KJ John on Great Leadership

October 21, 2016

KJ John on Great Leadership

by Dr. KJ John


Great leadership is only when all community leaders of Malaysia, whether appointed, elected, or voluntary choose to put nation-state interests above their own and ‘Serve to Lead’ our nation out of the current quagmire.–KJ John

Image result for Dr Mahathir a Great Leader?

For all his faults, contradictions and paradoxes, Dr. Mahathir is Malaysia’s Great Leader and he comes from my state Kedah–Din Merican

Premised upon my last three columns on patriotism, a small debate ensued on Facebook about whom or what defines good or great leadership. This column is my response to that query, but I would like to address it from a perspective of an RMC Old Putera, the alumni of the Royal Military College (RMC); our alma mater.

All Old Puteras were trained to ‘Serve to Lead’, or ‘Berkhidmat Memimpin’. The unasked question is who then do we serve and lead? Every Saturday, at the parade square, we actually saluted the flag of the federation, what is now called the ‘Jalur Gemilang’. Therein lay the answer as to whom we were called and taught to serve or seek to lead.

From good to great

Many books have been written about the two words ‘good versus great’. ‘Good to Great’ by Jim Collins is one very popular one. In the nineties, ‘Built to Last’ was published about great companies with good work ethics and a mature performance culture. But the question remained, what about the company which is not born with a great DNA? How can good companies, mediocre companies, even bad companies achieve enduring greatness?

“For years, this question preyed on the mind of Jim Collins. Are there companies that defy gravity and convert long-term mediocrity or worse into long-term superiority? And if so, what are the universal distinguishing characteristics that cause a company to go from good to great?”

I can fully understand why most authors, writers, and scholars shy away from the word, ‘good’. When a Nicodemus, a teacher of the laws of Israel, approached Jesus and asked the question by night, “Good Teacher, how do I inherit eternal life?” Jesus responded with another question: “Why do you call me good; only God is good”.

Therefore, for human systems or organisations like companies or countries, it is easier to talk about being great places for good to great experiences. In fact, Robert Levering, another researcher, as a sequel to ‘In Search of Excellence’ by Peters and Waterman, wrote ‘A Great Place to Work’:

“Good workplaces are worth examining if for no other reason than that they enrich the lives of the people working there. Everyone, after all, would prefer working in a pleasant environment to an unpleasant one. Since most of us spend the greater part of our waking hours at work, this is no small matter.”

Great leadership in Malaysia

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What would great leadership in Malaysia look like? Would it just be, “I did it My Way?” which appears to be Donald Trump and Rodrigo Duterte’s favourite song? Or, is it our Malaysian way of ‘close one eye culture’ of ‘nasi campur’ – all and sundry meshed together on the same plate, but very delicious to the stomach and human desires? While palatable, it may not be good either for health or body?

What is the kind and quality of good leadership for Malaysia; of the ‘Serve to Lead’ kind? To answer this question, first we need to define the units of analysis to peg the problem definition at its core and essence.

Malaysia is a federation

Any federation is a coming together, a willing one, of many parts to make a whole greater than the sum of its parts. That means the whole federation is a unit of analysis greater that all its parts. We are not a confederation either. A confederation is the coming together of small groups of constituent sub-wholes to make a greater whole. The European Union (EU) is more like a confederation.

For example the Federation of Malaysian Manufacturers is a confederation of many industry associations and they come together as a greater whole to dialogue and take concerns with the government or any other party.

Neither are we a unitary state like the Philippines or Indonesia. They have no states with legal existence; except for the newly-created autonomous zones of Aceh, or the Muslim South areas of Mindanao. In Indonesia, post the tsunami, Aceh was made an autonomous zone because of the unique problems they faced.

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Najib Razak is Malaysia’s Most Corrupt Politician  but no Leader, Amen

Malaysia is a therefore a federation of three constituent parts; of the two Borneo States, and the Federation of Malay States. Our whole is greater but the sum of the parts is not 13 or 14; whichever way we argue it, but rather three constituent parts, since Singapore left in 1965.

