Monday, November 28, 2011

Think global or you lose out


They (Malaysian businessmen) don’t think global. They don’t want to even think Asean. For them, they are in a comfort zone and it is enough to do business in Malaysia.

NINE years ago, Datuk Ilyas Mohamed’s businessmen friends laughed when he asked them to invest in Indonesia.

“Malaysian economy was at its best until 10 years ago. We were at the peak. After that, it started to go down,” recalled the Cartrade Group executive chairman.

And Ilyas decided to enter the Indonesian market. His first deal was to buy Mandala Airlines.

The deal, however, fell through when a Singaporean company outbid his group. It put more money on the table.

But the setback did not discourage him.

“I am very fortunate as I have a business partner there, who is one of the richest men in Indonesia,” noted the 50-something businessman.

His silent partner is a low profile multi-billionaire (we’re not talking about rupiahs but in US dollars).

“He is by name my partner. But he is not interested in my business as it is too small for him. Half of Jakarta belongs to him,” Ilyas related.

(Who? Google: Artha Graha Group.)

Now, 20% of Ilyas’ business is in Malaysia and the rest overseas, mostly in Indonesia; coal mining in Kalimantan and property development in Surabaya and Jakarta.

And his friends, who laughed at him as they thought he would be conned in Indonesia, are now following his footsteps.

“Indonesia is THE market. They have 245 million people. Can you go wrong in a market with 245 million people? And the Indonesian Govern­ment welcomes Malaysian companies,” he explained.

“There are a lot of opportunities in Indonesia. They are not even developing. They are just about to develop. If you go in now it is the best time. You can’t piggy back when they are (already) up there.”

Ilyas, however, cautioned:

“Of course, the important thing is to find the right partner. Many people go there and find the wrong partner, they get conned and then they say Indonesians are ‘penipu’ (conmen).”

The Malaysian market is small as the country’s population is 28 million.

“You can do small business (in Malaysia). But if you want to think big, you have to go out (of Malaysia),” the businessman said.

How big is Indonesia?

“Out of the 245 million Indone­sians, about 10% are super rich and that’s the total population of Malaysia,” Ilyas said.

How rich is “rich”?

“Oh, they are very, very rich,” he said and gave a figure (in ringgit) which I thought was unbelievable.

The thing with Malaysians, according to Ilyas, was we think small.

“They don’t think global. If not global then think Asean.

“But, they don’t want to even think Asean,” he said.

“For them, they are in a comfort zone. Sudahlah (it is enough) to do business in Malaysia.”

Most Malaysian businessmen (and we are not talking about the bosses of CIMB etc) do not want to venture.

For example, Ilyas said, “Sri Lanka is a good market now. Their trade minister, chief justice and banker (with a bank equivalent to Maybank) came down to talk to our businessmen. But they were not interested.”

It is the opposite for Singapore entrepreneurs. With their rock solid Singapore dollar, they are rushing into Sri Lanka.

“They know that their local base is small and they have to do business outside of Singapore,” he said.

The Philippines’ economy is also booming.

“Over the past 30 years, Filipinos are fed up with politics. And they work and work, building the economy themselves. And if we are not careful, we might be sending maids to the Philippines soon,” Ilyas said.

It is politics as usual in Malaysia.

“Instead of coming up with ideas on how to create business opportunities, our politicians come up with all sort of (political) issues,” Ilyas contended.

“They are creating issues for cheap publicity. For example, you can take 10 Chinese, 10 Indians and 10 Malays and sit them down together and there will be no racial issue among them.

“But it is the politicians and not the rakyat that come up with all sort of racial issues.”

“How to be a global player when you are thinking of politics 24 hours a day?”

Ilyas flies in and out of Indonesia spending about 15 to 16 days a month in that country.

So I asked: “Why don’t you relax and do business in Malaysia?”

His eyes gleamed. “Of course as a businessman, you are an opportunist. When you see so much of opportunities (in Indonesia) you just can’t resist.”

