Newsmakers 2020: Also making the headlines

This article first appeared in The Edge Malaysia Weekly, on December 28, 2020 - January 10, 2021.
Newsmakers 2020: Also making the headlines
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OTHER corporate personalities made the news too - some for achieving notable milestones while others for courting controversy.

 

Dr Li Chunrong

CEO

Proton Holdings Bhd

“My job is not to look at the past, but I will work day and night to make sure Proton is strongly successful,” Dr Li Chunrong said at a press conference in September 2017, following his appointment as the CEO of Proton.

Some who are acquainted with him often remark that Li is a typical corporate leader from China — a hardworking, no-nonsense kind of guy.

The three-decade auto veteran is the first non-Malaysian to lead Proton’s production arm, Perusahaan Otomobil Nasional Sdn Bhd, since its establishment. Given his impressive résumé, expectations were high when he replaced Datuk Ahmad Fuaad Kenali as the man behind the wheel of Proton in October 2017.

Li was the deputy general manager at Dongfeng Honda Engine Co Ltd before joining the senior management of Chinese automotive giant Geely and, subsequently, overseeing Proton’s operations.

With over 30 years’ experience in the automotive industry, the 56-year-old Chinese national has also had high-level stints with other major international marques, including Honda and Kia.

Before Geely acquired a 49.9% stake in Proton in 2017, billions in taxpayer money had been pumped into the loss-making national carmaker.

The fortunes of Proton, previously controlled by sovereign wealth fund Khazanah Nasional Bhd, failed to improve even after it was taken over by local conglomerate DRB-Hicom Bhd in 2012.

It was reported in 2016 that Proton had received RM13.9 billion in government assistance since it was set up in 1983.

But when Li took over, his aim was clear — to make Proton the No 1 domestic car brand once again, and to become a leading Asean brand.

In an exclusive with The Edge in July this year, he said he had to change the mindset of Proton employees: “Every cent of our salary has to come from car sales, not shareholders’ money.”

To him, even a global crisis like the Covid-19 pandemic is not an excuse for Proton to slow down this year.

With such steely determination, it is no wonder that three years after Geely bought into Proton, the automaker has been recovering and is now returning to profit after years of losses.

And impressively, under Li’s leadership, Proton has been revived without financial assistance from the government. — By Liew Jia Teng

 

Tan Sri Jamaludin Ibrahim

President and group CEO

Axiata Group Bhd

Tan Sri Jamaludin Ibrahim was still known as “the face of Maxis” some 13 years ago in March 2008 when he was named as head of the enlarged TM International Bhd, the new entity that houses Celcom, the country’s oldest mobile service provider, as well as the international operations demerged from Telekom Malaysia Bhd. After all, he had spent a decade at the helm of billionaire Ananda Krishnan’s leading mobile operator, Maxis Communications Bhd, before he was tapped to shape Axiata Group Bhd into a regional telecommunications group.

To borrow the words of Datuk Mohd Izzaddin Idris, who succeeds Jamaludin as CEO of Axiata, on Jan 1, 2021, Jamaludin’s achievements in the industry are “second to none”. Before his 23 years in the telecoms industry, he had spent 16 years in the ICT industry. It is little wonder that Jamaludin was tapped to be a committee member of the Economic Action Council (EAC) in March, with the country looking to speed up digitisation.

His numerous accolades include the The Edge Billion Ringgit Club Value Creator: Outstanding CEO of Malaysia Award in 2014 for having shown exemplary leadership and creating value for various stakeholders. Jamaludin, who is especially proud of the Axiata Young Talent Programme to train future CEOs, was also conferred the GSM Association (GSMA) Chairman’s Award in 2015 for outstanding personal contribution to the growth and development of mobile communications around the world.

He had described the RM4.9 billion that Axiata lost in India as “the saddest part of [his] entire career”, and probably counts the audacious Axiata-Telenor Asia mega merger that fell through as among the disappointments. The 61-year-old remains convinced, though, that an industry consolidation is overdue, and his successor agrees. When asked if this was goodbye to Corporate Malaysia and the telecoms sector, Jamaludin replied, “Yes, this is goodbye … but you never know, [one should] never say never again”. — By Cindy Yeap

 

Gan Boon Aun

Founder and former CEO

Transmile Group Bhd

In the early 2000s, chartered freight service company Transmile Group Bhd was flying high, and so was its founder and former CEO Gan Boon Aun.

Investors adored the blue-chip company, which boasted tycoon Robert Kuok and Pos Malaysia Bhd as its bigger shareholders.

However, that all came crashing down in April 2007, when it was revealed that Transmile’s stellar financial performance was due to massive accounting irregularities, with Gan at the centre of it.

