The many new faces at Syed Mokhtar's empire


  • Che Khalib was CEO at KUB Malaysia and Tenaga Nasional, and a member of the board and executive committee at Khazanah Nasional

  • Shamsul is a forceful personality who is known internationally in oil and gas circles

  • Azhar stepped down as MRT Corp CEO after three foreign workers were killed in an accident at an MRT construction site
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This article first appeared in Corporate, The Edge Malaysia Weekly, on May 30 - June 5, 2016.

OVER the past three to four years, there have been many changes at the helm of the companies controlled by billionaire businessman Tan Sri Syed Mokhtar Albukhary. 

The changes have taken place at all his businesses, including plantations, property, power generation, ports, automotive, telecoms and postal services. Many were done  without much fanfare.

“The last I counted, there were at least 10 significant changes at the top levels of his (Syed Mokhtar’s) group. His preference seems to be for younger, professional managers these days,” says a market watcher.

And this is still going on, judging by some of the more recent appointments.

At Syed Mokhtar’s flagship MMC Corp Bhd, a major change took place in July 2013, when Datuk Seri Che Khalib Mohamad Noh, 51, took over the reins of the diversified company from Datuk Hasni Harun. 

Che Khalib, an accountant, started his working life with Ernst & Young in 1989, before moving on to Bumiputra Merchant Bankers Bhd. In the late 1990s, he played a key role in many of the companies in the Renong group. He was on the board of United Engineers (M) Bhd, after which he joined Ranhill Utilities Sdn Bhd as CEO.

He was also CEO at KUB Malaysia Bhd and state-controlled utility giant Tenaga Nasional Bhd, and a member of the board and executive committee at Khazanah Nasional Bhd.

Che Khalib first joined Syed Mokhtar’s empire in July 2012, when he was appointed chief operating officer of finance, strategy and planning at DRB-Hicom Bhd.

Another appointment at MMC, which surprised many, was that of Tan Sri Shamsul Azhar Abbas, former president and CEO of national oil corporation Petroliam Nasional Bhd (Petronas). Shamsul, who left Petronas in February last year after almost 40 years of service, was appointed independent non-executive chairman of MMC in mid-July last year.

Straight-talking Shamsul, 63, is a forceful personality who is known internationally in oil and gas circles.

More recently, on May 1, Datuk Azhar Abdul Hamid took over the helm of power generation outfit Malakoff Corp Bhd as managing director. 

A former CEO of Mass Rapid Transit Corp Sdn Bhd (MRT Corp) and Sime Darby Plantations Bhd, Azhar is an accountant who might have to wear two hats. Apart from Malakoff, he is chairman of  Tradewinds Corp Bhd, after relinquishing his position as managing director at the plantation and development company.

Azhar made a name for himself when he stepped down as MRT Corp CEO a few hours after three foreign workers were killed in an accident at an MRT construction site. 

He subsequently joined Tradewinds Corp as managing director in April last year.

Interestingly, Azhar was once chief executive of Pernas International Holdings Bhd, which was taken over by Syed Mokhtar in 2002 and restructured into Tradewinds Corp today.

Another new entrant at Syed Mokhtar’s empire is Datuk Seri Syed Faisal Albar Syed A R Albar, who took over as CEO of DRB-Hicom in early January from Tan Sri Mohd Khamil Jamil. Syed Faisal was Pos Malaysia CEO when DRB-Hicom took over in July 2011.

The affable Syed Faisal is an accountant with extensive corporate experience in various industries. Some of the larger companies he has helmed include Malakoff, Gas Malaysia Bhd, Konsortium Logistik Bhd and Pos Malaysia Bhd.

Another appointment at DRB Hicom that stirred interest was that of Datuk Abdul Rahman Ahmad, a former CEO of government-linked private equity firm Ekuiti Nasional Bhd. 

Abdul Rahman, who recently became an independent non-executive director at DRB-Hicom, was previously managing director at Media Prima Bhd and before that, CEO at Malaysian Resources Corp Bhd (MRCB), which is controlled by the Employees Provident Fund.

He had important stints at Pengurusan Danaharta Nasional Bhd, the national asset management company, and SSR Associates Sdn Bhd, a boutique corporate finance consulting firm, and was a director of M+S Pte Ltd, a joint-venture property company set up by Khazanah and Temasek Holdings (Pte) Ltd.

Among the first few of the new breed at Syed Mokhtar’s companies is former MRCB  CEO Datuk Mohamed Razeek Md Hussain, who joined DRB-Hicom as chief operating officer in September 2012. He was formerly senior vice-president at Dubai-based Damac Properties Co, executive director at Land & General Bhd and project director at Eastern & Oriental Bhd, among other stints.

Another appointment that has stirred interest was that of  Tradewinds (M) Bhd managing director Datuk Mohammad Zainal Shaari, who was a former chief operating officer of Khazanah and director of Tenaga. He had moved to Khazanah in October 2004, after leaving advisory outfit BinaFikir Sdn Bhd.

The appointment of Datuk Ahmad Fuaad Kenali as CEO of Proton Holdings Bhd in March attests to the depth of Syed Mokhtar’s pool of talent. Ahmad Fuaad was chief financial officer at Astro Malaysia Holdings Bhd until Aug 14, 2013, and before that, executive director of audit and business advisory services at Ernst & Young. From 2001 to 2007, he was executive director of finance at Petaling Garden Sdn Bhd. 

Padiberas Nasional Bhd also saw a new CEO in Abdul Karim Md Lazim, who was formerly the head of automotive financial services, deputy head of retail financial services at CIMB Bank Bhd and CEO of Touch ‘n Go Sdn Bhd.

The CEO of telecommunications company Altel Holdings Sdn Bhd, Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Yaacob, was another key appointment within this period of three to four years. He brings with him his experience as former senior vice-president at Khazanah and CEO of Jaring Communications Sdn Bhd.