28 CEO’S 28 VISION-IBR ASIA Group Malaysia


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After a tumultuous 2020, marked by a global pandemic and economic downturn, 2021 is the time for a rebound, with the roll-out of the COVID-19 vaccine and the gradual recovery of the economy bolstering confidence.

As the drivers of the economy, corporations – be they government-linked or privately-owned – play a major part in these revitalisation efforts.

In the following pages, International Business Review speaks with 28 leaders from 28 companies as they reveal how their organisations reached where they are today and their exciting vision for the future.

Maybank Islamic Berhad

Flying the Flag for Malaysia

Valued at US$2.5 trillion, the Islamic financial market is one of the fastest growing in the world.  A subsidiary of the nation’s largest financial group Maybank – Maybank Islamic is the largest Islamic bank in Malaysia, with a domestic market share of 30.8 percent, deposit and investment account at 28.9 percent and total assets of RM259.2 billion as at September 2020. Group CEO of Islamic Banking, Maybank and CEO of Maybank Islamic, Datuk Mohamed Rafique Merican reveals the stunning history, present achievements, and way forward.

We are proud of our many achievements as Malaysia’s largest Islamic bank. Our commitment to sustainability and the evolution of our digital offerings saw us crowned as Global Islamic Bank of the Year by London-based magazine The Banker in 2020.  Also, on the Global Sukuk League, we stood at number 3 internationally, and number 1 in Malaysia.

In 2020, Maybank Group Islamic Banking (MGIB) launched a number of firsts in our product offerings. For instance, our first Social Impact Deposit extended financial relief to our customers who were financially impacted by COCID-19. The Multi Asset Investment Account-i (MAIA), which is the first of its kind offered by a commercial bank, invests equally in a diversified portfolio of the Bank’s stable financing assets and Islamic marketable securities.

Outside of Malaysia, we completed the US$2.5 billion Sovereign Sukuk issuance for Indonesia, with US$750 million allocated for green projects. And over in Singapore, we launched an online donation payment service to Singapore’s NGO Rahmatan Lil Alamin Foundation Ltd via Maybank2u and PayNow.

Five Year Plan

Our five-year plan is to provide seamless financial solutions that can bring positive economic, social and environmental impact across the globe. To do so, we are expanding the role and impact of our Islamic Banking Business. While credit intermediation will continue to be our core engine, we are actively expanding into the investment intermediation role. This will allow us to grow our assets, while maintaining our capital efficiency and increase our fee-based income.

Having successfully launched MAIA late last year, we plan to introduce a multiple of new funds to allow us to embrace the risk-sharing model that is more equitable in terms of risk-return and reduce our reliance on balance sheet.

Another new business driver would be the trillion-dollar global Halal industry, and we want to nurture and scale up Halal entrepreneurs with capacity building programmes to assist them on the distribution of products locally and globally. Through our Dubai DIFC (which is our first overseas branch), we are tapping on the increasing demand for cross border financing in the global halal economy and also capturing the trade flows between the GCC countries and the ASEAN market.

We are also empowering the underserved segments economically and up-scaling them to be bankable customers through Social Finance. This will strengthen Islamic finance’s proposition as an inclusive and responsible financial system.

“In the next five years, we aim to be among the top 3 Islamic financial groups in the world, while pursuing our commitment to sustainability, ensuring that our business impact is also positive for the environment, communities that we serve and future generations.”


Enhancing Connectivity in the Nation

The COVID-19 pandemic has increased the importance of connectivity, as many businesses have moved online. As a leading network technology company, ranked 3rd in 5G Standard Essential Patents, ZTE has been playing a role in helping Malaysian telcos ramp up their services. ZTE (Malaysia) Managing Director, Steven Ge, tells more to International Busines Review.

We are a multinational organisation and as Chinese New Year is approaching, I think of those unable to celebrate with their loved ones, such as our staff from China who would normally go home once a year.

We strive to provide a conducive working environment and strike a work-life balance. As we have transitioned from 8/9 hours in the office to fully working from home, we are looking at flexible policies. Similarly, the way we engage with our customers and their needs has also changed. We have grown and evolved into the new normal, and we will carry to do so in the future.

In terms of business, our traffic grew by an average of 15-20% during the Movement Control Order (MCO) last year. There was a sudden surge of traffic in specific areas,such as in Sungai Buloh, where we managed to set up in a week. At the same time we also paid close attention to students in rural areas, particularly in Sabah and Sarawak.

Long-Term Partnerships

As a customer oriented and technology driven company, we are quick to respond to our customers’ requirements and enquiries. ZTE believes in long-term partnerships. Having worked with TM and DiGI for more than a decade, as well as with UMobile for almost 10 years, we hope that these partnerships will continue to be strong.

We are a technology leader, and invest 15 percent of our revenue in R&D, which is the second most among listed companies in China for R&D investments. In Q3 2020, ZTE’s 5G market share reached 32.6 percent, which was 2nd in the world according to Dell’Oro Group.

ZTE also values compliance and transparency. As such, we have been listed in the FTSE4Good Index for the 3rd consecutive year, and are rated the most transparent China company.

Bridging the Digital Divide

Looking towards 2021 and beyond, our ambition is to be a Tier 1 provider and a main player in Malaysia’s digital hub. We also hope to support the government’s JENDELA initiative by working closely with our partners and operators. We also aim to be the key contributor to IoT transmission in the industry.

We are always looking to have the right people with the right skills for the right job in this dynamic industry. We also believe in providing both theoretical and on-the-job training. This is done both in our training centre at ZTE headquarters as well as with institutions of higher learning.

“In line with our philosophy of thinking globally and acting locally, we enhance our co-operation with qualified local partners by providing knowledge transfer. In a fast-paced industry, this is a sustainable synergistic strategy to win new projects, especially during times like these.”


A Highway to Enriching Communities

In Malaysia, the development of highway infrastructure has been parallel to the robust growth of the nation, as travel and transportation time has been cut down significantly. A leading highway infrastructure developer and concessionaire, Projek Lintasan Kota Holdings Sdn. Bhd. (PROLINTAS) has been instrumental in the development and management of a number of key expressways in the Klang Valley. GCEO, Datuk Mohammad Azlan Abdullah, showcases his vision for the company going forward.

PROLINTAS, a wholly-owned subsidiary of PNB, is determined to continue enhancing life in Greater Kuala Lumpur as the largest highway operator in the area, with a total length of 127 km. Over the last 25 years of operations, we have helped reduce the cost and time of commute for millions of people.

With the expected opening of the Sungai Besi-Ulu Kelang Elevated Highway (SUKE) and Damansara-Shah Alam Elevated Expressway (DASH) later this year, we anticipate that traffic congestion will be reduced by more than 30 percent especially at routes such as Middle Ring Road 2 (MRR2), Jalan Ampang, Persiaran Mokhtar Dahari and Persiaran Surian.

I am proud of how we have grown from having one highway, namely the Ampang-Kuala Lumpur Elevated Highway (AKLEH), under our management, to having six. Furthermore, all our highways have received ISO certification, which marks our commitment to the highest levels of standards in highway construction, management and services.

More Than Just a Concessionaire

As the Klang Valley is the heart of commerce and industry in Malaysia, it is vital that road connectivity is as smooth and efficient as possible. PROLINTAS has contributed to this through our various highways, while at the same time, the enhanced connectivity has also helped in the growth of certain areas.

PROLINTAS is more than just a highway developer and concessionaire. We are an organisation that is committed to uplifting the community and the environment. Efforts in this regard include reducing electricity consumption through using LED lighting, and using electric bikes to patrol the highways.  We also conduct tree planting exercises along our highways as part of our corporate social responsibility (CSR).

Also, the upcoming Damansara-Shah Alam Elevated Expressway (DASH) will be equipped with noise reduction barriers with the latest technology to tackle noise effect.  We will also see a full closure noise barrier installed at Damansara Perdana; the first on a Malaysian highway.

Moving forward, we are focused on embracing digital technology. This includes implementing the Smart Surveillance System (S3), which enables real-time monitoring of highways for faults. In addition, our PROLINTAS Digital Assist helps highway users reach out to our patrol teams with just one touch.

Our commitment to human capital development is reflected in the formation of a Police Bantuan (Auxiliary Police) unit to assist in our highway operations. We also developing young graduates by imparting them with marketable skills through the Professional Training and Education for Growing Entrepreneurs (PROTÉGÉ) programme.

