Your 10 questions

  • Business
  • Saturday, 19 Jun 2010

Datuk Dr Abdul Halim Harun, UMW Holdings president and group CEO answers ...

1. How is Toyota positioned to compete with other non-national car players and also the national carmakers? Abdul Majid, Selayang

First of all, we are fortunate to have a full range of high-quality and reliable vehicles to suit all preferences and lifestyles, from passenger cars Vios, Camry and Lexus to MPVs Avanza and Innova to pick-ups Hilux and commercial vans Hiace.

We also provide a broad option for vehicle financing, be it by one of the commercial banks or by Toyota Capital, our financial arm that provides hire-purchase or leasing facilities. And we provide excellent repair, maintenance and after-sales service. Also, when a customer decides to buy another Toyota vehicle, we can offer good re-sale value via our used-car operation, Topmark.

In Malaysia, Toyota is positioned as an upmarket marque that provides an unparalleled ownership experience.

2. What are the steps you have taken to steer UMW Holdings through the economic turmoil of the past 12 months? Phang Kok Wai, Klang

UMW is no stranger to economic setbacks and recessions. We have learnt many valuable lessons in the past and we put these lessons to good use when the business environment turns tough. Apart from the usual cost-cutting programmes, credit controls, minimising of capital expenditure and other financial measures, we believe that people and attitude matter greatly.

We need to first, monitor very closely the impact of the recession on our business so that we can take quick steps to mitigate any adverse effects. We then communicate the situation to all relevant staff, so that they are in the know and have ownership over the steps that need to be taken.

Some companies cut back on new investments completely in recessionary conditions, but I believe that poor economic conditions give us an opportunity to make value-for-money investments. It is important to do things right when conditions are favourable, so that we will get support when conditions take a turn for the worse.

We have also been continuously supportive of our customers when the chips were down. These customers remain loyal to us when conditions improve.

3. What is the future that you envision for UMW Holdings locally and especially in the global arena? Subashini Dass, Kulim

UMW is well-established in Malaysia. We are in 13 countries, with a workforce of 10,500 people.

Two years ago, we underwent a rebranding exercise and announced our long-term goal of becoming a world-class organisation. World-class not just in the sense of expansion, business, financials and all that; it is about the way we do things, our attitudes, our CSR programmes, which is how we are responsible for our marketplace, employees’ health and safety, environment and, of course, the community we serve.

4. How do you view the automotive industry in the country and how can you improve it? Tan Soon Hock, Taiping

The automotive industry has tremendous scope for further growth and advancement. The motorisation rate in Malaysia is still low compared with developed countries. We also have a large young population who have a strong desire to own a vehicle for convenience or lifestyle.

As an industry, there is ample room for greater application, utilisation and acceptance of more advanced technologies that would reduce carbon emissions, enhance safety levels, while providing greater comfort levels. We introduced the Toyota Prius hybrid vehicle last year, and are currently looking at bringing Lexus hybrid vehicles into Malaysia. Perodua vehicles are already well-known for fuel efficiency and safety. Even the smallest Perodua vehicle, the Perodua Viva, boasts anti-lock braking system and airbags.

For the industry to really expand and grow, we need to view things from a regional and even global perspective. Domestic policies have to be cognisant of manufacturers’ perspectives, consumer preference and global trends. We would like to see greater incentives for investments in technologies that would reduce carbon emissions and raise safety levels. We need to liberalise the industry, level the playing field and make cars more affordable.

5. What work values/ethics do you apply in the various organisations that you have worked in? Bulbir Singh, Seremban

UMW’s core values are to be honourable, vibrant, unshakeable and pioneering in our efforts. I encourage the staff to have respect for people – their colleagues, customers, vendors, the community, stakeholders – everyone! I believe in tapping on my employees’ individual strengths rather than dwelling on their weaknesses. A company is only as good as the people it has. A happy and focused workforce is key to a company’s performance.

6. What is the ultimate dream for UMW in respect to corporate social responsibility and also as one of the nation’s respected corporate leaders? David Quah, KL

At UMW, we know we can make a difference in all the industries in which we operate, as we focus on four main areas – marketplace, workplace, environment and community – and benchmark ourselves against international best practices.

