Your 10 Questions

  • Business
  • Saturday, 10 Oct 2009

Datuk Mohd Nadzmi Mohd Salleh, Proton chairman answers ...

What are Proton’s strategic options to defend its market share with the open market policy in the next 24 months? Sonny Wong, KL

Whether or not the market will be fully liberalised in the next 24 months is subject to conjecture but what is certain is that it will happen. Proton must be ready. We need to identify, understand and address inherent problems pertinent to Proton and the industry.

I strongly believe in the concept of strengthening business fundamentals through partnerships, strategic collaboration, consolidation and mergers. Properly done, this will create economies of scale whilst rationalising investments resulting in increased productivity, profitability, growth and efficiency. Ultimately, we should remove any cost penalties associated with producing cars in Malaysia by making our components globally competitive in quality and cost because about 80% of the cost of a car is attributable to parts and components.

Brand positioning and aggressive marketing activities will also contribute to offset the cost penalty over time.

What are the values that are important in a company, and more specifically Proton? Ahmad N Husni, KL

Transparency, honesty and openness are core values which need to be present in any unit – be it a small family unit or a very large organisation. Problems or potential issues must be highlighted as soon as practicable, irrespective of the surrounding circumstances. The facts must be laid down accurately for the right decision to be made.

Quality and continuous improvement are the other core values required to ensure success.

How did you end up as an entrepreneur? Sam Majid, Shah Alam

I was the CEO of Edaran Otomobil Nasional Bhd (EON) at the age of 36; soon after, I became the managing director of Proton. At that age, the MD’s position was a good position and the remuneration package was more than sufficient. Nonetheless, I am a firm believer of continuous improvement and after about four years, I believed that the time was right for me to take on newer, more exciting challenges. Furthermore, the majority shareholder of Proton at that time (HICOM) was privatised. This added the impetus for me to move. I was offered the chairmanship of many companies but as I was financially stable, I bided my time and waited for the right opportunity.

From my years in HICOM and Proton, I established a good relationship with Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad. He suggested that I take over MARA Holdings via a privatisation exercise and turn it around. Initially, I was quite hesitant because it was a conglomerate with many problems and a long history of financial losses. But upon closer examination, I saw the value and decided to take up the challenge.

My past experience was invaluable and the transformation of MARA Holdings happened faster than expected. Personally, I too transformed from a salaried executive into an entrepreneur. There was no turning back for me. If not for Tun’s recommendation, I would not have realised my fullest potential and my entrepreneurial skills would have remained buried.

You are a sports enthusiast. Do you play any games? Yakcop Ismail, Kampar

Although I am a sports fan, I am not really much of a sportsman though I did excel in rugby and javelin back in school. While in the United States pursuing my degrees, I was quite active in bowling.

Nowadays, I make sure that I do a little bit of swimming, jogging and weights at least three times a week to keep fit.

What is your favourite car and why? Bob Kumar, Klang

I have always been fascinated with cars. For me, the car is very personal as it is a reflection of the person driving or sitting in it. I am thankful that I have the means to have different cars for different occasions – a comfortable chauffeur-driven car for long distance journeys; a sports car for weekend drives, etc. But if I am to choose only one car that can suit all my needs, the value proposition offered by Proton is very high. This makes it my preferred car.

If you could start all over again in the world of business, which industry would you be most likely to be involved in?

Amanda Chee, Alor Star

We must always take cognisance of our strengths and weaknesses. My strength lies in automotive. My experience and knowledge covers the full spectrum of the industry – from its inception and establishment of Proton to planning, manufacturing, sales and after-sales, both at EON and Proton to vendor/ dealer development and management. The depth and breadth that I have in this industry is by far greater than in any other industry.

Personally, the automotive industry is very dear and special to me, considering my involvement since my late 20s. So, there’s no question about it and there is no reason for me to start over.

Social ills among the youths in Malaysia are on the rise, yet they are the future leaders of the country. What is your advice to this group of youngsters, and how can you make a difference? Shirley M, Penang

The problems faced during my growing-up years are nothing compared to the things that we see today. Just like any problem, we must first identify and understand before we provide the remedy. This is a collective responsibility shared primarily between parents, teachers and the Government, and together, we must come to a consensus in drawing up a solution to overcome the issue and set a target for all to achieve. In short, we must identify the kind of future leaders we need and together, we must doggedly and unwaveringly work towards achieving this aspiration. This is a challenge in itself but for the sake of the country, I believe it is a small price to pay.

Another challenge that we face today is the fact that information is too readily accessible and our children are too overly exposed to it. Curbing the information flow is not the solution. We must raise and nurture our children differently. We must instil a very strong value system and, most importantly, we must teach our children critical assessment as the children today cannot afford to be passive and their ability to assess is very important. Additionally, we can no longer impose our will on them as many of us have experienced growing up. A clear and very open communication line must be established. Today’s children will not succumb to force and they should not be subjected to it in the first place. We need to engage and communicate. This is the way moving forward.

The perception is that local cars are of inferior quality (like Milo tins) – how do you plan to change that? Sudip Singh, Penang

As you rightly put it - it’s a perception issue. Even though Malaysians are staunchly patriotic, this sentiment does not cascade down when they go shopping. Locally produced goods are perceived to be of inferior quality. When I was in EON, the allegation that Proton cars are made of “Milo tins” and much inferior to imported cars were definitively and conclusively disproved through a nationwide marketing activity. The Sagathon was brought to all corners of the country to show that the Proton Saga was not made out of inferior materials and that it was on par, if not better, in terms of performance, efficiency and accessories. Unfortunately, local producers and manufacturers are fa cing this challenge. But it is also a blessing as local companies are required t o not only emphasise on quality but also be continuously creative and innovative in marketing the product.

As a boss, do you find that quality skills in our people are hard to come by these days? Danny Chang, Kota Kemuning

Generally, we have very good people in Malaysia but again, unless we do continuous improvement and review our competencies against what is actually needed in this day and age, we will inevitably be left behind. What is glaringly apparent is the lack of soft skills inherent in our graduates. Entrepreneurial aptitude and effective communication are just two of the very basic skills needed in this era of globalisation, but unfortunately, it is sorely lacking. We must remember, our children are no longer competing with their peers from the same school, district, state or country. Our children are now going toe-to-toe with children all around the world and just like any race or competition – only those who are prepared will achieve success.

Institutions of higher learning in Malaysia must review their respective curriculum to ensure that what they are teaching students are relevant and sufficient to prepare them to face the world – literally. Our universities must strive to be world class to guarantee that our future is world class.

Is Malaysia’s current badminton team better than our older players, like the Sidek brothers and Foo Kok Keong? How do we maintain our competitiveness in the sport? Siti Suzannah, Johor Baru

The current Malaysian team shows great promise and potential. Comparing them against former greats is unfair although I am certain that Lee Chong Wei will go down in history as one of the nation’s finest. Coaches and players have a symbiotic relationship – simply put, the existence of either one is dependent on the performance of the other – and more importantly, the performance of both is imperative for the sport.

A robust training programme is necessary. Equally important is the tournament diary; some players are going for lesser known tournaments to maintain their world ranking. When they do appear in the bigger tournaments, their lack of performance is very apparent and jarring either due to playing too many tournaments or competing in less competitive tourneys, or both. This must change and this will change. Our players will only appear in selected events, with focus on the bigger events such as the World Championships and the All-England.

The bigger challenge for the sport is finding the right talent. Today, more and more sports are being promoted and, in most cases, a young and promising find is usually a multi-sport talent.

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