The Asian School of Business

World Class Management Education

Asia is fast becoming THE hub for trade and commerce, and as such there is a demand for regional-specific management knowledge and expertise. In line with this, Malaysia’s central bank – Bank Negara Malaysia – and the world-renowned MIT Sloan School of Management collaborated to set up the Asia School of Business (ASB) in 2015. Founding President and Dean, Prof Charles H. Fine, shares more with International Business Review.

ASB aims to fill the needs that come with the exponential growth and opportunities of Asia and the emerging world with highly qualified, industry-ready talents. Since our founding in 2015, our first MBA class graduated in 2018.

Through our partnership with MIT Sloan, as well as our recruitment of A-list faculty members from top global institutions, ASB is able to provide top-level business and management education right in Kuala Lumpur. We provide access to MIT Sloan’s curriculum and rigour fused with a deeper understanding and integration of local nuances and culture.

Fusing the Best of Both Worlds

We are also pleased to be able to provide a number of avenues for corporations to benefit from our programmes. For instance, our MBA for Working Professionals programme will help develop your next generation of leaders’ skillsets while they are on the job.

We do this through a unique blend of the MIT Sloan MBA syllabus delivered within a localised context, coupled with active and iterative learning that is applicable to their roles in your organisation. In addition, they will have one month of learning at the MIT campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

The effectiveness of our integrated educational program is seen in the first cohort of the MBA-WP program, as 60 percent of students were either promoted, had title changes, or saw a significant expansion of responsibilities during their first year of the program.

Forward thinking companies such as AirAsia, Sapura Energy, PNB, Sime Darby, Daiwa Steel (Japan), Phu Hung Securities (Vietnam) and many more have trusted us to develop and educate their next generation of successors.

We have also integrated with ICLIF to create the Iclif Executive Education Centre at ASB. The centre offers a wide range of individual courses as well as executive certificate programs covering General Management, Leadership, Finance and the Global Economy, and Corporate Governance.

Becoming a Trusted Partner

My vision is for ASB to be an executive talent magnet and multiplier for Malaysia and the region. We want to be the source of transformative and principled leaders who go on to create value and contribute to the development of the region and emerging world.

Ultimately, we want to be viewed as the “go-to” business and management school for Malaysian companies, and to be the knowledge and resource hub where corporations come to for the best business education, research and solutions.

Penang Development Corporation

Revitalising the Pearl of the Orient

Since 1969, the Penang Development Corporation (PDC) has spearheaded the development of the State. Reflecting its success is how Penang today has the 6th highest GDP and the 3rd highest GDP per capita in the nation, PDC Chief Executive Officer, Datuk Mohd Bazid Abd Kahar, highlights how the organisation is driving the State forward.

“PDC is, was and will always remain THE premier development agency of the State. And I have to thank my predecessors for having for their foresight and acumen in leading PDC. These are my mentors.

I have a great team who stand with me in all instances and who are committed to reaching targets come what may. We have proven this by our stellar performance for 2020, even with the global pandemic. We let nothing get in our way, and we change quickly and creatively. This team is my backbone.

Although PDC is a statutory body, we work at speeds akin to the private sector, and have set targets that are regularly monitored to ensure complete and timely execution and implementation. We have excellent networking with our government and private counterparts. Our tenacity to achieve targets is second to none, and we are goal-oriented and focused.

Turning Dreams into Reality

My vision for PDC is for us to chart new futures for Penang and its people. To put that into reality, my team and I have drawn up a Strategic Plan running from 2019 right through to 2023. Notwithstanding COVID, we have managed to achieve the targets set in the Plan for the years 2019 and 2020.

We are forging ahead to develop Bandar Cassia, Batu Kawan into the country’s first smart eco city – where technology blends with nature, where life is upgraded and lifestyle sustained. We are already in discussions with TM on this and I am certain 2021 will see a breakthrough in this aspect of Bandar Cassia’s development.

Bandar Cassia is envisaged to be the nucleus of the north, servicing the other northern states. A full blown integrated and comprehensive medical hub is in the works. This will encompass a full-range of medical related industries, such as a Fortune 500 company medical devices for specialist hospitals located here, and residences for patients and their families and the general public


At the same time, we have not forgotten the island. We have opened an RFP (Request For Proposal) for reclamation of Gold Coast – south of the first Penang Bridge. This 150-acre reclaimed area will add to the State’s land bank and future development.  Components include a waterfront with international standard hotels, commercial and integrated developments, and a medical and technology hub, which will transform the Bayan Lepas seafront.

In addition, we are working on turning around a number of subsidiaries. And I hope that PDC will have a subsidiary listed on the Second Board of Bursa in the future. To this end we are revamping the management, the SOPs, the culture of the companies.

We are exploring and embarking on new business models and new projects designed to ensure PDC’s sustainability. We are doubling efforts to rebrand externally with the public / community and internally among staff. This means instilling a culture of pride in our logo, a culture of excellence and out-of-the-box thinking, a gung-ho culture. I know all these plans and effort will chart the way for PDC to rise further to the top. I am certain of that.”

Duopharma Biotech Berhad

Smarter Solutions for a Healthier Life

2020 will go down as one of the most devastating periods in modern history, as COVID-19 had infected more than a million people worldwide and wreaked havoc on the global economy. Leonard Ariff, Managing Director of Duopharma Biotech Berhad, highlights how one of Malaysia’s leading pharmaceutical companies has navigated through the crisis and his aspirations for the future.

“At Duopharma Biotech, one of the biggest impacts of the pandemic on our business has been the drop in demand for our prescription drugs. This is because fewer people are seeking treatment for ailments, as they want to avoid unnecessary spending and also because they are afraid of contracting the virus at the clinic or hospital.

Despite these challenges, we have continued to strengthen our portfolio of biotherapeutics and other critical drugs. We do this either in partnership with leading pharmaceutical players or through our own Highly potent Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients (“HAPI”) plant. In June 2020, we became the first in Malaysia to commercially produce a cancer drug.

Incidentally, the sales of our over-the-counter vitamins and supplements, particularly our Flavettes and Champs Vitamin C, increased as consumers are eager to boost their immunity. We also expanded our network of partners by investing in a US-based innovator of novel treatments for neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

Joining the Digital Revolution

Globally, we are witnessing the digital transformation of healthcare with greater use of apps and telemedicine replacing face-to-face interaction. We intend to be part of this transformation. For a start, we have invested US$250,000 in Naluri, which has developed an app that combines behavioural science, data science and digital design to offer a holistic health management programme.

We continue to live up to our promise of ‘providing smarter solutions for a healthier life’ as we enhance our portfolio of products. We are now in the midst of technology transfer for a drug to treat leukaemia, which should be completed early in 2021. We have also continued to create awareness of the quality and availability of halal-certified drugs.

Duopharma Biotech’s latest initiative supports the COVID-19 National Vaccination Plan; supplying 6.4 million doses of Russian COVID-19 Vaccine to Malaysians. We are exploring opportunities with Russia Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) for further collaboration to enhance our capabilities in research and development, technology transfer, local manufacturing, and supply of the vaccine to Malaysia and other ASEAN countries.

We look forward to commercial production of “Trevive”, adding to our portfolio of affordable cancer treatments, while working with our partners to bring in more biotherapeutics and other novel treatment modalities for a wider range of prevalent ailments.

Our partnership with the local and international companies will provide fresh impetus in growing our portfolio – ultimately enhancing our presence in Southeast Asia.”


Creating a NanoFuture By Design

Incorporated in 2011 as a company limited by guarantee under the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation (MOSTI), NanoMalaysia is tasked with commercialising nanotechnology in Malaysia. One of the fastest growing sectors in the world, the global market value of nanotechnology is expected to reach US$125 billion by 2024. As the organisation celebrates its 10th anniversary,

CEO Dr Rezal Khairy Ahmad looks back at the challenges and achievements, and reveals his vision for NanoMalaysia for 2021 and beyond.

Our early days were quite rough. This was mainly because we were incorporated right after the announcement of the 10th Malaysia Plan, which meant that we just missed the boat in being included as part of the national economic development agenda.

In order to brand and distinguish ourselves from other government agencies, we showcase ourselves as subject matter experts and a reference point for nanotechnology.

A Record of Achievements

At the same time, we also adopted the venture builder model where we build a team based on subject matter expertise. We become consultants, and even co-creators of new technologies by working with start-ups, SMEs and also large corporations. Through this collaborative model, we can participate in co-ideation, co-development, and eventually co-commercialisation.

We have a number of achievements that we are proud of. For instance, there is our wireless charger, which is probably one of the few in the world that is able to charge mobile devices without need of physical contact. And that puts Malaysia right in the map of being a high-tech nation.

