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"Age is just a number, and "retirement" is a state of mind. Some are already mentally or psychologically "retired" while still physically working and earning a salary. Others continue to pursue their passion way after their gainful engagements" -.Dato' Jaffar Indot, President /CEO MACD

Your 10 Questions with Dato' Jaffar Indot
By MACD Public Relations
Monday, March 19, 2012

1. Why is it important to unite corporate directors and have an umbrella body for them? Tan, Selangor
There are numerous non-government organisations and directors education/training organisations offering various membership benefits and programmes to corporate directors in Malaysia. Some are regulatory-driven, others are more market-driven but they invariably contribute to equipping directors for their roles on the board. Directors and market players, however, need more than just educational input; they need a common platform to have a voice in the development of the Malaysian capital market, in which they are the direct stakeholders.

The Malaysian Alliance of Corporate Directors (MACD), a not-for-profit company limited by guarantee, offers that common platform (an umbrella body) to positively engage other stakeholders, including the regulators, with a common voice that resonate a positive development of the capital market.

2. What keeps you going as an active participant on boards and other organisations despite the fact that you're nearing 80? No retirement plans on the horizon? Yeoh Cheow Tim, Subang Jaya
I am not 80 yet still three more years to go! But then again, age is just a number, and "retirement" is a state of mind. Some are already mentally or psychologically "retired" while still physically working and earning a salary. Others continue to pursue their passion way after their gainful engagements.

I have served Shell Malaysia for 54 years, with 21 years on the Shell Refinery Board besides serving on the boards of several public limited companies (PLCs), foundations, NGOs and still remain active. The wealth of corporate experience and wisdom I have gained over the years should not fade away but be passed on as a legacy to up-and-coming corporate leaders who value it. MACD is in a way my desire to give back to society what I have benefited from it. As long as I am physically and mentally fit, that is my quest and passion to equip a new generation of corporate directors for global challenges.

3. What are the most important traits for a director? Madeleine, Kajang
Enterprise. Integrity. Sustainability. The creed of MACD is founded on three vital core elements of entrepreneurship, integrity and sustainability. While the executives' role is in management, the board is the company's strategic asset that focuses on corporate performance to enhance shareholders' value. The most important traits of a director, in my opinion, are an entrepreneurial outlook for corporate performance, ability to govern with integrity (where best practices in governance are structured around) and having a keen eye on sustainability of the environment in which the company operates be it the physical environment or the people it has impact on.

4. In all your years of being a member on corporate boards, what difference have you made to those organisations? Choon Beng Seow, Subang Jaya
I have indeed served on numerous boards with board structures derived from large multinational entities to family-controlled PLCs. The board dynamics along a wide spectrum of such PLCs are quite different. In my experience, pragmatism and not dogmatism, in managing such board dynamics is crucial. However, the underlying principles of board integrity, transparency, independence, objectivity and sustainability, are vital traits to drive toward high corporate performance. When a director serves on a board, his/her duty of care, loyalty and fiduciary responsibilities is to that company, irrespective of who appoints him/her.

Generally, these principles do rub against the grains of some multinationals and family-controlled PLCs, but when put in perspective, a new enlightenment sets in. That is one significant difference, among others; I have raised the professionalism in board practices.

5. What is your take on the dismal number of women on corporate boards? How can we make boards in Malaysia more equitable and should it be done? Mohd Asri, PJ
When the Prime Minister announced in June 2011 a 30% target of women serving on corporate boards over the next five years, and MACD was named as one of the entities "to make it happen", I thought it was a tall order given the current representation of only 7.6%. We need to understudy to understand why women, as a group, appear hesitant to come forward to equip themselves to serve on the board. Without doubt, many are highly qualified and experienced and are able to take on that role; yet many respond to a high calling of the family and other personal pursuits.

The market place is a very competitive arena. Any director, regardless of gender, will need to be equipped for the challenges. Women keen to serve on corporate boards will need to invest in themselves on board education, training and boardroom skills. MACD has developed a foundational course, the Professionalism in Directorship Program, to meet the requirements, and women are strongly encouraged to participate. On the other side of the equation, MACD will endeavour to present its case to PLC boards for their buying in of a ready pool of potential women directors they could evaluate and select from. I don't think there is any glass ceiling in corporate boards for women; pragmatic boards are looking for talents regardless of gender.

