Here are some important reminders of our business history
IT'S clear of late that Malaysia has an awkward relationship with its past. Controversy after controversy have shown that it's hard for us to agree on the facts and interpretation that form a widely accepted version of our history, or indeed, on what separates historical facts from mere stories.
This is troubling. George Santayana was a philosopher, essayist, poet and novelist, but if he is to be universally noted for just one thing, it should perhaps be for the fact that he wrote this: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
Try arguing against that.
What's more worrying is that there's no collective effort by corporate Malaysia to enrich what we know about the pivotal developments in the country's business landscape. Key documents, publications and other forms of information from companies should be aggregated, organised and presented to a broad audience.
In other words, we should have a Museum of Corporate Knowledge. As a bonus, it has an easy-to-remember acronym Muck.
Of course, it ought to have features you would find in any other top-notch museum, such as objects of great significance, dioramas, interactive displays, and narratives.
Considering that corporate Malaysia is well over a century old the Companies Commission of Malaysia's origins go back to the late 19th century a major challenge is to select the people and events that deserve to be showcased in Muck.
And after that task has been completed, there's the equally difficult job of designing exhibits that best tell the story behind each choice. Some suggestions:
The power of no power
The story: Lightning struck a transmission facility on Sept 29, 1992, causing a blackout throughout Peninsular Malaysia. It took 48 hours to fully restore electricity supply. The incident prompted the Government to allow others to enter the business of generating power, until then the monopoly of Tenaga Nasional Bhd (TNB).
This paved the way for the birth of the independent power producers (IPPs).
Six months after the blackout, TNB signed a 21-year power purchase agreement (PPAs) with YTL Corp Bhd. Four more PPAs were inked in 1993. These early PPAs are highly lucrative, to the point that they were regarded as lopsided in favour of the IPPs.
The terms of subsequent PPAs were less generous, but the structure of the IPP programme has proven to be less than ideal because of the strain on TNB. Attempts to renegotiate the first-generation PPAs have failed.
The exhibit: The TNB equipment damaged by the September 1992 lightning strike. This serves to remind us of how an act of God can have far-reaching consequences.
The story: On Sept 5, 2001, DRB-Hicom Bhd agreed to sell its 99.25% stake in AirAsia Sdn Bhd to Tune Air Sdn Bhd for RM1 cash and the assumption of half of AirAsia's liabilities. Back then, AirAsia was making losses and was weighed downs by debts. The transaction was completed three months later.
Founded by Tan Sri Tony Fernandes, Datuk Kamarudin Meranun, Datuk Aziz Bakar and Datuk Pahamin Ab Rajab, Tune Air relaunched AirAsia as a low-fare carrier. Now listed on Bursa Malaysia, the airline has famously changed the region's aviation and travel industries.
The exhibit: If Tune Air had paid for the acquisition with a RM1 banknote, let's hope somebody has kept it as a souvenir and is willing to donate it to Muck. Framed and displayed prominently, it makes a great symbol of entrepreneurial vision and drive.
The story: Furniture manufacturer Kenmark Industrial Co (M) Bhd announced on May 31, 2010, that its quarterly results were delayed because, among other things, managing director James Hwang had gone missing. At the same time, the company was classified a PN17 stock because of loan default by a subsidiary.
The next day, businessman Datuk Ishak Ismail emerged as a substantial shareholder, and new directors of Kenmark were appointed. It was also around that time that the company released a letter and a press statement purportedly from Hwang, explaining his absence (supposedly due to illness) and promising that he would return to Malaysia. The share price rebounded strongly.
A week later, Ishak started selling his shares and soon ceased to be a substantial shareholder. The stock plunged again and this time, there was no reversal.
Kenmark was delisted on Dec 31, 2010. It appears that Hwang has not come back to Malaysia until today. The Securities Commission (SC) has initiated civil action against Ishak for insider trading and for making false or misleading statements.
The exhibit: Hwang's letter and press statement dated June 2, 2010, that were emailed to Kenmark's independent directors. These were instrumental in convincing people that it wouldn't be long before the company's woes were over.
The story: When Transmile Group Bhd was delisted in May last year, it marked the conclusion to a spectacular corporate flop. The air cargo company was once considered a top stock pick, mainly because it was part of Robert Kuok's empire and was poised to grow rapidly in tandem with Asia's trade boom.
The first sign of trouble surfaced in April 2007, when it missed the deadline for submitting its audited 2006 accounts. A special audit commissioned by the board of directors uncovered shocking irregularities. The company's revenue from 2004 to 2006 was overstated by hundreds of millions of ringgit. The audited shareholders' fund as at December 2006 was 55% less than the unaudited figure announced earlier.
Transmile took too long to get out of PN17 status and was booted out by the stock exchange.
In July 2007, the SC charged three Transmile senior executives, including CEO Gan Boon Aun, for abetting the company in making misleading statements. I
n November the same year, two former independent directors and audit committee members were charged for authorising the furnishing of a misleading statement to Bursa Malaysia.
The two ex-independent directors were found guilty in October last year and were jailed and fined. Gan's trial is ongoing.
The exhibit: Altimeter from one of the Transmile planes. The instrument for measuring altitude is a great representation of the ups and downs in the stock market. At its height, the Transmile share price reached RM14.40. It had been trading at less than 10 sen before its suspension and subsequent delisting.
Executive editor Errol Oh believes that when we know our follies may be put on public display, we're likely to be more careful and responsible.