Category Archives: EZ 37

MUSE ON A MISSION

Jill Morgan

CEO of Multicultural Arts Victoria (Australia)

An advocate of freedom of expression through the arts, Jill Morgan is the face of the campaign promoting unity in diversity. Deborah Joy Peter tunes in as Victoria’s leading lady in multiculturalism paints a perfect picture of Australia’s creative landscape.

A once-upon-a-time blank canvas seated at the tip of the unrelenting strokes of a career dipped in artistic ambition, 25-year veteran and Multicultural Arts Victoria (MAV) chief executive officer, Jill Morgan, is today the focal point of an illustrious gallery which remains the spectacle of many. Positioned at the helm of Australia’s glistening multiculturalism movement, the prominent head of industry charts a well-seeded legacy dedicated towards championing the continuity and relevance of cultural cohesion amidst ethnic diversity specifically through the arts.

Relying on the said platform as a conduit for social change and altered perceptions, her active engagement in the scene has through the years, garnered results nothing short of triumphant. Inarguably, her contributions have aided in the progressive propagation of creative expression as a combative measure against racial demonisation as well as the challenges of migration. Aimed at driving attention towards the significance of breaking barriers beyond a mere tolerance of the other, her call-to-action stems from an earnest conviction to breed a perpetual state of non-prejudice and community-centredness.

While the journey down this road has been no walk in the park, her life’s story, sprinkled with unending tenacity and founded upon sincerity in its most basic form, is truly telling when deciphered through her mind’s eye. “The arts bring people together and can enhance cultural pride and well-being within communities. Cultural diversity can be at the heart of new contemporary works and innovation,” Morgan, the once Executive Director of Kulcha, Multicultural Arts of Western Australia, candidly shares.

Commenting on the arena’s role as a sustainable support system for both the present and future generations, the MAV lead explains how as a double-pronged tool, the arts serve as a fresh, creative, and inspiring voice which bridges the gap between colour and creed whilst making room for cultural dialogue and a shared understanding with and through youth. Having once herself been a vibrant, young lady whose immersion into the world of arts and culture was sparked by a genuine love of drama and theatre alongside a fascination towards literature and history, it’s no wonder her passion for education rings true to this day.

In her fight to preserve the sanctity of a universe where old meets new, the well-traversed Morgan has been indefatigable in her efforts to translate into activity, her underlying message which speaks of enriching individuals and society in general as well as carving from struggle, innovation, redefined identities, and newfound economic and social prowess for a healthier morrow. In defining her vision, she notes: “Culture and identity is central to the well-being of people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. Art programmes are an active and tangible way to connect cultures and to educate others about difference.”

For the reasons above, part of MAV’s process and programmes for social inclusion comprise collaborations with the Arts Centre Melbourne, Recital Centre, Melbourne Theatre Company, and Melbourne Festival, among others, to actively promote diversity through the arts whilst protecting the rights, values, and beliefs of refugees and migrants. According to the visionary, arts projects that present positive non-stereotyped images and stories of indigenous groups and artists play a pivotal role in ensuing equity, raising awareness, building self-worth, encouraging community pride, stimulating long-term growth, and formulating respect.

Determined to walk a mile in the footsteps of the late great Nelson Mandela, Morgan is quick to echo the sentiments found in the hugely celebrated political icon’s book, Long Walk to Freedom, when probed on her source of inspiration: “No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

More than just a virtuous messenger, the MAV frontrunner whose non-profit organisation was recognised for its notable initiatives with the Pinnacle International Excellence Award in the International League (Art & Culture) category during the recent 2014 ceremony, is a highly-decorated servant of the cause. Her contributions include but are not limited to national-level multicultural arts policy and strategy development as well as overseeing the incubation and expansion of Kultour; the advocacy body for multicultural arts in Australia.

“To be even more effective change-makers, we need organisations such as CHTNetwork who share in our passion and commitment, to support and acknowledge the organisation and the importance of multiculturalism, as we grow to meet the increasing needs of our diverse artistic community including our connection with Southeast Asia,” Morgan tells Essenze.

While the aforementioned accolade was accepted on behalf of Multicultural Arts Victoria, she herself was voted in as a Member of the Order of Australia in 2013 while having been newly called upon to receive the Facilitators Prize at this year’s Sidney Myer Performing Arts Awards. Joining an elite list of industry movers and shakers, her sense of fulfilment comes from seeing young people celebrate their cultural heritage as proud Australians. For Morgan, that alone is the ultimate reward and true motivation behind her wanting to press on.

So much so, even when afforded the luxury of time to pursue her personal passions, the family-friendly cat-lover and creative curator is hardly one to wander far from the warm embrace of artistic endeavour. It is safe to conclude that the very essence of her being best finds solace in offerings that capture beauty in naturalness be it through the arts, film, photography, travel, or simply gardening. By her own admission, she enjoys growing organic herbs and vegetables.