We are also pleased that we have been able to play a part in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. We have partners in our ecosystem who were able to provide anti-viral coating that can be applied to wearables, surfaces and textiles, which help reduce the risks of transmission. We also assisted the government in bringing innovators to come up with COVID-19 screening booths that provide greater protection to frontliners when they are screening patients.

The Way Forward

Moving forward, our goal is to become more entrepreneurial. There is a constant message across the organisation to be more commercially minded. We need to be more robust and independent, and to able to stand out and define clear business opportunities for the intellectual properties we have created over the past five years.

The world is undergoing this massive energy revolution, where we are transitioning from fossil fuels to clean fuels. That is why early on, we invested in hydrogen technology, which we anticipate will contribute around RM12 billion to the GDP.

What we aim to do is to recreate the economy through a new ecosystem value chain, which will create a lot of job opportunities. We have a game plan, a business plan to expand our investment strategy, and most importantly, we are moving towards the right direction. Because what we are aiming for is to create a future by design, not by chance.

Co-opbank Pertama

The Best of Two Worlds

Under the National Co-operative Policy 2011 – 2020, one of the aims was to increase the contribution of co-operatives to national economic development. In order to reach that goal, cooperatives need to enhance their capabilities, capacity and efficiency. One co-operative that has been demonstrating excellence is Co-opbank Pertama – the country’s first co-operative bank. Chief Executive Officer, Mohd Nor Abd Razak, highlights its past, present and exciting road ahead.

Co-opbank Pertama (CPB) became the first co-operative bank in Malaysia when we received the licence from Bank Negara in 2014. And so far we are the only co-operative bank out of 14,000 co-operatives in the country.”

The fact that we are both a co-operative and a bank makes us unique because this means that we are governed by two regulators. As a bank, we are under Bank Negara’s guidelines, while Suruhanjaya Koperasi Malaysia (SKM – the Cooperatives Commission of Malaysia) oversees us as a cooperative. As such, the products we provide are a mix of both worlds.

Although we were granted the status of a co-operative bank in 2014, our history goes back further than that, as far as 1951 before Merdeka, when we were first known as the Province Wellesley Co-operative Banking Union Limited based in Penang. These more than 70 years of experience have shaped the way we do business.

Addressing Challenges

Over the years, we have faced and overcome a number of challenges. For instance, when I joined in 2017, we were required by Bank Negara to increase our market capital,

which was around RM300 million at that time. What we did was to introduce Islamic Convertible Preference Shares, and we managed to increase our capital to RM1 billion.

Of course, in 2020 and even up to now, we have the challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite all the problems that come with it, I am pleased to say that CPB performed exceptionally well last year. For instance, our assets went up by RM1.8 billion to RM5.8 billion. Also, we recorded our highest ever unaudited profit before tax amounting to RM86.4 million, which surpassed the record of RM73.9 million in 2019.

Spurred Towards Excellence

We are also proud to be recognised as the best co-operative in Malaysia in 2020, according to the ranking by SKM. This is a huge achievement for us, and inspire us to continue our excellent performance in 2021 and beyond.

That is why this year, we are focused on planning and achieving big. For instance, we introduced our Ar-Rahnu or Islamic pawn broking services in November last year, and we have a strategy in place to grow this and be a champion of Ah-Rahnu business in Malaysia.

At the same time, we also remain committed to our personal and mortgage financing services. We target to disburse RM1.35 billion for personal financing and RM60 million for mortgage financing this year.

With the support of our Board, our members, our staff and our customers, we are confident that we can meet, and even exceed, the targets set.


57 Years of Security

For many people, security is often on their minds, whether it is job security, personal security, or financial security. One organisation that has been helping Malaysians achieve a sense of security for 57 years is Manulife Holdings Berhad. CEO, Vibha Coburn, reveals her vision for the company moving into 2021 and beyond.

As a company, we aspire to be the trusted and most preferred financial services provider in Malaysia by making our customers’ every day better.

We offer our customers a full range of financial protection, health and wealth management products and services with our life insurance, investment and Private Retirement Scheme (PRS) solutions being offered within Manulife Holdings Berhad.

Digitalising for the Future

We had to accelerate our digital agenda in the past year to ensure we were still able to provide services to our customers and distributors in the most convenient manner. Customers and distributors are looking for simpler touchpoints, and I am truly proud of what the team had achieved in that scope in 2020.

Our strategies along with our presence of over 57 years in the country holds us in good stead to be the preferred financial services/ insurance provider for Malaysians. This is supported by a strong regional and reputable global brand, which allows us to cement trust with our consumers.

The Road Ahead

We intend to continue on the same path by building on our achievements from 2020 to contribute to a more productive 2021.

This includes being the best in the industry in terms of “most improved” insurer in market share or annual premium equivalent (APE). Our ultimate goal is to be one of the Top 5 insurers in the country.

In 2021, we will continue to prioritise digitisation for our customers, agency members and distributors by investing in sales and service tools and platforms.

We are also keen to improve our customers’ experience by providing solutions around wealth preservation, protection and health coverage. Our customers are increasingly aware of the need to shore up protection of their health and wealth. We will innovate to ensure customers do not need to compromise on taking care of their mental, physical and financial well-being through affordable and relevant solutions.

We have much room to grow in terms of size and quality, and will keep expanding our agencies’ reach and penetration to allow us to protect more Malaysians. The effectiveness of our business growth and sustainability depends on providing quality service to our customers.

We will focus on Million Dollar Round Table (MDRT) membership for our agency partners which is globally seen as a proxy for professionalism in our industry. We also have initiatives to maximise value for all our stakeholders and expand business sustainability.

We are enhancing talent development and creating avenues for our workforce to be armed with future-ready skills. We future proof our business by investing in various programmes and facilities that support our employees’ overall health and well-being especially with the extreme changes in the working environment.

JKG Land

Development with Integrity

Entering a highly competitive market is never easy, especially when there are many others with more established credentials. But that is what JKG Land did in 2015 when it ventured into the Klang Valley property market. Previously known as Keladi Maju, it was renowned for developing affordable housing projects in Kedah. Since its debut in the Klang Valley, it has since gained more than a measure of fame, as reflected in the many awards it has won. Managing Director Datuk Ir Teh Kean Ming reveals more to International Business Review.

We came into the Klang Valley in 2015, when I joined the company to develop the ERA@Duta North project on a 15-acre freehold land in KL.

Because we needed to reposition our market presence in the Klang Valley, a rebranding exercise was carried out. Keladi Maju was changed to JKG Land, a name to be more reflective of what we are doing as the word Land reinforces our identity as a property developer.

Creating the X-Factor

Being relatively new to the Klang Valley, we had to differentiate ourselves. The Segambut area is one with a lot of industries and factories, so we want The ERA to stand out, which is why we came up with the concept of green living and brand the development as an ‘Urban Forest’.

In business today, there is a lot of focus on the triple bottom-line – People, Planet and Profits – and of being a sustainable company. This is something we believe strongly in, which is why we are addressing our carbon footprint by planting trees at The ERA. A total of over  800 trees will be planted to create an oasis of calmness and serenity amid the chaos in the city.

In line with the Urban Forest concept, we are also developing wetlands at The ERA, which will have flora and fauna, and a stream for the residents to enjoy. This presents another challenge because to make sure the stream flows, we need pumps which use energy, and using energy adds on to our carbon footprint. Our solution is to use waste energy from the building to power the pumps.

The wetland in the city area is what differentiates us and this provides a holistic living environment for the residents.We strive to create value for our ERA owners by delivering our promise in providing a conducive living space with high standard end-product.

Setting the Anchor

One really proud moment was that when we launched The ERA, we attracted as many sales (if not more) as other projects nearby, which are developed by more established companies. And this is despite The ERA being priced at a slight premium over our neighbours’. This is important because The ERA is our flagship project in the Klang Valley. It will act as our anchor as well as our launchpad to more success in the region.

Being a developer, my dream is that whenever a purchaser takes over one of our properties, they will be smiling from ear to ear, because we have delivered what we promise. And this is what JKG stands for – standing tall with integrity, being modern, fast, dynamic and passionate.


The Strong Horse that Pulls the Cart

Entrepreneurship drives business growth, but it is also a risky venture.

For every successful entrepreneur, there are many more whose ventures have failed, mainly because of a lack of knowledge and training.  In Malaysia, Institut Keusahawanan Negara (The National Institute of Entrepreneurship – INSKEN) conducts training and coaching for aspiring and existing entrepreneurs, so that they can be better prepared for the world of business. INSKEN CEO Muhd Firdaus Azharuddin explains more to International Business Review.

