Tell us about your background. How did you get to where you are now?
I’m from Pasir Mas, Kelantan, a state situated in the North-East of Peninsular Malaysia, and the eldest daughter of two teachers. I started work as an analyst programmer with a local bank after graduating with a double-major in Computer Science and Mathematics. Eventually, I moved on to become the General Manager of Hewlett Packard Malaysia’s Commercial Channels Organisation, and then the General Manager and Regional Corporate Director of Dell Malaysia. This was followed by my stint as Microsoft Malaysia’s Managing Director, after which I joined the YTL Group briefly. In September 2014, I was offered the role of CEO for the Multimedia Development Corporation of Malaysia (MDeC) – a role that I still hold to this day.
Why did you decide to join the public sector?
Actually, I did not apply for this position. I did not think about it – and the reason was that I was at a stage of my life where I made the decision to really not do anything with the ‘C’ (chief) level. I would be on the board, I was pursuing whatever pet projects that I was passionate about. So when the call came, I was very surprised, and I had to really think about it. I had to first agree to put my name in the shortlist; it was a very intense deliberation with myself – because, like I mentioned, I was in the position where I was already 50, I’d already been a CEO for God knows how many decades, and I just wanted to pursue my passions. I was in a position where I was lucky enough to be able to say that I could pursue whatever I wanted to do.
But when this came, the bigger reservation was the huge responsibility that came with this. It is not a job, but it is a responsibility that is beyond whatever I had ever experienced before in my life. As a CEO, of course you have a big responsibility – but that was to shareholders. And if you fail, you are failing a subsidiary within a very big conglomerate. But in this role, if you fail, I feel like you would be failing the whole nation. Anybody who knows me knows that I am not the sort who can just come in and do things without worrying about the impact of what I was doing. If I were to do something, I want to make a difference – otherwise, I won’t do it. So I knew that if I were to take this on, it would be a very different thing.
And when the appointment came, there was no turning back. It was going to change my life. At my end, though, it is about making a difference – especially the impact the digital economy is going to have on Malaysia. At our end, Digital Malaysia is all about enabling the digital economy and catalysing a holistic ecosystem that promotes the pervasive use of information, communications and technology for government, businesses and citizens-at-large. It is aimed at advancing the country towards a developed digital economy by 2020.
More than anything else, it is about creating an ecosystem that promotes the pervasive use of ICT in all aspects of the economy. This then connects communities globally and empowers them to interact in real time to realise the goals of increased Gross National Income, enhanced productivity and improved standards of living.
At the end of the day, Digital Malaysia aims to contribute increasingly to Malaysia’s GDP, and for the ICT sector to be a crucial pillar of the national economy – and the reality of that vision is what keeps me going every single morning when I wake up.
What is the best thing you have experienced in your career?
There are many moments that made me feel that the efforts which my teams and I have made are all worth it. I am still excited by the talent and potential talents that we have here in Malaysia, especially from the computer games sector! Young kids coming out of school, coming out of university, and they are just putting a bet on coming out and creating their own games. Companies like Les Copaque, LemonSky, Garage Chameleon – they have made their mark, and one of the things that I wanted to achieve through MDeC is making Malaysia known as a hub for games.
I was also very pleased with the outstanding results for MSC Malaysia which we reported in May this year, with fantastic investments – the vast majority of it being new investment from existing investors – amazing GDP growth, more new jobs created, etc. It will be a tough challenge to maintain such results – but we are confident that we can continue to give it our best shot.
What is the toughest challenge that you have had to face and overcome in your career?
My appointment to MDeC! I have always been in the private sector all my life; coming into the public sector has really been eye-opening for me. First of all, I have not worked harder before – I haven’t worked harder in my life! I worked hard, and everybody really worked hard – but this is a different level!
I’m enjoying myself, though. It was a steep learning curve for me; the first four months, I spent just learning. The first four months, I really spent just walking and breathing in, and immersing in the corridors of government. I sat on every panel there was, I worked during weekends, just to go out and understand where the national agenda is, and what are the expectations, what is important for the government in nation building. It was important for me to have a feel for that.
I have always understood the industry, and I’ll always be an industry person, but I can now also dare say that I understand enough – maybe not fully – the dynamics in government, and most importantly, I understand what needs to delivered, from the perspective of the government.
What is the most inspiring example that you have seen in your working life?
People think that working in government is an easy task – but not at this level! It may be somewhat true – but not at the highest level, at the top level of government. This is because in the corporate sector, your shareholders, your KPI is very simple; it’s about shareholders’ returns, you have bottom lines, at best, you have another additional line of corporate social responsibility. But in the public sector, there are a lot of stakeholders that you have to manage, and it is a very different dimension of deliverables and KPIs that you have to deliver. That, to me, is inspirational, and a great way to motivate myself.
Having said that, I am always looking for greater self-improvement. I often tell my employees that the road to success is always about learning. I try to lead by example, especially when I teach my team leadership techniques such as goal setting, the importance of goal alignment, motivation principles, nurturing trust, developing listening skills and coaching team members.
What advice do you have for other women looking to succeed in GovTech?
I have always been a firm believer in diversity – and that includes gender. Female empowerment is a topic very close to my heart, and ICT provides opportunities for women to contribute economically – not only on an individual level, but also towards national development.
As it stands, right now, a key issue in female empowerment is not in terms of skills, but in terms of a better channel to work-life balance. The internet serves as a market access enabler – and there is no reason corporates should not leverage this in order to tap into the female workforce, when traditional methods may instead isolate them.
My hope is for MDeC to be known as an agency that catalyses and opens the eyes of the industry in the country, spurring them to consider flexible and agile solutions, instead of sticking with the tried and true. As they say: “If there is no change, there is an illusion of safety, when in reality the whole world is sprinting past you.”
My team and I are working hard for all segments and communities of the country to be participants of the digital economy to fulfil their aspirations. Our Nation deserves great ambitions, and I intend to contribute towards those ambitions, God Willing.
And finally, how do you like to unwind after a long week at the office?
When I was still schooling, I played netball and basketball, in addition to being a school sprinter. To unwind these days, I exercise – yoga, cardio, swimming – go to the movies and play golf. Sometimes, I do have to work hard on the weekends too (like when I first joined MDeC); but I firmly believe in getting things done and having a “Never Say Die!” attitude to work – the same way I push myself in sports.