Ilyas assures that the Indonesian market is not as hostile as its fans during an Indonesia vs Malaysia football match.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Consumed with local affairs

One Man's Meat

The Philippines looms as the next big Asean entity and Indonesia is the place to ‘park’ one’s money, but we would rather not know that the barbarians are at the gate.

THE barbarians are at the gate and yet Malaysians are more fixated with whether a mentri besar was caught for khalwat with a girl from Pasir Panjang.

Not true, says the MB. But tongues still wag.

Perhaps we should be more concerned with the fact that the Philippines will be the next big thing in Asean.

I remember reading a report saying that if we are not careful, in two decades or so we will be sending maids to Manila.

The thing about us is we are more consumed with domestic affairs than foreign happenings.

Yes, from my Twitter timeline, Malaysians are also interested in the fact that former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo was arrested on charges of fraud and Muammar Gaddafi’s son Saif al-Islam was captured.

But we are more intrigued with when Parliament will be dissolved, and whether Parti Kita president Datuk Zaid Ibrahim will contest in Petaling Jaya Utara or Petaling Jaya Selatan.

I, too, am guilty of paying too much attention to local politics and not enough to global issues.

Yes, I’m aware of the eurozone debt crisis. But don’t ask me to get into specifics.

However, I’ve become a specialist on Kedah Gerakan Youth chief Tan Keng Liang’s challenge to DAP publicity secretary Tony Pua: he will consume a mug of Kedai Rakyat 1Malaysia’s (KR1M) Chocolate Malt if the Petaling Jaya Utara MP donates RM1,000 to charity.

The challenge came after Pua claimed that KR1M’s 1Malaysia Growing Up Milk contained eight times the permitted amount of Vitamin A and was missing essential nutrients such as Omega 3, Vitamin B1, Vitamin D, Vitamin C and folic acid.

There was so much excitement in TwitterJaya (the moniker of the Malaysian twittersphere) over the issue, with some twitterers milking the issue with clever tweets such as “Pray for @TanKengLiang because he is going to drink 1Malaysia Choco Milk”.

Another big issue on TwitterJaya has spawned the mother of all puns and has also something to do with milk.

So syiok I was to absorb these comments like SpongeBob SquarePants, until I read a tweet by @Art_Harun (the lawyer) on Wednesday.

He tweeted in Malay: Malaysian politics – last month it was about molesting breast, this month it is about cows. When will we discuss the maximum impact of the eurozone on our economy?

Ouch. Time to come out from under my coconut shell.

So I decided to find out what the barbarians (Malaysia’s foreign rivals) were up to.

On Friday, I met a 20-something think-tank director at Coffee Bean in Bangsar Village to pick his brain.

The cerebral hotshot, who wants to keep a low profile at the moment, listed three challenges that Malaysia faces.

“Population wise, we are too small. We have a population of 28 million. Compare that with Indonesia’s 245 million, Thailand’s 66 million and the Philippines’ 103 million,” said the animated man, still wearing his maroon Friday prayer shirt.

“In terms of economies of scale, our enterprises will not grow so big because our market is small. We don’t have any option but to invest outside.”

Malaysian enterprises, he said, should think Asean to survive and grow.

“We should be on the forefront of ‘big’ Asean,” he explained.

He noted that Malaysian companies such as CIMB and Khazanah were investing in vibrant Indonesia, the country to “park” one’s money.

And through Twitter, he understands how important Indonesia is to the United States by reading the tweets of the American ambassador to Jakarta.

“Food security,” he said. “Many Malaysians do not realise that Malaysia imports almost everything – rice, fish and even chilli.

“Imagine chilli! I did not know that we imported chilli until I attended a briefing by Pemandu (Performance Management and Delivery Unit).

“We are also overly dependent on foreign workers. Free movement of people is important in a globalised world.