INSKEN has been around since 2005.

I joined in 2017, after a career spanning petroleum engineering, logistics, investment facilitation, and property development. What I wanted to do was to help with human capital development. I was also very fortunate that at INSKEN, we have a young and dynamic team. We are unique because we do not have our own trainers primarily because we want the freedom to be able to pick and choose the best trainers.

At INSKEN, the goal of our training and coaching is to help entrepreneurs increase their sales. At the same time, a lot of our work is communicating to entrepreneurs, the government’s aspirations for them and what the government is trying to do for them.

People often have the misconception that all entrepreneurs are the same. But that’s not true. For example, entrepreneurs in urban areas have different needs than those in rural areas. Therefore, instead of having a one size fits all solution, you need to have three to four solutions in order to tackle the different sub-categories. And when we talk about entrepreneurs, we do not just mean the more than 1 million whose companies are registered with SSM (the Companies Commission of Malaysia), but also the 1.5 million who are not. This is the informal sector, such as the hawkers and home-based businesses, and they need be trained and coached too.

Challenges and the Road Ahead

Among the things of which I am proud, is how we responded to the first MCO (movement control order) last year. We moved our training online and offered the classes at very attractive prices of around RM10 to RM50. We also conducted a total of 151 BizLive sessions via Facebook Live on how to cope with the current situation and sustaining their businesses.

In 2020, we conducted 390 programmes and trained 78,872 people. Our aim last year was to help entrepreneurs survive the hard time during the pandemic. This was done by introducing various digitalisation platforms to facilitate their business transformation.

Moving forward we need to evolve from needs-based entrepreneurship (where people become entrepreneurs because they need money) to an ideas-based one (where people become entrepreneurs because they have an innovative product or service). And to do that, we need to get the best and brightest, such as the top graduates, to become entrepreneurs rather than take on other professions.

At INSKEN, our vision for the future is to help entrepreneurs embrace the changes in business landscape from conventional to digital as the new normal. After all, as Winston Churchill once said: ‘Entrepreneurs are the strong horse that pulls the whole cart’.

AUEI Teras Holdings

Entrepreneurship in the New Normal

A company with a High Performing Bumiputera Company (TERAS) status, AUEI Teras made its name in the property development sector in Kelantan. Not content to rest on its laurels, AUEI Teras has also embarked on entrepreneurship training programmes to teach women entrepreneurs how to best run a business. Founder, President and CEO, Rita Sarbani Ismail, reveals her vision for 2021 and beyond to International Business Review.

We believe that our woman entrepreneurs must always embody a holistic vision of integrity, trustworthiness, effective communications and intellectuality at all times, particularly during these times of economic uncertainty.

These qualities of entrepreneurial characters should inculcate positive values and resilience to move forward in facing the challenges of the pandemic. At the same time, they must be prepared to keep up with the dynamic transformation of the global business eco-system due to impact of the pandemic, which has transformed the world economy into a digital one under the ‘New Normal’.

In this challenging year, women entrepreneurs must seek to re-engineer their business modus operandi and reap the plentiful opportunities that are available under the New Normal, namely in sustainability and the digital economy. They cannot afford to remain as by-standers, still content with doing things in the traditional, old business ways.

New business strategies must be developed and supported by new branding under the government’s digital economy policies to conform to the needs and wants of the global market.

Business organisations in the New Normal must be reengineered to accommodate the impact of the pandemic. For instance, the risk of losing important human capital assets, particularly those with long years of experience and who have contributed to the success of the organisation, is high. Under the New Normal, businesses should adopt tactics such as work from home (WFH), while upskilling and reskilling using modern technologies that will help them transform into global players.

At the same time, entrepreneurs should reconsider retrenching human capital assets. This is because doing so can be construed as being ungrateful, especially to those who have put in many years to help the organisation achieve its success. In fact, retrenchments of such valuable staff is against the holistic vision of integrity, trustworthiness, effective communications and intellectuality

During any times of economic turbulence, such as this current pandemic, entrepreneurs should keep searching for that silver-lining and turn these tribulations into our best opportunities yet.

Origin Integrated Studios

Solutions for Better Hospital Management

Today, healthcare providers are adopting solutions such as hospital information systems (HIS), clinical information systems (CIS), and electronic medical records (EMR) that will allow them to carry out the nitty gritty of hospital management in a smoother and more efficient way. In Malaysia, Origin Integrated Studios has developed comprehensive hospital management solutions. CEO, Kenneth Kee, reveals the journey and his vision for the company in 2021.

When we started in 2015, EMR was not that well-adopted by hospitals in Malaysia. In fact, we are the pioneering Malaysian company in developing EMR software solutions for hospitals. We first started with Loh Guan Lye Specialists Centre in Penang, and since then we have expanded.

Altogether in the Klang Valley, we have around six customers, eight in the northern region (which are in Penang and Kedah), two in Perak, two in Melaka, one in Negeri Sembilan, one in Kelantan, and one in Johor. In total, we have 21 customers in Malaysia and even three in Jakarta, Indonesia.

Having started with EMR systems, we went on to develop HIS and CIS systems. We are proud that these systems were all developed locally by us, which means that we own the IP to them. This has enabled us to help hospitals digitally transform themselves such as doing away with paper and enabling seamless sharing of patient information across all hospitals.

Proudly Malaysian

We are also proud of being the leading Malaysian company in our field. In fact, our competitors are all from overseas, namely India, Singapore, Germany, the US, even Egypt. What gives us that unique edge is that we are Malaysians, with the exception of one software developer from the Philippines.

This ensures that our people are here to stay. This is opposed to foreign providers that bring in their people from overseas, and these people are on contracts, which are only for two to three years. And when they go back, they have to bring in another set of people.

Young, Passionate and Talented

I have to give credit to our team here, who are young, passionate and talented. Thanks to this team, we are creating world class Made in Malaysia solutions, and we are fighting toe to toe with foreign solutions. Above and beyond not just fighting with them, we are also replacing them. That shows that we are as good if not better than them.

So, for 2021, my vision is that we will keep on expanding our customer base. We have plans to increase our number of customers by another five hospitals this year, and we want to keep on setting the stage for Malaysia to be seen as a leader in hospital information technology.

Property Hub

It’s All About The People

The real estate business is not just about selling property. It is about developing relationships, understanding the needs and wants of people and knowing the market like the back of your hand. This is something that Property Hub understands very well. Chief Executive Officer, Benjamin Tee, explains more to International Business Review.

At Property Hub, we specialise in the sale and rental of upmarket properties. Whether it’s in the primary market where we are engaged by developers or the secondary market or (sub-sale market). We are also involved in the commercial and industrial sector.

We are primarily focused on highly-coveted, landmark areas such as  Mont’ Kiara, the KL City Centre, Damansara Heights, Bukit Tunku and Bangsar. Our branch in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, is also comprehensively serving the East Malaysian market.

Our international influence and footprint is also expanding, fuelled by a growing expertise and interest in properties in Australia, the UK (mainly London), Singapore, and Thailand (mostly Bangkok) where we provide market insights and access.

A People Business

A lot of people have mistaken us for a real estate business, but I must emphasise that

we really are a ‘people business’ where the people here just happen to do real estate.

The name “Property Hub” implies a branching entity from a point of origin. That hub is like lighthouse where passion, professionalism and properties converge, where we provide incisive market insights and outstanding service quality to deliver a premier real estate experience to targeted locations.

Buying a property is a major investment decision and our clients are incredibly savvy people who are as sharp as a tack with facts and figures at their fingertips. So, if our people do not have that same amount of knowledge or more our clients won’t bother dealing with us.

The peerless quality service we provide our clients has been affirmed by us winning the MIEA Residential Agency of the Year award for an unprecedented nine consecutive years from 2012 to 2020. The Thriving Agency and Best Practice Agency at The Star Property Awards Year 2018 is a further testament to the knowledge and abilities of our team.

Think Big, Grow Deep

The events of 2020 inspired us to accelerate our digitalisation initiatives. As such, all our associates are able to access services online and get things done electronically, instead of having to go to the office

That being said, real estate is such a personal, big ticket item and as such, will always require the personal touch and personal connection. There is no substitute for human interaction, ingenuity and inspiration.

Looking ahead, our dream for Property Hub is not to merely ‘grow big’ per se but to ‘grow deep’ and we want our investors to grow with us, not just in scale but in depth.

