Ever wanted to know what the Chairman of one of the largest financial institutions in Malaysia and a celebrated business leader had to say to youths of Malaysia?
We were lucky enough to be invited by the Malaysia Trailblazer’s Association last week for their 3rd Global Leadership Series, featuring Dato’ Seri Nazir Razak, Chairman of CIMB Group, as the key guest speaker.
The series is an avenue for youths to connect and learn firsthand from highly revered leaders from Malaysia, where youths are encouraged to share their opinions and ask questions.
Here are some life learnings from Dato’ Seri Nazir’s talk, along with some personal takeaways.
1) Understand the person in the mirror
“It is really important to understand the person that you are,” says Dato’ Seri Nazir.
Throughout his career, he has had to constantly change and adapt in order to run a fast-growing organisation that was expanding rapidly in the region. And at every step of the way, he regularly reflected on himself to make sure he was still the right person for the job.
“Can you grow? Can you keep up?” he prompts. “Are you able to grow, and is it right for you?”
Recognise your strengths and weaknesses, and don’t be afraid to move on if you find that something is no longer the right fit for you.
2) Diversity is very powerful
“Don’t build a team that looks like you and talks like you,” advises Dato’ Seri Nazir.
Take advantage of Malaysia being a melting pot of cultures with people from diverse backgrounds. Engaging and working closely with people of different ethnicities, upbringing and gender will breed innovation and success.
In fact, studies show that groups of diverse problem solvers can outperform groups of high-ability problem solvers. This is because diverse perspectives improve collective understanding and problem solving, even though they are up against others with greater ability!
3) Values must come before KPIs
KPI stands for key performance indicator — a word you will be intimately familiar with once you start working. It’s a metric that measures how well you are doing against business goals and objectives. Example KPIs are things like profit margin, customer satisfaction and amount of sales.
Since your performance (and bonus!) are typically tied to KPIs, you may find yourself putting metrics and numbers ahead of your values and principles.
But Dato’ Seri Nazir insists to always put values first. Values are your compass to guide you through life, and it’s critical to keep them in the forefront in whatever you do.
Not sure what your values are? Here’s a list of 418 values to help you get started.
“Choose any,” he says. “But make sure one of them is integrity.”
4) If it ain’t broke, you can still fix it to make it better
We’ve all heard the old saying that goes, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” It’s probably one that you’ve repeated before, and one that you went along with.
But think about it — there was nothing “broken” about the Blackberry smartphone, where it was THE smartphone of choice for business consumers just 7 years ago. But the iPhone revolutionised smartphones, and is the world’s top selling smartphone today!
Which is why Dato’ Seri Nazir emphasises how important it is not to get comfortable, even if you’re winning and ahead of the pack.
Don’t get complacent, because you can always be better.
5) Failure is the mother of success
“All of you will fail at some point,” he says to the entire hall of several hundreds of students.
“But the most important thing is to know how to pick yourself up from failure.”
Steven Spielberg was denied twice to the prestigious University of Southern California film school. J.K. Rowling’s manuscript for Harry Potter was rejected by major publishers 12 times. And Colonel Sanders’ famous 11 spices and herbs fried chicken recipe? It was rejected a record 1,009 times.
The reality is that in order to achieve success, you will stumble and fail many times along the way. Never let rejection and failure derail you if you want to achieve your goals and dreams.
6) Debate — it’s disloyal just to agree
“There isn’t enough rigour in debate,” Dato’ Seri Nazir says.
These words cannot be truer. As Malaysians, some may say that we tend to respect and defer to authority a little too much, accepting directives without too much question or debate. In schools, we rarely encourage students to participate in class discussions or voice their opinions.
Dato’ Seri Nazir tells of how he issued a directive to allow four-letter words in meetings (yes, you read that right — he allowed cursing in meetings!).
“I wanted people to debate, discuss, argue and scream at each other,” he says. “And then go for drinks after.”
Part of the success of CIMB can be attributed to a culture of debate in order to come up with “damn good solutions” that can be executed as a team.
7) Play the hand that has been given to you
As the youngest son of our second Prime Minister and the youngest brother of our current Prime Minister, the “Razak” name is a “brand name”, and Dato’ Seri Nazir admits this as much.
But any advantages or benefits he got with the name, there were certain expectations and presumptions that came along with it too.
Which goes to show how everyone has their own sets of problems and issues. Whether you are born with a silver spoon in your mouth or you’re just plain Jane from a very ordinary family, your success lies in how well you play the hand that has been given to you.
“There’s no point sitting around complaining, grumbling or bitching,” he says candidly, going on to say how the least intelligent people can achieve heights of success and the smartest people can end up not getting anywhere.
There is always a way to play the hand you were dealt with as best as possible.