Wednesday, March 31, 2010

NEM and the Sime Lecture: The best and the brightest

When I read the passage in the NEAC's New Economic Model for Malaysia Part I, "We are not developing talent and what we have is leaving", I was immediately reminded of the attention-grabbing title to David Halberstam's book (1972). The book is about aspects of the Kennedy Administration's foreign policies and how it evolved into the U.S. quagmire in Vietnam. So, forget about the book which has no relevance to the NEM. I just thought the title was appropriate.

The title is also apposite for an emphatic point made by Dr Ram Charan at the Sime Lecture Series last night.

Dr Charan, being a renown Harvard Business School alumnus and, someone who has worked behind the scenes with top executives at some of the world's most successful companies, including GE, Verizon, Novartis, Dupont, Thomson Corporation, Honeywell, KLM and, Bank of America, has limitless pearls of wisdom to impart.

The point he made, that is apposite here, is his observation of the South Korean white goods behemoth, LG. In the typical Harvard case-study method, Dr Charan observed that when LG's leaders decided on a course of global domination and competitiveness, they cast their net in search of the best and the brightest managerial and marketing talent far, far beyond the shores of the Korean Peninsular. It was a global talent hunt.

LG was mindful that to secure such world-class talent it needed to be ready to pay top salaries and remuneration packages. And so, it came to pass that LG was able to ratchet up its white goods business to a global consumer base and, in the process, committed large resources into global brand-building.

The same must surely be applied towards meeting the aspirations and strategic goals expressed in the NEM. For, how can Malaysia evolve into a higher-income economy without shedding the proverbial tempurung of looking inward at indigent local management and technological leaders when there may be better leaders elsewhere? We need to open our minds and, very likely, open our wallets, to attract the best and the brightest to bring the NEM to fruition. In the process, we have to understand that only when we get the best, can we learn from the best. It is, in this sense, a prudent and an astute human capital and knowledge capital investment decision.

I must thank the wonderful people at Sime Darby for having bestowed upon me the privilege of attending Dr Charan's insightful lecture.

On the matter of the NEM, specifically the issue of brain drain and possible brain gain strategies, some serious thought has to be given to the fostering of a more positive approach to the granting of Permanent Residency to foreign talents.

And, even more serious measures must be taken to heed the NEAC's observation that "Malaysia must revert to sustained and systematic programmes to give Malaysian students the high level of English proficiency required to compete in the global market."

Before I sign off, I feel compelled to make this observation.

During the Q&A with Dr Charan, a hand was raised by a man dressed inn a Batik shirt at one of the VIP tables. He was seated next to Simes' Chief Executive, Datuk Seri Zubir. It was Datuk Panglima Andrew Sheng.

Andrew Sheng is a member of the NEAC that has produced the NEM Part I.

His question to Dr Charan was quite telling about the challenges that Malaysia will face in the coming months and years in the context of our collective economic well-being and, the fulfillment of the aspirational strategic goals as set out in the NEM Part I.

He asked Dr Charan to elucidate on how to transform strategic goals into effective implementation.

I believe Andrew Sheng's question will be occupying the consciousness of all non-indolent Malaysians in the coming months and years.

As I said, in reply to a dinner companion who asked about the NEM, "The devil is in the details".


walla said...

As an extension, quality assurance also sets premium for taller prices and thus higher incomes.

To get to that, quality assurance processes are certified externally. Such certification bodies mandate certain specific processes to be followed. Such processes are routinely tracked by formal records in forms.

My suggestion is to cut the process latency period by integrating quality assurance into Malaysian enterprises on their formation day - those requirements to be embedded right at the beginning when a company is about to be formed, and this exercise be encouraged wherever new formations are about to be embarked.

In other words, take what certification measures are needed to be done and embed them into the formation and operating manuals of new companies, whichever the industry or sector. Why not even for new agencies in the public sector as well?

Then the application for external quality certification can be made as early as one year after start-up.

A lot more can be commented but i remember it's no long April 1st so i have to leave some nice tidbits:

Ram Charan said:

'Every business must earn a return greater than the cost of using other peoples money.'

and if walla may be so bold as to add below that:

'Every comment must give a return greater than the suffering endured by other readers from reading windy posts.'

Sometimes one wonders if it is that the devil is in the details, or if it is really that the details are bedeviling.


walla said...

It's not just in relation to the NEM's emphasis on the importance of talent that Charan's illumination on the global war for talent is a germane point to note.

The NEM also focused on the matter of transformation and Charan elsewhere had contended that the leaders of transformation must confront the reality of a shifting environment.

He suggested there are four integral components which need to be addressed by such change leaders - which repositioning direction to take, what business activities to transform, what shift in people and leadership itself are needed, and what organizational processes to retool.

Perhaps as the debate on the NEM evolves in the coming weeks, insights such as these will gain more traction.

Moving forward, one understands that the decks of Sime Darby are bejeweled by those who have trained out from firms like McKinsey and Accenture. More than just specialists in strategy formulation, situational analysis and systems building, their alloys are renowned for having been molded by systematic training programs which combine both rigorous methodologies and client orientation.

Which leaves one to ask if the NEM in addressing the need for talent would not have also considered that what this economy needs is a comprehensive national training framework that embeds the brightest of the best training modules in the world.

Just take a simple example. An ala carte restaurant can run as efficiently as the best Mcdonald's outlet if its staff can be trained in a similar manner.

So what for food, one can apply to everything else - including product design, manufacturing, services, marketing, repairs and maintenance - which adds to raising income levels.

Seen in this perspective, the first candidates which could benefit from more rigorous common-element training modules that deliver immediate impact would be the thousands of SMEs.

The impact may even change the set opinion about them - that they are but feeders to the bigger organizations - when in fact they are also big organizations themselves, just yet to grow.

Couple the national training framework with the appropriate marketing messages, and the NEM will be doing what the country should have done long ago - making sure existing talent is maximized through really serious and well-groomed training modules - thereby magnifying one key factor for investment promotion.