Property Hub was founded on a dream to empower and enrich Malaysians through real estate. I’d say that the dream remains the same as we have expanded our impact to people from all over the world.

Tourism Selangor

A Kaleidoscope. A Microcosm of Malaysia

Selangor is a major contributor to tourism in Malaysia, and as the State’s official tourism promotion agency, Tourism Selangor has been instrumental in ensuring the growth and sustainability of the sector. General Manager Azrul Shah Mohamad reveals his vision for its future during its 20th anniversary in 2021.

2020 was a very challenging and eventful year. I had taken over as the General Manager of Tourism Selangor in January, and not long after, the COVID-19 pandemic hit Malaysia and we underwent the first Movement Control Order.

Our priority then was to ensure that tourism players in Selangor were able to weather the storm, as they were not able to operate during the MCO. Because of the restrictions on international travel, we shifted the focus to promoting domestic tourism.

As such, we launched our Pusing Selangor Dulu (Go Round Selangor) campaign in June 2020.

In addition, we also helped the State government deliver incentives worth RM2.6 million to help tourism players in Selangor

Selangor Has It All

One problem we’ve faced in Tourism Selangor is that people, especially international tourists, often confuse Selangor with Kuala Lumpur. There are those who say they have never been to Selangor, but when asked, they say they have been to places like Bangi which is in Selangor. And of course the airport, KLIA, is also in Sepang, Selangor.

At the same time, another challenge is that people do not know the full extent of what Selangor offers for tourism. Very often, people just think of Selangor in the context of the Klang Valley and shopping malls. But we have much more than that – from ecotourism to medical tourism to agro-tourism to adventure tourism to food tourism.

Through Pusing Selangor Dulu, we are showcasing the distinctive experiences that people can enjoy in Selangor. And as difficult as it has been, one silver lining of the pandemic is that it has made people consider domestic travel when planning their holidays.

I am also proud that we are the first State tourism promotion agency to have our own Campaign Ambassador, namely the renowned actress Che Puan Juliana Evans, who has more than a million followers on Instagram.

Towards Smart Tourism

Moving forward, we are going to focus on digitalisation and work towards realising Tourism 4.0. In Selangor, we have the Smart Selangor plan, and it is only right that we also have Smart Tourism.

We also plan to continue participating in local and international travel fairs. This is important, because even if international travel is still going to be restricted, we need to get Selangor’s name and brand out there. That is also why we are also enhancing our advertising initiatives on various digital platforms.

Our big plan for 2021 is the Tourism Selangor Convention. We are planning this for November, and aim to invite tourism promotion agencies from the world.

When it is time to travel, I warmly welcome everyone to uncover Selangor’s many tourism attractions and invite you to Pusing Selangor Dulu.

Siti Khadijah Apparel

A Garment Born of Need. A Business Born to Succeed.

In Southeast Asia, the telekung – a garment that covers the body from head to toe except for the face – is usually worn by Muslim women when performing their prayers. In Malaysia, Siti Khadijah has become synonymous with fitting and premium high quality telekung thus allowing Muslim women here to carry out their religious obligations in comfort. Its CEO, Aminuddin bin Mohd Nasir, reveals to International Business Review the reasons for the company’s impressive growth and its exciting road ahead.

Siti Khadijah was founded in 2009, out of a need to provide alternatives to the often large and ill-fitting prayer veils imported from overseas. Our founder, Puan Hajah Padzilah Enda Sulaiman, was frustrated by those ill-fitting veils, and so established Siti Khadijah to provide women with veils that fit well and are comfortable.

In 2010, we opened up our first outlet and our second outlet opened two years later. Our greatest spurt of growth came after 2015, and today we operate 34 outlets with over 200 support staff and generate revenue of over RM50 million.

From previously relying on agents, our operations now encompass the entire value chain from material procurement to design, marketing and sales. Siti Khadijah has also evolved from being a niche brand to being a household name with products across all price ranges for women of all sizes and ages

Developing Human Capital

Much of our success can be attributed to how we imbued our staff (myself included) with the right knowledge and skillsets. We also have support from government agencies such as Teraju and INSKEN, in the form of training modules. At the same time, we have hired advisers in various fields, such as human resources, finance, marketing and sales, and created an environment conducive to talent acquisition, employee retention, and also research and development.

In addition to this, we established a skills training center, Srikandi Skills College, where we provide training on how to design garments, how to operate industrial sewing machines and other relevant skills our seamstresses may need.

Through this, we have sustained the talent, and skills that have made Siti Khadijah veils so popular and continue to innovate new and improved ways to ensure the comfort and quality of our products.

2021 and Beyond

Over the next few years, our efforts will concentrate on preparing for our Initial Public Offering (IPO) scheduled by 2023.

In the meantime, we will focus on building strategic partnerships with online marketplaces such as Lazada and Shopee , leveraging on their market reach in Southeast Asian countries. This will complement our expansion into Indonesia, which is the most populated Muslim country in the world.

Furthermore, we are diversifying our portfolio to target the International Muslim Community. SK Lifestyle, located in Suria KLCC shopping mall offers some of our up and coming designs and garments catered to a larger Muslim demographic.

The Principal Officer of The Budimas Charitable Foundation, Ms Anne Rajasaikaran

Budimas Charitable Foundation

Building Bridges for the Underprivileged

A non-governmental and non-profit organisation, Budimas Charitable Foundation was established in 1998 to provide financial aid to charitable homes in Malaysia. Today, this has extended to providing breakfast for more than 4,000 children from poor families and building libraries in rural and Orang Asli settlements. International Business Review speaks to its CEO, Anne Rajasaikaran, to find out more about its challenges and its hopes for the future.

Budimas Charitable Foundation is unique in the sense that our management team and board work together as a team towards a single cause. We have a small team, but we continue to touch as many as a thousand lives each year. Our 10 year plan contains aims and projections on how many funds are needed to support a specified number of children.

We do not over promise with our projects. In fact, on many occasions we over-deliver. However, what I believe makes us stand out is our transparency and clarity on funds and donations. We are audited internally and externally, and our annual report is made available on our website for donors and sponsors alike.

Rising Above the Challenges

Over the last few years, our challenges have fallen under three broad categories: branding, credibility, and human resources. Previously, we had difficulty promoting the Foundation to people. However, thanks to years of passive advertising and free media, we have built our credibility and trustworthiness. This has resulted in an influx of donations from fellow Malaysians and corporate companies.

Another challenge we have faced is that a number of people (especially graduates) who join us underestimate the amount of work they need to put in, although their hearts are in the right place.  Having said that, we have had some wonderful staff who have worked for us for more than five years

Extending Our Reach

We continue to dream of a better 2021 for the underprivileged. We hope to reach out to the many school children who couldn’t get their free meals in 2020, and also make sure that they get to study – be it online or in school. In addition to this, we aim to provide shelter for those who are homeless in our very own home in Senawang.

We would like to see more teenagers complete their SPM, eventually joining universities and graduating, allowing them to escape the cycle of poverty and flourish in their personal lives. I am confident this will happen – slowly but surely.

We are thankful to the government for their support, and we hope to enhance our collaboration as well as form new partnerships with more collaborators to provide additional help and assistance to the underprivileged in rural areas.

Budimas Charitable Foundation is a champion for the orphans and the underprivileged children, it is our wish to support their way along to greatness.

All Field Maritim Resources

Riding the Wave of Opportunities

As seaborne trade continues to expand, so too has demand for qualified seafarers. This presents Malaysia, which has been integral to the global maritime supply chain, with an opportunity to realise the economic potential that this sector holds. With hopes to increase Malaysia’s competitiveness in the industry, All Field Maritim Resources (AF Maritim) is providing Malaysian seafarers to meet this global demand. CEO Mhd Ackmal Mhd Amir explains more.

AF Maritim was set up in 2017 as a manning agency recognised by the Marine Department Malaysia. Our core business is crew management, which covers recruitment, payroll, logistic arrangements, flag state crew documentation, marine and offshore training including STCW Consultation and many more.

Our objective is to enhance the number and placement of our Malaysian seafarers locally and globally. Our client portfolio includes 30 vessels across 11 companies with 70 percent consisting of international companies.

The Market Potential

In 2019, Malaysia accounts for 0.82 percent and 3.28 percent of the world’s share of seafarer supply for officers and ratings respectively, according to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development.

Currently, Malaysia does not have the numbers to fulfil the market demand for seafarers locally and internationally. This is unfortunate as Malaysian seafarers are sought after by international companies the likes of CMA GCM and Chemikalien Seetransport. So the demand is definitely there.

