Doing Business in Malaysia
“Make sure you don’t wear any loose jewelry. The criminals there are so skilled that they will snatch anything valuable while riding a motorcycle at 120 kmph. If it doesn’t break on contact, they will drag you until it breaks. And if you want to carry a bag, make sure it faces your front. If it faces your back, you should not wear it. Lastly, gentleman… I want you to keep a close eye on our ladies. If a royal Duke makes advances to a lady and she denies him—she is guaranteed to NOT make it home that night.”
Those were the last words of advice from Alvin, our local Singapore host, as we separated with him for Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia. Needless to say, I was terrified. Alvin completely biased me for the culture of Malaysia, but I wanted to keep an open mind for the business aspect. We had a day of good visits, and I was hoping the prejudices of the culture did not translate over to the corporate side of my Malaysian experience.
We began the day at Petronas Towers—tallest twin towers in the world and home of the famous Sky Bridge. Petronas is a state owned petroleum company. The petroleum and gas industry is already a peculiar industry with special regulations and challenges. When you add a layer of government control, you’re bound to find a very tricky business. The Vice-President of Corporate Strategic Planning gave the presentation that morning. To my surprise, Petronas has performed quite well—specifically in the last couple years. Of course I had to read through the lines of company propaganda, but it seemed legit. My only concern was that a company operating in a commercial industry following a government agenda must be hindered in some way. Wouldn’t the two agendas conflict at some point? I posed the question to our speaker. He explained that the Malaysian government is quite benevolent. As long as the company is fulfilling the purpose they were created to do for the government, they will receive limited interference. And Petronas’ purpose is to provide a large portion of revenue for the government. With a mandate a like that, the Malaysian government allows Petronas to operate as freely as it wants—granted the revenues are still coming in.
I was quite pleased to see hear about the benevolence of the Malaysian government. I was sure that the corruption amongst the people that Alvin described would be blatantly evident in other aspects of the country. I’m sure there is corruption, but at least this one section of government and business were able to successfully collaborate.