Let’s get busy over business

  • Business
  • Saturday, 05 Sep 2009

IT was nothing less than a countrywide epiphany. On Wednesday, Public Accounts Committee (PAC) chairman Datuk Seri Azmi Khalid presented us with a valuable clue as to what is it really that ails corporate Malaysia.

He was speaking to reporters at Parliament House after a testimony by former Port Klang Authority (PKA) general manager Datin Paduka O.C. Phang before the committee as part of its investigations into the Port Klang Free Zone project.

According to Azmi, Phang said she did know what the PAC members meant when they questioned her about cash flow projections. Based on the news reports, it seems that she does not know what a cash flow projection is.

That’s shocking when you consider that she attended a management development programme at the Cranfield School of Management in Britain in 1981 and had been the PKA GM for more than a decade. Suddenly, the scales have fallen off our eyes.

Our suspicions are confirmed. The problems in our corporate sector are because many of the leaders don’t have solid business knowledge.

The PKA is not a private entity – it’s a statutory corporation that handles the administration of Port Klang – but it invests in businesses and its role as trade facilitator, regulator and landlord (that’s what the website says) means there’s a strong commercial aspect to its operations.

The person heading the PKA ought to know a thing or two about cash flow projections. Phang’s apparent unfamiliarity with such a fundamental management tool is the tip of the iceberg.

There must surely be many other senior executives out there who will struggle if asked to explain Business 101 stuff such as corporate governance, transparency, feasibility studies, open tenders, audited accounts, solvency and profitability.

It’s not that they are unscrupulous or incompetent; it’s just that they never had the chance to properly acquire the basics. We should acknowledge the enormity of this shortcoming and address it urgently.

Our best hope is embark on a concerted campaign to teach everybody about economics, business and finance. Nobody should be left out. It should be a national mission. The more we know about these things, the less we will suffer from mismanagement, corruption and fraud. Here are a few ideas:

Let’s begin with the children in nurseries and kindergartens. That cute chubby toddler leaving chocolate fingerprints on your pants may one day be the CEO of a company whose stock you invest in. Won’t you feel better knowing that he has had an early start in business education?

Of course, we’re not going to teach pre-schoolers about business and finance. That’s just absurd. No, we’re merely going to lean on business terminology in helping the kiddies learn the alphabet. Familiarity is a great first step. Repeat after me, boys and girls. A is for amortisation. B is for budget. C is for – what else? – cash flow projection. D is for depreciation. E is for extraordinary general meeting. You get the picture.

Are our schoolchildren getting a good grounding in business and economics? In this case, there’s no such thing as too much of a good thing. Forget about the debate over teaching of science and mathematics in English. The real challenge is in nurturing an enduring interest and capability in business. What good is the patent for converting water into fuel when you don’t know how to make money from it? So, you can solve a complex mathematical problem. And that will help you turn around a loss-making venture?

The key to supremacy is a new subject we should call Financial and Entrepreneurial Skills, better known by its Bahasa Malaysia abbreviation, KKK (Kemahiran Kewangan dan Keusahawanan). The focus will be on driving home the importance of business superiority. Our kids will be taught that there’s nothing better than being a top executive or businessman. Everybody else are just cogs in the machinery. But naturally, they will be taught to spout politically correct lines – “Our employees are our most valuable assets.” The students will see that money truly makes the world go round.

Never underestimate the power of the idiot box. The TV stations should commission more business-related programmes. By all means, let’s have more of the talk shows and magazine shows, but we can also get creative with drama series on the ups and downs in the business arena. This will help fire up the viewers’ interest in business. We’ve had a few local versions of Dallas and Dynasty, but we can do better. Doing a sitcom shouldn’t be much of a stretch. There’s a lot going on in our corporate scene that we can laugh about. And we can do some tearjerkers. After all, there’s a lot to cry over as well.

This is a simple one. Financial journalists play an important role in educating the public on business. They should be paid more. (Editor’s note: Remember when we sometimes say, “The views expressed above are the writer’s and do not reflect those of this publication”? We mean it.)

l Deputy business editor Errol Oh is feeling slightly smug that he at least knows what a cash flow projection is. He would like to introduce another term – flash cow projection. That refers to a prominent display of a bovine part during an event awash with heightened emotions.

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