Parliamentary and constitutional democracy

While nine feudal Malay kingdoms came together to make the Federation of Malaya with two Straits Settlements in 1957, our system of governance was designed, developed, and crafted to become a constitutional democracy. The Parliament defines our laws; both in letter and spirit.

Then, in 1963, when the new Borneo States with Singapore came together to make or form the bigger reality called Malaysia; it was not merely a linear projection of the Merdeka Democracy. It really is an improvement of our parliamentary and constitutional democracy of the four, and later, three states to become a brand new whole greater than the sum of its three parts.

The Federal Constitution is the Supreme Law of the Federation, and it defines all else, including the structure, format, and principles of how our democracy is to be framed, shaped, and continue to be improved.

Anything that detracts from the supremacy of this Federal Constitution, including new developments through the specific interpretation of a Wahhabi form of Islam, or a Shiite-Sufi Islam cannot be included simply because of the tyranny of a majority. The constitution reigns supreme.

Constitutional monarchy

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A Gallery of Malaysia’s Constitutional Monarchs

This past week we had the meeting of the Rulers-in-Council; these include all nine Malay State Rulers, plus politically appointed ‘Malay’ governors, or the other four legitimate entities and their respective politically elected heads of state. All such meetings and protocols are well enshrined protocols within the constitution.

What is not well enshrined by the Federal Constitution can be considered as traditional Malay customs or culture from their historic system of feudal governance of these nine respective states.

Great leadership is only when all community leaders of Malaysia, whether appointed, elected, or voluntary choose to put nation-state interests above their own and ‘Serve to Lead’ our nation out of the current quagmire. May God continue to forgive our ignorance and arrogance.

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(This column is dedicated as my prayer for the future of the nation-state, especially for my grandson who turns two years of life as a Malaysian living in this country we love.)


Ralph Marshall and Ananda Krishnan (AK) part company

October 8, 2016


Ralph Marshall and Ananda Krishnan (AK) part company, says Asiasentinel


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Augustus Ralph Marshall parts company with Ananda Krishnan

by Asiasentinel correspondent

Augustus Ralph Marshall, the trusted key aide to T. Ananda Krishnan – Malaysia’s second-richest man – has left all posts in the sprawling cross-media empire as of end September, several sources told the Asia Sentinel.

Marshall has been under investigation in the past few years in India and Indonesia over joint ventures by Malaysia’s dominant satellite television provider Astro and cellular provider Maxis, both part of Ananda Krishnan’s business empire.

Swiss prosecutors have also asked for information on one of the companies Marshall sits in – Tanjong PLC – over money missing in the USD11 billion 1MDB scandal.

Company insiders and those in business circles say Marshall’s exit from Ananda Krishnan’s companies is anything but amicable. “It is a terribly acrimonious break,” said an executive who has worked with Marshall.

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Corporate Malaysia heard rumors of the impending departure from Ananda Krishnan’s empire in the past month but are awaiting announcements to be made in Bursa Malaysia, the local stock bourse, when it opens after the October 3 public holiday to celebrate the Muslim New Year.

“He is leaving AK, and not in the best of ways,” according to a businessman who is close to Marshall. AK is the moniker for Ananda Krishnan, who first made his fortune in the oil and gas boom of late 1970s before entering the telecommunications and satellite television industries.

Ananda Krishnan’s key aide

Forbes has listed Ananda Krishnan as the 158th wealthiest person in the world with US$7.3 billion and second wealthiest Malaysian in March 2016. He was 129th wealthiest in 2015 with a personal fortune of US$9.7 billion but his wealth tanked due falling Maxis share prices.

With nearly 40 years of experience in financial and general management, Marshall has been with Ananda Krishnan when the reclusive tycoon was given a cellular communications license and an exclusive 21-year concession to run Malaysia’s first and only satellite television provider. That license expires next year.

