasi with Indonesia and the communist threat was real and Vietnam and Cambodia we all at war)

b) ASEAN developed close economic and social coöperation within the region

c) ASEAN  had geo-political centrality within the region

Domestically, it was the events that lead up to May 13, that provided the catalyst for change and  the outcome was three unifying factors that brought this nation together:

a) Rukun Negara: the unification of Social intent through the declaration of  the Rukun Negara on the 31st August 1971 – which in essence became the guiding pricipals for all Malaysians

b) Barisan Nasional:  the unification of collective Political vision through the formation of Barisan Nasional in 1973

c) New Economic Policy: the unification of Economic coöperation among society with the announcement of the NEP in 1971.

With unity at the political level, social level and economic level Malaysia launched itself from a third world country to Upper Middle Income in a span of 25 years.  On all social economic measures – health, education, poverty eradication, transportation, infant mortality, lifespan, employment, income levels, urbanization, etc… Malaysia improved. This will forever be know as the Glory Years of Malaysia where our self believe was so high that it got  encapsulated in the slogan “Malaysia Boleh…..”

The good years did come to an end with the Asian Crisis of 1997 and from there all the unintended consequences of the  NEP started to rear its ugly head leading to the watershed 12th general elections of 2008.

Time permitting, the next post will be the Unintended Consequences of the NEP.

I hope you has a good read. Please feel free to contribute to the richness of the discussion by posting your comments in the comment section just below. (Click on where it says leave a comment, just below this)

Leave a comment

Posted by on November 3, 2011 in NEW ECONOMIC MODEL


Tags: , , ,

Malaysia’s New Economic Model

I am creating a new category called the NEM as a repository for all my writings on the New Economic Model.  All comments are welcome and will not be moderated for as long as the languages used is constructive.

The pulse of any society can be measured by  its EEG or Economics, Ethics and Governance polices and practices. Therefore this blog will look at the NEM from the perspective of EEG.

If you haven’t read the New Economic Model (parts 1 and part 2), you should. All credit must be given to the NEAC for the honesty and truth in its analysis. Most importantly it is a document free from the smell of politics. It is critical yet fair. It not only says what we as a country need to do, it spells out why we need to do and how we will do it. It also makes clear our challenges in executing the NEM.

There is a great quote by the NEAC that reads:

“The NEM…..It sets up a stark choice for Malaysians and their political leadership, a choice between muddling through in a business-as-usual mode and going for a historical transformation of the economy.”

The challenges come down to two: the  political will to change and the social cohesion needed to enable the change. In the absence of political will and social cohesion, we will be mired in this constant political venom spitting that plays in our news everyday.

I hope, through a series of posts, to share my views of the NEM starting with:

  • Malaysia’s Glory  Year’s (1971 – 1996)
  • Unintended Consequences of the NEM (1997 – 2008)
  • The watershed of the 12th General Election’s
  • The New Economic Model
  • Why the poor will continue to get poorer and how we can reverse it

I hope you enjoy reading and do feel free to contribute to the richness of the discussion by posting your comments in the comment section. (Click on where it says leave a comment, just below this)

Leave a comment

Posted by on November 3, 2011 in NEW ECONOMIC MODEL


Tags: , , , ,

Too many managers, too few leaders…

This in one of the most idiotic statements to have come out in management discourse.   I use the word “idiotic” in the same way that Warren Buffet uses it.  When asked in an interview, why did the crash happen,  he  replied, “in any market there are 3 types of people, a: the innovators who pioneer new ways of doing things, b:  the copycats who then learn what the innovators do and follow with full understanding what they are doing and finally c: the idiots who do it just because everyone else is doing it.

Idiots have a special role in the market place as they do things not out of understanding but simply by jumping on the bandwagon. All crisis and accidents can almost be traced back to an idiot who made a decision without understanding the risk and implications of the decisions.

Coming back to the concept of “too many managers, too few leaders.”  The first mistake the idiots (or more politely, the proponents of the above) make is to confuse role with task.  Managing and leading are not enshrined in roles but in tasks.  Every person who has even 1 subordinate has the task to manage and the task to lead. And the biggest idiots in town are the consulting houses and  the peddlers of leadership development.

Today, due to the enormous hype around notion of “leadership” created non other than Jack Welch, the task of managing has taken a complete back seat.  It has gone so ridiculously far that what used to be called “management team” is now being called “leadership team”!

The second mistake that is been made is pouring so much time and effort into Leadership Development and forgetting about Management Development.  With increasing mobility of people across organizations and a penchant for hiring those with “leadership abilities” at the expense of  “management ability,” companies are shooting themselves in their foots.