An avid traveller not spared the pleasure of exploring multiple global heritage sites like Hampi, Borobudur, The Great Wall, Angor Temple Complex, Bagan, Luang Prabang, Ha Long Bay, Melaka, and Georgetown, her round-the-world adventures are only just beginning. “I like to travel to Asia and am keen to visit Jaipur Rajasthan and other parts of India by train to experience the music, food, culture, and dance of that region. I wish also to travel to specific parts of Africa; Ethiopia, Senegal, and Mali. Then, there is Mexico, Sri Lanka, and Colombia.”

As to what the future holds for Jill Morgan, she plans on spending the next five years still discovering what she calls amazing world culture and the arts and the five years after that, doing precisely the same thing. Truly, to be able to devote one’s existence to doing what she loves the most and then finding fun ways to embed her interests into her everyday living is testament that dreams do come true when pursued with the purest of intentions, and without leaving a single stone unturned.

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MOBILE MATADOR WITH MILEAGE

Gary Xu

Country Director, Huawei Consumer Business Group, Malaysia

True to his Chinaman roots, country director for Huawei’s consumer business group, Gary Xu, has business built into his DNA. Deborah Joy Peter dials in for a chat with the Malaysian-based head, to talk tech and discuss the brand’s direction.

Slightly over a decade ago, sometime in 2004, China-based multi-national networking and telecommunications equipment and services behemoth, Huawei Technologies, braved the unknown when it went ahead and appointed Nanjing-hailing Gary Xu to oversee global sales of the brand’s niche offerings across multiple regions. Fast-forward to 2014, the decision has proven to be one of the most prudent hires in the history of the company by far. Fresh out of Shanghai at the time, the only tools under his belt were two years’ worth of field experience and a glorified degree from the prestigious Tongji University.

TECHNOLOGY TYCOON

However, a marketing maverick in his own right, the Jiangsu native although positioned at the peak of his youth, did nothing to shy away from the demands attached to such a commanding title. Instead, in an effort to showcase the full effect of the stock from which he was bred, he took the bull by the horns, only to trot far and wide, to pave the way for a name which would go on to become a world-renowned trademark across the smartphone arena. Today, he remains seated at the helm of the mobile giant’s Malaysian operations as country director of Huawei’s consumer business group.

A corporate-inspired commission afforded upon request by the man himself, the aforementioned re-assignment marks Xu’s second call of duty to the bustling yet exotic industrial district of Kuala Lumpur. Part of a dedicated South Pacific tour to manage sales for the home devices segment worldwide, his initial stint served back in 2007, albeit brief, rendered him an instant fan of the urban scape’s beyond-touristic trappings. Back then, Malaysia hadn’t yet become part of China’s open retail market but he made that happen. Hence, the enthusiastic envoy’s desire to return in 2013 to continue what he had started six years prior.

‘Lah’-vingly Asian

Essentially, what could have alternatively played out as a maiden European (Germany) or North American (USA) expedition, ended up being a deliberate but well thought-out re-journey instead, to the tropics. In his own words, he says while reminiscent of his previous visit, “It is possible that my comeback is skewed towards personal reasons. Admittedly, I understand the market, know the country well, appreciate Malaysia’s immensely international business potential, and fancy her vast education opportunities as well as multi-lingual (specifically English and Chinese) landscape for my son.”

Elaborating further, he notes: “Had it been Europe, it would’ve taken the family much longer to adapt. Other options were available to me but we really like it here; a nation with mixed cultures, fantastic food, and heart-warming weather.” Incidentally, throughout his tenure with the company, the duly driven trend-setter has clocked time not just in Asia—to include China, Malaysia, and Singapore before spending two years in Mumbai promoting various Huawei products under the branding of Tata Indicom and subsequently, Vodafone—but also the Middle East where he led business dealings out of Bahrain, the birthplace of his now four-year-old boy.

Influential enforcer

The core functions of Xu’s current capacity dictate that the mobile marketer engage in the strengthening of Huawei’s products and branding in a manner which translates to support of its recent re-alignment from a business-to-business to business-to-consumer focus. The said transition is indicative of a redefinition of the manufacturer’s long-term strategic goals. “Huawei is a technology-based company specialised in networking but since three years ago, we’ve started sinking our teeth into the consumer market. Although we’ve been involved with consumer devices for more than a decade now, we have begun actively beefing up our B2C segment.”

