Datuk Azlan Abdul Karim, CEO of Putrajaya Holdings
Datuk Azlan Abdul Karim, the Chief Executive Officer of Putrajaya Holdings Sdn. Bhd., is a suave and sophisticated business leader. In 1995, the Government decided to create a new Federal Administrative Centre, and believed the effort would be more efficient if it was spearheaded by the private sector. As such, Putrajaya Holdings was established with Petronas, Khazanah Nasional and National Trust Fund (KWAN) as investors. Datuk Azlan was appointed as the General Manager in 1996 and rose to the position of CEO in 2006.
Federal agencies were previously scattered all over the city, it was Prime Minister Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohammad who proposed to group them together. While some civil servants were reluctant initially, they changed their mind once they experienced its benefits. Tun Dr. Mahathir, the masterplanner of Putrajaya had the foresight of creating a man-made lake for the city. While it takes up 600 hectares of land, it is a jewel that has propelled the property price to appreciate further. The wetland where plants absorb away the chemicals in the water has also attracted the interest of many foreign investors.
For Datuk Azlan, the secret of success lies in knowledge. “We love the nation and would like to contribute to its development. After completing our studies, we should still read widely to master the knowledge in other fields, such as finance and land issues. I was lucky to have great bosses who were willing to guide me and share precious experiences with me. I started working in Public Works Department (JKR), later I moved on to the private sector and worked alongside entrepreneurs. People in the government and the private sectors have very different mindsets. Having experience in both helps a lot in my subsequent career.
To succeed in business, he stated the importance of excellent cash flow. “In any business we will encounter setback or downturn, which is why we must be well prepared. As soon as Putrajaya Holdings was established, we faced the 1997 Asian Crisis. But it was decided that we would proceed as it is, because when everyone else was not offering jobs, whoever that still offers jobswould enjoy lower price. As we are strong, we look long term. Property looks long term, so we must have the ability and long foresight. We borrow very long term, for instance 10 years bond, so that we can have long term plans. Even though the company is fairly large, our workforce is only 190. For a company that manages projects worth billions of dollars, we are very lean actually, and do not need to retrench when times are bad.”
When the issue of sustainable growth was raised, Datuk Azlan shared that, “Since everything is more or less settled down in Putrajaya, we are having regular brainstorming sessions with Heads of Departments, where everyone speaks up freely about where you want to take this company to. We have people with good talents, hence we must create more values to our city. It has to be sustainable and inclusive. By making sure all payments and collections are on time, we will enjoy good reputation. If we offer quality products with attractive concepts and superb workmanship, we will win industry awards. Of course, without a good team, you won’t go anywhere.”
On ensuring that the staffs subscribe to the Vision and Mission, he also offered his advice, “If the staffs work 80%, I will make sure they work 100%. Every company has its own Vision and Mission. Our job is to ensure that everyone is in sync with in our cultural belief, such as integrity and accountability, and work together towards these goals with the same mindset. We encourage the middle management to set the goals, because when the goals come from them, they will buy it. This is how we lead the team to march forward.”
Datuk Azlan also offered his opinion on responding to the changing times. He reiterated, “No matter where we launch our projects, we will face competition, even around Putrajaya.The growth of business will taper a bit and come to a plateau if we don’t explore new opportunities. As such,we have purchased the land of former French embassy in Kuala Lumpur to launch a mixed development project. To become the market leader, you must be the number 1, 2 or 3 in anything you do. Thus, every aspect from project management, marketing to landbanking must be planned ahead for us to be competitive. You must know your demands and anticipate the future change, in order to survive in the industry.
Datuk Azlan has this piece of advice for aspiring entrepreneurs, “I have been involved in a lot of discussions. Many entrepreneurs, including long timers are good in business but not so good in cash flow. To ensure that you can operate as usual even when your major client does not pay you, there must be contingency plans to back you up. Many Vistage members can share awesome ideas on this. Some of the Vistage members’ strength is in marketing, some are IT savvy, and therefore frequent exchange of ideas will definitely benefit everyone.”