Up close and personal with Dr Abu Hasan Ismail

From an academician to an entrepreneur, he has made every step count and remains true to his beliefs, passion and principles.

PRESTARIANG Bhd chief executive officer Dr Abu Hasan Ismail would come across as a visionary teacher if one were to share a conversation with him about work and life.

Abu, whom his staff call “Doc”, has an easy demeanour about him that is engaging, reflecting the familial values he champions.

He is a risk taker who saw the potential in information and communication technology (ICT) at the start of the millennium and made something out of the then relatively unchartered waters.

However, not many understood his vision when he started the ICT service and education trading company Prestariang in 2003.

“It was a new idea and when you tell people about it, they always ask for an equivalent company to benchmark but if there is already a company like Prestariang, why am I doing this at all?” he says with a big laugh.

Career paths

He had a penchant for ICT but this was not his first calling in life. In his world that had buzz words such as clicks and hits when he started the company in 2003, his roots were in something the information age was trying to replace bricks and mortar.

He wanted to design buildings and pursued a degree in architecture at Universiti Teknologi Malaysia. Displaying an affinity at the drawing board, he then went on to finish his course in 1986 at University of Strathclyde in Glasgow.

“Everyone thought that I was going to become a successful architect but sometimes what you do in school and what you'll like to do out of school are two different things. But the learning experience you get attending classes is still important,” he says.

Despite stellar grades, he found the “closed-door profession” not his cup of tea and turned to ICT which intrigued him because everyone was involved in communication tecnology in some way.

He went on to pursue a Masters degree in 1988 and PhD in ICT in 1996 at University of Sheffield.

He returned to Malaysia and taught architecture at Universiti Teknologi Malaysia for two months before deciding to listen to his inner voice .

His key reason for the big career leap is his belief that “everyone needs to be truthful to themselves”.

“Everyone has something that drives them. There is no point trying to do something you have no passion for because it will be very difficult to succeed,” he says. He sought opportunities in ICT and education and that journey took him to Cyberjaya.

Abu was fortunate to become one of the founding members of the Multimedia University in 1997 and even lectured there under the Faculty of Creative Multimedia for three years until his first batch of students graduated.

He was the first dean at the faculty that year and interestingly, he was the one who changed the name of the faculty.

“I coined the term creative multimedia' to rename the faculty because no one understood what its old name Faculty of Media Arts and Science' meant,” he says, adding that Multimedia Development Corporation (MDeC) has since sought for his permission to use the new term.

He left his lecturing position in 2001, as he wanted to seek bigger fortune and felt being an entrepreneur was the way to go.

“But there was also the issue of being responsible for the students' failure, which I don't agree with. If they fail, they fail. I shouldn't need to explain why they failed because they are responsible for their learning.

“The education system is so prescriptive and there's a culture of spoon feeding the students,” he laments.

Building a business

Prestariang is set up with a unique aim to train individuals to have knowledge, skills and attitude for employment through ICT training and certification as well as software licence distribution and management.

It is a certified partner for various technology and software vendors including Microsoft and IBM. Through these, it runs two core businesses providing ICT training and certification and supplying licences for software used in the training and certification.

Abu aims to continue evolving Prestariang's business model for it to be more self-sustainable as there are expectations to build on its success now.

“The two important things that I have to address now are sustainability and scalability of the company,” he says.

Since becoming a public listed company in July this year, the company has grown its book order from RM145.29mil to RM299mil. Moving forward, he has set a target to double the company's financial growth.

He believes that for the company to be a contributor to technology, it has to be more than a user and that has encouraged Prestariang to actively register its own intellectual properties (IPs).

“But our IPs cannot be just anything new. For us, they must have commercial value. Before we commercialise an idea, we have to know how much revenue we can generate from it.

“Bottom line, I am a businessman and now I have also to look after our shareholders' value,” he says, explaining that the approach to IPs as a businessperson is different from that of an academic.

“Ultimately, we want to be independent. We are partners with Microsoft and IBM but we should not depend on them because with our own IPs, we can market them however we want to,” he says.

At the core of this jovial entrepreneur is a man with a big heart helping others open their minds.

Although he left the secure life of a full-time lecturer for the trials and tribulation of entrepreneurship, he claims he has never expunged teaching from his heart.

Back to his roots

He is now an adjunct professor at University Teknologi Mara and a visiting professor at Universiti Teknologi Malaysia. He is also a board member of Universiti Teknologies Sdn Bhd, an Assessor at the Multimedia Research Grant Scheme under MDeC and sits as a council member at Taylor's University.

“I always knew that I will go back to teaching. I want to contribute through teaching again,” he says.

He now lecturers for free as he does not want to view the classes in monetary terms.

“It is like cooking for me. I enjoy cooking very much but I wouldn't want to open a restaurant because I cook to share, not to earn from others,” says Abu.

He used to lecture on designs based on his architectural knowledge but with his know-how in entrepreneurship, he now teaches on the business of design instead.

Abu says those imparting knowledge need to have some practical experience or know-how of the industry relevant to their course in order to make the learning process more realistic instead of theorectical.

“It is important to know the pulse of the industry the relevance of the course to the actual field and the kind of demands out there otherwise whatever irrelevant things one teaches are multiplied by so many students who will go into the industry,” he says.

Before he left Multimedia University, he spoke to the lecturers there about the need for them to explore the real industry aside from focussing on their classes.

“If anyone should advise them, it should be me because we're on the same side of the classroom and I see what is wrong. But they were not open to the idea,” he recalls.

His goals remain true to the teaching profession as he aspires to help others widen their horizons.

“Not to sound arrogant but I want to produce people like me. I feel there should be more innovative entrepreneurs out there,” he says, adding “I want to encourage more people to be risk-takers.”

He says innovation and risk-taking need to come from both entrepreneurs and institutions that can finance business ideas.

“An innovative society is all about venturing into new areas and setting new benchmarks. People need to understand that not all innovative businesses produce returns quickly,”

Abu says out of an observation that many financial fraternity are short lived because institutions expect immediate returns on the projects they invest in.

Programmed to shut off

One of the most striking habits Abu has is his 6pm cut-off time from work.

“I am very firm with the time I want to spend with my family. I don't mind starting my day early but come 6pm, I leave work,” he says.

He does not believe in business networking dinners and night meetings though he will work from home.

In addition to that, going home early also means he has the time to indulge in his favourite pastime, cooking.

“Every day at 5pm, my wife will text me to see if I will be cooking dinner and most of the days, I cook,” he says.

His family-oriented values also extends to Prestariang where his management style has been more than palatable to the staff there. The company of 50 employees has almost no staff turnover since its inception.

And perhaps that, coupled with his passion to educate, is the reason why Abu has been able to lead Prestariang from being an innovative idea to a sweet success it is beginning to now taste.

BORN: 1961, Malacca

PERSONAL: Married with two boys, age 20 and 12

HIGHEST QUALIFICATION: PhD in Information Technology

CAREER: Entrepreneur


FAVOURITE PLACE: Alsace in France

HOBBY: Reading and Cooking

VALUES: No short cuts to success


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