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The brilliant Malaysian Born and Harvard Business School Educated Entrepreneur in trouble with Law in India

The 64-year-old  Marshall was last the executive director of Ananda Krishnan’s private vehicle Usaha Tegas Sdn Bhd and also in ASTRO ALL ASIA NETWORKS plc, where he is also the deputy chairman, apart from being group chief executive officer of Tanjong Public Limited Company, where Usaha Tegas has a significant interest.

Marshall resigned in July 2015 as non-independent executive director of Maxis Bhd, the cellular provider which is partially owned by Saudi Arabia’s dominant provider Saudi Telecom Co, Usaha Tegas also has a significant stake in Maxis.

Marshall, who is regularly cited in the business media in Ananda Krishnan’s corporate deals, found himself in the other sections of regional newspapers in 2014 when police in India filed corruption charges against Dayanidhi Maran, who was India’s telecommunications minister between 2004 and 2007; and his brother billionaire Kalanithi Maran.

Both Ananda Krishnan and Marshall were named in the charge sheet with India requesting extradition but Malaysian police have said the request has not been made officially. Both Ananda Krishnan and Marshall have not discussed the matter publicly.

Reuters reported that India’s Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) started investigating the Maran brothers and Ananda Krishnan in 2011 after allegations that the telecoms minister had forced the sale of mobile carrier Aircel, allowing Maxis to acquire a controlling stake in 2006.

Maxis Communications Bhd has denied any wrongdoing and said it would vigorously pursue all available legal remedies to defend itself and Marshall, the Reuters news agency said.

In 2012, Marshall was also named a suspect in a case that involved illegal use of operational funds in a company in Indonesia.

The Jakarta Globe reported the Indonesian police were in the process of requesting Interpol to issue a Red Notice against Marshall, who was then group chief executive officer of Astro All Asia Networks. The matter has since been resolved.

1MDB link

In January this year, Ananda Krishnan’s company Tanjong PLC, where Marshall is a top executive, was named in the Switzerland Attorney-General investigations into the 1MDB scandal, the biggest in Malaysia’s history, which has tarred Prime Minister Najib Razak.

The Swiss Attorney-General asked Malaysia’s assistance in its investigations into alleged misappropriation of US$4 billion linked to 1MDB – the first time that a foreign-government investigator has openly waded into the financial scandal.

The Switzerland’s Office of the Attorney-General (OAG) said funds were transferred to Swiss accounts belonging to former Malaysian public officials and were seeking information on 1MDB and its former subsidiary SRC International apart from Malaysian conglomerates Genting and Tanjong said to be connected to the money missing from government companies.

The OAG said four cases involve allegations of criminal conduct – bribery of foreign public officials, misconduct in public office, money laundering and criminal mismanagement. It said these occurred between 2009 and 2013 relating to PetroSaudi, Genting and Tanjong, SRC and Abu Dhabi Malaysia Investment Company (ADMIC), with the cases “each involving a systematic course of action carried out by means of complex financial structures”.

“So far, it has been ascertained that a small portion of the money was transferred to accounts held in Switzerland by various former Malaysian public officials and both former and current public officials from the United Arab Emirates,” the OAG said of the probe it opened in August last year.

Private Saudi energy firm PetroSaudi was involved in a plan in 2009 to jointly develop an oil field with 1MDB but the venture was aborted, with questions raised over the return of 1MDB’s initial investments.

Genting and Tanjong sold power plants to 1MDB at what were considered inflated prices in 2012. ADMIC was a joint venture between Abu Dhabi’s state fund Aabar Investments and 1MDB to jointly develop the Tun Razak Exchange financial hub in Kuala Lumpur.

Outside the tycoon’s ventures, Marshall has interests in the food-and-beverage sector in capital city Kuala Lumpur that ranges from upscale European restaurants to a cricket bar.

To New York and Washington DC

June 18, 2016

Klinik Pakar Pergigian Dr. Kam's photo.

