A diplomat turned business mogul, Malaysian prince Tunku Naquiyuddin has operated at the highest levels of both the public and private sectors. In an exclusive audience with the Classified Post, he discusses his career and approach to management.
What compelled you to join the diplomatic corps?
I always expected my career to be in diplomacy - I studied international politics at university, my father was an ambassador. I figured it was my destiny.
Two years after joining, I was sent to serve as second secretary in Paris, which was a great posting and a great start to a career.
Why did you leave?
After five years in the service, my father invited me to run the family business. The timing was partly related to a change in Malaysian economic policy.
What was your role in the business?
As chairman of Antah Holdings, I would oversee the board meetings and look after the interests of our shareholders, including Jardines. My [younger] brother, who was managing director at the time, did the day-to-day running of things.
What were some of the challenges you encountered?
In 1985, Jardines decided to pull out. Then in 1997, we really got hit. Our share price tanked, and we were forced to turn to margin-financing. We soon realised that we had to restart the business.
How did you get back on your feet?
In 2003, we found a white knight in the form of a Chinese firm. Our company rebranded itself as Sino Hua-An International Berhad, which became Malaysia's first listed red chip [a company with Chinese links]. Today, we mainly produce metallurgical coke for the steel industry.
Then in 2005, after our family was granted a licence to produce power by the Malaysian government, we built our first plant through another company.
In 2007, I started producing a larvicide to help eradicate dengue fever and malaria. We took the product to market through our biotech firm EntoGenex.
More recently, an Australian-listed company we invested in - Noble Mineral Resources - acquired and refurbished the Bibiani gold mine in Western Ghana, which [just went on line].
How did the troubles at Atah change the way you now deal with crises?
We went through a very tough period when it came to sorting out our debt. But if you persevere, you find your way through it.
How would you characterise your management style?
It's an open-policy style, because I like staff to feel like they always have access to management. So symbolically, I always open my door. I also don't hesitate to interfere with human resources on minor issues. I think this is where I can exercise my caring side. When it comes to business, you need to be tough. But you also must ensure that there is a sense of fair-play in all your decisions.
To what extent does being a prince affect your interactions with staff?
If I'm visiting a company or plant for the first time, everyone stands up and is very gracious. But once I spend some time there, it becomes quite normal. People are still very respectful, but I never really use that to influence them.
Does your status inhibit your ability to know how the business operates?
To some extent there is a tendency to only bear good news to me. But I always have a support staff who do not hesitate to provide me with the relevant details. It's important to ensure that you have a solid network in place to give you the right information.
Have you adjusted your leadership philosophy amid the current global economic uncertainty?
At the end of the day, you still focus on your usual disciplines, but you have to be slightly sharper than you would otherwise.
You have to be on the ball, up to date with the current news, and always willing to ask more questions.