Max (not his real name) is a youthful 60 year old former soldier, who by any measure, can be said to have done pretty well for himself and his family in the oil and gas industry. This is a result of hard work, education, common sense and a whole lot of application (and as he says maybe a little bit of luck).
The company he started 12 short years ago as a one man show in the room above his garage, hustling for contracts in the oil and gas industry, in 2012 now handles multi-million dollar contracts. His company has 186 on a permanent payroll, and depending on seasonal requirements, can be responsible for up to 530.
His tale is one that anyone should be proud of.
In 1971 and at the age of 17 he entered as a cadet with the Armed Forces. It was his good fortune to be mentored by officers who felt (perhaps against the conventional thinking of the time) that it would be a good idea to see to the higher education of army officers.
The Armed Forces afforded him education and training that otherwise may not have been available to him. During his 25 years in the Armed Forces, he managed to travel to the Staff College in Malaysia, undertook a postgraduate diploma and completed a Masters Degree researched in Leningrad on International Relations. The Masters Degree coincided with the time of Soviet Perestroika and Glasnost. His tutors almost failed his Masters thesis in 1988 for his impudent view that the Berlin Wall would fall. Which it did, a year later.
After 25 years in the military, with his last position being in a job that he is not at liberty to speak about, he retired in 1996 at the grand old age of 42.
As a 42 year old retiree he had a number of options. To play golf, try to find some government work, or go do something in oil and gas. Well he did try some government work, but found the politics unnerving. With ingrained military acumen he concluded that the oil and gas industry, which makes up 95% of the country's economic activity would have a place for him.
He started helping out a relative to salvage a private sector contract that had gone bad, gaining some knowledge in the way that things work. In 2002 he gained his first contract, along with an overseas principal, managing materials for sub strata surveys in the up stream industry. As time went on he took on more people and more work. The company headquarters in Sungai Bera is a full on industrial facility. His work has expanded to the supply of sophisticated equipment and machinery and serious technology.
He is by no means the largest local oil and gas contractor, but he has carved out a substantial and comfortable niche for himself and his family.
While obviously he has had no high technical education, a Masters in 'Sino-Soviet Detente' certainly equipped him to deal with the ins and outs of bureaucracy. And I guess knowing how to drive a tank may have given him certain basic technical skills. But I think what has been useful to him has been the ability to gain knowledge and giving order to it. The research degree would have equipped him with skills for the independent acquisition of knowledge and the intellectual rigor required to formulate and defend his views. To me it just goes to show that with the right attitude and a willingness to learn, anything is possible.
With 95 percent of his workforce local, Max is a big believer of local business development and is grateful for the government's policies in this respect. He is proud of the fact that his company now competes with international firms for contracts, and is equally proud of his team. Indeed he believes that the most valuable asset for a company is its human resources. "Invest in your people, just like a country. Get the right people for the right job", he told me.
Finally one should not discount the importance of flexibility. I am not sure if he was quoting Sun Tzu's "Art of War" when he said, "I firmly believe that if you cannot get them through the front, then you take them from the back"...
Illustration by Cuboi Art.
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