IT was a town hall meeting that they knew would be different. For the employees of Petroliam Nasional Bhd (Petronas) who started trickling into the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre on Monday at about 3pm, they wanted to hear directly from the head honchos on the company’s future direction. And it was not just about oil prices but also the future of the president.
The hall was packed to the brim. All Petronas departments have their traditional town hall sessions at least twice a year. But this was a company town hall, and space was limited. Although it was a by-invitation event, many simply came. And the town hall was beamed live to 21 Petronas offices overseas.
According to insiders, CEO Tan Sri Shamsul Azhar Abbas was in his element as he spoke for close to two hours. It was a passionate heart-and-soul address from a man who has served Petronas for 40 years.
Ironically, even though Shamsul knew that his tenure was ending – what the town hall people knew at that time was that he had just been given a rather odd seven-month contract – he spoke as though he was driving the organisation on.
As one employee puts it, “It was as if he was sharing the 40 years of his legacy in just two hours with much tenacity and candour.”
Another worker likened his address to that of a concerned leader, who navigated the company through the current hard times despite facing endless criticism personally.
He reminded those present at the meeting that his only hope was that the employees would continue to strive based on meritocracy, and that the nation’s oil and gas resources are for all Malaysians regardless of race and religion.
When referring to the current slump in crude oil prices, he said Petronas would weather the storm.
“It is in the darkest hours that we find the brightest light,” he said.
It was a truly genuine and moving speech. And then he broke the news.
The mood became somber. Many were touched, and seen wiping their tears as he spoke about his possible last days as CEO. By then the official announcement from the Prime Minister’s office had been released, and Shamsul was able to inform the audience that the current chief operating officer (COO), Datuk Wan Zulkiflee Wan Ariffin, would take over the helm of the national oil company on April 1.
He told the audience he would sort things out and leave his post at the end of next month. And he warmly welcomed Wan Zulkiflee, who has already been part of the succession plan since becoming COO in 2012.
The town hall ended, but many stayed behind. Some went up to the CEO to express their thanks, and took photos with him. It would not be possible for him to know everyone, but it was clear everyone knew him. And loved him.