6. What do you hope to change about Malaysian directors and boards in your position as president of MACD? Soilendra via email
We all have an important role in nation building. The various government initiatives to raise Malaysia as a developed nation by 2020, to sustain an economic growth rate of 6% annually, demand for highly-skilled human capital. The Malaysian capital market is arguably the engine that drives the nations' economic growth and the directors are key drivers of corporate vision and strategic direction.

We are not insulated from global challenges. To survive and thrive in the borderless economy, Malaysian directors need to equip themselves to be globally competitive. MACD has and will continue to develop programmes to raise the bar for Malaysian directors towards global competitiveness. Structured directors' education and peer-to-peer learning are just the beginning to benchmark us against our global counterparts.

MACD is a member of IDEA.net (Institutes of Directors in East Asia), an Asian regional group comprising South Korea, China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, the Philippines, Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia. In November 2011, MACD was admitted as the 8th member of the GDDC (Global Director Development Circle) that comprises the leading directors' organisations around the world, representing Canada, United States, UK, Southern Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Brazil and Malaysia.

As the president/CEO of MACD, I have taken the challenge to be the catalyst to help Malaysian directors to embrace a global mindset to be significant global players in their respective specialised markets.

7. In your opinion, what is the biggest thing lacking on corporate boards in Malaysia and how can that be overcome? Lindsay Lee, Mont'Kiara
PLC boards are often challenged by apparently diverse (if not conflicting) demands for corporate performance and regulatory conformance. The two sides of the same coin performance and conformance need not be conflicting but could co-exist in harmony for greater sustainability of the corporation. Not uncommonly, corporate boards perceive regulatory conformance as the "necessary evils" to comply with, and so long as they comply with the minimum, they will be fine. The regulators, on the other hand, have vital roles to set a robust and transparent regulatory framework that assures the investors the existence of a disciplined market.

However, when boards perceived that the risks of inadvertently breaching the maze of stringent regulatory provisions are too high, they would gravitate towards the cautious which itself could stifle the creativity of the entrepreneurial spirit. More open dialogues with regulators and education are certainly needed to bridge the perception gap on performance and conformance. MACD is also inculcating and facilitating the elements of self-discipline in corporate boards to want to excel in their entrepreneurial pursuits within the regulatory framework.

8. How do you make the choice on which company boards you would like to sit on? Do they come to you or do you seek them out? Eugenie Devan, Bangsar
Successful companies are always on a lookout for board talents; at the board level, this is increasingly a rare commodity. PLCs have often made requests to MACD for potential candidates to serve on their boards. We are continually developing criteria to sieve through the best fit for both the candidate and the board based on available information in our database. If you wish to be a potential candidate, it is critically important that you provide us a comprehensive profile of yourself to match against the criteria of selection for the board.

9. How has MACD made things better for Malaysian board members and what should directors do to improve themselves? Peony Schultz, via email
It has been widely acknowledged that effective corporate governance balances itself on a three-legged stool of market-discipline, regulatory-discipline and self-discipline. While the market and regulatory disciplines are not significantly in the domain of directors, self-discipline certainly is. MACD positions itself as the resource centre for inculcating self-discipline among directors. This include, among others, equipping directors with market-driven continuing education programmes, peer-to-peer exchanges and network, information for best board practices, facilitating support groups and encouraging life-long learning to excel in the global market.

10. If you could construct a perfect board, what skills would the directors as a collective need to have? James Jinggut, Sarawak
A balanced and effective board composition is one of the most important criteria for a successful board. Board composition that comprises directors with their diverse skill-set is dependent on the business strategy of the corporation. These skills include knowledge and working experience in the specific industry, technical, financial, legal, management, marketing, human resource, investor relation, regulatory environment and international network. Above all, it is critical to have an experienced chairman who could skilfully harness the individual expertise of each director to seamlessly weave him or her into a cohesive and harmonious board that focuses on enhancing the shareholders' value.

Your 10 Questions was published in The Star on March 17, 2012. Read original article here.