If anything I will argue that the biggest problems faced by organizations is the lack  people who excel in the task of management. We need to refocus and get back to the fundamentals, that the act of managing and leading are both tasks within the role of one who supervises.

Here is a nice article to read on the matter:

True Leaders Are Also Managers

8:20 AM Wednesday August 11, 2010

by Robert I. Sutton | Comments (39)

Ever have occasion to do an in-depth review of the academic and practical literature on leadership? I have — twice in the past five years. The first time was for a 2006 book with Jeff Pfeffer, Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths, and Total Nonsense. The second time was for my new book, Good Boss, Bad Boss.

It is impossible to read it all.

Tens of thousands of books have been written on leadership and there are several academic journals devoted entirely to the subject, including The Leadership Quarterly and The Journal of Leadership and Organizational Studies. Perhaps the most definitive review and integration of the leadership literature was Bass and Stogdill’s 1,200-page Handbook of Leadership, which was published in 1990 (and still does the best job of making sense of the literature, for my money). And if you really want a long book on leadership, you can get the four-volume Encyclopedia of Leadership, which at 2,120 pages weighs in at 15 pounds, and costs a whopping $800. Clearly, the task of reviewing the leadership literature — and acting on it as leader — isn’t to understand it all (that is impossible), but to develop a point of view on the few themes that matter most.

In my reviews of the writings and research, I kept bumping into an old and popular distinction that has always bugged me: leading versus managing. The brilliant and charming Warren Bennis has likely done more to popularize this distinction than anyone else. He wrote in Learning to Lead: A Workbook on Becoming a Leader that “There is a profound difference between management and leadership, and both are important. To manage means to bring about, to accomplish, to have charge of or responsibility for, to conduct. Leading is influencing, guiding in a direction, course, action, opinion. The distinction is crucial.” And in one of his most famous lines, he added, “Managers are people who do things right and leaders are people who do the right thing.”

Although this distinction is more or less correct, and is useful to a degree (see this recent interview with Randy Komisar for a great discussion of the distinction), it has unintended negative effects on how some leaders view and do their work. Some leaders now see their job as just coming up with big and vague ideas, and they treat implementing them, or even engaging in conversation and planning about the details of them, as mere “management” work.\

Worse still, this distinction seems to be used as a reason for leaders to avoid the hard work of learning about the people that they lead, the technologies their companies use, and the customers they serve. I remember hearing of a cell phone company CEO, for example, who never visited the stores where his phones were sold — because that was a management task that was beneath him — and kept pushing strategies that reflected a complete misunderstanding of customer experiences. (Perhaps he hadn’t heard of how often Steve Jobs drops in at Apple stores.)

That story is typical. “Big picture only” leaders often make decisions without considering the constraints that affect the cost and time required to implement them, and even when evidence begins mounting that it is impossible or unwise to implement their grand ideas, they often choose to push forward anyway .

I am all for dreaming, Some of the most unlikely and impressive things have been done by dreamers. But one characteristic of the dreamers I respect — Francis Ford Coppola, Steve Jobs, folks at Pixar like Ed Catmull and Brad Bird — is that they also have remarkably deep understanding of the industry they work in and the people they lead, and they are willing to get very deep into the weeds. This ability to go back and forth between the little details and the big picture is also evident in the leaders I admire most who aren’t usually thought of as dreamers. Anne Mulcahy’s efforts to turn around Xerox were successful in part because of her in-depth knowledge of the company’s operations; she was very detail-oriented during the crucial early years of her leadership. Bill George, one of Jim Collins’ level 5 leaders, told me that, in his first nine months as CEO of Medtronic (a medical device company), he spent about 75% of his time watching surgeons put Medtronic devices in patients and talking with doctors and nurses, patients, families, and hospital executives to learn the ropes.

I guess this is one of the themes that I have written about before, especially in The Knowing-Doing Gap (with Jeff Pfeffer). But it is bothering me more lately, as I’ve had some conversations with project managers who have been assigned tasks by naive and overconfident leaders — things like implementing IT systems and building software. When they couldn’t succeed because of absurd deadlines, tiny staffs, small budgets, and in some cases, because it simply wasn’t technically possible to do what the leaders wanted, they were blamed. Such sad tales further reinforce my view that thinking about what could exist, and telling people to make it so, is a lot easier than actually getting it done.

I am not rejecting the distinction between leadership and management, but I am saying that the best leaders do something that might properly be called a mix of leadership and management. At a minimum, they lead in a way that constantly takes into account the importance of management. Meanwhile, the worst senior executives use the distinction between leadership and management as an excuse to avoid the details they really have to master to see the big picture and select the right strategies.

