Raja Tan Sri Dato’ Seri Utama Muhammad Alias Raja Muhammad Ali was born in Kuala Pilah, Negeri Sembilan on 10 August, 1932. As the eldest son in a family of nine, Raja Alias was conscious of the need to set a good example for his younger siblings. He maintained an impressive academic record throughout his primary and secondary school years completing his early education at Tuanku Muhammad School in Kuala Pilah and subsequently at King George V School in Seremban.
Always mindful of his responsibilities, his father’s position as a Settlement Officer and penghulu or mukim chief gave Raja Alias early exposure to the duties and obligations of a civil servant. From a very young age, Raja Alias was drilled with the values he espouses religiously until today, that is: “Work hard, lead an honest life, care for people, assist them when they need your help and never betray their trust.”
In 1958, Raja Alias graduated from the University of Malaya, Singapore, with a Bachelor of Arts with Honours in Geography. He joined the Malayan Civil Service in 1958 and served at district, state and federal levels before being seconded to the Federal Land Development Authority or FELDA in 1966.
Raja Alias helmed FELDA for more than three and a half decades from April 1966 as Deputy Chairman until his retirement from the post of Group Chairman in June 2001. Over a span of 35 years, Raja Alias was closely involved with efforts aimed at developing FELDA into a well-integrated corporation with operations in all aspects of the oil palm/rubber industry from commercial cultivation right up to the value-added stage of palm oil and rubber processing and the manufacturing of consumer products derived from palm oil and rubber.
Tun Abdul Razak visiting Jengka, Pahang, 3 February 1972
Raja Alias and his team pioneered a unique system of land reform - spearheaded by the Government - that saw the growth of FELDA from a semi-governmental authority to its current position as a corporate entity involved in various downstream and upstream activities of the oil palm and rubber industry. Raja Alias shaped FELDA into a more human-oriented enterprise. By recognising and mobilising the initiatives of settlers, he fostered new communities with a growing sense of self-reliance. As he says: “One must be prepared to be innovative in order to move forward.” A thorough planner, he unassumingly organised a team of high-calibre staff to manage the organisation.
With his dedication and passion he was able to demonstrate that even on some of Malaysia's less fertile, lateritic soils, once indigent families can generate productive agriculture and contribute to the community and national well-being.
It is to Raja Alias’ credit that by the time he retired from the organisation he had led for 35 years, a strong foundation had been laid and the stage had been clearly and intricately set for the FELDA Group to progress to its next mission. FELDA by then had evolved into three unique entities: FELDA; FELDA Investment Cooperative; and FELDA Holdings Bhd. (FHB). This structure has proved successful, with both settlers and staff continuing to benefit financially as the annual profits from FHB flow back to them in the form of dividends from the FELDA Investment Cooperative.
Today, FELDA has expanded dynamically via the ownership of profitable agriculture-related businesses in upstream oil palm plantations and downstream activities worth billions of ringgit, spearheaded by its new business entity FELDA Global Ventures Holdings Bhd (FGVH). FGVH has business interests in 12 countries, across four continents, overseeing a land-bank of over 800,000 hectares and employing 19,000 people.
Raja Alias was awarded the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay Award in 1980 for Government Service in recognition of “steadfast, principled administration in transforming Malaysia’s land for the landless schemes into prosperous realities.” During his book launch in 2009, Prime Minister Dato’ Sri Mohd Najib bin Tun Haji Abdul Razak described Raja Alias as an iconic leader who is not only an “architect” but an action-oriented “contractor” instrumental in transforming the organisation at all levels.
At the international level, Raja Alias was the first Asian to be elected President of the International Association of Seed Crushers in 1997. In assuming this position, he led the way for Malaysia to take its rightful place as a leading player in the vegetable oil industry. Various tributes and awards have been accorded on Raja Alias for his outstanding contribution to socio-economic achievements. These include tributes from The Commonwealth Development Corporation, The World Bank and the Asian Development Bank.
In 1998, Raja Alias set up Yayasan FELDA and became its Founding Chairman. A charitable foundation funded by a percentage of the annual profits of FELDA Holdings and FELDA, Yayasan Felda aims to elevate the national standards of education, health, research & development, welfare and cultural heritage. As he says: “Whatever your position in life you should be able to help a few.”
During his time at FELDA, Raja Alias was able to crystalise the vision of then Prime Minister Tun Abdul Razak bin Hussein, “to provide land to the landless and jobs for the jobless”. The history of FELDA will always feature Raja Alias as the person who made a tremendous contribution towards FELDA’s growth and success. He had a long and illustrious career with impressive performance as the Director General and Chairman of the FELDA Group for more than 30 years. Under his dynamic stewardship, FELDA scaled new heights of achievement in land development and poverty eradication in the rural sector of the Malaysian economy. FELDA has since been recognised as a key agency in the effort to eradicate rural poverty in Malaysia and its model has been applied in other countries such as Myanmar, Cambodia and nations in Africa. FELDA’s model of agrarian reform has also been used and adopted by institutions such as the World Bank to promote land reform in developing countries.
Raja Alias was successful in overcoming the most difficult obstacles in transforming the lives of the rural community and putting Malaysia on the world map in agriculture. Today, FELDA has become more than just a land development agency. It has improved the living standards of the rural community by providing a stable income and modern infrastructure facilities. Raja Alias says: “I was driven to perform by the thought that achieving the targets set would provide many with an improved lifestyle or at the very least could lessen their burdens. This was one of my primary motivations and until today, the mere sight of thriving, successful FELDA schemes provide reward enough and has been a source of immeasurable satisfaction.”
Raja Alias remains active in plantation development through various public listed companies, notably as the Chairman of Kuala Lumpur Kepong Bhd, and Board Member of Batu Kawan Bhd. Raja Alias is also involved in community and welfare activities through KLK Foundation and the Tan Sri Lee Loy Seng Foundation.
Right: Raja Alias and wife, Hafsah Mohd Yusof, Penang, 16 January 1962
Raja Alias has had an illustrious career distinguished by his selfless duty, nobility of spirit, leadership skill and intellectual capability. Together with a home-grown management team, he successfully transformed FELDA from a land settlement agency into a huge conglomerate of companies that operate beyond the shores of the country in his quest to add value to the activities of the plantations. During his three and a half decades in FELDA, he collaborated with the private sector in an effort to bring benefits to FELDA, the officers, and the settlers.
Raja Alias belongs to that era of Malaysians whose lives span significant and important periods in the nation’s history, namely the colonial era under British jurisdiction and the post-independence period of self-rule and nation-building. He opted for a life of public service, knowing that the growing nation had great need for dedicated citizens with education and skills. In doing so he has joined the ranks of select individuals whose actions have left an indelible mark on the lives of many, in particular the rural community. Certainly, Malaysians can draw inspiration from Raja Alias and share a sense of pride at his many accomplishments. His unerring commitment to rural development and reform truly reflects the Spirit of Merdeka that aims to foster a culture of excellence.