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The Power of One: Successful Strategies for Building Communal Support for Individual Visions

   

Hong Kong, 26 August 2004

Fortune hosted a dinner for those named in the Fortune’s 25 most powerful businessmen in Asia 2004 in Hong Kong. Tan Sri (Dr) Francis Yeoh, Managing Director of YTL Group was given the honour to deliver the keynote address on this prestigious occasion entitled, THE POWER OF ONE: Successful Strategies for Building Communal Support for Individual Visions.

In introducing Yeoh, Clay Chandler Fortune magazine’s Asia Editor said, “It’s a favourite lament of Western entrepreneurs new to Asia: ‘Why does it take so long to get things done here? I have a great idea, a brilliant vision. Why do I need so many people to sign off on it? In a region that puts such a premium on relationships and consensus, how does anyone make anything happen?' And yet things do happen in Asia - all the time and often at breakneck speed. The region’s most successful business leaders know that having a brilliant vision isn’t enough. They must also know how to convince others to embrace that vision as their own. Over the course of his remarkable business career, Francis Yeoh has repeatedly demonstrated a knack for winning the official consensus and building the community support needed to make his dreams come true. And he’s done it not only in Asia, but in Western economies as well. How does he do it? Tonight he will share with us a few of the secrets of his success.”

FULL TEXT OF SPEECH BY TAN SRI (DR.) FRANCIS YEOH

I am indeed honoured and privileged to be amongst the Fortune magazine’s 25 of the most powerful businessmen in Asia. I accept this accolade with unqualified humility, as truly I am humble because I have plenty to be humble about.

They say Fortune favours those with vision and courage. Fortune for sure enters the gates of those who act on their convictions for there is an old saying, ‘If you see a bandwagon, you have probably missed it’

For three generations now my family has been anchored in beautiful Malaysia, a country where different races with different religions and cultures live together in harmony. We were once a colony of Britain therefore we inherited both the efficiencies and bureaucracies of the British civil service, a civil service that respects the rule of law yet cumbersome and unwieldy at times, due to its sheer size.

Malaysia is metaphorically a shrimp in an ocean in economic terms, therefore it is our wont, for our own survival, to watch and learn how and where the big whales swim.

We knew globalisation was upon us and there was no avoiding it, therefore to swim and not sink we have to align our core engineering skills to the intellectual capital of global technology and financial giants, to produce world class products and services at what I call third world prices.

This is not an inept political slogan. When Henry Ford mass-produced his cars for the average man on the American street he made a small fortune. Today the Japanese, the Koreans and of late the Chinese are competing to produce cars for the average men in the third world streets at third world prices. So too, in the business of electronics. Moore’s Law applies. Crudely put, electronic goods are produced with twice the power at half the price once every eighteen months!

Fortune (if you will forgive the pun) first smiled on us when we went into regulated utilities fulfilling Shakespeare’s words.

“There is a tide in the affairs of men 
             Which taken at the flood leads on to Fortune.”

The tide was Privatisation. We seized our chance securing the first two Independent Power Producer licenses to build, operate and manage two gas fired power plants when Malaysia was hit by a massive blackout in 1994. We were given a chance to find the right answer and at the right price. The cookie cutter US Dollar denominated solutions touted in Asia from India to Indonesia costing US7? to US8? per kwh was simply too expensive.


   
From left: Taiwan Semiconductor's Morris Chang, Dhanin Chearavanont of Charoen Pokphand (Thailand), Yeoh, and Fortune Asia editor Clay Chandler.

Financing long-term infrastructure projects with short term foreign currency deposits was never wise in the first place although it appeared then to be the easiest route. When the Asian financial collapse came in 1997, many of my compatriots could not escape its worst ravages, they were not spared the foreign exchange losses and many were devastated. They were not prepared for what Shakespeare warned “The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” – the kind of reversal for which in this uncertain world of ours we must be most prepared.

To make our initiatives work in Malaysia we had literally to reinvent the financial wheel. We borrowed in Malaysian currency instead of foreign currency and in the process created the first long-term 15-year bond. We have always felt that Malaysia should tap into one of its greatest assets its high savings rate rather than become liable to volatile exchange rates.

We assisted the government in setting up a new regulatory framework largely along the British path. We had to introduce the Infrastructure Project Listing Category (IPC) Listing through the Kuala Lumpur Stock Exchange to seek funds from local and global investors on a fast track. We succeeded. The expensive floating debt was retired. This single act improved the bottom line and cash flow by a large margin.†† The surplus cash flow was distributed as dividends to the shareholders, much to their delight. The intellectual capital of Schroders and other houses complemented our efforts.

In a similar fashion, we found the answer to the fast rail link project connecting the Kuala Lumpur International Airport to the Kuala Lumpur Central Station in the city. The journey takes only 28 minutes. A profitable train service is almost an oxymoron. This train is similar to the Heathrow-Paddington Express but we built it at a fifth of the price. We simply had to as we wanted to price the fare at only a mere 35 ringgit or £5 for the 57-kilometre journey (the cheapest fare per kilometre in the world). This was done so that an average man in the street can ride our train and yet we are starting to make profits in our second year of operations. This time again the technological prowess of Siemens complemented our efforts.