According to the Securities Commission Malaysia (SC), Gan overstated Transmile’s revenue by creating fictitious sale transactions with 20 purported customers. Auditors had concluded that Transmile’s 2005 and 2006 financial statements were grossly overstated. For instance, it registered a RM126.3 million net loss (not a RM157.5 million net profit) in 2006, and a RM369.6 million net loss (not an RM84.4 million profit) in 2005.

After a tumultuous chain of events, Transmile was categorised as a Practice Note 17 company in 2010, and eventually suspended and delisted from Bursa Malaysia in 2011.

What followed was a court case that began in 2010 but dragged on for a decade, before a decision was finally reached on Aug 27 this year when the Sessions Court found Gan guilty of furnishing misleading financial statements to Bursa Malaysia in 2007.

Sessions Court Judge Hasbullah Adam fined 59-year-old Gan RM2.5 million (in default 18 months’ imprisonment) and sentenced him to a day in jail.

Even though the fine exceeded the sentencing trend of RM2 million for similar offences, the light custodial sentence came as a shock to many, who had anticipated it would be closer to the 18-to-24-month range, and not a mere 24 hours.

In an immediate statement after the verdict was announced, the SC said it would be recommending to the public prosecutor to appeal the sentence.

Gan is also reported to be appealing against his conviction by the Sessions Court. — By Supriya Surendran

Datuk Seri Dr Wee Ka Siong

Transport Minister

Datuk Seri Dr Wee Ka Siong, who had served as minister in the prime minister’s department and deputy education minister under the previous Barisan Nasional administration, took over the portfolio of the Transport Ministry in March, this time, as part of the Perikatan Nasional coalition led by Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin.

Since then, he has courted controversy for some of his decisions. This includes being sued by the contractor of the Klang Valley Double Tracking Phase 2 (KVDT2) rehabilitation project, Dhaya Maju LTAT Sdn Bhd, for alleged breach of contract after Wee terminated the company’s contract to undertake the project in September. Dhaya Maju LTAT is an 80:20 joint venture between private firm Dhaya Maju Infrastructure (Asia) Sdn Bhd and Lembaga Tabung Angkatan Tentera.

Wee subsequently reopened the tender for the KVDT2 project after a study found that the cost of the project would be a lot less than what Dhaya Maju LTAT would charge.

Dhaya Maju LTAT, which was first awarded the contract under the Barisan Nasional administration in April 2018, had its contract terminated after Pakatan Harapan came to power. Subsequently, the PH administration reappointed the company to continue with the project at a lower contract sum and a reduced scope.

With this issue yet to be settled, Wee recently found himself having to explain to tech giants Google, Facebook and Microsoft, and the Malaysia Internet Exchange, his decision to revoke the cabotage exemption for foreign-flagged vessels to carry out undersea communications cable repair works in Malaysian waters. He said the move was taken to reduce the outflow of foreign exchange in the form of freight or charter party payment, and to minimise the country’s dependence on foreign vessels.

Since then, Science, Technology and Innovation Minister Khairy Jamaluddin Abu Bakar has come out to say that the matter is still being discussed at the Cabinet level. — By Kang Siew Li

Low Taek Jho or Jho Low

Fugitive financier

Fugitive financier Low Taek Jho, the so-called “puppet master” behind the 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) scandal, was still nowhere in sight in 2020.

His voice, however, was heard in a two-part special investigation documentary by Al Jazeera, Jho Low: Hunt for a Fugitive, which was released on Nov 16. It was broadcast about a fortnight after Jho Low’s 39th birthday (Nov 4) and nearly one month after Goldman Sachs Group Inc agreed on Oct 22 to a US$2.9 billion global settlement with regulators around the world to end a probe into its “central role” in the 1MDB scandal.

Al Jazeera did not reveal the source of the recordings of a series of phone conversations of Jho Low’s attempt to strike a deal with the former Pakatan Harapan (PH) government, led by Tun Mahathir Mohamad, to avoid being jailed.

“I don’t believe there’s any wrongdoing,” Low had said, describing the billions from 1MDB — used to buy luxury real estate, a mega yacht and a private jet, among other things — as mere borrowings or “loans, directly or indirectly”. He also claimed that “north of half-a-billion dollars” of 1MDB money was spent on jewellery for Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor, wife of former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak.

“I think the time has come ... we want to assist in repatriating these assets back in return for cooperating and moving on with life without, you know, being prosecuted,” Low was recorded as saying, adding that he has “no authority to make any decision”. “It was a pretty known fact that … all the approvals have to be approved by the minister of finance.”