Therefore, harking back to the Bennis theorem I quoted above, let me propose a corollary: To do the right thing, a leader needs to understand what it takes to do things right, and to make sure they actually get done.”

When we glorify leadership too much, and management too little, there is great risk of failing to act on this obvious but powerful message.

Leave a comment

Posted by on November 15, 2010 in Business, Leadership, Transformation


Tags: , , ,

A Three Step Approach to Accelerating Business Performance

Over the past few years I have been asking CEO’s the same question, “over the last 10 years, has your organization consistently: A) exceeded its promises to shareholders B) kept its promises to shareholders or C) did not achieve its promises to shareholders.  Not surprisingly, the majority were in the C category,  a few B’s and maybe one A.

So the question is: why are most organization mediocre , some average and  only a few truly outstanding? What it is that makes the difference?  The consistent answer I get is that the difference is “people” both at the Board and in Management. The conceptual leap of faith that is made is, because it is people, the solution must be leadership development.

As a result there has been  no end to the amount of time and money we are spending on leadership development but are we truly getting back our returns?  Ultimately, leadership development must translate into an order of magnitude difference in business performance.  Is leadership development delivering its promise?

To help get around the conceptual leap of faith, I have developed a simple 3 part framework to help organizations understand the drivers of performance in much clearer terms.

Drivers of Performance
1. Acumen – this is simply defined as the mental capacity to convert resources into results.  The dictionary defines acumen as “the ability to make good judgments and quick decisions, typically in a particular domain.”   If you want to run a business, your organization must be permeated with people of acumen .  Acumen is needed to be a street vendor, a small business owner or CEO of a large organization.  Acumen is about the know-how to use money  in order to make money.  This may sound crude but it is reality. Without acumen, you will lose your business, sooner or later. Acumen is prerequisite to business viability.

2. Leadership –  Having acumen doesn’t not mean having a productive business.  It just means producing results.  The next step after being able to produce results, is to be able to drive productivity, more specifically – people productivity. This is where “leadership” capabilities come in. Leadership is the ability to set the direction, engage people, institutionalize values and behaviors and bring the best out of others.  Leadership is about leveraging people, talent in order to get the order of magnitude impact into performance.  However, leadership can only stand if it is underpinned by acumen.

3. Infrastructure – Once one has the acumen and the leadership in place then one needs to think of scalability and this is where infrastructure comes in.  It is the systems, policies, processes that allow an organization to scale up revenue faster than cost be it domestically, regionally or globally. All of the CEO’s I have spoken to have in place talent management, performance management systems, incentive pay, leadership development to varying degrees. They  have the infrastructure but not the results.

Where we have gone off track is that we have invested heavily in infrastructure ahead of leadership, and leadership ahead of acumen. It is easy enough to understand why.  Infrastructure is easier to understand than leadership, and leadership is easier to understand that acumen.

For the next 10 years, the economic crisis of the west will present unprecedented opportunity for organizations in the east to gain dominance, but it will require acumen to do. This may be a good time and reason for CEO’s to take stock of the “available acumen” in their organizations and if it is insufficient, this is the time to develop it.

Leave a comment

Posted by on June 21, 2010 in Articles, Leadership


Afzal Rahim competes with TM

Its not too often that one can say, “I told you so…” but here is a case of me getting it right….

On the 2nd Feb 2009 I wrote a post called Afzal Rahim and Time dot Com and in the post I said :

My takeaway from our short conversation is that TdC will not only survive, but will become a real market competitor to TM in the spaces that they compete.

My comments were in sharp contrast to what B.K. Shidu’s analysis as reported:

October 9, 2008 Let Afzal do his ‘magic’News Analysis by B.K. SIDHU, The Star

The reason why Afzal’s proposal was accepted over many others was because he just wanted to focus on the wholesale and enterprise business and not compete head-on with Telekom Malaysia Bhd (TM) in the retail market.

This had been a consideration for Khazanah, which is also a shareholder in TM.

In yesterdays papers (3rd Feb 2009) which is  exactly a year after my post this is what was reported:

KUALA LUMPUR: TIME dotCom Bhd (TdC) has launched its TIME Fibre Broadband high-speed Internet service that offers up to 50mbps data transfer speeds.

The service is currently available to residents in only seven locations in Mont Kiara – Pines, Palma, Pelangi, Sophia, Astana, Bayu and Damai.

Realising the possibilities: Afzal talking at a press conference when he introduced a high-speed Internet servcie yesterday.

