My university lecturer and mentor, the CEO

"A strong command of the English language needs to be emphasised by the university to avoid producing graduates who have ideas, but are unable to articulate them because they are unable to communicate in English properly."

This piece of advice was not part of an English empowerment programme – rather, it was said by Datuk Seri Azman Mohd, CEO of Tenaga Nasional, during a lecture entitled "The Right Attitudes of Engineering Technology Graduates from the Perspective of an Engineer" at Universiti Malaysia Pahang on Oct 19, 2016.

"In business, the most important thing for an entrepreneur is to have an idea. Once you have an idea, the rest is simple – execution, implementation, etc. The gold is in the idea. The idea was if I could fly people to Penang for 50 or 60 ringgit, would it work? Absolutely. So that became my passion."

I'd ask you to guess who said this, but the reference to a cheap flight to Penang is a giveaway. This was none other than Tan Sri Tony Fernandes, sharing this advice and many more with Universiti Putra Malaysia students in April this year.

"Break away from traditional conventions, learn to code. The best universities in the world such as Harvard are making coding an essential part of their curriculum."

This was said by Datuk Yasmin Mahmood, CEO of the Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC). She has been very busy lately as MDEC is spearheading Malaysia's push in the digital economy. She shared her views at a talk in Universiti Teknologi Malaysia last week.

The above are just some of the gems of advice shared by leaders of top organisations to university students this year.

Now, can you guess what these leaders have in common? If you guessed "rich", you're likely correct, but the answer I'm looking for is that all of them are members of the CEO @ Faculty Programme (CFP).

The CFP is an initiative by the Higher Education Ministry under Shift 2 of the Malaysia Education Blueprint 2015-2025, which speaks about "Talent Excellence".

A year on, I'm glad to say that CFP has grown from strength to strength.

Humble beginnings

From its start in 2015 with just 24 CEOs, 2016 sees 60 CEOs joining the fray. They are not just from the private sector, but also include top civil servants such as the Chief Secretary to the Government, the Inspector General of Police and others from Government-linked companies.

To date, these "Adjunct Professors" as appointed as by their respective host universities, have cumulatively contributed more than 400 hours of their time to CFP. More than 90 lectures have been delivered, 30 meetings and guidance sessions held, and have benefited more than 60,000 students.

Adding value

The passion shown by the CEOs have been inspiring, with some going beyond the call of the programme.

One particular CEO has even contributed 60 hours of his time (the minimum commitment is 30 hours a year).

Tan Sri Irwan Serigar Abdullah, the Secretary General of the Treasury, has started a mentorship programme in Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia known as "Masterclass Entrepreneur", an elective course that was offered (after a rigorous selection process) to highly-motivated, aspiring entrepreneurs from among undergraduate and postgraduate students. The course aims to produce smart, knowledgeable and excellent young entrepreneurs. Irwan is the lead facilitator throughout the 14-week course and is assisted by a top management team from the Malaysian Global Innovation and Creativity Centre (Magic) and other agencies.

MDEC's Yasmin, on the other hand has brought together top IT companies, such as Oracle, Microsoft, VADs, TM, HILTI and I2M to contribute to UTM's "Data Engineering" undergraduate programme which will be carried out using a "2u2i" approach. 2u2i is a work-based learning programme whereby the UTM students spend two years in university and two years in the industry. The top IT companies will host the students over a period of two years. Yasmin has activated her networks and wants to see the university succeed. She remarked "the Ministry's flexible approach to education has made things more interesting and we believe this is a great way forward".

The CEOs seem to be enjoying the opportunity to engage with students and members of the academic community. Their lectures not only touch upon technical matters, but also about rewiring how students view themselves, their ambitions, their responsibilities and their potential.

Many CEOs are also walking the talk. One CEO said, "industry tends to complain that universities are not producing graduates the industry needs. Well, now I'm here to work with the university to make this a reality".

The CFP has also strengthened academia-industry relations. Beyond the CEOs, it has bred familiarity at the working level between university and industry staff, which is translating into tangible benefits.

Coached by the Pros

The motto for the first phase of CFP is "Learn from the Pros". Soon, phase two will be launched with the motto "Coached by the Pros".

CFP 2.0 will see a select number of CEOs taking up the mantle of coach and mentor to young university lecturers who have the potential to become future leaders. They will be placed at the CEOs' offices with a dedicated assignment for six months in order to learn, understand and capture the corporate culture in managing a high-profile company. CFP 2.0 is slated for a 2017 launch.

The CFP is the Higher Education Ministry's way of redesigning education in Malaysia. Industry has always been present in academia, but with the CFP, the approach is more structured and purposeful. Greater synergy between academic and industry will lead to a better higher education system in the long run.

*Thank you to Dr Arham Abdullah, Director of Industry Relations, Department of Higher Education Malaysia, for assisting and contributing to this article. More information on CFP can be obtained at

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Danial Rahman

Danial Rahman

Danial Rahman has education close to his heart. He tweets at @danial_ari and welcomes feedback at


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