“But certain industries, such as palm oil and construction, should train Malaysians to work in these sectors.

“Suddenly they are finding it difficult to recruit Indonesian workers as that country’s economy is booming. Indonesians would rather work in Malaysian-owned palm oil plantations in their own country than in Malaysia.”

Note to myself: download the Economist iPad edition that has, as its cover story, “The magic of diasporas: Immigrant networks are a rare bright spark in the world economy”.

In the meantime, I wonder what will happen to Tan should he drink the 1Malaysia Chocolate Malt.

Monday, November 14, 2011

No bowing out for the seladang

One Man's Meat
By Philip Golingai

PRM, a left-wing party in the country, is looking for a resurgence in the coming general election

A DIE-HARD Parti Rakyat Malaysia (PRM) supporter trudged up a long flight of stairs to the party headquarters on the third floor of a shoplot in Petaling Jaya.

I could literally hear the 57-year-old man’s knee creaking as he spiritedly - one step at a time - advanced towards where PRM was celebrating its 56th birthday on Friday.

On the way up, he talked about the days in the 1960s when, as a boy, he put up PRM posters during the election campaign against the “kapal layar” (the sailboat logo of the Alliance, predecessor to Barisan Nasional).

“It was during the Vietnam War era when anti-Americanism was the rage and support for the party was at its height,” he recalled.

PRM won the parliamentary seats of Kuala Lumpur and Johor Baru in the 1959 general election.

At 11am sharp on 11.11.11, PRM president Rohana Ariffin and her comrades cut a cake with the party’s logo - the head of a seladang (the Malayan gaur), witnessed by about 50 people, including two party members who were ISA detainees.

After the party, I spoke to Rohana, a retired associate professor of Universiti Sains Malaysia.

A bit wary of attending a party with leftist leanings as it is the season to attack all things linked to Socialism, I asked the president to explain her party.

“The socialist party - as far as we know it in Malaysia - believes in the democratic process of being elected into power and not through armed revolution,” said the 60-something who was wearing a red bandana.

“If you ask what socialist ideology is, it believes that all production of the country should be for the consumption of the rakyat first and not so much for profit.

“You can make a certain amount of profit but the rakyat’s interest comes first, especially that of the working class.”

PRM is one of Malaysia’s oldest political parties. It was founded as Parti Rakyat on Nov 11, 1955 by Ahmad Boestamam, Dr Burhanuddin Al Helmy and Ishak Mohamad.

“The party was strong in the 1960s and 1970s. But since it was the only legitimate left-wing party in the country at that time, the Government came down hard on people with socialist ideologies,” said Rohana.

“When you look at the evolution of the party, most PRM leaders (such as Boestamam, Kassim Ahmad and Syed Husin Ali) have been detained in prison.”

In 2003, PRM was thought to have been dissolved when it merged with Parti Keadilan Nasional to form Parti Keadilan Rakyat.

“At that time, the party leadership was quite ‘tired’ because society would not accept us as they saw PRM as left-wing and there was a popular movement which was Keadilan, so they decided to merge.”

However, like the seladang, PRM stubbornly refused to become extinct.

“The only problem with the merger was that we should have had a last delegates’ meeting to dissolve the party in an honourable manner,” Rohana recalled.

But in the haste to merge, the leadership “forgot” to do so.

In 2005, die-hard supporters convened a national congress and “resurrected” the party as it was never de-registered.

During the interview with Rohana, PRM supporters would quietly slip RM10 or RM50 to the party president as they bid goodbye to her.

“This is our culture,” she explained. “We are a very poor party and we rely on financial support from our members. Usually what we do is pay with our own money for an event we organise and then our members will give donations.”

It is heart-warming for Rohana to see die-hard supporters climb the steps to attend the party’s event.

“For example, there was a 70-something member who came from Sungai Tembiling (in Pahang) by boat and bus and he told me, ‘Parti Rakyat is my party and I will never change’,” Rohana related.

