KUALA LUMPUR: On the second day into his job as the head honcho of 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB), Arul Kanda Kandasamy (pic) met up with reporters from a foreign news wire and a local newspaper promising a higher degree of transparency from the organisation.
The 38-year-old law graduate from the London School of Economics, who honed his skills as an investment banker in London and the Middle East, said that it would be business as usual for 1MDB without any disruptions to its existing plans.
This means 1MDB’s plans to list its energy division, which is slated for the first quarter of this year based on previous reports, and the development of the Tun Razak Exchange (TRX), a prime piece of property located in the heart of the city, are intact.
On the strategic review that the government-owned fund is undertaking of 1MDB, which was established six years ago, Arul said it was a periodic check that most companies undertook from time to time.
“We have 15 power plants in multiple countries and the scale of Bandar Malaysia and TRX are complex projects. Companies undertake periodic checkpoints and the age of the company is not a function, given the reality that the world moves at light speed,” he said in an interview with StarBiz.
Arul took over as president and group executive director of 1MDB, which is wholly owned by the Finance Ministry, on Jan 6, taking over from Mohd Hazem Abdul Rahman.
In the announcement of his appointment, 1MDB chairman Tan Sri Lodin Wok Kamaruddin also revealed the strategic review that the company was undertaking.
In a departure from the past, where the chief executives of 1MDB rarely engaged the media, Arul said that he came fully aware of the challenges of assuming the top post in what is widely regarded as corporate Malaysia’s hottest seat.
Arul said that chief among the reasons for him accepting the offer was a chance to be back on Malaysian soil and that he felt the job scope fitted his experience.
“There are challenges (in heading 1MDB) and I am fully aware of this. I am Malaysian and have family and friends here. Having been offered a role to come back to Malaysia is very attractive.
“From a professional perspective, a lot of what I have been doing in my career is structured finance and I have a legal background and have been managing assets,” he said.
“The mandate fits quite well with my professional background. It’s something I know I can do and am willing to give it a shot,” said Arul, who was formerly from the Royal Military College and was known as a strong debater in his school days.
“He has even won awards at national and international levels,” said a friend who knew of him.
1MDB’s business is essentially in property development and the generation of electricity. It had assets worth RM51.4bil and total liabilities of RM49bil as at end-March 2014.
Arul did not shy away from fielding questions on 1MDB’s finances and its funds placed with licensed financial institutions overseas.
“I am being transparent with what I know. What I can say is that in terms of the funds in Cayman Islands, a proportion of it has already come back and the remainder of the funds has already or is in the process of coming back,” he said.
Arul spent 10 years with Barclays in London and later moved on to establish Credit Agricole in the Middle East. After a stint with Credit Agricole, he joined Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank PJSC (ADCB) as executive vice-president and head of investments.
Between 2008 and 2011, when ADCB had a stake in RHB Capital Bhd (RHB Cap), Arul was its representative sitting on board the financial institution.
It was during his tenure as a director of RHB Cap that he got to know a director of 1MDB, Ashvin J. Valiram. When the board of 1MDB was looking for a new chief executive, Ashvin reached out to Arul, and the rest is history.
He dismissed suggestions that his appointment was because of certain individuals or due to his employer.
The Abu Dhabi government is indirectly the single-largest shareholder in ADCB while 1MDB has business agreements with Aabar Investments PJS and International Petroleum Investment Co, two companies owned by Abu Dhabi.
“I am a professional and have always been a professional. I am not aligned to any party or any other purpose apart from the purpose I am given, which is the mandate from my board – that is to act in the best interest of our shareholder,” said Arul.