Up Close & Personal with Paul Moung

  • Business
  • Saturday, 19 Oct 2013

WHEN he was a young boy, Paul Moung stayed at a monastery in his native country of Myanmar (formerly Burma).

Although he did this just twice in his life – both of them briefly, the experience has remained with him a lifetime. In fact, Moung believes that many of the values he inculcates in his daily work schedule stems from his time at the monastery.

“Watching the monks go through their daily rituals, it was all about calmness, commitment and self-discipline,” says the managing director of IBM Malaysia.

Moung says he spent about a week each time at the monastery – the first was with his two brothers when he was six years old; the second with his cousins when he was nine.

“There were certain rituals that we had to follow, such as fasting, wearing sacred robes, chanting prayers and having our heads shaved.”

Moung recalls he had to wear two types of robes at the monastery – one during prayers and another almost most of the time.

“There was one sacred robe we had to wear all the time, and no matter what, we were not allowed to drop it below our knees, even in the bathroom!

That required a lot of discipline, he says. But playing the role of a monk was more than just about aesthetics – it’s a way of life, albeit a tough one, especially for a young boy.

“We had to go around begging with bowls and I had to fast from noon until the next morning. We could only have sips of water, so the temptation to eat was strong and it was difficult.”

This trained Moung to be self-disciplined.

“Discipline is easier when it’s imposed on you. But self-discipline is not easy. Like dropping the robe below your knees – although no one can see you when you’re in the bathroom, you take it upon yourself to ensure that you abide by the rules.”

Born and raised during the early part of his life in Burma, Moung is also no stranger to hardship. Following the military coup led by General Ne Win in the early 1960s, Moung’s father, who was a police commissioner, was a political prisoner for four years.

Moung was only eight when it happened.

“Many people were made political prisoners at the time. What’s worse was that we were not allowed to see him. My brothers and I would joke that even a convicted murderer was allowed to receive visitors.

“The only correspondence we had with him was through letters. We could send him things but, of course, they would have to be screened.”

Moung and his family left Burma and moved to Hong Kong in 1971. The family then moved to Tokyo, where Moung received the bulk of his formal education.

IBM man

He would later graduate with a Master of Business Administration from Sophia University, Tokyo. Moung recalls during his university years in Japan when many of his professors would refer to IBM in their lectures and course practices.

“IBM would always be mentioned as the company was highly regarded and admired. I think that had a huge influence on me and why I wanted to work there.”

Moung joined IBM in Hong Kong in 1979. Since then, he has held various management jobs in sales and marketing in Hong Kong, China, India and Singapore. Moung was instrumental in introducing IBM’s RISC Unix platform in China in 1990, which catapulted the company to become the undisputed market leader in this space in China.

In 1994, he was appointed general manager in Hong Kong, the first Asian to be appointed to this role in the history of IBM in Hong Kong. During his time, Moung transformed and grew IBM’s market share in Hong Kong as the computer giant struggled to revive its business worldwide in the wake of a major crisis.

His success led to him being tasked with building IBM software business in South Asia for the newly created IBM Software Group. During this period, Moung was also responsible for the integration of the Lotus software company into IBM in this part of the world.

Subsequently, he was appointed general manager, systems, software, and cross industry solutions for South Asia. Here, Moung was instrumental in leading IBM’s re-entry into the India market after a 30-year absence. IBM had exited the sub-continent in 1978.

In 1999, Moung was assigned to Tokyo as vice-president, storage systems group, Asia Pacific, and went on to lead the revival in the storage market for IBM in Asia Pacific. He then returned to Singapore as vice-president, systems and technology group/business partners for South Asia.

In 2008, he was assigned to Tokyo as vice-president, systems and technology group, and appointed a member of the board of directors at IBM Japan.

In April of this year, he was appointed to his current position as managing director of IBM Malaysia.

Moung admits that working in various countries presented different challenges.

“Based on first-hand experience, every market is unique and different. In mature markets, attrition is not much of a problem. But in growth markets, it’s harder to retain talents. So you have to manage things differently.”

Moung no doubt is using his past experience to oversee his Malaysian operations.

“Malaysia is like all other markets. There are companies here that have the aspiration to go regional or global, while some want to focus on the domestic market.

“When I divide Malaysia into different groups, it’s similar to many countries. So in reality, the business is not much different.”

As for skills and talents management, Moung says IBM tries to ensure its people are retained and remain competitive.

“As companies out there strive to go to the next level, upgrading of skills is required. Every customer I’ve spoken to aspires to do that and we also need to improve ourselves.

“We have a commitment to serve global clients using Malaysian talents.”

Having a wide presence, a big challenge for IBM is to be able to tweak and offer its services to specific target groups, says Moung.

“A question that often comes up is how do we bring all this to our customers in Malaysia. We have large, medium and small customers. So how do we cater to their individual requirements? We need to provide customised solutions.”

“We don’t want SMEs to feel like IBM is unapproachable. So we’re always finding ways to make IBM relevant to the broad market rather than just the larger companies out there.”

The well-read athlete

Moung is married with two children. His hobbies include golf, tennis, listening to music and reading. When he was young, he aspired to be an athlete.

“My initial ambition was to become an athlete, so that I could win trophies and medals. I was in the swimming, tennis, track and field, badminton, football and rugby teams.”

“My monastery experience, and involvement in sports, has helped me to stay focused and think straight.”

An avid reader, Moung says he loves reading biographies of famous people.

“I’ve been reading biographies for the last 30 years, ranging from musicians, entrepreneurs, business leaders, self-made billionaires, politicians to even spiritual leaders.”

Moung lists Richard Branson, Howard Hughes and Gandhi among his favourites.

“When you read about these people, it tells you something that relaxes you and helps you to come to terms with the global, social problems that might worry you.”

Moung says it is a dream of his to be able to write his own book some day.

“I want to write a biography of my own. Of course, I don’t know if people will actually read it,” he says with a chuckle.

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