Blazing a Path in International Trade 披荆斩棘之国际商道

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Datuk Dr Wong Lai Sum

CEO of Malaysia External Trade Development Corporation (Matrade) 2011-2015


“The different settings of each ministry have given a rounded education and experience that money cannot buy.”

Taking the lead in a challenging industry such as international trade is not an easy task and one that not many can boast of. Datuk Dr Wong Lai Sum is one such leader who had led the industry to greater heights during her service as the Chief Executive Officer of Malaysia External Trade Development Corporation (MATRADE) under the Ministry of International Trade and Industry.

Having spent decades in the public sector, Wong has held various capacities in several ministries which she believes was a privilege. “The different settings of each ministry have given a rounded education and experience that money cannot buy,” she said of the various departments she had worked in.

She first started out her career in the Ministry of Health (MOH) as an assistant secretary in the Contracts and Supply Division and later the Budget Division. “I learnt the length and breadth of planning, budgeting and supplying in a government setting from the beginning,” she said.

It was also while holding that position that she discovered civil service is not a nine-to-five job but one that demands more. “It is full of challenges especially when MOH is such an important part of the social sector,” she said. After serving in MOH, she eventually went on to serve in other ministries including the Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Home Affairs and finally, the Ministry of International Trade and Industry.

She was the Chief Executive Officer of MATRADE up till June 2015 but during her tenure there, she had successfully led the execution of over 100 events domestically and internationally each year. “Over the 2012 to 2015 period, I was involved in many projects domestically and internationally,” she said. Amongst the projects within the country that she had led included conferences such as the World Trade Promotion Organisations (TPO) Network Conference, developmental programmes such as Youth-in-Trade and Mid-Tier Programme and international exhibitions such as MIHAS and INTRADE. “I also led numerous ‘buyer-seller meets’ for international events such as International Construction Week (ICW), Offshore Technology Conference Asia (OTC) and Kuala Lumpur International Aerospace Business Convention (KLIABC),” said Wong.

Internationally, Wong took charge of major projects in the likes of Malaysia Night at Trafalgar Square in London, Discover Malaysian Art in Melbourne, China ASEAN Expo (CAEXPO), Malaysia Week in Myanmar and India. “My last 6 months being with MATRADE was the World Expo in Milan, where I was the Deputy Commissioner General for Malaysia,” she said.

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The Malaysian team with Datuk Dr Wong, (front row; 4th from right) and Ch’ng (front row; 1st from right)

“The greatest challenge is creating a balance. The government is not without limitations and as service providers we need to prioritise and stay focused on our kpis for appropriate results.”

Taking charge of such a large and important organisation is not a bed of roses as Wong can attest to. “The greatest challenge is creating a balance. The government is not without limitations and as service providers we need to prioritise and stay focused on our KPIs for appropriate results,” she said. Being a woman in a man’s world also carries with it some challenges but Wong said this was also to her advantage.

“Admittedly, it is still a man’s world especially at the top and women must stay strong to get there,” she said. While it is true that a woman needs to put in extra effort to show their capabilities as leaders and managers, she believes that it is women’s passion that drives women to success. “I believe that women are creatures of passion and this passion is what drives them to achieve the unexpected. Contrary to common thought, women of today handle things differently and are capable of controlling their emotions,” she added.

On facing up to the challenge of promoting Malaysian products and services to the world, she said it is no easy task because most Malaysian products are not outstanding in terms of quality and finishing. “Malaysians are slow in terms of branding and differentiating their product and service offerings,” she said. While Malaysians generally provide better after sales service, Wong said Malaysian products are simply not competitive enough especially in a price war. “For certain exports which are agro-based, the supply situation is still wanting and certain domestic processes still need to be improved,” she said.

“Malaysians are slow in terms of branding and differentiating their product and service offerings.”

Even for the services sector, it is another challenge to move Malaysian service providers out of their comfort zones to venture out overseas. “For some who are more adventurous, they face stumbling blocks such as accreditation, job experience overseas and adequate financing,” she said. Therefore, it is not easy to promote Malaysia to the world especially in countries that have very high technical barriers in terms of standards and procedures. “For such countries, a market presence is essential and events and programmes must be done repeatedly to gain attention and mind share,” she said. “It also requires a lot of intervention with the authorities, industry association, chambers of commerce and the trade community in the host country,” Wong added.

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Datuk Dr Wong, presenting ‘Salam – London’, a national gift by the Malaysian government to the City of London, received by Victoria Borwick, Deputy Mayor of London during the Malaysia Night 2013 celebration at Trafalgar Square.

Now that Wong has retired from MATRADE, she is not sitting on her laurels but continued to provide service and this time, through education. ”Currently, I am spending a lot of time engaging with the young through teaching at universities,” she said. Together with some friends, she had started a finishing school called Le NouveauPro (The New Professional). She explained that it is a training platform which is aimed at filling the gap between the academia and working life.

