Fireside Chats provides opportunity for CEOs to learn from CEOs
By ROSHAN THIRAN
In June this year, Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC) launched and kicked off the Leadership Dojo programme specifically catered for chief executive officers (CEOs).
This amazing programme includes intense leadership development sessions with top thought leaders like Tan Sri Liew Kee Sing, IMD Professor of Innovation and Strategy Michael Wade, former hostage negotiator George Kolhrieser, and former Harvard Business Review editor and MIT Lecturer Kate Sweetman. It also includes other though leaders like Prof Dr. Goh Chee Leong, one of Asia’s top psychologist, and other prominent academics and global leaders.
The programme also includes an executive coach – a personal mentor comprised of prominent CEOs and numerous exposure opportunities, including closed-door sessions with Tan Sri Liew Kee Sin, EcoWorld chairman and other prominent leaders – for each participating CEO.
I had the privilege of being the first Dojo programme manager. As programme manager, I got to know the various CEOs who were participants in the programme and also other CEOs who had become mentors and teachers of the programme.
The line-up of mentors was incredible. It pretty much comprised of the who’s who of Malaysia. Amongst the mentors include CEOs from Siemens, UEM Group, Citibank, GE, Alliance Bank, MMC Corp, Quintiq, Media Prima Radio, PwC, Valiram, Accenture, Digi, DNex and many others. One of the highlights was the fireside chats that these CEOs had with the programme participants.
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Here are some of my key lessons learnt from four great Malaysian CEOs who inspired us during their fireside chats:
Albern Murty (CEO, DIGI)
Albern became the first Malaysian CEO at DiGi.com Bhd and DiGi Telecommunications Sdn Bhd since Norway-based Telenor Group took over more than 17 years ago. He was in sales, selling Apple Macintosh computers, before moving to Lucent Technologies Inc.
He worked across a number of countries including Australia, Hong Kong, the Philippines, India and finally, in Malaysia. He ended up serving a few telcos as a vendor and felt the frustrations of dealing with local operators. After that, he started his own business before he moved to Digi. At Digi, he worked under five different CEOs before being named CEO.
According to Albern, his real title is not CEO but chief change-maker and storyteller. Here are some key lessons picked up from Albern’s sharing at the Leadership Dojo fireside chats:
1. Turun padang—Albern really enjoys going down to his retail stores and having real dialogue sessions with customers. He gets scolded often by Digi customers (who are oblivious to the fact that they are complaining to the CEO) and he enjoys learning from them about their pain points and frustrations. He really wants Digi to not only to deliver on the vision, but to be its customers’ favourite partner in this new “digital life.”
2. Everyday innovation every day—Albern believes that innovation is not a one-off process. It is a continuum. Only through daily innovation can we make the impossible possible through organic growth and the execution of new ideas.
3. People, people, people—For Albern, everything he does has to revolve around growing his people, each and every Digizen (citizen of Digi). To him, it is critical to nurture an inclusive culture, develop talent that is performance-driven and to build a sustainable “work-playground.” Work has to be engaging, fun and rewarding.
4. Be your own brand ambassador—Each of us has a unique and inspiring personality. Never try to be someone else but work hard to build your own personal brand. People are inspired by unique personalities. Work tirelessly to make your brand stand out.
5. Be the chief engagement officer not a CEO—The key role of a CEO is to use every opportunity to engage with people. Be curious and ask lots of questions all the time. And never forget to have fun all along the way.
Watch the fireside video interview with Albern:
Joel Kornreich (Group CEO, Alliance Bank)
Kornreich began his career in Belgium with Unilever. He never wanted to work in banking as he found it boring unlike the exciting world of marketing he was in. He was finally drawn in to the marketing aspects of banking before going on an amazing journey travelling all over the world with Citibank, ABN AMRO and other banks. He has lived and worked in the United Kingdom, the United States, Belgium, Indonesia, South Korea, Russia, Singapore and Malaysia.
Everywhere he goes, he innovates and drives change and transformation. He never tires of reinvention and he keeps going from strength to strength.
As I have got to know him, here are four key lessons on innovation I have picked up from our various dialogues and his sharing at the Leadership Dojo fireside chats:
1. Always reinvent—You need to continuously have the mindset that change is moving forward. Keep looking for opportunities in every obstacle and situation. There is always an opportunity to reinvent and drive change. And reinvent everything – your business model and strategy, your processes and structures, and even your organisational culture – because everything is ripe for reinvention.
2. Executing great ideas and reinvention needs time—Nothing can be done instantly. Every new idea takes time to see the fruits of execution. Don’t give up but be relentless in execution. Give time for learning, growth and skills to be learnt and embraced.
3. Don’t just be innovative, build innovative cultures—Innovation has to be a process in your organisation. More importantly, it has to be ingrained as part of your DNA, as part of your culture. Build elements of innovation into your culture and see innovation thrive.
4. Every company has to be a technology company—Yes, even banks. Joel believes that technology and automation is a key strategic weapon that can be leveraged by all organisations. Technology is key to winning in the future and has to be harnessed today.
