Ability to win out there

  • Business
  • Saturday, 31 Dec 2011

Local companies must use the domestic market as a launching pad and look beyond our shores

WHILE on vacation in Perth some months ago, I went fishing with my nephew. It was a quiet, beautiful beach, but we had no luck in catching fish! Then, my nephew saw an Australian fishing round the bend, and he was reeling in fish after fish. My nephew took his rod and walked over to him. He stood next to the guy, put in the bait and cast his line into the water. In just minutes, his line was entangled with the Aussie's.

Naturally, my nephew was embarrassed and totally apologetic. As he apologised, the gentleman looked him in the eye and said, “It's a big beach, mate!”

The point is exactly that. The world is a very big beach. It is a huge global market out there. So, when we start quarrelling among ourselves about the small domestic market, we have a problem. We are completely missing the point.

Malaysian companies must use the domestic market as a launching pad and then look beyond our shores. The local market is only the starting point. Our future lies in our ability to win out there. That cannot happen until and unless competitiveness truly exists among Malaysian entrepreneurs.

To my mind, this is the new dawn which we must work towards. Malaysia can do it but we must not get bogged down in arguing about the domestic market.

Building strong brands

We must look forward to a time when Malaysian companies can say that we have produced a particular mobile phone or that we own 60% market share for LED televisions. Today, these products are made in South Korea. We don't have strong global brands. Why? Could it be because Malaysians are not “kiasu” enough? Or maybe, Malaysians are not hungry enough.

Look around. There are many stories of billion-dollar companies that began as small businesses. Look at Samsung and LG. Both the South Korean corporations started small in their local market. Today, Samsung is one of the biggest global brands in mobile devices, and LG is a household name.

With the Economic Transformation Programme (ETP), we have set out to create a competitive environment. We announced six reform initiatives in July this year, and are working towards implementing the lab recommendations.

In the recent Budget, the Prime Minister announced the liberalisation of 17 services sub-sectors in phases in 2012. We are also open to foreign equity participation of up to 100% in selected sub-sectors. In addition, come January 2012, the Competition Law will be implemented.

These structural reform initiatives complement our focus areas the 12 National Key Economic Areas. We need both focus and competitiveness to transform Malaysia into a competitive high-income nation.

Successful countries that have bred global brands have gone through this path. How did South Korea transform itself? There is no clarity and it probably happened over a period of time. But the pattern was clear it was very focused.

Take Singapore. It wants to be a logistics and trading hub. I remember Lee Kuan Yew giving a speech at the invitation of the International Air Transport Association. He was asked about Singapore Airlines. He said he did not care whether or not Singapore Airlines succeeded. He cared more that Changi succeeded.

If Singapore Airlines cannot be competitive, Singapore will have to open its doors to other airlines. To Lee, it came down to the fact that Singapore Airlines must be competitive; the goal was to make Singapore a logistics hub, not whether Singapore Airlines succeeded.

Be focused, competitive

So, we must wake up to this and if we look at other countries, the pattern is clear: It is all about being focused and competitive.

What we are seeing now is a new dawn for our country and Malaysian entrepreneurs. As a country, we are more focused and becoming more competitive. We are attracting more foreign investments. From January to September this year, our foreign direct investments rose 42% to RM26.4bil from RM18.6bil in the previous corresponding period.

Our economic rankings globally have also improved. In the World Economic Forum Global Competitive Report, 2011-2012, our ranking improved to 21st from 26th among 183 economies. Malaysia was the sixth most competitive country among Asia-Pacific economies and second in Asean.

This is a good start for our 10-year ETP roadmap. The time is right for Malaysian entrepreneurs to leverage the competitive environment, grow their businesses locally and around the globe. Now is the time to move beyond the Malaysian shores.

As the Australian on the beach aptly put it, “The beach is very big, mate!” I say to my fellow Malaysians: To let us get our Malaysian products out into the global marketplace, we need to befocused and competitive. We can all be winners.

● Senator Datuk Seri Idris Jala is Minister in the Prime Minister's Department and CEO of the Performance Management & Delivery Unit (Pemandu).

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