Thursday, March 22, 2012

Getting the right people

Yesterday, I was part of a meeting to pitch an investment to one of Malaysia's large public institutional funds. The top honcho for the fund is a consummate professional, which explains why the fund has widely and consistently regarded as one of Malaysia's finest examples of a well-managed fund. 

The subject matter was a mere drop in the ocean in the context of the total fund size that this institutional fund had in its portfolio. Yet, the man was familiar with the features of the proposal. The dimension of his office was breathtakingly modest. The decor was equally modest and slightly more worn than I had imagined it would be. 

Yet,this man headed a humongous fund. This is what trust or "amanah" means. 

Malaysia is lucky to have men like him. I wish there were more men like him. 

If men like him had been put in charge of government-funded projects and many GLCs, there will be hardly any ripple of disquiet or discontent from any quarter in Malaysia. 

In fact, the publicly-listed companies within this fund's stable has been widely regarded as "blue chip" in the investment community - steady price and good earnings year-on-year. 

Malaysia needs more good men like him. Malaysia needs less sycophantic executive-types whose eye is NEVER on the project paper assumptions but ALWAYS on the facial expression of the political patron. 

My basic point is this - there are many, many good and capable people who are highly qualified, who possess the correct skill sets for the various challenging tasks facing Malaysian statutory bodies and GLCs. 

The reason for many good men and women being overlooked or bypassed is that they are too busy worrying about getting the projects, the assumptions, the numbers, the team and the coordination done right that they do not put enough time into "sucking up" or "ampu". 

The political patrons often read the wrong signals. The good executives are overlooked because their brows are furrowed, they are less charming, slow to say the platitudes, they drum their fingers and fidget too much (because they want to get away from the small talk and get back to their desk to meet critical deadlines). These are not the attributes that appeal to the political patron. 

What the political patron gets suckered into is the absolute 24/7 availability of the poseur who looks every inch like the Wall Street or City of London go-getter. It's a facade that the political patron cannot see past. 

The poseur wins the day almost every time because he or she invests so much time with "office politics" and spends hardly any time poring over reports and dealing with project issues. Political patrons are high maintenance. 

This is the conundrum that we face in Malaysia. It probably happens elsewhere too. 

But, I don't care about elsewhere. I care about Malaysia. 

That is why I am happy to have met with one of the best chief executives of a Malaysian public institutional fund yesterday. Malaysia needs more men like him.