Management is about telling people what to do, and leadership is about allowing people to do what they’re capable of doing, toward a common vision. Basically, it is empowerment so that they are motivated to be the best they can be in  terms of professionalism and service. I agree with Dr.Kamsiah’s philosophy. (seen with her staff and yours truly for company) .

Note: Dr. Kamsiah and I will be leaving for New York and Washington at 2 am, June 19, 2016. So I will not blogging for the next 22-24 hours. Of course, we will be touching base with you on Facebook while enjoying  the hospitality and excellent of  the Emirates from Kuala Lumpur with a brief stopover in Dubai.  Till you hear from us in The Big Apple, our best wishes.–Dr. Kamsiah and Din Merican

Proton: An Expensive Mistake

June 9, 2016

Proton: An Expensive Mistake

by Koon Yew Yin

Malaysians deserve an explanation of why Proton, the brainchild of former Prime Minister Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, remains in trouble, despite massive infusions of funds. The MITI Minister, Dato’Seri Mustapa Mohamed says that government cannot continue protecting and supporting Proton, and that the firm must learn to compete on its own after over three decades in existence. That is right. I, therefore, do not understand why the Malaysian Government must now subscribe to 1.25 billion RCCPS issued by Proton via GOVCO Holdings Bhd by way of a RM 1.25 cash payment. It is time to stop  using taxpayers’ money to underwrite a failed project.–Din Merican

All Malaysian taxpayers must have been shocked to read the article “Proton to raise capital” , car maker issuing Rm 1.25 billion convertible preference shares to Government, on page 3 of The Star on 7th June 2016.

Proton is a 100% unit of DRB-Hicom. When the redeemable convertible cumulative preference shares (RCCPS) is exercised into shares, the Government will end up with a 79% stake in Proton and DRB-Hicom’s shareholdings will be diluted from 100% to about 21%.

DRB-Hicom yesterday said the Government had agreed to subscribe to 1.25 billion RCCPS issued by Proton via GOVCO Holdings Bhd by way of a RM 1.25 cash payment.

Proton has been experiencing flagging vehicle sales in recent years and this has affected its cash flow position. Proton plays a crucial role in the national automobile industry where there are about 12,000 workers directly under it while about 50,000 are employed under various vendor companies.

The founding of Proton National Bhd. in 1983 was an expensive mistake to begin with. Billions of ringgit from taxpayers have been lost in the process. Moreover, to encourage people to buy Proton, the Government increased the import duty for other cars and car parts. As a result, consumers suffered. For over 30 years we have had to pay higher prices for all cars including Proton. Even this has not been sufficient to save Proton which has been sold five times already.

Now with the Government owning 79% of Proton, the hemorrhage will continue unless the Government, the controlling shareholder makes some drastic changes to the current system of producing cars.

  1. From the report, the Government representatives will come from the Ministries of Finance, Industry and Economic Planning Unit. I suggest some old Directors should be removed to be replaced by these Government representatives.
  2. It is also essential to remove a few of the top managers and replace them with new people with the necessary experience.
  3. The new management must see how to measure the efficiency of the 12,000 workers directly under the company. One way is to compare the labour cost of producing a similar car in Japan or compare it with Perodua which has been profitable since its inception in 1992.
  4. The new management must also see how the company buys parts from the vendors who are employing about 50,000 workers? Is the company obliged to buy parts from these vendors? Can the company call for quotations for the supply of parts from the open market?
  5. Proton should copy the way Perodua manufactures its cars. I understand that the Japanese have full management control of the car manufacturing process, although they are minority shareholders.

Malaysians are now wondering – will the burden on taxpayers and car owners be continued in other new ways?

One simplistic assumption which appears to have been made by Dr. Mahathir, the initiator of the national car project, is that an industry that is growing yearly should be profitable. It is not. In fact, industry data shows that the total profits of all the car companies over the last few decades amount to only a modest return, and that too only for the fittest in the industry. Even year on year increase in sales will not guarantee generating good returns to shareholders, even in a highly developed economy with a long tradition of successful car manufacturing such as Britain.