AF Maritim wants to help our Malaysian seafarers penetrate the global market. The maritime industry is one of the main drivers of Malaysia’s economic growth. Enhancing the competitiveness of our local seafarers can further facilitate the growth of this industry.

At Full Speed

To achieve this, we are developing a proposal for an upskilling programme to raise the standards of competencies in our existing pool of seafarers as well as to attract new talents into the industry. This will help the domestic maritime sector reduce dependency on foreign seafarers.

Under this programme, the costs of training will be sponsored, allowing seafarers who usually work on contract-basis to advance from junior to senior level, or from ratings to officer. We are looking for funders that can work with us.

Soon we will enter into an agreement with the third largest container vessel. This is a great start as we continue to enhance our footprint globally.

REKA Inisiatif

Turning the Wheels of Progress

Thanks to its conducive technology policies, Malaysia presents a wealth of opportunities for local tech entrepreneurs looking to connect with ASEAN’s 655 million population. One company that had ambitions to do that is REKA Inisiatif, an R&D company specialising in autonomous processes which boost productivity. Chief Executive Officer, Muhammad Haziq Faris, speaks more about the company and its plans for the future.

When it comes to R&D in the tech space, one of the biggest challenges in Malaysia stems from a culture and ecosystem that depends on the import of technology from foreign countries. REKA was established as a way for us to sustain the development of locally built technologies.

When we first started out, we were no different from majority of the companies within the industry – focused on developing software, mobile applications, websites and the like. Today, we differentiate ourselves as a research and development company, working to create a better way of solving some of the world’s problems.

We stand out through our efforts in empowering local talents with opportunities to express themselves creatively. Inculcated in our culture is a mindset to rely less on one-size-fit-all solutions and more on the science of it all.

This means taking a scientific approach to problem solving – by first looking into the essence of the problem before suggesting or developing solutions to the problem.

Relying on a diverse spectrum of local talents – all expert in their respective fields – has enabled us to overcome many significant challenges, such as with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Due to border restrictions, where other companies struggled with the sudden shortage of talent, we flourished and grew due to the foundation laid in our early stages.

Growth through Service

2021 marks our eighth year in operation as we transition into a more service-oriented organisation. Capitalising on the accumulation of insights, trends and methodologies built up over time, we will begin rolling out several products in the pipeline; the first of which includes our proprietary web-based platform that leverages data analytics to provide data visualisation capabilities to help organisations make informed decisions.

Our second product is a collaboration with Murata, a Japanese manufacturing company, to develop audience sensor networks for smart cities. This has the potential for a host of real world applications such as providing advertisers, law enforcement agencies and relevant stakeholders with information on human and vehicle traffic hotspots.

Last but not least, we will be intensifying development for autonomous vehicles to address demand for the safer transportation of goods in business-to-business industries particularly in the manufacturing and agricultural sectors.

As ever, our mission remains: to enable people to create by simplifying that creation process.

Ikhlas Tijarah Sinergi Associate PLT

Driving Competency in the Takaful Landscape

Ikhlas Tijarah Sinergi Associate (IKTiSAS) is revolutionising the Takaful industry to attract talent and enhance competencies. Chief Executive Officer Syahrunizam Shahwan speaks about the company’s BOSS system and his aspirations for IKTiSAS to become a leading Takaful corporate agency.

Established in 2018, our objective is to foster an entrepreneurial culture within the Takaful industry. We developed a conducive business model that enabled us to independently manage our commission and recruitment structures.

This was a challenge because, normally, an agency adopts the business model established by the Takaful company they register with. When we convinced Takaful Ikhlas Family Berhad to recognise the system that we had developed, we became the first Bumiputera Agency Leader Corporation (ALC) and the first ALC in Malaysia to adopt our own system to run a Takaful business.

A New Business Model

Our Business Owner Synergy System (BOSS) fuses the existing system in the market with our network marketing strategy. It was developed to address the pain points that Takaful agents face today, such as cash flow and the lack of incentives.

Those who join us have to start their own corporate agency and actively recruit new agents. By doing so, we want them to be recognised as entrepreneurs and we view them as our business partners. IKTiSAS provides support through engagements, training and ICT systems to help them monitor sales and manage the recruitment process.

We created an easy and systematic promotion process, which will enable a meritable agent to rise up the levels every 12 – 24 months.

Those who reach ‘Managing Director’ level are eligible to become shareholders of IKTiSAS. Agents in leadership positions will also be able to enjoy a continual stream of income from their sales and recruitment incentives.

Ultimately, we want to demonstrate the viability of Takaful business as a long-term career option and help the industry attract and retain talent.

The Road Ahead

Since our establishment, we have encouraged the creation of more than 1,700 companies. We are helping create new job opportunities and doing our part in developing entrepreneurship in this country.

For 2021, we want to achieve the RM25 million production target set by Takaful Ikhlas Family Berhad. We are also positioning a Business Development Manager in every region to provide better support to our business partners.

We also aim to develop Yayasan IKTiSAS to help ensure business continuity upon the deaths of our business partners’ Principal Officers. This protects the job and income security of the deceased’s family and the company’s agents.

More importantly, we want to become a top industry leader and for BOSS to become a new model that can contribute to the growth of the Takaful industry in Malaysia.


A Fintech Game Changer

According to a report by innovation policy advisor Startup Genome, Kuala Lumpur is ranked 11th in the world as an emerging ecosystem for start-ups. One prime example is Cashwagon Malaysia, which has gained prominence as a leading Financial Technology (Fintech) company that leverages on Artificial Intelligence and Data Analytics. International Business Review speaks to its Chief Executive Officer, Geoffrey Looi, to learn more about the company, and its plans for the future.

Since our inception in 2018, Cashwagon has grown from a small start-up to a team of 70 individuals. It is never an easy task to build something from the ground up, and it is never the achievement of a single individual. As CEO, my role has always been to inspire my team to innovate, think creatively and strive for perfection

The basis for a strong, stable and successful organisation is a team that innovates, disrupts, changes things and makes progress. This is a “game changer” mind-set which I endeavour to personify in my everyday life. The very best individuals inspire others to be on top of their game, to make a difference, in whatever position they are in.

It is quite challenging for a start-up to flourish in the Fintech sector. However, we managed to reach break-even point within a year and continued to achieve the monthly targets that we set for ourselves.

Cashwagon Malaysia was named the Fastest Growing Fintech Company & Fastest Growing Online Consumer Loan Platform at the International Finance Awards 2019, and in 2020, ESQR (The European Society for Quality Research) awarded Cashwagon Malaysia the “European Awards for Best Practices 2020”.

Relevancy through Efficiency

Our platform, jointly operated by our local licensed lending partners, enables fast and easy access to a full range of financial products, powered by innovative and scalable digital technologies. Our proprietary technology is built on a rapid end-to-end automation system that leverages on advanced Artificial Intelligence and data processing capabilities to score applicants online with incredible precision and unrivalled fairness.

The result is a credit approval process that takes just minutes. In using our platform, our local partners are able to access advanced digital tools to run a successful micro-financing businesses empowered by cutting-edge technology while their customers are able to gain access to a wide array of financial services that are tailored to their needs.

Breaking Barriers to Success

Although the pandemic irreparably damaged many, we will all be starting a new chapter in 2021. With the knowledge and technology that we have, we hope to continue disrupting the financial industry with fast paced processes and automation for better efficiency. We will eventually be branching out to provide more Fintech services.

We have new exciting projects in the pipeline with new investors eager to join us. We will continuously expand our portfolio to other regions and with this, we hope to create more job opportunities to the citizens of the respective countries that we will be setting foot in.

Be it Cashwagon Malaysia or a new venture, we aspire to be the market leader in the industry, breaking barriers and overcoming obstacles together as a team, as a family.

Muka & Co

Make-Up. Meet Technology.

Cosmetics is one of the fastest growing markets in Asia. Over the last decade, its market value in the Asia Pacific region has increased to more the US$70 billion. In Malaysia, imports make up around 50 percent of cosmetics sales. Muka & Co is redefining the industry in the country by producing its own quality line of make-up and skin care products. Founder and CEO, Nabilah Mohammad Isa, reveals more to International Business Review.

In moments of great turmoil, business is always affected. The COVID 19 pandemic was and continues to be a challenge – forcing us to change and look at things in new ways we hadn’t thought before. However, with every challenge comes opportunity.

At Muka & Co, we took the challenge as an opportunity to better ourselves. It required us to optimise our operations, readjust cash flow, and manage our operating expenses to avoid laying off staff our cutting salaries.