Our CSR initiatives have the total commitment of senior management and the board of directors. Going further, I want to give the opportunity for all employees to be directly and actively involved in our CSR activities.

If we are to effectively champion a worthwhile cause, financial contributions can make for a good start, but it is our time and personal involvement that will take it to the finishing line.

I want to empower my people to be their own agents of change for a better world. So in 2009, we launched an employee volunteer programme called “UMW Community Champions”. We have since participated in various social and charitable activities – spending time with underprivileged children, old folks, planting trees at local parks, participating in humanitarian relief missions, together with our NGO partners such as MERCY Malaysia and YAWA, just to name a few.

I’ve come to realise that people everywhere do not want pity, or tears, or hand-outs. They do not want to be forgotten; all they want or, should I say, all we want, is an opportunity to help ourselves, and for others to have it too. To be able to do that – that’s the ultimate CSR dream.

7. Leading a conglomerate such as UMW may keep you very busy. How do you balance work and family life? Siti Hajar, Ampang

Maintaining a balance between work and family is a must for me. But it is not easy in this fast-paced, competitive world. You just have to make the effort. After all, what does one really work for if not for one’s family? On weekends when I’m at home, I make it a point to eat together as a family.

With staff and business colleagues, I play golf, and with the family, I always try to fit in a game of bowling – we’re all big fans of bowling. I also organise an annual family day event, which I call “Harun Family Day”, where my close relatives – uncles, aunties, cousins, nieces, nephews – come together under one roof in my house to spend time together and catch up on the latest news. We even have telematch games and give away prizes to the winners. Everyone enjoys this occasion and they look forward to it every year.

8. How has the recent spate of Toyota vehicle recalls affected the reputation and sales of UMW’s auto business? Andrew Lim, Penang

Sales of Toyota vehicles were not really affected by the recent major recalls of Toyota cars in the United States. The relevant components used in Toyota and Lexus models in Malaysia are manufactured by suppliers different than those in the US. This fact was well-communicated to the public. What is very comforting is that our Toyota sales have even increased since then!

9. What is your favourite car and why? Rajesh Menon, Malacca

I didn’t use to have a favourite car until I got behind the wheels of a Lexus. I find the car easy to handle and I appreciate the smooth, quiet and comfortable ride it offers, especially when travelling home after a long, hectic day at the office. The attractive design and the mark of distinction that it carries also enhances its appeal. Needless to say, I am now a die-hard Lexus fan.

10. Are you planning to retire soon and what are your plans after that? Zulkifli Abdullah, Kuantan

I still intend to lead an active life once I retire, although in a slightly different way. We only retire from the full-time job; we shouldn’t retire our minds. I think the first thing I’m going to do when I retire, is to catch up on reading all the books that I’ve bought, that I haven’t had the time to go through.

The pursuit of knowledge is a life-long mission for me. Education and learning is certainly not just for the young. So I’ve also been thinking about enrolling in university again – this time, to pursue Islamic studies – a subject which I have always been highly interested in. It does not bother me one bit if I am the oldest student there. At the same time, I will be on the board of several companies and organisations, where I can continue to put my years of business experience to good use.

And of course, I look forward to spending more time with my family and friends – golfing, bowling, window-shopping, going on holiday to places we have not visited before. A man can spend 30 years of his life making money, but he should spend his entire life making happy memories with his loved ones.

COMING SOON Tourism Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ng Yen Yen is a Kelantan native. She graduated from Universiti Malaya in 1972 with a bachelor of medicine, bachelor of surgery (MBBS). She was also awarded a diploma of reproductive medicine by the Johns Hopkins University. She is the first Malaysian Chinese woman to hold a cabinet post. Ng, 64, was at one time Deputy Finance Minister. Do you have a question for her? Email to


Tourism Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ng Yen Yen is a Kelantan native. She graduated from Universiti Malaya in 1972 with a bachelor of medicine, bachelor of surgery (MBBS). She was also awarded a diploma of reproductive medicine by the Johns Hopkins University. She is the first Malaysian Chinese woman to hold a cabinet post. Ng, 64, was at one time Deputy Finance Minister. Do you have a question for her? Email to

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