This is because one of the forces that limit profitability is the intensity of rivalry between car companies from around the world. This leads to oversupply and pressure on prices. This is exacerbated by a high degree of freedom for new competitors to enter the industry.

Consider the case of British Leyland, a vehicle-manufacturing company formed in the United Kingdom in 1968. It was partly nationalised in 1975 with the government creating a new holding company. The company incorporated much of the British owned motor vehicle industry, and held 40% of the UK car market.

Despite having profitable marques such as Jaguar, Rover and Land Rover, as well as the best-selling Mini, British Leyland had a troubled history. In 1986 it was renamed as the Rover Group, later to become MG Rover Group, which went into administration in 2005. This ended mass car production by British-owned manufacturers.

Today, many British car marques are now owned by foreign companies. For example MG and the Austin, Morris and Wolseley have all become part of China’s SAIC Motor Corporation Limited.

Another question to ask is why few car manufacturers, until recently, seem to go into bankruptcy? Then prices can rise relative to cost and shareholders can get a fair return.

There are two main reasons. In some countries there is always the perennial optimism of managers and shareholders. In Malaysia, the reason is different. Here, our Government has been changing rules and regulations to obstruct other cars from entering our market whilst providing special concessions including an ever ready supply of financial assistance to keep Proton afloat.

The end result is that some Malaysians have ended up with more expensive cars of other brands whilst most Malaysians have had little choice but to buy Proton – a poor substitute! This is the price we have to pay for brainless patriotism.

Koon Yew Yin is a retired chartered civil engineer and one of the founders of IJM Corporation Bhd and Gamuda Bhd.

MAS: Mueller’ s successor should have vision, experience and expertise.

April 29, 2016

MAS: Mueller’ s successor should have vision, experience and expertise.

by Scott Ng



At the end of the day, MAS is a business, and in a business you either prove yourself capable or you don’t deserve the job. This is our national carrier, and it should be a source of national pride, but we should not let national pride in and of itself be the sole determinant of whom we choose to lead it. That person should be someone with vision, experience and expertise.–Scott Ng


If there was any doubt about Christoph Mueller’s abilities as a business manager, this was dispelled last February when MAS, in its new incarnation as Malaysia Airlines Berhad, made its first monthly profit in years. His turnaround of our national carrier is indeed nothing short of phenomenal. So it was quite surprising to hear him announce his resignation as CEO, coming as it did less than a year after he assumed the position.

Some people are speculating that it was political pressure that forced the industry-renowned airline revival specialist to depart, though Mueller has denied this. He claims that personal reasons forced his hand, and he would be taking a huge financial hit with his departure.

While no Malaysian would be surprised to hear that rent seekers may have showed up the instant MAS turned a profit, what lies behind Mueller’s departure is his own business. But as conversation turns toward appointing a new head for the national carrier, there is some unsavoury talk about his status as a foreigner, with some saying the company should be run by a Malaysian, meritocracy be damned. Even PKR’s Tian Chua reminded the public that his party had warned about bringing in a foreigner to run MAS, saying, “It is unfair to bring in a foreigner at a critical time and ask him to turn around the national airline. How can he turn around the company if he does not understand Malaysian work politics?”

We do detect a touch of irony in Tian Chua’s remark, particularly where he refers to “Malaysian work politics”. Nevertheless, his complaint about the “unfairness” of hiring a foreigner instead of a Malaysian expresses a sentiment shared by a number of politicians on both sides of the divide.

Certainly, a foreigner would not be expected to be intimately acquainted with our politics, and MAS, like all national arms, is heavily linked to the ruling party. However, it seems rather a trite reason to protest against Mueller’s appointment. It appears that we Malaysians are indeed capable of extending our racism to include hostility to the idea of having someone from outside our ken coming in and telling us how to do our jobs.