“It is not just about eating right and dressing right but about the soft skills needed to fit into the work environment. So, I hope to make a difference for both employers and employees,” she said. The Le NouveauPro is open to university and college students, as well as young recruits. Wong is also actively contributing to the private sector and holds positions on several boards of large corporations.

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CHT Pursuit of Excellence (Business : Government) Award 2013

CHT Pursuit of Excellence (Business : Government) Award 2013

肩负起国际贸易这个颇具挑战性行业领头羊一职,并非简单任务,胜任的更是寥寥无几。但拿督黄丽心博士却是其中的佼佼者-作为国家国际贸易与工业部属下马来西亚对外贸易促进机构(MATRADE)前首席执行员,在她的大刀阔斧领导下,国际贸易业务取得高度跃进成就。

在政府公务领域投入服务几十年,她具备身处迥异部门的应对能力,她认为是一种特权。“不同的部门提供圆融的教育和经验,不是金钱可比拟的。”

她的职业生涯始于卫生部(MOH)的合约和供应部门助理秘书,接着是预算部门,从中开始认知政府部门的详细规划,预算与供应策划等。

身居其位时刻,她发现公务员并非朝九晚五的工作,实际要求付出更多。“其中充满挑战,特别卫生部是社会关键组成的一部分。”在卫生部迈出第一步后,紧接着她投身的服务机构包括财政部、内政部,直至最终的国际贸易和工业部。

2015年6月,黄丽心卸下了MATRADE首席执行员的重担,她在任期间,每年成功领导并执行超过100项国内外贸易计划。在2012年到2015年期间,黄丽心投入许多国内外计划。她在国内领导包含世界贸易促进机构(TPO)网络会议,青年贸易发展项目(Youth-in-Trade),中层计划(Mid-Tier Programme)和国际展览会MIHAS与INTRADE等。她也撮合引导许多买卖双方会面的国际会议:如国际工程建筑周(ICW),亚洲国际石油技术展览会(OTC)和吉隆坡国际航空航天商业会议(KLIABC)。

至于她所组织国际重大节目包括在英国伦敦特拉法加广场的“马来西亚之夜”,在墨尔本举行的“探索马来西亚艺术”,中国东盟博览会(CAEXPO),还有在缅甸和印度举办的“马来西亚周”。而在之前6个月,她也作为马来西亚副专员携同MATRADE参与米兰世界博览会。

“最大的挑战是创建平衡。政府并非无限制,作为服务提供者,我们需要优先考虑和关注关键绩效指标。”

掌管这么庞大和重要机构证明黄丽心绝不甘于安逸状况。“最大的挑战是创建平衡。政府并非无限制,作为服务提供者,我们需要优先考虑和关注关键绩效指标。”身为一名女性处于男权世界中面临巨大考验,但她认为,也是一种优势。

“无可否认,这依旧是男性在顶部主导的世界,但鞭策女性必须保持强韧。”纵然是事实,但一个女性却需要投入额外的努力展示作为领导与管理者的能力。她说,这是女性激情韧劲驱动造就成功女性。“我相信女人是激情生物,这种热情会成就意想不到美好结果,与大家普遍印象相反,今日女性以不同的方式处理事情,并且能够控制情绪。”

谈到促进马来西亚产品和服务面对的阻力,她说,这是任重道远的工作,因为大多数国产出品并未达到卓越质量和完成度指标。“马来西亚在品牌,产品和服务区分方面显得缓慢。”虽然提供良好的售后服务,但她认为大马产品在价格战上缺乏竞争力,尤其是某些农业基础产品出口,供应形势和国内流程仍有不足需要改善。

“马来西亚在品牌,产品和服务区分方面显得缓慢。”

关于服务行业,要将马来西亚服务供应商从安全区域移动到海外拓展是另外一个难关。“即使一些勇于开拓的商户,但他们也面临许多问题障碍如认证,海外工作经验和充足的资金。将马来西亚推进到全球市场非常不容易,尤其是国家在标准和程序方面有相当高的技术壁垒。竖立市场形象对于这样的国家来说必不可少,需要不断推动项目计划才能取得关注与分享。这也必须获得全体上下,包括国家当局、行业协会,商会和贸易组织进行大量的介入调解工作。”她补充。

从MATRADE前线退下后,她没有坐享之前积攒的荣誉,而是继续提供服务,但这一次是透过教育渠道。目前,她耗费了大量心力通过大学教学与年轻人交流。她与志同道合友人设置了一家精修学校名为Le NouveauPro(新专业)。她解释,这个培训平台旨在填补学术技能与工作生活之间的鸿沟差距。

“不仅仅是正确标准的饮食和着装,但也强调软技能以适应工作环境。我希望雇主和员工双方都能做出良性转变。”Le NouveauPro开放予大学和学院生,只要是年轻的新兵。黄丽心同时活跃贡献于私营领域,并在多家大公司董事会担任职务。

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