ALTHOUGH many had said the restructuring of the UEM Group was an insurmountable task, Datuk Abdul Wahid Omar took on the challenge for he felt very honoured to be chosen for the job.
At 37, he was one of the youngest turnaround managers Khazanah had handpicked to handle a massive and complex restructuring. Prior to joining UEM, he was CFO of TELEKOM MALAYSIA BHD.
“I went into it with an open mind and no pre-conceived ideas. But the problems were apparent from 1997 following the economic crisis and UEM's move to buy 31% stake in Renong which triggered massive sell-off on the KLSE.
“But prior to that, I had known the group to be one which was very aggressive and fast growing, with good assets, and there was a lot of admiration for the group,” Wahid said. UEM, incorporated March 10, 1966, was part of Renong/UEM group, a conglomerate with interest abroad. Said to be politically linked, it secured most of the country's prized projects. Tan Sri Halim Saad was the chieftain then.
Over-expansion and diversification saw it succumb to the pressures of the Asian financial crisis. It was the country's largest debtor at the height of the crisis.
Khazanah took control of UEM/Renong in 2001 and de-listed UEM, much to the chagrin of many investors. It was highly publicised and many called it a rescue bid by the government of a private company.
“The biggest problem was its huge debts prior to the takeover as the average cost of funding was 9% per annum. If not addressed, the group would have just succumbed to the weight of its debt burden.”
Wahid had many sleepless nights trying to find a solution for the UEM/Renong group.
“We really had to adapt to the situation, analyse the problem and find a solution. We believe we came up with an appropriate solution and executed it and brought in the desired results.”
But he recalled that the most difficult part of the entire restructuring was that of Plus, given its sheer size and position in the group. The backing from Khazanah was there from Day One. “I think any management would not operate without solid support of the board and shareholders. They lend full support and assistance,” he said.
As to his management philosophy, he said: “I believe in being open, and I adopt an open management approach. It is the ability of being able to talk and listen to people, and yet being able to make the right and hard decisions as and when necessary.”
To carry out the task was an honour. Now it has turned out to be a “very rewarding episode in terms of experience and exposure. I am also happy with the curve my career has taken. There is only one UEM/Renong group and hopefully, corporate Malaysia will not be faced with such a situation again.”
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