TdC wants to make the entire Mont Kiara area fibre-capable by the end of next month and launch it in KLCC and its surrounding areas by the middle of this year, said chief executive officer Afzal Abdul Rahim.

He said the fibre-optic network used by TdC would connect directly to consumers’ homes to deliver new levels of speed.

According to Afzal, fibre-optic cables could carry 1,000 times more information than the current prevalent copper-centric and hybrid networks.

“We have no copper, no wires, only pure fibre-optic,” he told a press conference yesterday.

Afzal claimed that the TdC was currently the only provider of 100% direct-to-home fibre-optic Internet connection.

“The idea behind this new service is in realising the possibilities of big bandwidth broadband, where download and upload speeds range anywhere within a mere five seconds to five minutes for mp3 files, video clips and even high-definition movies,” he said.

In Malaysia, he said it was throttled to 2mbps, the country’s average broadband speed.

Purchasing and downloading a 3.16-gigabyte high-definition movie on Apple iTunes was throttled to 5mbps per second.

However, Afzal expected the external websites’ level of service to improve in the future as the country’s broadband speeds improve.

Fees start from RM149 per month for a 2mbps package, with the option to “Boost” speeds up to 10mbps for 10 hours per month.

It costs RM199 for 5mbps with Boost of up to 50mbps for 15 hours a month.

The upper-end package costs RM329 for 10mbps and the option to Boost up to 50mbps for 30 hours per month.

The Boost feature can be activated by the customer through a self-care portal on TdC’s website.

For more information, log on to

Leave a comment

Posted by on February 4, 2010 in Business


What is Leadership?

Firstly let me wish you a spectacular 2010.

I have been pondering this question over the last 6 months or so and as I go through all the available research 3 things keep jumping out clearly;

a: There seems to be general agreement on the “Purpose of Leadership”: that is to produce outstanding results through people.

b: For the question “What is Leadership,” most of the research defines leadership through its purpose but there is no real specific answer.

c: And the third thing that pops up is “What Makes a Leader?” and for this the opinions are as divided as can be.  The research seems to tell us what Leaders do and through their actions the make up of leadership is defined but that is not the same as answering the question of “what makes a leader?”

Let me share with you my responses to the three above:

Starting with the “Purpose of Leadership:”  I have summarized the definition as: the ability  to produce outstanding results through people.  My key departure from the literature is my insertion of the word outstanding.  I think anyone can produce some results, thus the act of producing results in itself is insufficient evidence for leadership.  To me leadership is a position of differentiation. Leaders are like the “summa cum laude”of managers. And to be summa cum laude you have to produce outstanding results relative to all your competitors.

So if that is the Purpose, then “What is Leadership?”  I found the answer in the scriptures. Leadership is a trust. It is a trust placed on the person chosen, to lead  his/her  people to the “promised land.”   Failure of leadership is betrayal of a trust and the current financial crisis really demonstrates what betrayal of trust is all about.

So that leaves us with the third question,”What makes a Leader?” What makes a person able to carry the burden of trust in leading his/her people to outstanding results?

I distill the making of Leadership  down to 6 key characteristics as follows:

1. The openness of the mind to learn and unlearn, construct and deconstruct. I think the very first attribute of a leader is in the pursuit of knowledge which creates the foundation for courage and  wisdom.

2. An incredible level of self awareness combined with a strong ability to understand others from which emerges humility and temperance.

3. The ability to connect the dots on the one hand and  seeking closure on the other. It is a powerful combination when you can make sense of seemingly unrelated information or events and at the same time having the drive to act on it , to complete, to getting closure.

4. Without a doubt is strong business acumen.  I used to tell my managers, the income statement and balance sheet to a manager must be like sheet music to a musician.You must be able to not only understand it, but interpret it in a way that produces beautiful music, or in the case of business – outstanding results. Most people can’t see beyond the numbers in the financials. Leaders have the ability to teach the followers how to make music out of an income statement. Out of this acumen comes communications that is  short, simple and precise.

5.They excel at building great teams and coalitions. They know the secret of getting people to work together. They know how to build bridges and alliances.  They know its not about them. Like the orchestra, the conductor doesn’t make a single sound but has the ability to get the musicians to collectively make beautiful music.

6. Leaders have  massive capacity for self regulation. The ego is kept well in check.  They do not allow personal desires and habits to derail them.  And that can only happen if there is a willingness to accept feedback and work on it. Its the recognition of self imperfection in the quest for perfection. Leadership is incompatible with behaviors of hypocrisy,  slander, envy and avarice.   Leadership is an act of elegance, in behavior, in manner, and in tone. Leadership is about justice.

1 Comment

Posted by on February 3, 2010 in Leadership