However, what truly sustained us was a culture of innovation and our identity as a beauty tech company. From the moment of our establishment, Muka & Co has developed and thrived online, leveraging on technology to provide solutions for our customers.

For instance, we discovered that during the Movement Control Order (MCO), a vast majority of businesses, especially in the retail, had to lay-off employees without new business to sustain them. We took that as a challenge to intensify the development of a super app we’ve had in the works called Super Pal, which provides users with access to a large pool of services.

All too often, users have to juggle between too many apps with limited capabilities. Our platform will provide a shared ecosystem in which both users and service providers can benefit.

So in effect, the pandemic – bad as it was – was an opportunity for us; in fact our sales performance and engagement increased by as much as five times.

Nevertheless, we had some setbacks. Generally, our customers prefer to try on products before making a purchase. As such, we are in the process of developing our digital collaterals to elevate the user experience.

One of the ways in which we stand out is that we are the first sustainable beauty tech company in the region that celebrates natural beauty and wellness. We aim to transform self-care routines into an enjoyable experience, giving beauty a cause to celebrate each day.

We have been persistent in developing a scalable, economical and sustainable beauty ecosystem by leveraging on cutting-edge technology such as Machine Learning, Artificial Intelligence Augmented Reality to create a seamless and intuitive experience for our customers. We help women enhance their natural looks by creating and curating products that are safe, useful and accessible.

My dream has always been to make this world a better place. With technology, vision and a mission, we have a real chance in saving lives, curbing poverty, discrimination, educating, and spreading kindness, love and understanding.

I have faith that 2021 will be a year of blessings, abundance and fortune – not just for us at Muka & Co, but for others as well.

SuperLife World

A Multi-Level Journey to Success

“Health is Wealth”, so the old saying goes, and one company that knows this well is SuperLife World. A direct selling company known for its health products, SuperLife has grown exponentially since it was founded in 2017, to more than 40 countries throughout the world, in Southeast Asia, Europe, North America, and Africa. Founder and CEO, Lai Tek Kean, shares the story of SuperLife’s journey and the road ahead for the company.

There are many things that make us different. For instance, we started out first in Africa, mainly because of the size of the market and also because people there are more receptive to entrepreneurial opportunities. So, I like to emphasise that although we are not Africans, metaphorically we were born in Africa.

Another distinction we have is that our raw materials are procured from the UK, Switzerland and Germany. However, our products are manufactured by our partners here because Malaysia is a leader in OEM for health products.

This also enables us to be competitive in terms of pricing our products. If we were to import products that are manufactured overseas, the costs would be relatively higher and it would be difficult to price the products competitively in the African market.

We work closely with the renowned Switzerland-based biotechnology ingredient expert, Mibelle Group. Our products are manufactured in GMP-compliant facilities with stringent quality control, and we have obtained the ISO and FDA certifications, which is an important testament for our quality standards. This enables us to attest that we are an organisation with products and services that meet high quality standards.

I am also pleased by how we have managed to improve the lives of our distributors through our platform. We pay commissions on a daily basis, and our payout rate is about 65 percent, which is the maximum allowed according to the Malaysian Direct Selling Association. The average industry payout rate is about 30-40 percent. Today, we have more than 750,000 active distributors around the world and we are proud to have helped them transform their lives by providing them the means to earn income.

I am also proud to announce that we have experienced strong growth amid this global pandemic. Last year (2020), our number of distributors worldwide increased by more than 81 percent and our sales grew by 83 percent.

The Road Ahead

We aspire for SuperLife World to be regarded as not just a direct selling company, but a biotechnology company that is contributing positively to the health industry. We also aim to run entrepreneurship camps to train and empower more entrepreneurs to be successful in this industry. Furthermore, we look forward to establishing our very own state-of-the-art manufacturing facility in Malaysia and even our own Research and Development Centre.

My vision for SuperLife World is to build a holistic ecosystem underpinned by the spirit of integrity and kindredness. We want to create localised operations on a global scale, where operations are seamless in every country, and members will have an established and effective platform to build their business network with SuperLife. This is our vision of ‘One World, One System’.

Experian Trade and Consulting

Customised Financial Planning

In 2020, the Global Financial Advisory market was estimated to be at RM333.4 billion, and is expected to grow at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 6.15 percent from 2020 to 2027. As businesses and individuals struggle due to the effects of COVID 19, financial advisory services become more important to ensure financial resiliency. Experian Trade and Consulting is one such company, and its CEO Captain Mohd Khairul Anam reveals his plans for the organisation to International Business Review.

In any organisation, challenges are an effective way to discern whether an organisation will rise to the occasion or sink. They are a barometer for leadership, collaboration, communication, and resiliency. At Experian Trade & Consulting, we are distinguished by a small but efficient circle of hardworking individuals collectively united towards a common goal.

Just as in any other organisation, we face many difficulties. However, we opt to look at challenges as opportunities to find new avenues for growth. Our existing culture is established to encourage innovative ideas around which overtime, we have learned, adapted and evolved to become what we are today.

It takes the right attitude to remain standing amidst strong winds. When faced with any challenge, our first point of action is to come up with a solution to manage in the short term. This is crucial because it ensures that operations continue to run smoothly so that time and focus can be placed on long-term solutions.

Our expertise in financial planning, implementation planning and strategising requires us to be nimble, creative and adaptable to changing situations especially in an industry where there is no standard solution for every client.  Our focus is centred on building efficient and results driven relationships, to help our clients get where they need to be – be it in their personal or professional lives.

The scope of our solutions encompasses timely insights regarding risking exposure; tasks, activities and processes involved in producing deliverables; personalised advice to help build wealth; strategies for cutting costs, increasing revenue as well as making key decisions.

This coming year, Experian Trading and Consulting will focus on expanding by increasing the range of our operations as well as the value of our services. In the last fifty years, the financial advisory industry has evolved extensively.

Before, financial advice was reserved for the wealthy, now more families and businesses at all income levels are seeking expert opinions on how to manage their finances. This year will be a time in which we emphasise holistic financial planning for the overall financial health of our clients – both on the personal level and the professional level.

Our efforts will be visited by quarterly evaluations ensuring that all our activities align with our goals. As ever Experian Trading and Consulting will be there to help our clients with market-winning solutions. Just as we’ve done since the year 2000.

Ludher Mind-Body Healing Centre

Mental Resilience for Success

The Law of Attraction states that we create our own reality.  And we consciously and subconsciously create realities that can be either fabulous or a downright nightmare. The difference of both outcomes is how we perceive the world, and how adeptly we align ourselves to our dreams and goals which are just within our reach.

Imagine a world where you dictate where you want to go, who you want to be and what you want to achieve. And eureka… it happens. Ajit Ludher, Founder and CEO of Ludher Mind-Body Healing Centre and with 27 years of successful clinical experiences in treating people with depression, stress, low self esteem, addictions & many medical challenges, says he can help you achieve that eureka moment.

Clinical hypnotherapy is widely used in major hospitals in developed countries to give people the best support in their health issues and I am on a mission to help people improve their physical well-being by strengthening their mental states.

Today, we are so engrossed with Western medication to solve our problems that we forget that most of it is designed to deal primarily with bodily ailments. This causes us to seek pills to solve issues that may have stemmed from just having a negative state of mind.

When these issues aren’t solved internally, it often leads individuals to rely on mind-altering substances such as alcohol and drugs to function properly. These are short term solutions and do not deal with the root causes, and so eventually their health, lives, and relationships will be affected.

In highly stressful environments, our various fears affect the body, causing high blood pressure, insomnia, strokes, heart attacks, and even worse – suicide. What we actually need to do is to treat the fear. And that’s where hypnotherapy helps.

Hypnotherapy is a practice that dates back a millennium. It is a form of psychotherapy that uses relaxation, extreme concentration, and intense attention to achieve a heightened state of consciousness or mindfulness. In my 27 years of practice, it has proven useful in helping many of my patients achieve mental resilience.

Sometimes we all just need a little bit of help in aligning ourselves back to being the best version of ourselves. To ‘reprogram” ourselves with positive beliefs and traits. Once we are able to handle the rigours of everyday life; we attain inner peace and contentment.So as we face new challenges this year and in the years that follow, it is important that we gain control of our minds and address the problems that exist deep inside us.

If you can train your mind, it is possible to manage any situation. The state of your mind always, always determines the state and condition of your body and your life.

Malaysian Rating Corporation Berhad

Spurring Growth in the Capital Market

By assessing and evaluating the credit risks of debt securities and their issuers, rating agencies help investors make informed decisions on their investment choices. In Malaysia, Malaysian Rating Corporation Berhad (MARC) provides this vital service to the domestic capital market. Group Chief Executive Officer, Datuk Jamaludin Nasir, talks about the company’s goals moving forward.

