Great organizations have great leaders. Everyone recognizes that. Less appreciated is that to maintain its greatness an organization must actively nurture its next generation of leaders. Failure to do so would doom the organization.
The late Tun Razak was acutely aware of this crucial aspect of leadership. In his frequent visits to the districts he was always on the look out for talent. On spotting one, he would bring that promising individual back to headquarters for what we would call today “fast tracking.” Likewise Jack Welch, the legendary chief executive of GE. Whenever he toured the various units, he would ask those divisional heads to name two or three of their promising underlings. He would then ask those managers what they were doing to nurture the talents they had under their wings.
As a corollary to my observation, you can tell much about the potential for future greatness of an organization by looking at its next tier of leaders. It is for this reason that I am bullish on the future of Keadilan. The party is blessed with an abundance of young talent.
Currently in the news is its chief strategist, Rafizi Ramli (left with Khairy in London). It is a measure of the caliber of the young leaders in Keadilan that Rafizi’s rising status does not diminish the other shining stars. Nurul Izzah Anwar, Nik Nazmi Ahmad and Sim Tze Szin are among the many stars that glitter Keadilan’s sky. That augurs well for the future of not only Keadilan but also the nation.
The challenge for current Keadilan leaders is to keep these bright stars shining, for they in turn would attract others into their orbit. Bright talents attract other even brighter ones. They are not like dim candles; the only way to make a dim candle shine brighter (or appear so) is to snuff out the other candles. Bright stars welcome competition, for together they form an even brighter galaxy to light up the evening sky.
Except for Tze Szin(right), now Penang state assemblyman, I have never met the others. I knew Tze Szin when he was a graduate student and later an engineer in Silicon Valley. His quiet, unassuming but effective leadership clearly shone even then. I recognized his exceptional qualities when he sought my advice on attending an American law school.
Such an enquiry from an American would not have surprised me, but for someone from Malaysia who had been brought up under our regimented education system with its trademark forced early streaming, that reflected a mind capable of extraordinary thinking, unencumbered by traditions and expectations. Even more remarkable was the fact that he already had a graduate degree in engineering at the time!
Tze Szin aspired to play a major leadership role and knew the supremacy of the rule of law; hence his interest in pursuing law. I assured him that one need not have to be trained as a lawyer to appreciate this fact. On the contrary we have many examples of those formally trained in law and yet would later be as leader its greatest abuser. Philippines’ Marcos was not the only example, though he was easily the most egregious.
I knew Nik Nazmi (left), a King’s College honors law graduate, through his book, Moving Forward: Malays of the 21st Century. In my review of that volume I wrote, “At the risk of discomfiting Nik, I am tempted to compare his book to one written nearly 40 years ago by another not-so-young politician. It is not so much a comparison as a contrast.
Where Mahathir’s The Malay Dilemma is shrill and emotional, Nik’s Moving Forward is cerebral and rational. While Mahathir irritates, Nik Azmi persuades; while Mahathir excoriates, Nik conciliates. Nik beckons us to share his dreams of Malaysia.” Mahathir on the other hand, imposed his on us. Nik is now a state assemblyman in Selangor.
I judge political leaders not by their soaring rhetoric or oratorical flourishes but on the merit of their ideas and the clarity of their thinking. Nik Nazmi is definitely a promising political leader.
As for Nurul Izzah (right), she, like Nik Nazmi, is barely 30 and already a Member of Parliament. She won it on her first try at elective office, trumping a veteran and then-popular woman minister. It is to be noted that Lembah Pantai, Nurul’s district, comprised the University of Malaya campus and the upscale Bungsar area. Meaning, her well-educated and sophisticated constituents were swayed less by titles and promises, more by substance and capability.
A Young Tun Razak
Then there is Rafizi Ramli. If there is one person who has caused the Barisan government much embarrassment today it would be Rafizi. If Barisan, specifically UMNO, were to do badly in the next general elections, much of the credit would have to go to him, specifically his dogged pursuit of the National Feedlot Corporation scandal involving the family of Women’s Minister Shahrizat Jalil as well as UMNO and the Barisan government.
Rafizi’s tenacity matches his meticulousness in his pursuit of that national mess. Then in a brilliant display of strategy, he released the details in tantalizing bits and pieces, lulling his opponents. Shahrizat, her family, and UMNO leaders fell right into his trap.
When the first brief details were revealed, NFC officials quickly responded with their vigorous denials. Then having successfully lured them into the trap, Rafizi pounced upon them by revealing even more facts, forcing them to essentially recant their earlier denials. Continuing to underestimate Rafizi, they put forth another vigorous line of defense, only to be demolished by yet another revelation from him. Rafizi made them appear unbelievably stupid, embarrassingly incompetent, or both, quite apart from possibly breaking the law.
When Rafizi released the fact of the purchase of luxury condos, NFC officials initially denied it in and tried to gain the offensive by belittling Rafizi, only to quickly backtrack when he released even more specific details. This time they tried to rationalize the purchase as prudent “investment” decision!
The NFC managers were not the only ones snared by Rafizi. The Chief of Police initially dismissed the allegation only to backtrack and reopen the investigation. This time those wise investigating officers went public with their recommendation that NFC officials be charged for criminal breach of trust, essentially preempting his superiors who might be tempted to whitewash his work.
All these conflicting accounts prompted Law Minister Nazri Aziz to tell NFC officials to essentially shut up, a very unusual advice from a typically babbling politician.
Rafizi’s biggest trap was to trigger Shahrizat’s filing a defamation suit against him. In a civil suit, in contrast to a criminal one, both plaintiffs and defendants are subject to cross examinations. Now Rafizi will have a forum where those involved would have to testify under oath and in open court. This libel suit may prove to be the most effective way to expose the corrupt nexus of politics, government and business that so blighted our nation over the decades.
In terms of amount, at RM250 million this NFC scandal is but small change as compared to Bank Negara’s foreign exchange debacle or the current Port Klang Free Zone (PKFZ) scandal, for example. What it lacks in monetary value however, is more than made up by the sordid details that would be exposed, especially the unbelievable greed and pure hubris of those UMNO Putras.
Rafizi Ramli very much reminds me of a young Tun Razak. Like him, Rafizi is from a village in east coast Malaysia (Trengganu for Rafizi, Pahang for Razak). Both were top students at Malay College, and both were sent to Britain on a scholarship to pursue professional studies, law for Razak and engineering for Rafizi. Again, both had promising careers before giving them up for politics. Razak could have been the first “native” Governor-General of British Malaysia. He gave that up to join UMNO at a time when there was no promise of success or material rewards. Rafizi had a “fast track” career in PETRONAS and could have been its future CEO but gave that up to join Keadilan at a time when the party had no political power.
Razak’s formidable adversary was the white-skinned, deeply-entrenched colonial-minded British; Rafizi’s was equally formidable – those brown-skinned, deeply-entrenched feudal-minded warlords in UMNO masquerading as Malay nationalists.
It would be easy to dismiss Rafizi as another freelance muckraker or to call him names, as Women’s Minister Shahrizat (left with Rafizi) did. It would be worse to underestimate him, as many in UMNO are. Those involved in this shameful greed of the NFC scandal would be better off answering the specifics exposed by Rafizi, and do so without insulting the intelligence of Malaysians.
Rafizi could not have secured those details and documents without the help of “insiders.” That they have chosen to entrust him reflects their confidence in him. That is the measure of this bright young man.
Rafizi Ramli, Nik Nazmi, Tze Szin and Nurrul Izzah are not only Keadilan’s shining stars, they are also Malaysia’s. It is young leaders of their caliber who will guide Malaysia to a bright future.