Wednesday, August 12, 2009

From Dubai to Perlis (Part 1)

Disclaimer: I wrote this a while ago during my recovery from a minor surgery. The story is dedicated to my students. Read it and you may think it's cool. Read it again and reflect and you will learn even more.

This part of my story is called "Seal the Deal"

One evening in Dubai, I got a called from an old friend - out of nowhere. After exchanging pleasantries, he quickly jumped into business talk. [Calling from Malaysia to Dubai cost around RM1 per minute] I understand the cost-related issue but felt a bit awkward knowing how our friendship during old school days shouldn’t be tarnished by “business transactions” . I prefer to take a ‘jual-mahal’ stand with many of my good friends i.e. not to mix between the two – friendship and business. It's just a bad ingredient. Better lose some cash rather than friends. I know, however hard you try to manage the situation; once a friendship is commingled with business, you are actually standing on a very thin ice.

Having said that, my friend (ref here as “Naz”) lured me to an opportunity simply hard to pass. It was a partnership with Perlis State Government in Malaysia. We were talking about bringing in development in that area - creating jobs and opportunities to thousands of people! Naz was clearly challenging my ego to the limit. He knew that I was once a 'product' of this tiny little state back in early 80’s. I studied there - Alawiyah Arau - and became best student. A sole representative from Perlis to Kolej Islam Kelang! Wow...what a moment. Now, that was an ego building mechanism, “...they said I was too small, they said I was too weak, they said I was not good enough...THEY WERE WRONG!” OK, enough with that feel-good attitude. Just don’t get overboard, please, I kept on telling myself.

I listened intently and asked him to send details to my email. Done, he told me. What an efficient machine he had became. Naz was my school-mate in KIK but a fellow “Kedahan”. Weird but true, I am a Kedahan - born and raised in Kedah but migrated myself to Perlis to study there, alone. Years later, I represented Perlis to KIK. Since there’re no other “Perlisan” at KIK, I kinda merged myself with the Kedah – if you can’t beat them, join them! (Not necessarily true). Anyway, after SPM I went straight to the USA and Naz stayed for another year to do preparatory program and later on attended Al-Azhar University. So, Naz was an Ustaz by profession. But strangely enough, everyone (friends) who came in contact with me will start to talk about business, finance, investment, banking and bla bla... They thought that was the only subject to discuss with me. Whereas I was excited to learn more new things from them... Dunia dah berubah :-)

Fast-forward, I made my first trip down to Kangar, Perlis after many years abroad. Not many changes visible, but I was happy because I knew at least I can give back to the people of Perlis something better. We had planned for a grand knowledge-based development to include University, commercial and tourism. I was brought to see the proposed location accompanied by several officials (8 of them) along with a YB in charge of investment and development. The YB was a very pleasant gentleman and I accomplished a lot from that trip. I did 'kitchen works' for many sleepless nights to set things into motion with the people of Perlis and Naz. A few weeks later, we got invitation to sign the deal – starting with an MOU (Memorandum of Understanding). I flew in a Managing Partner and a VP of Institutional Client from New York for the occasion. Another Managing Partner from Dubai was supposed to join in later.

This part of my story is called: Sleepless in Perlis!

I knew from my trip that Perlis doesn’t has 5 stars accommodation. I kept on reminding the organizer that we don’t mind the luxury but everything must be clean. (So far, all our business trips will use 5 stars and above for accommodation – company policy!) This time, we had to adjust... I told the NY team...just for few nights, it’s worst the sacrifice! After all, the organizer would be putting us at the best hotel in Perlis, I told them. Come on, this was the very same place where Prime Minister (Pak Lah) stayed during his visit few months earlier to Perlis. I took it on face value. It’s going to be master suite room, so it should be ok.

We arrived in KLIA early morning and took afternoon flight northbound. We got special 'welcome wagon' waiting at the airport and a cameraman. Naz was there too. With all sleepless faces from long flight, we tried our best to show proper respect to the ‘welcoming party’. 3 Mercedes E-Class were supplied to drive us all the way to Perlis - one car for each person!

The ceremony were to be held at 8pm and we arrived at the-best-hotel-in-town around 5pm. 3 master suites were awaiting us there! The guys got their rooms key and headed straight up to get ready for the ceremony which will be held at one of the grand ballroom. I was somehow hold-backed downstairs to discuss details with the State’s Legal Advisor on MOU document for the intended ceremony. After 45 minutes we kind of agreed on the outstanding issues. The State’s lawyer was initially so persistent to insert protection clause and ‘no commitment’ terms from State Government in that MOU, which I insisted hard to be made clear from the very beginning. Otherwise, I can’t make my investment committee agree on this investment, I told him. Finally we agreed, and I got what our business intents were and did ‘massage’ some wordings to appear friendlier to both parties. After all, it was supposed to be a partnership. A win-win kind of arrangement. He was ok with that, which was quite a relief for me.

When I entered my own master suite, I had a bad feeling. I know something was not right! It smelled a bit fishy (I mean, it smell dead fish – sorry). I quickly turn the AC fan high hopefully it will get the fresh air in and do some magic. I thought some dead animal trapped in the ventilation shaft. The telephone rang. I grabbed the handle and heard a screaming voice on the other end (something like... rat, dead rat, giant roaches, giant spider, stain, contagious, blood stain, dead people..? Details will be in my book!). After cooling off my partner and updated him on my discussion with lawyer, I rushed to get a quick warm shower. Well, forget it – it’s cold! No more complaint here onward from me...promise :-)

After maghrib prayer, we were ushered to the ballroom for the event. It was quite a grand event for Perlis. The Chief Minister will be witnessing the occasion. I can tell that everyone who attended the event were very proud of how things had evolved up to that moment. It was a full-house! All State’s exco members attended the event. I was impressed and proud to see my tiny little state was serious about something. After almost 20 years away, I am back with a lot of goodies! The event went on quite smoothly except for a minor hiccup during slideshow presentation (they apologized for that too). Dr Akram the Managing Partner from New York office gave a remarkable speech, followed by Chief Minister of Perlis, Dato Seri Shahidan Kassim – (It was in January 2008). The CM took sometime to introduce local herbal products from Perlis. We got bags of sample to bring back and personally test them. Signing session was followed by photo session and press-conference. We made a mark by a RM3 billion commitment to develop Perlis in the following 5 years - Making Perlis a major destination in the region! We made into TV prime time news. The morning news: “Dubai Group is interested in Perlis...” the headline in Berita Harian. “RM3 billion new investment into Perlis” etc etc.

The following 2 days were planned for viewing the area and meeting the officials. We heard unconfirmed news that His Majesty Raja Perlis wished to meet our group too. But that night, we were all sleepless in Perlis for many "interesting" reasons.

Coming soon in Part 2, more action and twist. So stay on!

Additional disclaimer: No ill-intention intended if for any reason whatsoever the reader has any relation with anyone or institutions mentioned here. This is just a nice case study for my students.

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