Be Focused To Be Competitive, Say 3rd Merdeka Award Roundtable Panelists

20 APRIL 2012, BY Merdeka Award
Panelists at the 3rd Merdeka Award Roundtable television talk show held on Friday in Kuala Lumpur say that Malaysia must focus on leveraging its strengths to be globally competitive.

All set for the 3rd Merdeka Award Roundtable (L-R) Mr Oliver Tonby, Managing Partner, McKinsey & Company SEA; host Bettina Khan, Senator Dato Sri Idris Jala, CEO, PEMANDU and Dato' Dr Kenneth Yeang, 2011 Merdeka Award recipient 

“The key to this is to be focused, and to be competitive.  If you’re focused but not competitive, you won’t get there,” said panelist YB Senator Dato’ Sri Idris Jala, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office & Chief Executive Officer, PEMANDU. 
To do this, he said, Malaysia needs to define the areas where it has a real advantage, and focus on developing and innovating those areas. “This is where the GTP (Government Transformation Programme) and ETP (Economic Transformation Programme) initiatives come in – these define and develop our focus areas.  (But) we have a long way to go in terms of creating the environment for competitiveness to flourish.”
The 3rd Merdeka Award Roundtable, recorded at the Delicious Dua Residency in Kuala Lumpur, featured the topic “Building a Globally Competitive Malaysia”.  The Roundtables, which brings together leading figures from Malaysia's corporate, academic and social spheres, are the ideal platform to discuss issues that are critical to the future of Malaysia.
“Everyone should watch this episode of the Merdeka Award Roundtable as it provides interesting insights and views on how we as Malaysians can effectively compete in the global arena and sustain our competitiveness. This is also in-line with the Merdeka Award’s philosophy of encouraging a worldview and fostering a culture of excellence,” said Dato Mohammad Medan Abdullah, Secretary to the Merdeka Award Board of Trustees.

Post-Roundtable (L-R) Mr Oliver Tonby; Dato' Dr Kenneth Yeang; host Bettina Khan; Secretary to the Board of Trustees to the Merdeka Award Dato' Mohammad Medan Abdullah and Senator Dato' Sri Idris Jala

The animated discussion featured three personalities recognised for their ability to transcend borders and achieve global recognition – Dato’ Sri Idris Jala, who was joined by 2011 Merdeka Award recipient in the Environment category Dato’ Dr Kenneth Yeang and Mr Oliver Tonby, Managing Partner, McKinsey & Company, South-East Asia.  The Roundtable was hosted by former TV journalist Bettina Khan.
Concurring with Dato’ Sri Idris, Mr Tonby said, “The important thing is focus.  You can’t be the world champion in all areas.  Pick some sectors and focus on those.  There are some sectors where (Malaysia is) already globally competitive – palm oil, oil & gas, tourism and some parts of the financial sector – we have to focus on them and innovate from there.”

In addition to improving competitiveness, the country also needs to see a change in attitudes, said Dato’ Dr Kenneth YeangWhat is required is confidence in our own ability.  We have an enormous amount of talent and talent doesn’t surface when there is a lack of confidence.  We need to build confidence in our local people, not only at professional levels, but also at school level.  Once confidence goes up, talent surfaces. 
“There must be ambition to be better; once you have the ambition, the country will fly,” Dato’ Dr Kenneth added.
There must also be focus on vocational and technical development, said Dato’ Sri Idris, and it was the responsibility of both the public and private sectors to make it happen. “We’ve come a long way as a country, but the government cannot do it alone.  We are asking the private sector to help create the quality.”
Expounding from there, Mr Tonby said, “Thinking, problem-solving, communication, teamwork, creativity and the use of technology – here’s where there needs to be a different model, cooperation between public and private sectors.  And it needs to be an experience-based model.  Confidence comes from exposure to different experiences and different cultures.”
All three panelists concurred that Malaysia is making progress in being competitive, as cited in the most recent World Economic Forum’s Global Competitive Index, but they also concurred that there was more work to be done.
The Global Competitiveness Report 2011-2012 by the World Economic Forum based in Switzerland, covering 142 countries, ranked Malaysia at 21st position, an improvement of 5 places from the 26th position achieved in the previous year.
“Investors don’t pour money into a country unless it’s competitive.  Our trade grew to our highest ever in the past year, which means we are doing the right things, but we need to do more.  There are very few countries that make it to becoming a high income nation, and continue to stay there – they do it by being focused and competitive, and by looking beyond,” said Dato’ Sri Idris, citing some of the Scandinavian countries like Norway and Finland. “You must have a worldview, you need to look beyond the shores to succeed as a nation. We must create the conditions for competitiveness.”
“The world is seeing a rebalancing from West to East,” said Mr Tonby, “All this means there is a tremendous opportunity for Malaysia. (While) it’s dangerous to compare countries, we can learn from other countries.  What we find (at McKinsey) is that Malaysians are very adaptable.  It’s a tremendous asset for the country and you should use it.”
Closing the discussion, the conversation turned to current events in the country.  “We have not got out of the vortex of arguing about who gets a part of the cake.  We need to get away from that.  The world is out there – that’s the game.” said Dato’ Sri Idris, adding “We have to choose the colour of our future.”

Agreeing with him, Dato’ Dr Kenneth said, “Malaysians, whether you are Chinese, Indian or Malay, must think about the external world.  How do we create a product and service that is acceptable in Malaysia, and acceptable in, say, Germany?  Malaysians must remember, and focus on the fact, that we are as good if not better than most.”

The 3rd Merdeka Award Roundtable will premiere on Saturday May 12, 2012 at 8.30 pm on ASTRO Awani (Channel 501).  Repeats will be carried on:
  • Sunday, May 13, 5 pm;
  • Monday, May 14, 3.30 pm;
  • Wednesday, May 16, 11.30 am;
  • Sunday, May 20 at 8.30 pm.


Dr Edison Lee Tian Khoon
Dr Edison headed to Sweden’s Uppsala University, where he joined the Department of Chemistry, Ångström Laboratory, as part of his attachment stint. He is currently carrying out active research in polymer electrolyte and nanomaterials for Lithium-ion batteries. Read more about him here:
Innovating the Energy Ecosystem
Chrishen R. Gomez
Having attended the prestigious Ivy League Brown University as part of his attachment programme, 27-year-old Chrishen is now with the Wildlife Research and Conservation Unit at Oxford University. Chrishen is busy developing a genetic-based research project on the Sunda Clouded Leopard. Read more about him here: Conserving Our Forests & Future
Dr Zetty
Dr Zetty is currently working on anti-cancer compounds found in Malaysian seaweed and has continued to pursue her original project proposal of microalgae vaccine carriers for fish. A working solution has been patented by Dr Zetty and will be deployed within the coming year.
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