IT never occurrs to Yusuf Ampuan Kechil, a Sabahan, that one day he would become a chief executive officer (CEO) until he was told to head VADS Bhd.
“I still remember Datuk Wira Mohamad Said Mohamad Ali who was the CEO of Telekom (Malaysia Bhd). He called me one fine day and told me to go to VADS. I just looked at him and said what or who is VADS and why me,” he said.
Said told Yusuf two things: expand VADS and list it. It was a tough call for the then general manager of corporate government and global sales, who had been enjoying a “sheltered” life in Telekom.
Yusuf said he was sceptical about heading VADS as he saw the challenges ahead – the industry, the business per se, the culture and people.
“I know the telecommunications industry but VADS is entirely “up the value chain”. I see the business challenges and competition and I wondered if I could fit in from the “outside” environment. I just stared from a distance and wondered if I was in or not,” he recalled.
Yusuf was appointed to the board of directors of VADS, representing Telekom in March 2001. In the following month, VADS was listed.
Looking back, he said his journey at VADS had been a fulfilling one. He was quick to capture the feel of business, created a healthy cashflow with efficient operations.
His quick grasp of information was perhaps due to his raging spirit to succeed in what he had set his sights on. Being a people’s person helps too. He does not have a brick wall to stop him from asking questions and learning from people below his rank.
“I am and was ready to expose myself to any sort of people, be it the senior management, clerks or engineers because I’ve been there before. As they say, the more you know, the less you actually know. It is scary because the higher you go up the corporate ladder, the more things you will get to know,” said Yusuf.
The most challenging part of being a CEO, he said, was the perception of being a know-all person.
“Sometimes, you are afraid to admit that you don’t know a certain subject matter because you are the CEO. And, it can be very lonely up there,” he said.
Besides trying to create businesses for the company, Yusuf sees it is more important to keep it alive.
“I have here about less than 200 people to keep them excited about the company and their work. That is the hardest thing. Doing the job is one challenge. Keeping the people alive, kicking, joyous and committed is a tough challenge,” he said.
Keeping to his down-to-earth personality, Yusuf sees the only value for a CEO is how to manage people.
“The higher you go, you will realise that the business will be taken care of if you can take care of your people,” he said.
Yusuf gives leeway to his staff when it comes to making decisions, as that would give them a sense of belonging. He sees that his job is to motivate, support, help and push his staff along.
Taking excerpts from a song “do what you do, do it well”, he said it had become an imperative within himself to be able to maintain his work and relentless drive to succeed at VADS.
“Somehow, that message has dictated the way I do things. A lot of people can talk but there is no action. At the end of the day, after all the talk, you have to do something,” he said.
According to Yusuf, he is nervous when he talks about himself, and that his frequent appearances in the media are just for the benefit of the firm.
“I would rather choose to hide in a kampung and do things that I like,” he said, adding there were times when he wanted to kick back with a free mind and let things slip by.
Believing in two phases of life, the taking and the giving, he says he is in the giving stage now.
“There is no limit in taking when you are young. You want to be someone important, to be recognised and known in what you do?and I’ve gone through that. I think I’m going through a phase where I want to share what I have. When you share, you are happy that you can make a difference in another person’s live,” he explained.
For Yusuf, that is nothing to do with age. It is probably about growing wiser at VADS.