Toast to an outstanding leader


WHEN Petronas chief executive officer Tan Sri Wan Zulkiflee Wan Ariffin (pic) was named as one of the 100 global Brand Guardians for 2019, almost all the media dutifully reported it but they were all published in the business section.

None of them delved deeper than the fact that it was another accolade for the head of the giant Malaysian oil and gas company.

But what the Malaysian media missed out on was that Wan Zulkiflee is the first Malaysian CEO to be included on the list.

To be more precise, the first in Asean.

Typical of the unassuming Petronas head honcho, he did not call up any of the media editors to tell them what they had left out and neither did the corporate communication team.

He merely thanked his staff in his monthly message and said that the honour was theirs.

But it was a big deal because he had just joined the ranks of global names like Jeff Bezos (Amazon), Akio Toyoda (Toyota), Bernard Arnault (Louis Vuitton), Tim Cook (Apple), Robin Li (Baidu), Ginni Rometty (IBM), Bob Iger (Disney), Qingping Li (China CITIC Bank), Satya Nadella (Microsoft) and Fred Smith (FedEx), and many others.

The fact is that Brand Finance is the world’s largest independent brand valuation firm and is the only company that publishes ISO compliant brand value-based rankings.

The CEO Guardianship is based on how the CEO contributes to the brand which uses the Brand Finance Proprietary methodology.

At a time when Malaysians are grappling with seemingly endless negative news of Malaysia, with our infamous financial scandal, and the lack of role models, Wan Zulkiflee’s recognition is like a whiff of fresh air.

Malaysia needs global champions badly.

Besides shoe designer Datuk Jimmy Choo, Hollywood actress Tan Sri Michelle Yeoh and badminton hero Datuk Lee Chong Wei, there are no more big names at the international stage.

Wan Zulkiflee may not be a household name but he stands tall among the bigwigs of the oil and gas companies internationally and by virtue of that, he keeps the Malaysian flag flying.

What it means for Malaysia is that the listing puts him and the company as a leader on the global stage.

This listing also shows that a Malaysian brand and leader can achieve global status and be recognised as among the world’s greatest brands.

It means we’re as good as the big boys in terms of our brand.

The Brand Guardians is prestigious because it’s a global ranking – of all CEOs of all brands around the globe and is widely recognised in the industry as among the top brand ranking agencies in the world.

The Malaysian and international public are familiar with the Petronas brand because the Malaysian Grand Prix was an annual auto race held in Malaysia.

It was part of the Formula One World Championship from 1999 to 2017, and it was held during those years at the Sepang International Circuit, with a global audience.

But as a business standing, Petronas’ brand strength index is 86, and the second strongest O&G brand in the global 500 ranking – a jump from the previous 83 in 2018 and at No. 3 for O&G.

It’s a seriously fantastic achievement that all Malaysians should be proud of but more than that, it is important that CEOs understand the value of brand. It is not merely the bottom line.

It has been proven that consumers place trust in brands, and there is an actual value attached to brands, and CEOs who understand the strategic importance of branding will nurture it.

Branding as discipline has evolved over the last couple of decades from being just an addendum to advertising campaigns, fancy ideas of the marketing department, optional function of the elite few to finally being recognised as a boardroom discipline that not only contributes to the top and bottom line of the company but also aids in enhancing shareholder value contributing to the market capitalisation of the company.

The public now wants to know what the company stands for and what its core values will be.

For branding to play a pivotal role in the company, it has to have strong support from the CEO and corporate management.

In Petronas, branding is allowed and supported to shape the organisational culture.

Our strong brand and unique identity and personality help define the culture of the company.

In this regard, Wan Zulkiflee has been instrumental in promoting a culture of integrity, transparency and an unfailing commitment to uncompromising standards of excellence, which our consumers and business partners can empathise with and trust in.

As an advocate of moderation who believes in highlighting the commonalities of Malaysians, I am enormously proud that Petronas is a brand built on powerful consumer insights.

Its TV commercials for every major festival is surely the best of all corporations.

Petronas was the first to adopt this direction, and now many companies have done the same, which is good.

Malaysians intrinsically believe in the concept of unity in all its different manifestations.

In this regard, its commercials for major festivals such as Hari Raya, Deepavali, Chinese New Year, Gawai and Kaamatan have over the years been a celebration of values and beliefs, associated with our shared dreams, filial piety, humility and a recognition that we are all one people, irrespective of race and creed.

The powerful messages in these TV commercials on our values and convictions through the years have gone a long way in strengthening the Petronas brand.

Well done, Tan Sri, for making Malaysia and Malaysians proud.

In the end, branding is about people and bringing people together.