In response, Najib’s legal counsel, which contends that Low was the master manipulator that went about his charade without the knowledge of the former PM and minister of finance, wants to see if those statements would survive cross-examination. Najib is appealing his conviction of seven charges of corruption relating to 1MDB’s subsidiary, SRC International.

At the time of writing, Low’s official website, jho-low.com, was being “upgraded and updated”. Moving into 2021, the world continues to watch whether the ‘Billion Dollar Whale’ will be reeled in and put to the stand in a court of law. — By Cindy Yeap

Suhaimi Kamaralzaman

CEO

Pengurusan Air Selangor Sdn Bhd

It is not easy leading a company that has drawn the ire of 1.2 million people, but that’s the challenge Air Selangor CEO Suhaimi Kamaralzaman had to face in 2020.

Suhaimi has been CEO of Air Selangor since 2015. The company extracts, treats and distributes water to about 8.4 million consumers in Selangor and the Federal Territories of Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya.

One would think that his greatest leadership test would have been overseeing the last leg of the 10-year restructuring of the state’s water service industry that dragged on from 2008 before finally concluding in 2019. However, it is the water woes — namely three major unscheduled water supply disruptions in the Klang Valley that inconvenienced thousands of households and businesses — that were undoubtedly Suhaimi’s biggest leadership crisis to date.

In April, while many were still working from home due to the Movement Control Order, 1.2 million consumers in Kuala Lumpur, Petaling, Klang, Shah Alam, Kuala Selangor, Hulu Selangor, Gombak and Kuala Langat were left with dry taps, following an odour pollution incident which led to four Sungai Selangor water treatment plants being shut down. Water supply was gradually restored to normal the following morning.

Then in September came the big kahuna of all water cuts, when 1,292 areas in the Klang Valley, Petaling, Klang, Shah Alam, Kuala Selangor, Hulu Selangor, Gombak and Kuala Langat were again left without water — this time for a period of four days following an odour pollution incident at Sungai Selangor caused by a factory in Rawang.

In October, the same 1,292 areas were once again affected by an unscheduled water cut because of another odour pollution incident. This led to the shutdown of Phases 1, 2 and 3 of Sungai Selangor’s water treatment plants (LRA or loji rawatan air in Malay) and the Rantau Panjang LRA.

Though Air Selangor was not responsible for the odour pollution, that did not prevent frustrated netizens from hurling insults at Suhaimi and the company. Parti Sosialis Malaysia Selangor called on Suhaimi and Selangor Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Amirudin Shari to resign over their failure to solve the water woes.

Next year will be an acid test for Suhaimi’s leadership, and how he plans to restore the reputation of Air Selangor, the custodian of the state’s water assets, and regain the confidence of its 8.4 million consumers will be closely watched by all parties. — By Supriya Surendran

 

Datuk Seri Stanley Thai Kim Sim

Former managing director

Supermax Corp Bhd

While 2020 was a bumper year for glove makers, for Datuk Seri Stanley Thai Kim Sim, the year marked another significant milestone. Supermax Corp Bhd, which he and his wife, Datin Seri Cheryl Tan Bee Geok, founded and in which they have 38.2% shareholding, was added to the FTSE Bursa Malaysia KLCI after its value ballooned, making Thai a billionaire.

Year to date, Supermax shares have surged a breathtaking 877%, to close at RM6.79 on Dec 15.

An amazing RM16 billion has been added to its market capitalisation, which has now hit some RM17.86 billion.

Supermax posted a record quarterly net profit of RM789.52 million in its first financial quarter ended Sept 30, 2020, up almost 32 times from RM24.75 million a year ago, thanks to booming demand for rubber gloves amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

Following its bumper earnings, the group is reported to be eyeing a dual listing on the Singapore Exchange to expand and diversify its shareholder base.

Thai was the managing director of Supermax from June 18, 2000, to Nov 24, 2017, when he was forced to vacate his position after he was convicted of insider trading involving shares of APL Industries Bhd (APLI), another Bursa Malaysia listed company of which he was CEO in 2007.

Thai was found guilty of communicating non-public information between Oct 26 and 29, 2007, to former remisier Tiong Kiong Choon.

He was sentenced to a five-year jail term and fined RM5 million for insider trading offences, while Tiong also received a five-year jail sentence, and a RM10 million fine.

However, on Sept 29, 2020 the High Court reversed the Sessions Court’s conviction of Thai and Tiong.

Following their acquittal, the Securities Commission Malaysia (SC) filed an appeal to the Court of Appeal, which would mark the final appeal given that the case originated in the Sessions Court. — By Supriya Surendran

 

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