We had the pleasure of interviewing Dato Abdul Razak, two time winner of the Business Leadership Award of Malaysia, presented by KL’s Chamber of Commerce at our Business Forum in April of this year.
We wanted to know, what makes him successful and what makes a leader effective today?
Since he was young, he had a hunger to become better, however, at that time he did not have the opportunity to further his education in university. He worked to support himself while studying part time. It took him five years to obtain his Bachelor of Science Degree and another four years to get his MBA. That hunger and the fear of losing out, together with his unconventional outlook in business made him who he is today.
From early on Dato Razak understood a key principle in business; that is, to always be ahead of the curve and to pursue the things that the majority are not doing.
Dato Razak had the entrepreneurial spirit in him from a young age. Back when he was working with Borneo Motor in his early twenties, Dato Razak treated the company like his own. He was always the first to arrive and the last to leave. His stellar work ethic made him top salesperson, helping the company to profit. However, he soon realised that he was getting a fixed pay cheque month after month, despite his efforts and contributions. This did not make much sense to him. But that is the way of the corporate world. So, he decided to quit.
Thirty years ago, Dato Razak was one of the first 10 people to sell Takaful Insurance in Singapore. At that time most of his friends thought that he was crazy – citing that there was no market for Takaful Insurance because then the Muslim people were not buying any insurance. However, instead of thinking that there was no market for shoes when a majority of the people were barefooted, Dato Razak saw the perfect opportunity in the 400,000 strong untapped Muslim market.
He bit the bullet, mastered the products and went on the journey to “educate” the market about Takaful Insurance, one person at a time. Before long, Dato Razak was earning approximately SGD 17,000 a month and his career soared for many years. He was a five time Million Dollar Round Table (MDRT) winner and a winner of the Court of the Table which is three times the achievement of a MDRT. From early on, Dato Razak understood a key principle in business; that is, to always be ahead of the curve and to pursue the things that the majority are not doing. He also noted that he wouldn’t have joined the insurance industry selling Takaful insurance today because the landscape of the market is vastly different. “Why would I want to sell a product that thousands of other people are already selling?” he laughed.
The Game Changer
On 11th September 2011, Dato Razak’s career took a turn when the world’s financial economy took a tumble together with the twin towers. He watched helplessly as the stock price of the investment linked products went south for his clients. Dato Razak decided then that he would never again leave the fate of his money to factors that he has no control over; aka-the financial investments. He divested and joined Walton Berhad, the largest foreign investment company in Malaysia at that time which was involved in selling land in the USA. Once again, his friends laughed and said to him “Who would want to buy a piece of land 19 hours away?”
Fast-forward 15 years later, today Dato Razak is heading a team of 200 people in Asia as the Director of Group First. While the other industry players are competing with each other selling luxurious properties with a view, he was the first to bring the opportunity of the retail sales of commercial car park spaces to the end consumers in Asia. The company recorded its most successful year in 2014, with a turnover of more than 100 million pounds in property sales.
Below is an excerpt from our conversation with Dato Abdul Razak:
What does it take for leaders to succeed in the international business landscape?
Mindset. I have a term for this kind of mindset called “Glocalisation” that is thinking globally while adapting to the respective environment and culture by acting locally. When you start to think of the world as your market, all of a sudden, you’ll see a whole new spectrum of opportunities. You have to think big and really find out how you could serve the need of one market by bridging them with what you have in your own market or vice versa.
Describe to us the kind of leadership discipline required to run a business across different continents.
As the leader of Group First in Asia, one of the most important parts of the business is to identify people with good potential, groom them and grow with them.
It doesn’t matter where you are in the world, at the end of the day, we all want to do well and be recognised for our effort. Leadership starts with being able to understand this principle. It doesn’t matter what industry you are in, you are in the people business. If you can produce good leaders, you are essentially duplicating yourself and freeing up yourself to develop in other areas.
As a leader, nothing gives me more joy than to watch the leaders grow within my own organisation and become successful in their career.
Managing different countries means that you cannot be available all of the time in one market. There is no way that you can manage effectively if you cannot trust your subordinates to make decisions. Hence, you must train your people well; give them the tools and authority to make decisions and trust that they will do the job right.
As a leader, you need to constantly grow. You can’t be a leader if you remain stagnant. How do you grow? You make it a point to acquire knowledge by reading, by attending training sessions, by meeting people who are better than you. What are you doing to make yourself a better version of you for tomorrow?