Since our inception in 1996 to the end of 2020, we completed over 872 ratings with a total value of almost RM900 billion. Having been appointed as MARC’s GCEO in December 2019, I am pleased to have been able to bring to the table a unique set of perspectives drawn from nearly three decades in finance and investment banking, both domestically and abroad.

This is reflected in our strong performance in 2020, despite the more uncertain operating environment. For instance, new assignment ratings last year were 3 times that of 2019, while revenue went up by 15 percent.

Another milestone was us winning two awards last year. These were Global Islamic Finance Awards’ Best Islamic Rating Agency award and The Asset’s Rating Agency of the Year award. Such recognition from the industry is an endorsement of our stakeholders’ continued trust in MARC and the role we play in the debt capital markets.

Foundations of Success

Our success can be attributed to our ability to address challenges. For instance, we managed to implement business-friendly changes with the collective support of the leadership team and staff. At the same time, we are continuously improving collaborations with clients and the relevant stakeholders when negotiating or repackaging deals to improve their attractiveness. We have also sought, and successfully obtained, mandates in new and upcoming sectors.

We are also unique in the sense that each of our staff have multiple roles that expose them to the ‘big picture’ in day-to-day operations. This helps enhance the efficiency of their working relationships while allowing MARC to function as a lean organisation that is flexible, adaptable and able to respond quickly to changes.

Buoyed by our 2020 results, we have ambitious goals for 2021 and beyond. We aim to achieve a 50:50 ratio for both ratings and non-ratings revenue. We are doing so by rebranding and restructuring our various subsidiaries to provide products and services that are more dynamic and market-driven.

This includes diversifying the offerings of MARC Solutions Sdn Bhd to encompass corporate and debt restructuring advisory services and offering virtual learning options through MARC Learning Sdn Bhd. We have also formed a new subsidiary called MARC Data Sdn Bhd, which will provide credit reporting services as well as comprehensive business data and analytical tools.

Moving forward, MARC aims to leverage on our capabilities as a credit specialist to ensure the sustainability of our Group. We will continue to play a significant role in facilitating the sustainable and inclusive growth of the Malaysian debt capital markets

UN Global Compact Network Malaysia & Brunei

The IBR Asia Group

Raising ESG Consciousness in Malaysia to the Next Level

In an era where corporations and leaders are turning a corner in their approach to business, Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) has taken centre stage as the key to ensuring business sustainability and increasing shareholder value. In Malaysia, where ESG consciousness stands at varying levels, a new collaboration between the UN Global Compact Network Malaysia & Brunei (UNGCMYB) and The IBR Asia Group is set to change the playing field and allow both corporate and government organisations to demonstrate their achievements in corporate sustainability.

A Realistic Approach to Corporate Sustainability

UNGCMYB is the local network of the United Nations Global Compact (UNGC) – the world’s largest corporate sustainability initiative. Grounded in the 10 Principles of the UNGC and the Sustainable Development Goals, UNGCMYB aims to drive stakeholder action towards sustainable business practices. Chairperson, Ramesh Kana, draws the connection between sustainability and profitability and why they need not be mutually exclusive.

At the end of the day, in the corporate world nothing is sustainable unless it contributes to your bottom line. If I say to you that you have the opportunity to invest in two products – one is giving a six percent return per annum, while the other is giving you four percent. The latter option partakes in all the good things from an ESG perspective, whereas the former does not concern itself with any of it. Where are you going to put your money?

This is where the rubber hits the road. How does it directly contribute to my bottom line? It is human nature that everyone wants to do good things until it costs us money. So for this to really work, for businesses to take ESG issues seriously, it must correlate on giving us that six percent return and not that four.

Well, it comes back to taking a slightly longer-term perspective of how you do business. When you are doing things the right way (like not flushing toxic waste down the toilet if you are a company involved in the manufacturing of chemicals for example) and you are transparent in the way you do business, you gain the trust of investors, shareholders and other stakeholders.

Sure, companies are valued based on how much profits they make, that is one aspect. Another equally – and sometimes more – important aspect is the volatility of earnings. In investment parlance, volatility equals risk and risk decreases a company’s valuation. When you focus on ESG, it can help you reduce this volatility because whether it is the environment, social-impacting issues like paying workers fair salaries or things like bribery or corruption, all this will have an impact on your earnings.

The implications of not making ESG an integral part of your business strategy is – whilst not evident immediately – very significant. There can be serious reputational issues, compromising being able to attract the best people to work for you, impacting relationships with buyers, suppliers and other supply chain partners. The world is looking for a commitment to making supply chains sustainable – having an ESG focus helps achieve this ambition. That is why ESG is important. ESG is not just this buzzword. It’s not transient – it is here to stay.

A Purposeful Partnership

Increasingly, consumers are also showing awareness towards ESG-related issues and wanting to buy from companies that demonstrate the same level of consciousness.

Building evidence and communicating is such an important aspect of this whole ESG journey. Unfortunately, doing the right thing and spending money is not enough – you need to tell the world. This has to be communicated to stakeholders – investors, shareholders, customers, local communities, government agencies – because this where you up the ante.

The communication strategy is incredibly important to us at UNGCMYB as it also drives other stakeholders along the journey. That is why we are looking forward to our partnership with The IBR Asia Group. Through our deliberations and discussions, we have found a like-minded partner. And this what we are looking for – someone who can help us in this communication aspect. What we are looking for is to influence and impact change, and we believe that this collaboration will help us throughout this change process.

Delineating Sustainability within Marketing

The IBR Asia Group is a New Age Public Relations company with over two decades of experience in corporate and government branding and media. Founder and CEO, Datuk Beatrice Nirmala, reveals the value of strategically communicating ESG consciousness and its impact on shareholder value.

Companies are there to make money – it is as simple as that. We do not want to handcuff them into doing something at the expense of their profits. So is there a way we can intricately weave ESG into profitability? That is what businesses want to know.

I came across the sentence “sustainability across the sales funnel” in a book by Henrik Henriksson and Elaine Weidman Grunewald entitled Sustainability Leadership. This relates to the approach taken by the Swedish transport company, Scania to ensure that sustainability is incorporated in the sales process in order for them to effectively deliver transport solutions to its customers. I thought that it was excellent. So ESG is very much embedded in the company’s purpose and journey towards growth.

It is about taking a broader view of ESG. While some may look at it as a trend, I would argue that it is the way forward, especially in navigating global megatrends, intense competition and increasingly globalised supply chains. So instead of viewing it as something singular, we should approach as something interwoven in a company’s journey of making sales and profits.

Getting the Word Out

Not to mention, there is a global pool of investors that are very focused on companies who are making a difference by doing the right thing. According to Bain & Company, sustainability investments in Southeast Asia rose by 60 percent to US$3.2 billion in the first half of 2019. On a more global scale, Morningstar reveals that total investments in ESG assets breached the US$1 trillion mark in the second quarter of 2020. ESG also influences consumer choices which would impact private companies and SMEs too.

So it has become extremely important for organisations to strategically demonstrate ESG consciousness given its impact on reputation, shareholder value and overall company performance. Let’s say we have two companies – Company A does not care about ESG or sustainability but Company B does. What is the carrot at the end of the stick for Company B? Well, by effectively communicating its ESG consciousness, Company B gets the leverage and the advantage because it is doing something that competitors are not. Company B is raising the bar.

Having said that, we are very happy to work with UNGCMYB to bring this understanding of ESG consciousness to as many clients as possible. When we build a Public Relations campaign for our clients, we do benchmarking to create the right type of marketing, content and design strategies.

But through this partnership, we can take it one step further by bringing ESG into the equation right at the very beginning.

We hope that through this partnership, ESG can be demystified so to speak, and encourage more organisations in the country to participate in this state of consciousness and take the first step in their ESG journey.

Ramesh Kana, Chairperson of UN Global Compact Network Malaysia & Brunei and Datuk Beatrice Nirmala, CEO of The IBR Asia Group, at the signing ceremony of the Partnership Agreement.

ESG is gradually becoming a rule rather than an exception that is causing a shift in the way businesses are run and influencing investment and consumer decisions in the long-run. As such, UNGCMYB and The IBR Asia Group are combining their fields of expertise in ESG advisory and assessment and experience in media and branding respectively into several initiatives in the Public Relations sphere. And by doing so, offering companies a pathway towards an ESG-conscious future.