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Thursday, 26 January 2012

Change or be changed!

Malaysia Meetup 2010/05
Image by Danny Choo via Flickr
WE all know that people and businesses who don’t adapt get phased out. Generation X, of which I am part of, has seen the evolution of technology transform how we live our daily lives.

From the VHS tape to the DVD and Blu-ray discs, and from snailmail to email, there are numerous examples how one way of doing things has given way to a faster, better and cheaper methods.

The bankruptcy of Kodak is the latest proof of how businesses can become irrelevant if they don’t keep up with the times. Research In Motion Ltd, the maker of BlackBerry phones, is feeling what Nokia has gone through. The digital age is moving along at breakneck speed and is transforming a multitude of industries and leaving an indelible mark on people and businesses.

There are companies that have done well to make changes on the fly. Most famous is Apple and before that Corning, which was – and maybe still is – famous for its cookingware rather than its fibre optics.

The need to transform is also not lost on corporate Malaysia. A lot of the big banks have done so and have become a lot better at what they do today. MMC Corp changed from a miner to an infrastructure player and the likes of Genting and IOI have expanded dramatically in the business they are in to become world giants today.

That transformation is also seen in the big institutions in Malaysia. The Employees Provident Fund restructured its portfolio from owning 400-plus stocks, some of which most punters will not touch today, to a leaner portfolio of around 100. Its narrower focus has allowed it to take the plunge into private equity and property and, as a result, the returns it can make for depositors should also improve in time.

The same can be said of Khazanah Nasional Bhd. In 2004, when Khazanah first started under new “management”, it had a bunch of old assets sitting in its books. They included stakes in some of the largest companies in the country, but sitting idle and waiting for results was not the way to go.

Khazanah restructured its portfolio, and from a bunch of companies that was heavily leaning towards utilities and telecoms, it invested in new businesses and industries. New investments were in part funded by monies from asset sales such as the divestment of Khazanah’s legacy stakes in Pos Malaysia and Proton.

As a result, Khazanah’s returns improved. During a recent briefing with the media, Khazanah revealed that if it had just sat on it and relied on the government-linked companies’ transformation programme alone, its returns would have been a meagre 2% a year.

But it did not do that and instead invested in new businesses which it felt will bring better growth. Those new investments brought in a return of 22% a year.

One such investment is the hospital business. Integrated Healthcare Holdings (IHH), which consists of hospital investments such as Apollo Hospital Enterprise Ltd and Parkway Holdings, recently made a big acquisition in Turkey when it bought Acibadem.

Healthcare in the demographics in which IHH operates will be hugely lucrative. India, South-East Asia and now Turkey have the desired young but ageing population with growing incomes.

IHH is slated for a massive listing and the changes that some entities in corporate Malaysia have undertaken should be a showcase of how transforming when it needs to be done should be the course of action.

Deputy news editor Jagdev Singh Sidhu wonders when the retirement age in the private sector will be raised.

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