The fact is that Mueller (above) was the most competent person willing to come in to help an airline that had lost two aircraft to tragedy in the span of a few months. He was chosen because he merited the role and the challenge, and no amount of hemming and hawing and subtle racism can take that away from him. Even if the announcement of MAS’ February profits seemed like one timed to save his face, he can still take pride in his achievement, considering the sordid state that the company was in after decades of national stewardship.

Look, it’s not about where someone comes from. At the end of the day, MAS is a business, and in a business you either prove yourself capable or you don’t deserve the job. This is our national carrier, and it should be a source of national pride, but we should not let national pride in and of itself be the sole determinant of whom we choose to lead it. That person should be someone with vision, experience and expertise.


More on the MAS-Mueller Story

April 29, 2016

More on the MAS-Mueller Story

by Mariam Mokhtar


MAS in its Glory Days under Saw Huat Lye and Abdul Aziz Rahman

Last February, Malaysian Airlines Berhad (MAB) finally made a profit after years of being in the red. Two months later, Christoph Mueller, the company’s first non- Malaysian CEO, announced that he would leave in September 2016, well before the end of his contract.

What prompted his decision? Why leave after making such brilliant progress? Did anyone believe him when he said he was leaving because of “changing personal circumstances”? Let’s see if we can find a reason for Mueller’s decision.

MAS Today

In 1994, former PM Mahathir Mohamad gave control of the successful national carrier, then known as MAS, to his crony, Tajuddin Ramli. But instead of taking good care of the golden goose, Tajuddin and successive chairmen strangled the company.

Making Tajuddin MAS’ executive chairman and selling the company to him was part of Mahathir’s bumiputera corporate advancement project.

Mahathir should have instead adopted his Singapore counterpart Lee Kuan Yew’s approach to running an airline. In 1972, seven years after Malaysia and Singapore split, the Malaysia-Singapore Airlines had to be disbanded. On the eve of the formation of Singapore Airlines, Lee told the workers’ union that his government would have no compunction in closing the company down if it did not return a profit.

 Mahathir, Najib and MAS Advisor Badawi

Now that MAB is back in the black, we fear that the government and its cronies will start to bleed it again until, perhaps, it’s time for another foreigner to come to its rescue. There are Malaysians capable of doing the job, but only a foreigner can wield the stick without inviting too much scrutiny. After all, MAB has political appointees on its board.

Mueller’s role is to act as a foreign advisor. He also gives the MAB board a semblance of respectability.When Mueller first arrived at MAS, he allegedly asked Khazanah how many middle managers the airline had. Apparently, no one knew. It is alleged too that middle managers were running their own firms and bleeding MAS dry by providing services at inflated prices.

When the first cull was made in MAS, the cronies were the first to go. You might think this was a good move, but a MAS insider alleges that it was actually a plan calculated to give a golden parachute to faithful cronies. The cronies and middle managers received handsome retrenchment terms calculated from the time they were first employed. Some had been there for three decades. They received huge amounts in compensation.

Christoph Mueller, and Ahmad Jauhari Yahya

Aware that MAS could not afford to continue giving away these vast sums of money, the management announced that over the next few years, more people would be sacked or asked to retire early but would not be given the same generous compensation terms. In effect, it was a way of getting rid of workers cheaply.

When MAS changed its name to MAB, the employees who were thankful they had been retained had to accept new terms in their contract, which included the prospect of having their services terminated with only two months’ notice. That was why MAS workers were unhappy. Cronies were rewarded. Genuine, hard-working employees were treated shabbily.

So, did Mueller decide to leave because he has a conscience? Or was he concerned about his reputation? He once turned around the ailing Aer Lingus, but with all that is happening in Malaysia now, he probably realises that the longer he waits, the more he risks messing up his CV.

In the 1960s and 1970s, many proud Malaysians were happy to serve MAS. It was a respected and successful airline. If we were to remove political interference, MAB could soar in the skies once again.

Remembering Lee Kuan Yew: A life devoted entirely to Singapore

Mariam Mokhtar is an FMT columnist.