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Dr Aishah with participants of the 21st Century Leadership Programme in Oxford.

LONDON: SOME were born into it, some drifted in because of circumstances and many saw gaps in the market, plunged into the unknown and took their chances. Whatever their journey, the fact that they were gathered at the prestigious Lady Margaret Hall, University of Oxford, known for “changing lives since 1879”, the chances are the group of senior managers, managing directors and CEOs of their own companies, are well into charting their way to be CEOs of the 21st century, if they are not one already.

The one-week 21st Century Leadership Programme organised by Catapult in partnership with Oxentia, a successful innovation management and technology commercialisation consultancy based in Oxford, had CEOs, directors, brand consultants, product developers and more sharing their own journeys.

Kubi Springer, brand consultant and trainer with 23 years of experience in brand marketing, was there, among other experienced speakers, to talk about branding strategy which resonated well with entrepreneurs like Mohd Najib Abdul Hamid who is synonymous with brands he created; Jibby East and Jibby Chow.

Najib is the managing director and group chef of the Serai Group, having married into a family with a similar passion, created by the mother-in-law in 1990.

He created the brand and is responsible for the direction of the business.

“I am responsible for creating the menu and with my team we brainstorm,” said Najib, adding that together with his mother-in-law and his wife, who is in charge of the interior decoration, they have created an empire to be proud of.

The 39-year-old entrepreneur, responsible for introducing numerous creative dining concepts around the Klang Valley, went into the business at the age of 20 after spending 10 years in Australia where he worked in hotels and restaurants.

Being already exposed to the global community, Najib believes that it is all about being innovative, creative and most important of all thinking outside the box.

Rosmalinda Dato’ Hj Che Umar grew up watching the family business grow before her eyes and it wasn’t long before the law graduate joined the enterprise which her father started 19 years ago, selling garments and household products. Now Borong Sakan Sdn Bhd has 62 outlets across the country.

As head purchaser, she has to deal with that transformed landscape in the retail world — where buying patterns are fast changing.

“The challenge is to convert the old retail method to the new one — which means we have to incorporate the digital aspects. I find that there are so many platforms competing with what you are doing and so you have to be really creative,” said Rosmalinda.

Having a family-run business with a partner outside the country is clearly an advantage.

Eusuff Md Amin, senior manager of Best Putra Gloves Global, joined the medical gloves business that his uncle started 10 years ago. With an old Irish friend, they have a warehouse in Ireland, giving them a foothold selling medical gloves made in Malaysia to not only Malaysian government hospitals but also to the National Health Services hospitals in the UK and Ireland.

It is not always that one can turn a life-changing personal experience into a successful award-winning venture. But that was what Dr Aishah Tul Radziah Lebai Hussin, 68, did. When her weight tilted the scales and she became obese, Dr Aishah, who runs her own maternity clinics, decided to take matters into her own hands and came up with healthy food products to combat her weighty issues.

In 2013, through her own experience of weight loss, she set up a factory manufacturing healthy products, such as Granola breakfast cereals and energy bars; leading to a series of international awards in Abu Dhabi and Paris and thus firing up her branding of no sugar nor salt and more fibre products.

Now, with a Japanese company in Tokyo, Dr Aishah Solution Sdn Bhd is supplying hotels in Kyoto, Tokyo and Osaka with healthier products using local produce such as sweet potato and mangosteen.

Although a late starter in the entrepreneurial world, Dr Aishah is beginning to understand the global community and its needs and cashing in on that.

Another participant at the one-week retreat who turned a personal experience into a venture that is helping others achieve a work-life balance was Datin Dr Hasnorliza Abu Hassan, founder, and director of Diversified Corporation Sdn Bhd. She admitted that she came to a point where she was pulled between the yearning to spend time with her children and that of her demanding career.

“I wanted to spend as much time as possible with my children but at the same time not lose touch with the outside world. So that’s why I decided to go into entrepreneurship,” said Hasnorliza about her laundry business.

However, her venture still did not quite fill the yearning gap she felt inside her.

“I felt that I needed to create something where I could manage my own time, have a work-life balance,” she said.

She felt that many women, with a huge number of talents, left their careers to spend time with the family.

“It is such a waste of talent. Now I have created the Advisory, Development, Learning and Achievement — a platform to empower women to help them move to the next level.

“I started to brand myself as a work-life balance advocator and organised an international work-life forum in 2017 where we discussed issues and challenges that a nation faces in terms of work-life balance.”

Latching on to what is trending is Dato Rahman Soltan, who founded Girls Republique last year, to groom girls between 18 and 25 years old to become Celebpreneurs (celebrity and entrepreneur at the same time).

According to their leaflet, “We want girls out there to know that they can achieve their dreams if they put effort and dedication to what they love and this is where GR plays a role to help groom and support them.”

The leadership programme was put together by Datin Faridah Iriani Tahir, founder and operator of BDEC Resources Malaysia, Shahreen Dato Abdul Ghani, whose specialty is in the Megatrend of Future of Work and Datuk Dr Hafsah Hashim, who has vast experience in public sector administration.

They were looking into an untapped sector of upskilling and capacity building in the retail sector.

“There is a lot that participants could learn from being here for a week and listening to the speakers. It is also about looking for solutions and area of solutions, mainly in digital marketing, understanding analytics better and branding themselves better because if you are in retail, it is very important to represent the product,” said Faridah.

“We do realise that companies have to embrace certain leadership values, leadership styles, so we put together something that has that combination; human capital, value system, and leadership,” said Shahreen, who was CEO of TalentCorp.

She added that a 21st century CEO needs to have the ability to innovate, to be an agile leader and understand the market and move very quickly.

While soaring ahead in the digital age, traditional values are still important.

“This is especially so with the family business, where there is usually that tension between the founder’s values and the young ones taking over. But you need to know where the wisdom lies and where the experiences are; the human touch is still a very critical part of a successful business,” she said.

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