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Saturday December 15, 2012

Up close and personal with Tengku Datuk Paduka Noor Zakiah Tengku Ismail

Co-founder and chairman of K&N Kenanga Holdings Bhd gets...

SHE may have been the rose among the thorns but she is no shrinking violet when it comes to stockbroking in the once male-dominant industry.

Tengku Datuk Paduka Noor Zakiah Tengku Ismail, the matriarch of K&N Kenanga Holdings Bhd, calls her breaking into the male-dominated stockbroking industry back in the 1960s a satisfying personal achievement.

She has been dubbed the heart and soul of the business, is widely respected and always ready with a smile.

Her office, displaying numerous charging bull figurines, doesn't just mirror her passion for the trading but also her can-do attitude in life.

Noor had her first taste of stockbroking in 1964, when she bought over the shares of a retiring Scottish broker in Malaysia's oldest stockbroking company Hallam & Co and became a member company of the then Stock Exchange of Malaysia.

Her fingerprints are imprinted on the bourse when, in the same year, she became the first bumiputra lady stockbroker in Malaysia, acknowledged as the first lady member to be accepted by Bursa Malaysia Securities Bhd.

In 1973, Noor co-founded K&N Kenanga Sdn Bhd, now known as Kenanga Investment Bank Bhd, and ran the show as executive chairman.

“Business is not always a bowl of cherries all ripe, red and ready for the taking. You need to have a lot of patience and tolerance, and most importantly, respect and understanding with the rest of the team,” she says, reflecting her management style.

“You must enjoy your work because that is the only way you are going to find the energy to excel.”

In a career embellished with many successes, Noor regards as one of her proudest achievements the listing of K&N Kenanga on the Bursa Malaysia main board.

The second came yesterday when Kenanga Investment Bank completed its merger with ECM Libra Investment Bank.

“This is significant (for me), as after almost 40 years, Kenanga Investment Bank is now the largest independent investment bank in the country (in terms of equity trading volume and value),” she says gleaming, “It has been like watching a child grow into a mature, successful adult. No words can describe the sense of pride, achievement and satisfaction I feel.”

“These are exciting times for us and especially for me.”

With the merger completed, Noor foresees a transformational journey for the company with new and greater things in store for K&N Kenanga.

“And to think that it all started from a very humble beginning.”

However, she attributes Kenanga's achievements to her team. “Achievements are never the sole ownership of one person. After all, no man is an island. Thanks to a talented pool of senior management and a dedicated team of employees, K&N Kenanga Holdings has been able to weather through storms thrown our way for almost 40 years. It is all about teamwork.”

Of the current trading environment, Noor says the stock market depends very much on the country's situation at any point in time, and we cannot expect the market to be consistently on an upward trend.

“Today, the industry remains challenging due to the current global situations the eurozone and the US financial dilemmas together with the natural disasters of recent years,” she says, pointing out the quantity easings, credit squeezes, banking and financial conundrums, not to mention earthquakes, tsunamis, floods and droughts.

Nevertheless, she remains optimistic.

“I think the Malaysian financial industry will be able to weather these global Black Swans just fine. We are blessed with ample natural resources, geographically and strategically well located and we have a pool of great talents.”

More importantly, she notes that Malaysia's political outlook is stable and with positive factors which will ensure the future development of the country and subsequently the stockbroking industry.

Budding from her roots

It is a pleasant surprise how personable Noor actually is albeit through the inorganic strings of text in an email. Noor's words have life in them, almost as if she is there with you in person, sipping coffee while recounting nostalgic moments that adorn her lustrous life.

“I cannot recall having any specific ambition or dream as a child. I did not know what I wanted to be when I grew up,” she says, “But, I remember clearly, always wanting to accompany my father when he set off for work.”

As a child, Noor picked up the business savvy of her father whom she regards as her mentor. Noor recalls her father's business which built a reliable and fair trade name for itself so much so that it became equally popular with the neighbouring town.

She reminisces: “It feels like it was just yesterday, when I standing next to my father observing him carry on with his day-to-day operations as a planter and owner of a hardware store in our family rubber estate.”

“By being his shadow, I got to know the people in and around Kuala Krai, Kelantan, and equally important, I also got to understand the production and trading process of rubber.”

She describes her mentor as “the planter (who) planted the seed of trading and the importance of networking in me”.

Noor's father taught her “the alchemy and value of money and continuously tested my ability to convert five sen into ten sen.”

He had sparked a passion for entrepreneurship in her. Noor's first business venture was conducted in her family's rubber estate involving fragrant jasmine-scented kenanga flowers.

She and a friend would pick the flowers and string them into garlands to be sold to the women living in the estate. Her garlands became popular especially around pay day.

“My father was a capable, wise and kind mentor. My mother was a strict but gentle disciplinarian, who taught me the principals and values of life,” she says.

Taking it easier

Noor has gone through a lot in her life, among which the Japanese occupation during World War 2, the Emergency and the British Adminis-tration. She feels she has been very blessed and lucky to have been able to do what she is passionate about.

“There are no regrets in my life and I do not pine for anything different. On the contrary, I have always been able to do all the things I have wanted to do.”

Now in her octogenarian years, Noor is taking life a little slower staying free of late nights. “I now take my time to do things, to smell the roses, hear the birds and appreciate the beauty of things around me.”

She appreciates the time spent with her extensive family of seven children, 18 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren as well as the company of lifelong, loyal friends both near and far.

Noor still keeps her career engine running, going to office every day, attending most meetings and travelling as often as she can for business and pleasure.

As a strong advocate on the development and welfare of women, she also allocates her time for charity as an honorary life member of the Selangor Cheshire Home.

On her hobby, she says fashion has always fascinated her.

“I love stockbroking, but I am equally interested in fashion. Maybe if stockbroking had not presented itself, I might have become a fashion designer we will never know,” she says.

When Noor was young, she came across stacks of American newspapers which featured fashion pages. “I was mesmerised by the beautiful clothes on the fashion pages. I started cutting out the pages so I could study them further.”

“My parents used to tell me off for taking home newspapers disposed by others but I just could not help myself,” she says. “Over time, I developed an interest in dress-making. I would cut and sew clothes which were popular and well received by my friends and relatives.”

Noor is a trained pattern cutter, seamstress and tailor who also enjoys designing fine jewellery and sourcing precious and semi-precious gemstones.

“Between my teens and early thirties, I owned a boutique, a beauty salon as well as an arts and craft shop and truly enjoyed organising fashion shows on behalf of worthy charities in Kota Baru and Kuala Lumpur,” she says.

“But once I found stockbroking, that became my passion and fashion and jewellery became my hobby.”

She takes life as it has panned out with a smiley attitude. “Que sera sera what will be, will be. Things happen for a reason, and usually there is a good reason why things do not happen when you want it to. In my case, a blessing in disguise.”


BORN: 1926, in Menkebang Esta te (Kebun Raja), Kuala Krai, Kelantan

PERSONAL : widowed; seven children, 18 grandchildren, six great-grandchildren

CAREER: Currently the non-executive chair man of K&N Kenanga Holdings Bhd, appointed to the board in July 1996; co-founder of Kenanga Investment Bank Bhd

FAVOURITE FOOD: All food as I love to eat

FAVOURITE PLACE: My little pondok

HOBBY: Travelling, spending time with family, designing jewellery

VALUES: Honesty

INSPIRATION: Margaret Thatcher