“And even among the young the spirit is there. Our party is rejuvenated by the young who are interested in left-wing politics.”

The young, she said, were fed up with the infighting in Parliament between the Government and the Opposition.

“There is no compromise or middle ground in any issue that the two coalitions can’t see the trees for the forest.”

The party is seeking relevance in the next election.

It is targeting to contest in seats like Selayang, Balik Pulau and Petaling Jaya Selatan.

The seladang, which can’t be put to pasture, is hoping left-wing politics will make a resurgence.

Friday, November 11, 2011

YB a mind reader?

One Man's Meat

If you are not the Prime Minister or on whispering terms with him, don’t pretend you know when the election will be called.

EVEN at the eleventh hour, some Malay­sians were still speculating whether something big – other than the once-in-a-lifetime wedding date – would happen on 11.11.11.

Yesterday, my smartphone was bombarded with SMSes asking whether Parliament would be dissolved today.

The spread of such speculation can be blamed on politicians who think they can read the Prime Minister’s mind.

Since speculating on the election date has fevered Malaysians, let me list 11 things politicians – to borrow a DAP battle cry in the Sarawak polls – should ubah (change) about themselves.

1) If you are not the Prime Minister or on whispering terms with him, don’t pretend you know when the election will be called.

Yes, it is a powerful feeling to have people lean closer to listen to your theory that it is 11.11.11 because 11 is the PM’s favourite number. But such coffeeshop talk is not good for those planning a life in November.

2) Don’t be a jack-in-a-box politician.

Just like a certain party president who appeared out of nowhere and was PhotoShopped cycling next to the Prime Minister, there are political unknowns who suddenly pop out like a jack-in-a-box.

On the day Parliament is dissolved, they declare themselves a candidate.

If you want to be a candidate, at least let your presence be felt. Perhaps tweet (ie on the Auditor-General’s Report) or lead a fiery protest against something (ie Elton John’s concert).

3) Don’t be a foul-mouthed politician.

Just because you wear a T-shirt with a Superman logo, it does not mean you have superpowers to abuse your rivals with expletives that will make even Kim Kardashian blush. Win over your voters with a cause.

4) Don’t pull a Carlos Tevez.

Make sure that you don’t miscalculate and book your holiday on the day Parliament is dissolved. If not, you would end up holidaying in China while your comrades are campaigning.

They would accuse you of behaving like the Manchester City striker who was charged for refusing to play when told to do so by his coach.

Perhaps you should listen to more coffee shop talk on when Parliament will be dissolved.

5) Don’t be a yo-yo politician.

Meaning: don’t be consistently inconsistent. Don’t say “yes” to hudud today and “no” tomorrow. Chameleons are great for the Animal Planet series but not for Parliament.

6) Stop being a drain-orientated politician.

If you are a politician of a certain status (ie an exco member), don’t proudly tweet that you are solving your constituents’ drainage problem.

Your state has bigger problems than a blocked drain. Leave that to your municipal councillors.

7) Be a frog prince.

Don’t be a political frog who would jump party the moment you experience a political awakening while sleeping in Parliament.

Surprise your voters so that when they “kiss” ugly you, you turn out to be a frog prince as honourable as Nelson Mandela.

8) If you are not Nelson Mandela, don’t compare yourself to Nelson Mandela.

There are politicians from both sides of the political spectrum who have shamelessly compared themselves to Mahatma Gandhi, Dalai Lama and Nelson Mandela.

Funny thing is that some of them are more Silvio Berlusconi than Mandela.

9) Quit if you are a has-been politician.

There’s nothing more dangerous than a politician who is looking at the rear-view mirror of his political career.

A has-been politician might join a “trustworthy” non-governmental organisation and start accusing his party of things (ie corrupt practices) he was blind to when he was in power.

10) Don’t promise to build a bridge even when there’s no river.

