Up close and personal with Tan Sri Abdul Samad Alias

AS far as first impressions go, Tan Sri Abdul Samad Alias' demeanour fits perfectly with how accountants are generally perceived to be.

The bespectacled serious-looking chairman of government-established Malaysia Venture Capital Management Bhd (Mavcap) walks into this interview late and apologises very matter-of-factly saying that it's because of back-to-back meetings. In other words, he is having a typical day.

“I normally spend half my day at Mavcap and the other half at my other jobs,” he tells StarBizWeek.

Abdul Samad's “other jobs” include sitting on the board of various companies such as Bursa Malaysia Bhd, TH Plantations Bhd and Malaysia Deposit Insurance Corp.

At an age when most may be thinking of taking it a little slow, Abdul Samad, 68 appears to still have that burning passion for work, work and more work.

Before taking on his current position at Mavcap, which is the nation's largest venture capital firm, Abdul Samad set up his own accounting firm, and later merged the firm with the Malaysian operations of the now defunct Arthur Andersen.

“They were looking for someone to set up the local operations for Arthur Andersen and I was spotted,” he shares quite simply. This was way back in the 1980s.

In 2001, when Mavcap was formed, Abdul Samad was once again hand-picked to head the company, this time, he says by the then Finance Minister Tun Daim Zainuddin.

“It was to be a completely different ball game for me, I had never worked for a government-linked company before but I took it up as a challenge,” he says.

By then, Abdul Samad had already established himself in the local accounting fraternity.

From 1999 to 2001, he was president of the Malaysian Institute of Certified Public Accountants and from 2001-2007, he was a council member of the non-government body.

“Accounting lets you keep both feet on the ground, for every debit, there must be a credit ... it's not like economics which throws theories in the air,” he says.

Even his mottos in life are relatively straightforward.

“Honesty is the best policy... and do not lose your integrity because if you do, you are dead as a professional,” he says.

He is concerned that in Malaysia, there is no clear distinction when it comes to the definition of an accountant.

“Someone with a degree in accountancy is not an accountant. You must be trained and supervised by people who have the accreditation to provide the training and supervision before you can be called an accountant.

Instead, degree holders with no supervised training are considered accountants here,” he says.

Abdul Samad left the Sixth Form in a boarding school in Ipoh, because he did not like hostel life.

He subsequently found a job with Bank Negara as a clerk and that was when “things began to take shape and my interest in accounting grew”, he says.

What followed was a trip to Australia to equip himself with degrees and supervised internship experience in the area of accounting.

Abdul Samad came back seven years later, kick-starting his career with stints at private companies before setting up his own firm and eventually finding himself at Mavcap, where his accounting and finance skills are being put to good use.

At Mavcap, his responsibility is to ensure that Malaysian companies, particularly those in the field of information communication technology are given sufficient support to flourish and contribute to the economy.

“People who do not have the borrowing power nor the capital to start a business ... these are the situations that we get involved in,” he says but is quick to point out that unlike private venture capitalists who normally look at pure returns on investments, Mavcap looks at human development as part of the entire venture capital ecosystem.

“I'm not saying that profits are not important because we do have to be aware of all the investments that we make. But we are not just giving away money. If it is only funds that they are looking at, they can go to the bank,” he says.

Most venture capital firms only realise their investments when their investee companies make it to the initial public offering (IPO) stage.

Ten years on, 13 of Mavcap's investee companies have gone public.

For this year, Abdul Samad says Mavcap is “on track” to closing up to 15 investment deals varying between RM5mil and RM15mil each.

It was reported in March that Mavcap was exploring new sectors for potential investments, namely the renewable energy sector.

Until March, the venture capital fund had closed two deals in this area, involving investments of RM20mil each.

There are several issues in closing a deal, says Abdul Samad.

“But basically it's a question of social and economic returns. If they think they have a certain value and we don't think so, then we can't close the deal. Again I stress we're not just giving away money,” he says.

He says Mavcap intends to expand into the region and globally thereafter, and has already identified a party for this.

The party, he reveals, is a “well-known” group which has regional and global presence but stops short of revealing the name of the party, which is also a venture capitalist, as discussions are still ongoing.

“By working together, we can access the deals that it has in the countries it has a presence in. Whatever it has in the pipeline, we will also have access to it. This will expand our network of enterprises,” he says.

The father of four says none of his children have followed in his footsteps although one of his daughters holds a Masters in Accountancy.

“But she is not in the field. I spent so much of my time in the office when I was having my own firm ... I do not want to impose the same on my children,” he says.

These days, it appears he is still spending much of his time working but does take the time off to do some gardening and play a round of golf. “But I haven't been doing much of golfing lately because of a hurt foot,” he reveals.

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