MERDEKA AWARD LAUREATE DATO’ DR. GAN EE KIANG, 76 is regarded as one of Malaysia’s first pharmacologists. He established the National Poison Centre (1994), the Doping Control Centre (1995), and helped establish the Drug Abuse Research Centre (1978).
He has also served as consultant to the World Health Organization multiple times, and is the only Malaysian who sat on the board of the United States’ Pharmacopeial Convention and still serves as advisor to the Malaysian Society of Pharmaceutical Trade and Manufacturers Association. He also jointly owns a patent on a potential new antihypertensive. His efforts across the decades positioned Malaysia as a leading country in the realm of pharmacology.
To the young man trying to hold everything in balance while setting new paths,
Looking back, those university days in Western Australia where you left your family hut of nine siblings with its cold cement floors in pursuit of education, were very tough. Across your years, there will be more decisions like these, where you will need to weigh out carefully how to make the best decisions in unchartered waters. These decisions often require some sacrifice, keeping up your grades to maintain your scholarship, while holding a medley of odd jobs to support your education. At each - whether a waiter, chef, fruit seller, sheep shearer and even a “Beatles”-styled drummer, in juggling to maintain an equilibrium, don’t lose heart, but remember your purpose (whether sporting a Beatles’ mop-top haircut or not!).
At the young age of 35, you will find yourself out of your element, navigating issues of politics, race, leadership and management, rather than your comfortable zones of academia and research when you are appointed dean of the School of Pharmaceutical Sciences at Universiti Sains Malaysia. You may not feel mentally or emotionally prepared for it, and the fear of failure will be very real. But take a deep dive of faith. Because your days of carrying those jobs in the past will have accosted some valuable lessons on managing a variety of personalities. Realise that when you are out of your comfort zone, you are then learning.
Believe in yourself. Remember John A. Shedd’s words, “A ship is safe in harbour, but that’s not what ships are for.” This dive of faith will define you, because it is when you are pushed beyond your boundaries that you achieve the extraordinary. You have been out of your comfort zone many times, and at each turn of decision, learning occurs.
Young Gan, have faith in your abilities. When you are plagued by self-doubt and a lack of confidence, remind yourself that tough moments don’t last but tough people do. And if you persevere, you will go on to achieve many other pivotal things. Turning USM into a credible research centre and ultimately receiving the Donald C Brodie award for excellence in pharmacy education will not happen overnight, but over many changes - stay agile as a leader.
Thinking out of the box, Gan, will be your mantle. Continue to consider the ideas of others you interact with to broaden your own perspective and spur that creativity. Stay curious and stay inspired. It will lead you far. Many depend on you to chart the path - and this is your gift as a pioneer.
Do not give up on the first mistake. Persevere, with grit and determination. When you are asked to spearhead the commercialisation arm of USM, you will be charting new territory, without many successful models to follow. Resources will be limited and there will be some opposition. Mistakes will occur, but instead of giving up, remember that failures are the greatest teachers of all. As Edison says, “I have not failed, I have just found 10,000 ways that will not work.” Make amendments, and keep trying until you find what works. Keep trailblazing.
Never take the easy way out by backing down on your principles. For there will be many instances of being in the public sector and leading a government-linked corporation where your decisions will be challenged. With clear intentions it will be easier to be steadfast in executing them and stand firm when under pressure to back down on decisions. Desire the best for the university, to serve and protect it and its researchers, and that will be your guiding light.
Be more assertive in getting things done. There are times when dealing with people can be difficult, because the element of emotion can sometimes affect objectivity. This is when you need to have more confidence in yourself, to stick to your core values and follow your principles without second guessing yourself so much. For instance, the time will come when the idea of starting a pharmaceutical company seems tempting. You may even feel regret and not doing it, but in hindsight, you will see the value of having served in academia, impacting thousands of students and inspiring many more to pursue their dreams to become well regarded practitioners in areas of medical technology and pharmacy. The mark of true heroes lies in how they light the path for others.
Finally, Gan, I hope that after all you achieve, you will recall your roots, and the joys you enjoyed as a child catching fish in the river and playing marbles in the dirt, in that little village of Alma, in Bukit Mertajam. Allow your heart and your imagination to expand as much as the playground of your life has.
Gan Ee Kiang
Dr. Gan completed his degree and PhD at the University of Western Australia and returned to Malaysia in 1972 with his new family.
During his 17 year tenure as dean of the School of Pharmaceutical Sciences (1979-1995) at Universiti Sains Malaysia, the School gained international prominence in Clinical Pharmacy Education, in consultancy services and in research and development activities.
From 1999 to 2013 Dr. Gan was the founding Managing Director of the USAINS Group, the commercial arm of USM, which he helped steer to become a multi-million ringgit outfit contributing dividends to the university, royalties to researchers, and taxes to the government. This resulted in the Holdings being cited as an example in a paper by the Economic Planning Unit and they were soon emulated by other universities, locally and regionally. He currently serves as a member of the Board of Directors of several companies. He recently served as Chancellor at the International Medical University in Kuala Lumpur (2018-2020).