Getting support for these new ideas was difficult and will remain difficult. There were many times I felt like I was cursed like Sisyphus of old. Many times I pushed the heavy stone uphill to see it roll back only to repeat this arduous task again and again. It is good that after much effort and courage of conviction some stones are staying on top of the hill but then again there are new stones to roll while keeping an alert eye on the stones already at the top.

You can see that there is little glamour in what I do for a living but I have somehow gotten used to it. I have no idea how Fortune magazine described me flamboyant when I am down to earth and dowdy to the core.

I truly accept that our experience in owning and managing Regulated Assets in Malaysia stood us well in the acquisition of such assets in Australia and the United Kingdom.

In Malaysia it was our self-regulation that produced world-class services at third world prices. It was a case of enlightened self-interests! The regulatory framework in UK and Australia however ensures that the Regulator is forced by the full weight of the law to look after the interests of both the investors and the consumers in equal measure. Nothing can be fairer than an independent regulator armed with integrity conducting his affairs in a most transparent manner in full glare of the public eye. We find little to complain in our investments in regulated utilities in both territories, indeed we found the experience most profitable. More than two thirds of our revenues are now derived outside of Malaysia. We are no longer†hostage to local or regional economic cycles.

So there we go – we march on for more regulated utilities throughout the globe. As a leader, there is nothing more sobering than the fact that your ten million customers throughout the globe are voting with their feet, twenty-four hours a day on your services. Technically, the security of my job is a mere twenty-four hours short! The fact that I have lasted this long in my job means I am blessed with very talented people who rose to the occasion on every occasion in facing these severe challenges. I humbly pay due respect to them, I salute them and offer my gratitude in full.

Tonight I would also like to salute all of the Fortune magazine’s Asia’s powerful 25. They are all great leaders, talented and courageous, gifted with vision. Together they bring much joy to customers and they prosper their shareholders. Not by chance, they are also serial job providers.

In the beginning I said I accepted this accolade with humility and so it is that I must also end with a note of humility. It is a rare honour in any case to take part in a Fortune event so intriguingly called a Power Dinner. There is no more coveted place to be it makes one feel one has arrived.

Alas, the truth must prevail. I owe this singular honour to my Lord Jesus Christ and therefore I give the entire honour back to HIM. He writes the scripts, most beautiful of scripts and I am but a mere wiggly willing pencil. How else can one explain my presence here as a peer amongst such illustrious company? Where did all my ‘Vision Thing’ come from?What about my perseverance marinated with courage to act and then to act at the right time, each time? Most of all, where is the source of my peace and comfort through faith? Sure that as all were well in the past, all will be well in the future! You see, I have learnt well that without God, you can swim in the ocean of knowledge and still come out completely dry. This is why I have always sought Him first, and in this I always will. He is the true Power of One.

Ladies and gentlemen, I thank you very much indeed for your patience in lending me your ears. May God continue to cause His face to shine upon you and continue to bless you and prosper you and give you peace.

Thank you very much.

Tan Sri (Dr) Francis Yeoh
Managing Director, YTL Corporation Bhd
Speech delivered at Fortune magazine’s “The Power of One”
in Hong Kong
on Thursday, August 26, 2004.


   

The Power Dinner

Fortune, October 11, 2004

FORTUNE and Johnnie Walker Blue Label toast Asia’s Power 25

To celebrate the inaugural listing of Asia’s most powerful people in business, FORTUNE and Johnnie Walker Blue Label hosted The Power Dinner at Cipriani Hong Kong on August 26.

The guests of honor, who were all ranked on the Asia Power 25 list, included: Taiwan Semiconductor’s Morris Chang (#8); Charoen Pokphand’s Dhanin Chearavanont (#11); and YTL’s Tan Sri Francis Yeoh (#21). Sony’s Nobuyuki Idei (#2) and Canon’s Fujio Mitarai (#9) sent senior representatives to attend on their behalf. Rounding out the guest list were senior executives from a variety of industries, as well as top government officials.

FORTUNE Asia Editor Clay Chandler and Riche Monde Hong Kong Managing Director Frederic Dufour presented each guest of honor with a FORTUNE award and a limited-edition bottle of Johnnie Walker Blue Label. Each bottle was hand signed by the Johnnie Walker master blender.

The evening was further enhanced by an address from Tan Sri Francis Yeoh, Group Managing Director of Malaysia’s YTL. Yeoh attributed the success of his utilities, cement, land development and e-business companies to the talented individuals at YTL, as well as his faith. Explaining the flexible nature that modern companies and economies must take to thrive in today’s global marketplace, Yeoh said: “We knew globalization was upon us and there was no avoiding it. Therefore to swim and not sink we had to align our core engineering skills to the intellectual capital of global technology and financial giants, to produce world-class products and services at what I call Third World prices.”

As Johnnie Walker Blue Label is created from some of the rarest and most expensive whiskies in the world, supplies are necessarily limited in availability. Owing to this extremely restricted production, each bottle is individually numbered as a cast-iron guarantee of authenticity.



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SPEECHES

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THE OSLO BUSINESS FOR PEACE AWARD

TRANSPARENT COHERENT REGULATORY FRAMEWORK

PERSONAL AND SUSTAINABILITY AWARDS

TAN SRI FRANCIS YEOH'S BIODATA

 
 

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