That’s all. Oops, only 10 whereas I promised 11. Well, like a politician, I lied.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Driving home a message

One Man's Meat

While on holiday in the Gold Coast of Australia, former Miss Malaysia finalist Leng Yein fell in love with a pink-coloured Hummer H3 limousine. She has acquired one for herself and turned it into an expression of girl power.

WHAT happens when a female model buys a masculine sport utility truck – a pink Hummer H3 – the only such vehicle in Malaysia?

Last month, Leng Yein, a former Miss Malaysia finalist famous for publicly admitting she had gone under the knife, bought a greyish blue Hummer.

And to celebrate Girl Power, the 26-year-old model turned the “manly” vehicle into a “girl’s car”.

It was – to borrow a cliche, love at first sight, when Leng Yein saw a pink-coloured Hummer H3 limousine in the Gold Coast in June.

“I went yeah! I can turn this manly vehicle into a girl’s car because no man will want to drive a pink car,” she recalled.

“The Hummer already stands out because of its bulk, and I told myself; ‘why don’t I turn it into a symbol of girl power to show that women can drive any car guys drive’.”

During her Australian holiday Leng Yein rented a white-coloured Hummer H3 as there were no pink-coloured ones available for rent.

She drove it for more than a week and liked its “steadiness. I felt like the Queen of the road.”

But when the model returned to Malaysia, she did not rush into buying a vehicle associated with Arnold Schwarzenegger, who was among the first to own a Hummer.

“I knew General Motors in the US had stopped its production and I was worried that if the Hummer breaks down, it would be hard to get it running again,” she said.

Leng Yein dilly-dallied until Oct 9 when she flipped through a local car magazine and saw in the classifieds a brand-new full specs H3x, the only one in Malaysia, for sale.

She bought it and dressed up her spanking new Hummer H3 by giving it a “pink frock” with lots of chrome (rims, sidestep, bumper and tyre cover).

“I chose chrome because it looks like a mirror and girls love mirrors. And pink and mirrors go together. It is definitely girlish,” she added.

“But surely,” I asked, “you did not just buy the Hummer to make it girlish?”

She said: “No I got it because it is strong, outstanding, solid, fierce, steady, powerful, tough and rare.”

The model was reading a laundry list of reasons why she bought the Hummer which she listed on her Facebook page that has about 100,000 friends.

“It is about my identity. When people see a Hummer they go ‘wow!’ and want to see who is driving it. And it is sexy to see a girl driving one,” she said.

Leng Yein wouldn’t want to be caught dead driving her vehicle in its original greyish blue colour.

“If I drove a Hummer in any colour other than pink, it would be a guy’s car. And people would think that I was driving my father’s car,” she explained.

Driving the Hummer makes the model feel like she owns the road.

Even when she’s in a traffic jam in Kuala Lumpur, she does not feel like she’s stuck in traffic.

“Motorists will give way to my Hummer,” she said with a mischievous smile.

“Or maybe they give way because they would like to see who is the driver of the rare pink-coloured Hummer.”

Leng Yein also gets updates on her Facebook page from friends who spot her dream car.

“They will post ‘Jie (Leng Yein’s nickname) I saw your car parked in KL or I saw your car at a toll booth in Penang’,” she said.

Leng Yein’s Facebook address is prominently displayed on both sides of her Hummer’s exterior.

“I knew that many sponsors will be interested to contact the owner of this loud pink vehicle. So I put my Facebook address there so that sponsors will know who to contact,” she explained.

The pretty pink vehicle also displays her sponsors’ logos.

“There are many companies that want to advertise on my car. For example, there are six or seven car tinting companies that want to be my sponsor,” she revealed.

The model, who is currently hosting SEMA 2011 (the largest auto show in the world) in Las Vegas, has also received several calls inviting her to showcase her Hummer in events such as the Auto Fair.

Looks like the pink Hummer is getting to be as famous as Leng Yein.