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Rapid Penang’s first chief executive officer, Azhar Ahmad (inset), transformed the public bus service in Penang. -NSTP/File pic

“I am shocked” must surely be the single, most uttered sentence in Malaysia of late.

While those hit by a series of shock waves is not confined to any particular segment of society, it is rather shocking that politicians seem to be the most affected by the “I am shocked” syndrome.

Those following the Datuk Seri Najib Razak trial must by now have lost count of the number of times he expressed shock over the can of worms that has been opened by the testimony of witnesses concerning the 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) scandal.

He may have been the “ultimate boss” when the scandal happened, but the former prime minister has repeatedly said he was shocked that all the nasty things linked to 1MDB happened under his watch.

While the 66-year-old continues to be shocked by revelations of witnesses, Malaysians, too, were shocked when a former chief executive officer (CEO) of the strategic development company testified that he used to pocket RM99,000 per month, minus all other perks which came with the job, even though he knew nothing about finance matters when he took on the role.

He even had the audacity to say that he happily accepted the job even though he had no experience in financial matters to manage the government-backed fund. One of his unforgettable quotes to justify his appointment from 2009 to 2013 was: “If I was not qualified, it was the people who appointed me who should’ve known that.”

The issue of unqualified individuals being appointed to key posts in important companies has been happening far too long and has now grown to become a badly infected wound, which needs to be treated immediately.

It was therefore refreshing news when Transport Minister Anthony Loke lashed out at the CEOs of government-linked corporations (GLCs) for their less-than-stellar performances.

Noting that many were not being proactive enough, he said CEOs of various GLCs must make greater effort to hit the ground and check whether services were on a par with public expectations.

“I want a culture of better maintenance among our service providers and let me make it clear: I am not happy with the current situation,” he was quoted as saying after his spot checks unsurprisingly showed that newly-installed bi-directional travellators were not working at the Pasar Seni light rail transit (LRT) station.

He also found out-of-order Keretapi Tanah Melayu ticketing machines and a host of other issues, lamenting that CEOs and the top management of GLCs needed to be more proactive.

“It is embarrassing and unacceptable when the government spent billions on infrastructure, but the services are subpar. The onus is on GLCs to step up their game.”

Soon after his spot checks, news broke that the country’s main public transport operator, Prasarana Malaysia Bhd, had suspended its CEO due to rising complaints and public dissatisfaction over its LRT services.

It is rather shocking that our CEOs, especially those handling public transport services, cannot get their act together until now, despite the billions that were pumped into the sector.

Almost all the companies involved in providing such services seem to be in trouble financially or in terms of living up to public expectations regarding delivery.

If one were to take what happened to the Penang bus service as an example, this is really surprising.

Those familiar with what happened on the island before the Rapid Penang bus service was introduced would know how pathetic the situation was, with run-down buses and abusive drivers making life hell for passengers.

However, all this changed when Rapid Penang’s first CEO, Azhar Ahmad, took charge of the situation and transformed the public bus service on the island and also mainland.

He turned out to be a tough nut in managing the company and had to deal with physical threats, sabotage and a strike on the first day of work, but still managed to transform the pathetic public bus service in Penang within months.

However, thanks to innovative approaches like introducing the Intelligent Computer Information System, which enabled commuters to obtain real-time information to get an accurate estimate of the arrival time of buses, soon turned Rapid Penang into the preferred mode of public transport, registering about 35 million in annual ridership then.

The emergence of Rapid Penang buses eventually spelled the end of the lease system, which saw buses hired out to individuals who failed to provide efficient and reliable service.

In the end, the government’s investment of RM200 million to introduce 150 new buses in 2007 to improve the public bus service proved to be a major success, which Penangites are enjoying until today.

Rapid Penang’s success demonstrates how a revolutionary CEO, who is entrusted with making major corporate decisions, managing the overall operations and resources of a company, as well as taking overall responsibility for creating, planning, implementing and integrating the strategic direction of an organisation, can either make or break a company.

While we don’t expect every one of our CEOs to be in the same league as Google’s Sundar Pichai, who is said to have the strange gift of being able to remember every phone number he’s ever dialled, surely it is not too much to ask for our top executives to have the mindset of Amazon.com’s Jeff Bezos, who once said that “A brand for a company is like a reputation for a person. You earn reputation by trying to do hard things well”.

It is time our CEOs shock us by doing just that.

The writer is a ‘New Straits Times’ senior news editor who believes less talk and more action is needed to make this a better planet


The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the New Straits Times

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