Senator Dato’ Sri Idris Jala, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department and CEO of PEMANDU has had an illustrious career turning ailing corporate organisations around, often defying odds and expectations, sometimes through very unconventional approaches.
Among his many achievements during his 23-year tenure with Shell include leading a company that had been bleeding for a decade back to profitability within six months. Then build it into one of the most profitable units within the Shell group.
Another unit in Sri Lanka, which had been haemorrhaging for two decades and so riddled with challenges that the group was on the brink of closing it down, had under Idris broken even in two years and made record profits in the third.
Idris lives by the concept of Big Fast Results (BFR); it drives him, figuratively and quite literally, given that even his car licence plate starts with BFR!
“In everything I do, I want it make it quick, and with better results. I always challenge myself… That’s my obsession in life”. He believes 90% of human beings never fulfil their full potential simply due to the fear of failure.
Transformational leaders conquer that fear to achieve the tough and the seemingly impossible. His definition of transformational leaders is: “leaders who transform the way an organisation/country do things in order to achieve Big Fast Results”.
With such a transformational leader at the helm of the Performance Management and Delivery Unit (PEMANDU), the custodian of the nation’s transformation programmes, Malaysia has made great strides in its journey to become a high-income economy with an inclusive society.
Idris says that according to the Asian Development Bank, Malaysia is the biggest success story in the region in terms of reducing poverty amongst the bottom 40% of the population – the improvement in the past four years is 53%. In comparison, Indonesia showed 7% improvement while Thailand’s poverty had actually gone up by 50%.
PEMANDU’s transformational leadership has gained recognition globally, with many a government around the globe requesting assistance from it. There have also been case studies on PEMANDU’s methodology written by Harvard and Princeton Universities. The World Bank is currently conducting another, commissioned to Columbia University, he adds.
“I’m encouraged by some of the things we’re doing. But our priority is still Malaysia. While some of my team is doing work outside, the bulk of my team is still here to fix the nitty gritty here,” Idris says.
To Idris, transformational leadership is about transforming the doing in order to transform the being. Transformational leaders, he maintains, need to stand in the future, visualising it. “The more visible the future, the easier it is for you to figure out how to manage the present to achieve that future.” Kind of like reverse engineering.
Idris cites the Greater Kuala Lumpur (KL) initiative as an example – of what the participants of the labs did over eight weeks.
“We stood in the year 2020 in Greater Kuala Lumpur. By 2020, there’ll be 10 million people living in Greater Kuala Lumpur. What would it be like?”
Transformations require changes; and there will always be resistance to changes. How do transformational leaders keep to the path?
“Conviction!” declares Idris. Conviction, he says, is about believing in the future one has created. Indeed, it is apparent that Idris is totally convicted of the need for national transformation and passionately pushes for it.
Conviction, he stresses, has to be fed everyday because there will always be doubters. “There’s no courage without conviction. If you have the conviction and believe that’s the way to go, you’ll have to courage to withstand the resistance, to not give up. Leadership is also about learning to adapt to failure, he says. “There’ll be occasions where you’ll find what you’re doing will not work. If you feel convinced of that future, you’ll find another way to achieve the objectives.”
“If you believe strongly enough, you will die for the cause,” he adds, highlighting Gandhi and Mandela.
And the source of the conviction is within oneself – the inner spirit. “It must come from within. Many of us are very busy. We run around from pillar to post doing many things, responding to events and activities. Very few people take time out to reflect,” he notes, adding that the total fabric of society will change immeasurably if we all took time out to reflect, and grow the right values.
This is the first episode in a five part series exploring the challenges and opportunities of taking Malaysian brands and businesses to a global stage.