Watch the fireside video interview with Kornreich:
Zainal Abidin Abd Jalil (Group MD, DNeX)
Zainal accumulated a wealth of experience starting out at ExxonMobil as a field engineer. He worked in 15 roles during his 28 years at ExxonMobil across numerous countries. His roles included working in Angola, Canada and finally in the United States as a Global Lead.
At ExxonMobil, he had to manage many foreigners who were older and much more experienced than him, and he believes that his passion to continually excel and always have the humility to learn is what enabled him to prosper and continually get promoted. Post ExxonMobil, he moved back to Malaysia to become CEO of Malakoff.
He learnt numerous lessons working in Malaysia and growing the business globally. After a few years at Malakoff, he is now the group managing director of DNeX.
He comes from a humble background, being the first in his family to graduate from university. He had to cope with numerous challenges before he saw success and he believes that there are three key aspects of leadership. He calls this the three C’s of Leadership. They are:
- Team leadership: This is the ability to lead, manage and retain a team. Without this ability, the team will fail. The ability to manage a team is leant through experience and practice.
- Process discipline: Having the competence of being able to build and develop processes is key. Each successful business has strong processes. Leaders must be able to observe process gaps and fix it. This requires deep process knowledge and capability.
- Driving excellence: Excellence is competence. In everything we do, we need to do it with excellence. This means making ourselves better every single day.
- Bias for action: Leaders must be biased to action. Action is what differentiates winners from losers.
- Commitment to a common purpose: Great leaders always start with a vision. This vision energises and directs the organisation. Leaders must be able to ensure that they can drive everyone to be committed to the cause and not just be compliant to the cause. Personal conviction of the vision is key.
- Self-directed, takes initiative: Great leaders drive proactive initiatives. They do not wait. They have a deep conviction that directs them and do not need bosses to remind them of the vision.
- Independent, stays the course: Great leaders are focused on the final goal. They remain steadfast to the cause and never flinch till they achieve the goals outlined.
- Lead change, continuously improve: Having the courage to lead change is key. Everyone is going to be against change and reinvention. Everyone will champion against you. You need to have the courage to stay the course. You need to have courage to keep driving change. You need to have the courage to stand strong even when all else is against you.
- Bring up ideas, overcome hurdles, eliminate red tape: Having the courage to overcome hurdles is key to your success. You will feel like giving up many times. You must find the courage deep inside to keep pressing on.
- Take calculated risks: We all have to take risks. But never try to gamble or think you are invisible. Take calculated risks.
- Influence without direct authority: It is easy to lead with a title. Much harder to really lead with influence. Great leaders have the courage to lead with influence. Influence is the heartbeat of leadership.
Watch the fireside video interview with Zainal:
Lee Lung Nien (CEO, Citibank Malaysia)
Lung, as he is affectionately known by both his employees and his friends, is a CEO with a cadre of talent. He plays in a rock band, races for fun, is the current Rotax Max Challenge Asia champion, a certified scuba-diving instructor besides leading Citibank Malaysia (Citibank) to amazing performances.
He strongly advocates leaders to become all-rounders to enable better decision-making and to broaden their perspectives and understanding of various issues. According to Lung, having a life doesn’t burn you out but rather energises you. You learn so much from meeting different people which you can bring into the workplace.
Lung started at Citibank more than 26 years ago as a credit analyst and worked his way to the CEO role. Here are the key lessons I gathered from him from the Dojo programme and other sessions he has shared at:
1. You need to be good outside of your current job—You can be the best person at your role, but to truly be world-class you need to have deep interest in other areas of the organisation. You need to be able to integrate and collaborate and you can’t do that if you only know your part of the role.
2. Take on roles that nobody wants—Lung shares from his own experience where he had to take on a role in the Anti-Money Laundering (AML) area where he had no background or desire for. Yet, that role enabled him to be propelled into the leadership limelight. Similarly, he adds that your biggest growth comes from taking on experiences in areas that you may not necessarily enjoy or be familiar with.
3. Work on your AQ (Adversity Quotient)—When you get knocked down, you get up. Reinvent yourself to suit to the environment. When people give you feedback, listen and take note of the feedback. Feedback is a key growth mechanic. Take the feedback (regardless how nasty) and try to adapt and change for the better. Deal with adversity as it comes. The more the better.
4. Find your own mentors—Have tonnes of mentors. Go to different mentors to seek different advice. Get an informal mentor to share your journey with. Mentors make a huge difference. They teach you how to manage across levels and also enable you to see things you may not have seen.
5. You got to have a “can do” attitude—Always stay on track and keep focused on solutions. If you are positive in life, people will enjoy hanging out with you. In order to achieve positivity, you should hang out with positive people too. But most importantly, always believe you can. Go out and achieve whatever you hope to achieve. Believe you can do it.
Watch the fireside video interview with Lung:
Great leaders are great teachers. The more time I spent time with the CEO mentors in this Leadership Dojo, the more I am reassured that there is great hope for corporate Malaysia. These leaders give back their knowledge and experience to others and in the process, they reinforce and exponentially grow their own legacies.
This Leadership Dojo has taught me that the best leaders teach and never stop learning. We have amazing CEOs who are teaching other CEOs and enabling them to thrive in this volatile and turbulent times. Let’s all learn from these CEOs and keep teaching and inspiring others to make this world a better place.