True blue civil servant

  • Business
  • Saturday, 28 Mar 2009

SOME are born to be leaders. Others are followers. Sometimes, among the followers, a leader emerges, be it by chance, or circumstance. But while many lead, many among them have also discovered that to do that well, they must first of all, have a servant’s heart. Be it to the government or country, Tan Sri C. Rajandram has one motto in life – to serve.

The previous night, Rajandram, the executive deputy chairman of RAM Holdings Bhd stayed up till the wee hours to watch the English Premier League between Liverpool and Aston Villa. He seemed none the worst for it, rattling off scores, outlining the backbone of the government initiatives and the reason for our global predicament today.

In many ways, Rajandram’s career path parallel that of the country’s industrialisation and the birth of the capital market in the 1970s and later, the emphasis on heavy industries in the 1980s when Proton came into being. Rajandram has 50 years of working life behind him, half of it spent in Bank Negara Malaysia.

While he has spent a good portion of his life crunching financial and economics data, he much prefers to look at life on a lighter note, “at the crossroads between rock ‘n’ roll and the new range of songs by Elvis Presley, who was later taken over by The Beatles.”

The changing face or shape of Malaysia’s economic drivers and music genre put aside, it is hard to miss Rajandram’s contribution to the capital market during these period of transformation, which may, to some extent, explain his unwavering patriotism.

“I believe and support the government of the day. I don’t talk politics. I don’t entertain. I had a chance to stay in Australia, but I did not. During the course of my work, I travelled and lived in many countries. I still think this is the greatest country to live in and it has great potential. We are not short-changed of anything.

“I would not trade Malaysia for any other nation, not India. India is the greatest democracy, yet there is the caste system. Where ever we go, there will always be problems, it has to do with people, not the country. You have to live in other countries to understand its politics,” says Rajandram.

The current global meltdown has catapulted him back to rounds of meetings and discussions with the authorities. Today, his work leans more towards his involvement with the Economic Council and the National Economic Action Council (NEAC).

How did he get here?

In 1991, Rajandram, who had spent 23 years in the central bank. was given the mandate by the Government to start ratings agency RAM Holdings Bhd. The central bank has no equity interest in RAM, whose objective is to rate the credit strength of companies wanting to raise funds in the bond market. Prior to that, between 1973 and 1980, he was with the Capital Issues Committee which eventually gave way to the Securities Commission, which regulates the capital markets, another milestone in the country’s pursuit of capital wealth creation.

Looking far younger than his 71 years, Rajandram says he does not feel old. “My mind is reasonably intact. I can still focus and I don’t have fleeting thoughts. I may not be able to play competitive sports physically, but mentally, I am still playing. I do not play a musical instrument, but I’m an avid listener,” says Rajandram.

Each day, he leaves his office to go home to his family, sports on the tube and music, be it classical southern Indian music or the deep tones of Andy Williams, Nat King Cole and Dean Martin.

Rajandram has been into competitive sports since a child. In some ways, his love for it has carved something within him - he is a team player.

There was a time when during his tenure with Bank Negara when he resigned to join a multinational company.

“I tried to wiggle out. The salary was three to four times what I was getting then. Tun Ismail (Mohamed, the governor then) said no! I lost the salary but my staying back helped me to have a broad framework of the financial market. It has been a great learning experience,” says Rajandram. He does not regret the path he has taken. That route has put him in the forefront of many government initiatives.

There are three avenues whereby a company can raise funds; from the banks, via the equity market or the bond market (debt papers) and other financial instruments. Because the stock market is so weak today, raising funds via equities is deemed not the most favourable option while banks are increasingly becoming more risk averse. Particularly for companies handling large projects with long gestation period, the bond market, indeed, is the best way to go.

“The banking system has about RM200bil which they are not lending out. We need to see liquidity go to the right places, which is why various initiatives are being talked about and set in motion today,” he says.

Describing himself as a public sector man, largely a regulator, he currently helms RAM, which mainstay is to provide an assessment (ratings) of issuer companies’ strength to repay the debts which will be regularly reviewed as circumstances can alter greatly (or not) during the tenure of the bonds. That in turn, will be reflected in the company’s ratings.

“Integrity is our business, and there are no favours for anyone. People criticise us, as they criticise Standard & Poor’s and Moody. But like these international agencies, we continue to rate.”

Of Sri Lankan descent, Rajandram grew up in a traditional and conservative family setting in Port Dickson. After graduating with a school certificate from King George V, he left for Perth, Australia to study accountancy.

He was good in Maths, history and geography. In a way, company financials give a picture of the history of the company, via the numbers.

Rajandram spent six years in Australia; two in the job market. There he learned ballroom and Latin American dancing and was a gold medalist. It was a hobby and a challenge to his conservative upbringing.

“I knew nothing about dancing when I was in Malaysia. There was no such thing as going to the film shows. Both my teachers were world champions and I was told I had the ears for music and I should do very well. Or maybe they wanted me to learn. Whatever it was, I enjoyed myself. After a while, I also became a teacher.” When he came home, he stopped dancing and his family arranged his nuptials at 25.

He calls Jaffna, Sri Lanka his village and travels to that part of the world and to India often. Although he says he is a Hindu, there are pictures of deities worshipped by the Chinese in his Bukit Tunku house. “My wife is more religious but I enjoy my visits to Rameswaran, home of 22 wells, and Thripathi temple several hours from Chennai, where its daily collection exceeds US$600,000. But much as I enjoy these visits, I am happy here. I have a retirement home in Blue Lagoon, Port Dickson and nearly every weekend, I go back there. Prices are a third of what they are in Kuala Lumpur.

“Everyone of us (Ceylonese) occupies a reasonably good position in the Government and nine out of 10, have children who are graduates. My old man was in the civil service. And most of us have a child as a doctor.

“As a community of 100,000, our emphasis has always been to educate the next generation. We worked very hard here. There may be other Sri Lankan (descendants) communities in Toronto, Syndey and London. While these communities grow, there is no new immigrants here after 1956.”

In spirit, Rajandram and his brethrens think of their village far away and every now and then, try to cajole him to raise money to help out with the development there. After all, raising funds seem to be a job he enjoys doing and they figured, he might as well do his bit for his village.

“I may be mistaken for a Tamil Tiger but the fact remains, we are very much part of the social fabric of this country. Thoughts of my school days are so clear and vivid, the days when I cycle after school to get the ice kacang under the tree and then go home and sleep, or go for my games. I never had a day of tuition in my life. Yet, today, I see my grandchildren have their time taken up by this activity. The more recent events, I may forget.

“There is the childhood, the teenager, the married life and the working life. Too much of working life! The board says I should stay another two years.”

And so he continues to serve!

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