Tan Sri William Howard Wilcock (1959 – 1962)
Tan Sri W. H. Wilcock came to Malaysia as the banking adviser to the Government of the Federation of Malaya in 1958.
In 1959, he was appointed the first governor and chairman of the board of the central bank of Malaya (then known as Bank Negara Tanah Melayu).
Wilcock had always recognised the need for Bank Negara to be helmed by a local. In his inaugural speech, he said: “I appreciate deeply the honour … in making me the first governor … but I believe most fervently that the head of any country’s central bank should be a national of that country.”
In 1962, he handed over the baton to Tun Ismail Mohamed Ali.
Tun Ismail Mohamed Ali (1962 – 1980)
Tun Ismail Mohamed Ali was the first Malaysian governor of Bank Negara. In many ways, he set the tone for the bank’s core values and instilled a culture of accountability, professionalism, integrity and service.
In the early years of the central bank’s existence, Ismail saw his primary role as setting up a body of traditions – of absolute integrity, competency at all levels in the organisations and efficiency.
He also placed strong emphasis on building up a dependable expertise in economic affairs and monetary matters and, above all, the ability to place national interest as against that of the individual. During Ismail’s stewardship of 18 years, the central bank wielded considerable independence and influence in economic policies.
People who knew him, and who had worked with him, described him as a stickler for punctuality, and recounted incidents that revealed his strictness and high expectations of those around him.
Ismail was also the first chairman of Permodalan Nasional Bhd, a position he assumed in 1978.
Tan Sri Abdul Aziz Taha (1980–1985)
Tan Sri Abdul Aziz Taha had a remarkable career with the bank – rising rapidly through the ranks to become governor in 1980.
He joined the bank in 1969 as assistant manager of the investment and accounting department.
He is described as a “cloned’’ version of his mentor, Tun Ismail, in his scrupulous stewardship of the affairs of the central bank.
During his tenure, he fostered close ties with fellow South East Asian Central Banks governors.
Generally regarded as a low profile man, Aziz was unwavering in his belief in the basic functions of the central bank.
“Every central bank’s main objective is to ensure stability of the economy, the financial system and help and advise the government on sound monetary and fiscal policy.
“That is the basic bread-and-butter functions of a central bank … if it deviates from that, then I think the central bank would have failed in its most important objective. …” Aziz is quoted as saying in an interview with a local business magazine.
Tan Sri Jaffar Hussein (1985 – 1994)
Under Tan Sri Jaffar Hussein’s tenure, Bank Negara weathered the recession, and he made the country’s financial system more sophisticated and mature.
The concept of Islamic banking began to take shape as part of his dream to establish a full-fledged Islamic financial system in Malaysia, functioning side-by-side with the conventional system. This came true in 1994.
Also during his tenure, the Banking and Financial Institutions Act 1989 was enacted and the supervision of the insurance industry was transferred from the Finance Ministry to Bank Negara in May 1988.
He was also instrumental in the setting up of the Securities Commission and national mortgage corporation Cagamas Bhd. The idea for the setting up of Rating Agency Malaysia Bhd was also mooted by him.
Back in the 80s, Jaafar was chairman and CEO of Malayan Banking Bhd before assuming the position of Bank Negara governor.
Jaffar’s biggest crisis was the massive paper losses incurred by the central bank’s foreign exchange operations. On March 31, 1994 the central bank announced forex losses of RM5.7bil for the previous year.
It was also during his tenure that the deposit taking co-operatives crisis was resolved through a series of measures including the appointment of receivers.
Tan Sri Ahmad Mohd Don (1994 – 1998)
Tan Sri Ahmad Mohd Don became the fifth governor on May 1, 1994.
During his tenure, Ahmad Don initiated the formulation of the central bank’s mission, aspiration and shared value. The outcome of all these efforts has now been incorporated in a document, known as Strategic Plan 1995 – 2000.
It was during Ahmad Don’s tenure that Asia was hit by speculative attacks on its currencies. Although the prescribed monetary policy action was to tighten interest rates, Malaysia, under then Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, imposed capital controls, pegged the ringgit to the US dollar and slashed lending rates.
In disagreement over the move, Ahmad Don and his deputy, Fong Weng Phak, resigned in August 1998.
Tan Sri Ali Abul Hassan Sulaiman (1998 – 2000)
Tan Sri Ali Abul Hassan took over as the sixth governor during the height of the Asian financial crisis in 1998. During his tenure, he adopted a proactive and business-friendly policy to revive the economy.
His main focus was to improve Malaysia’s economy with specific initiatives to stimulate domestic and foreign investments.
During his time, Ali Abul Hassan steered Bank Negara to greater heights, particularly in working hand-in-hand with other government agencies, to bring the economy back to shape.
Ali Abul Hassan retired in May 2000 and was appointed special economic adviser in following year to then Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.