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Sunday, 24 August 2014

Challenge for CEO hopefuls

Feedback time: Participants listening to what members of the judging panel had to say after their presentation.

Feedback time: Participants listening to what members of the judging panel had to say after their presentation.

Undergrads who aspire to become corporate heads were put to the test, during a two-week summer camp.

GREAT LEADERS are made, not born.

While there is often debate on the verity of the statement with some claiming the opposite is true, one corporation firmly believes in the potential of developing leadership talent.

In 2011, Axiata Group Berhad pledged to invest RM100mil over a 10-year period to develop talent and advance the potential of young Malaysians through leadership development programmes aimed at secondary, pre-university and university students.

Last year, the telecommunications group, through its corporate responsibility arm — Axiata Foundation — stepped its efforts up a notch and launched its University Leadership Develop-ment Programme, a carefully-structured two-week “summer camp” designed to prepare undergraduates who aspire to become chief executive officers (CEOs) in the real world.

Though only in its second year, the recent summer camp, held from Aug 8 to 22 at PNB Ilham Resort Port Dickson, attracted 1,000 applicants from local and foreign universities with only 71 making the final cut after a stringent selection process.

Points to ponder: Each business simulation exercise was followed by a debriefing session.
Points to ponder: Each business simulation exercise was followed by a debriefing session.

Students were selected based on their academic track record and involvement in extra-curricular activities.

Axiata Group Berhad corporate responsibility head Rohaiza Ahmad said the programme was structured to prepare and expose top-performing Malaysian undergraduates to the skills and competencies required of future CEOs.

“Our aim is to give them a glimpse of what the job entails — the pressures they have to face and rise above to become good CEOs.

“Particpants are put into teams and the camp culminates with the Dragon’s Den CEO Challenge that requires the top teams to prove their business mettle in front of a panel of judges comprising some of Malaysia’s most accomplished CEOs,” she said.

Five workshops on business skills followed by business simulation exercises were held throughout the two-week period leading up to the finale.

Workshop sessions included the basics of business strategy, business communication and business operations.

This was then followed by business simulation exercises that required participants to put what they had learnt into practice in front of a panel of judges comprising senior managers from Axiata Group Berhad.

Rohaiza said the exercises helped students enhance their communication skills, critical thinking abilities and creativity.

“The workshops range from half-day to one-and-a-half-day sessions where participants are taught business principles.

“For some sessions, we even had our senior managers come in to share their experiences with the students.

“The simulation exercises, however, are created to replicate real-life situations that may test a CEO.

“Participants have to be able to think on their feet and actually apply the theories they have learnt,” she said.

Selling ideas: A team tries to convince the 'board of directors' of their turnaround plans for a business.
Selling ideas: A team tries to convince the ‘board of directors’ of their turnaround plans for a business.

Each simulation exercise was followed by a debriefing where the participants’ strengths and weaknesses were assessed.

Some 50 Axiata managers lent the participants their support throughout the duration of the camp by guiding and mentoring them. After the initial workshops and business simulation exercises, participants were assigned new team members for the second stage of the programme – the CEO Challenge, where they were tasked with creating an E-business from scratch.

Only the top three teams were selected for the finale on Aug 22 where they had to prove their business savvy in front of a panel of accomplished CEOs.

The top 15 performers at the camp were rewarded with an eight-week internship with Axiata.

As applications were open to Malaysian undergraduates in public and private universities in Malaysia and abroad, the programme attracted a good mix of students majoring in different fields of study.

For University of Toronto graduate Zahira Nizam, the camp was an eye-opening experience.

Eye-opening experience: The programme taught Zahira how to overcome conflict.
Eye-opening experience: The programme taught Zahira how to overcome conflict.

The 23-year-old International Relations and Anthropology major said the programme enhanced her time management skills and taught her to overcome conflict.

“For me, it was a totally new environment as I didn’t come from a business background.

“In the beginning, I thought I wasn’t going to be able to make it but then I learnt to adapt and learn as much as I could as fast as I could.

“Also, teamwork is a huge component and I had to learn how to identify the strengths and weaknesses of my fellow teammates and work efficiently with them,” she said, adding she was inspired by the Axiata work culture which supports development.

Universiti Tenaga Nasional third year mechanical engineering major Ricky Low Yin Lee applied for the programme after being prompted by a friend who participated in the inaugural camp and claimed the experience was ‘life changing’.

New focus: Ricky learnt the importance of teamwork and communication.
New focus: Ricky learnt the importance of teamwork and communication.

“What my friend said proved to be true and I was challenged to my limits. The programme changed my mindset and taught me how to perform tasks in an evolving business environment.

“The most important element was teamwork and I had to learn to communicate with my peers from foreign universities like Cambridge which was intimidating at first,” he said.

His comments were echoed by programme mate Ananda Mohan, a first year law student from the University of Liverpool.

“You really learn people skills. There were times when I felt out of my depth but I had to adapt quickly.

“One of my favourite challenges was the business operations simulation exercise where we were given 24 hours to resuscitate a business on the brink of failure.

“We had to be able to think on our feet as we were thrown one challenge after another but I guess that’s true for the real world and this prepares you for that,” he said.

For more information on Axiata’s leadership development programmes, visit www.axiatafoundation.com or www.facebook.com/AxiataYoungTalentProgramme

Tags / Keywords: axiata group


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