13/2015 – Qualities of a successful CEO
by Tan Thiam Hock
Saturday, 4 July 2015
A TINGE of sadness came over me after watching BBC news on the Greek meltdown in my Singapore hotel room. Sad to watch the old folks lining up just to withdraw a maximum of 60 euros from ATM machines for their daily sustenance and not knowing whether their next pension cheque will be paid.
Just could not help comparing poor old Greece with young rich Singapore. Both have relatively small populations (11 million vs 6 million) so technically speaking, it is easier to manage these countries. So why is one country broke and the other a thriving developed nation?
For comparison sake, from 50 years ago, we can witness the Greek tragedy unfolding while observing the rise of Singapore. The Greek problem has been attributed to many reasons, from a bloated and corrupted civil service and politicians to poor collection of taxes while incurring a huge liability of social pension welfare that is just not sustainable.
Then you have the little red dot of an island called Singapore with a super efficient and clean civil service, not forgeting the “cleaner than thou” politicians with effective tax collection strategies and enabling more than 90% of its first generation citizens to own a home. The highly controversial Central Provident Fund is carefully managed to ensure a sustainable pension scheme for its aging work force.
In my humble opinion, if Greece had Lee Kwan Yew as its prime minister 50 years ago, Greece would now be standing side by side with Switzerland and lending money to Spain, Italy and France. I stand corrected of course, but you will not disagree with me if I say that the key to success for any country or organisation rests with the ability of its chief executive officer.
Which stakeholder in the right mind would not want to have a visionary and intelligent CEO who is honest and full of integrity? Everybody except the corrupted politicians and civil servants. That is because there is no place for them if such a CEO exists!
On the other hand, what if the CEO is corrupted, dishonest, lacks vision and empty on leadership qualities? God help us then! You will witness first hand the tragedy of destroying all the good in 5 years what it took 50 years to build.
All entrepreneurs are CEOs of their own organisation. The level of success achieved by any organisation is directly attributed to the level of capabilities of the CEO. Call it a coincidence but you will notice that the level of integrity and honesty of any organisation equates to similar qualities of its CEO.
An intelligent CEO surrounds himself with very capable people with similar good qualities whereas a weak leader surrounds himself with inferior yes men. No surprises these yes men come across as mentally challenged. Perhaps the correct words should be dumb morons but that would be politically incorrect on my part. Incapable of thinking right all the time, their thoughts are translated into incomprehensible verbal diarrhoea which really reflects badly on their CEOs.
So if you ever decide to go on your own, make sure you hire people with comparatively better skills which will reflect well on you, the CEO. Then you will see your company grow… exponentially. No successful entrepreneur worth his salt will tell you that he achieved success all on his own. He will always attribute his success to his people. Just ask Tan Sri Tony Fernandes and Tan Sri Quek Leng Chan.
Not all entrepreneurs are gifted with all-round skills or admirable attributes. Some are born with charisma, others have a smooth and calm disposition. Some are more intelligent than others but less hardworking in attitude. A few are visionary, most have tunnel vision and the rest just trudge along clueless.
To me, the most important “must have” attribute by any entrepreneur is Integrity. With the right integrity comes humbleness, compassion and kindness. Integrity serves as the backbone of all your decisions and actions. Doing the right things with the right people will set you on the right direction. After that, for execution, just do it right.
With integrity as the main ingredient, you can add on other unique positive attributes according to your personality or capability. A successful potent mix is a crucial determinant on the level of success that you are going to achieve.
If an engineer tells you that your building structure lacks integrity, that means your building is going to collapse in the foreseeable future. Core values and beliefs form the bedrock of any organisation.
So how does Malaysia compare with Greece? There are some similarities as in a bloated and low productive civil service and pervasive high corruption. Both leaderships lack integrity in form and substance.
I would, however, disagree if people predict that we will be another Greece in five years time. After all, we have an efficient Inland Revenue Board and we have natural resources like oil, gas and commodities. At least that is what our politicians would like to think. But if the leakage continues at such an alarming rate, then I would be the first to admit that there is a possibility that our country can go broke very soon.
Just imagine a scenario where our retired civil servants do not receive their monthly pensions and everybody can only withdraw a maximum of RM60 a day from the ATM. Civil servants are retrenched in big numbers or forced to take a pay cut of up to 40%. No more free BR1M money and no ability to borrow from any banks as our government guarantees are not recognised anymore.
While the corrupt elites enrich themselves in the spirit of qualified entitlement, the mass poor will be standing in line at the ATM machines hoping that there is still cash in the machine to be withdrawn. Or they go hungry for the day.
If this happens, it will be because of the lack of moral integrity among our Malaysian leaders.