Unleashing talent is job for chief executives

The Edge Financial Daily

While the government strives to create an ecosystem that is conducive to talent growth and ease of doing business, it is up to the CEOs of Malaysia to unleash the talent they have, said Datuk Seri Idris Jala, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department and CEO of Pemandu (Performance Management Delivery Unit), yesterday.

“Talent is a crucial issue for Pemandu, but the truth is the responsibility for unleashing talent rests squarely on the shoulders of the CEO,” said Idris.

He was speaking at a dialogue with CEOs organised by PwC Malaysia titled “What future are you preparing for”. The dialogue’s other panellist was Stuart Dean, president of GE Asean.

The event was held to discuss key findings of PwC Global’s 14th Annual Global CEO Survey. Released on Jan 26, the survey involved about 1,200 interviews in 69 countries over the last quarter of 2010. About a third (420) of the interviews were conducted in Western Europe, 257 in Asia Pacific, 221 in Latin America, 148 in North America, 98 in Eastern Europe and 57 in the Middle East and Africa. Although 11 Malaysian CEOs were interviewed, country-specific data was not made available in the study.

The study found that talent, innovation and a desire to work more closely with the government topped the global CEOs’ agenda.

Idris said he “violently agreed” with the study’s findings on a shared agenda between the private and public sectors.

“It is abundantly clear that for much of what we (the government) hope to achieve in the Economic Transformation Programme, the private sector must take the lead,” he said.

Of the US$444 billion (RM1.34 trillion) in investments that Malaysia will need over the next 10 years to achieve a developed nation status, 92% will have to come from the private sector, added Idris.

“The government will be investing the other 8% in infrastructure projects,” he said at a press conference following the dialogue.

Talent is also very much on the agenda for Pemandu and is closely tied to increasing the nation’s ability to innovate, pointed out Idris. “The approach Malaysian CEOs, and the government, need to take is three-fold. First, make full use of the talent that you have. Second, attract top talent home and finally, recruit foreign talent to fill necessary skill gaps,” he said.

PwC Malaysia partner Sridharan Nair who moderated the dialogue noted that according to a World Bank report in 1960, there were fewer than 10,000 Malaysians living and working overseas. By 2005, there were 1.5 million and between 2008 and 2009, over 300,000 Malaysians left for greener pastures abroad.

Idris said to attract Malaysians home, local companies had to reward talent competitively and offer them opportunities for growth.

At the press conference, he added that while general reasons given by Malaysians who have left the country include a search for better work-life balance and improved living conditions, addressing these blanket issues would not be as effective as targeting concerns at a more individual level.

“They want better career opportunities and better compensation. These are things only the private sector CEOs can offer,” he said.

One key method Malaysian companies need to utilise, said Idris during the dialogue, is cross-border postings. “It was a technique used at Shell, where I worked for over 20 years, and it really brought the best out in talent. If Malaysian firms don’t have branches overseas, they should consider exchange programmes with other firms, or even within Malaysia itself.”

GE’s Dean concurred. “In GE, we have a young Malaysian who joined us as a field service engineer who now runs our GE Energy Services for Asia out of Bangkok. I would love a dozen more like him,” said Dean referring to Ramesh Singaram, senior executive for regional sales, GE Energy Services.

“If we were to completely rely on drawing talent home, or recruiting foreign talent, our problem is truly great indeed. But fortunately, we have great potential talent right here at home that can be unleashed,” said Idris.

According to the PwC study, almost eight in 10 CEOs in Asia-Pacific say they will actively support new government policies that promote “good growth” that is financially, socially and environmentally sustainable. Top of the list however, is developing a skilled workforce.

“To be a developed nation, Malaysia needs far more technically skilled workers than we have at present. We need the private sector to step forward and either open technical and vocational schools, or work with the government in furthering this education to acquire the skilled talent the private sector needs,” said Idris.