Since its inception in 1988, Huawei has over a 26-year period, expanded its offerings so that its three main extensions encompass networking, enterprise, and consumer. While networking is still the brand’s leading channel, the need arose to develop technology which was compatible with the products it rolled out. “As such, we improved our business model in 2011 to include the open market strategy and began leveraging our own branding. With the advent of the smartphone, the move in this direction hasn’t been in vain. Advancements in technology and economic growth have contributed to our success.”

Mover and shaker

Literally speaking, ‘success’ is an over-simplification of what the multi-billion dollar empire truly represents. Xu recalls how founder Ren Zhengfei started the company with only 20,000 RMB back in the day. Presently, Huawei not only enjoys a global revenue share in the region of USD 39.2 billion but also a global market share of 6.9 per cent and 5.2 per cent in Malaysia, making it the third largest smartphone manufacturer in the world, just behind Samsung and Apple. Ranked 94th, the Chinese brand is one of five new entrants to make it into Interbrand’s Best Global Brands ranking this year.

Meanwhile, 65 per cent of its revenue comes from outside of China while its earnings continue to climb both domestically and across Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. At the Malaysian level, Huawei went from 11 to 13 new smartphone models since 2013 and from zero Huawei-branded store identity outlets two years ago to a staggering 72 retail shops and 400 device touch-points by 2014. Despite its stellar performance amidst an exceedingly competitive arena, Xu’s work isn’t yet done as his dream is to increase Huawei’s market share even further, improve on product quality, and make the brand even more ‘international’.

Huawei patrol

Speaking to the challenges which remain, he confesses: “Even with these milestones, the need to explain how Huawei is different still persists. Although we have achieved widespread acclaim, in people’s minds, we are still Chinese. Consumer confidence, brand value, and media exposure must be enhanced if we are to showcase that our product is good. Technology-wise, Huawei is the best. Therefore, driving awareness is pivotal to ensure longevity.” To achieve all of the above, the technology provider plans on leveraging its speciality branches and using fully-integrated marketing campaigns to refine product introduction in the marketplace.

Evidently, he has his work cut out for him. Fortunately, he is one to welcome a good challenge and thrive in an ever-evolving and fast-paced environment. For exactly this reason, the larger popularity of Western brands does little to rattle his cage. The fact that all phones are manufactured in its backyard—that is China—has caused Huawei to subscribe to even more stringent protocols where its offerings are concerned, giving the brand an edge when it comes to quality control and assurance. That coupled with its extensive 4G-patented capabilities (dual SIM being one) and latest Huawei Mate 7 invention, places the juggernaut at the forefront of this added advantage.

MASTER JUGGLER

So how does this one gung-ho gentleman who is the Gary Xu whom the world has come to know, get it all done with precision intact and still manage to retain his very distinct sense of humour? It’s simple; he is in every sense of the word, ‘married’ to his job and quite literally in more ways than one. He is wedded to the once-upon-a-time secretary of his superior whom he met at Huawei in 2006, dated discreetly, and walked down the aisle with two years later.

But much has changed on that front, because six years in and one child later, her title has been upgraded from colleague to boss—not an unnatural progression for most wives. “I like to joke that at Huawei, I have the wife, the fun, the car, the money, and the house,” Xu kids without holding back tiny laughter. Interestingly enough, although the missus had resigned from the company directly after the awesome-twosome tied the knot, in 2010 she re-joined her husband as his leading lady to grow the business in India and the Middle East.

Following the birth of their son in Bahrain, the couple returned to China to prepare their teeny tot for kindergarten. Says the industrial mogul to Essenze when queried on his secret to triumph: “My family always comes first and to me, to flourish is to live by honesty, integrity, and sincerity. Treating people with respect is something I take seriously as I expect the same from others.” Plainly, being family-man and fierce frontrunner is how Xu stays productive.

THE DIRECTOR

Joe Sidek

George Town Festival Director

Text by Jeremy Tan

CONCEIVED as a celebration of a city and its UNESCO World Heritage listing, the George Town Festival has since gone on to garner acclaim and repute across the region. And the man behind it all, believes it can only get better.

Festival director Joe Sidek hopes the annual month-long extravaganza will make its mark on the international scene in the coming years, and be on par with the many renowned arts and culture events hosted by various cities across the world.

He never envisaged such a rapid, upward trajectory when he first took on the post in 2010 when the Penang state government wanted to start a festival, and had an open call. Several groups came forward with proposals, but due to the short lead time there were ultimately no takers.

Enter the 56-year-old, who was roped in by George Town World Heritage Incorporated’s (GTWHI) then general manager Dato’ Maimunah Mohd. Sharif. Having been involved in the creative arena throughout his life – with spells in landscape gardening, running a modelling agency and owning a restaurant and revue club – he was the perfect candidate.

“My initial reaction was of fear and excitement, but it was a challenge that I am very glad I undertook. It turned out to be the most difficult, but enjoyable journey of my life.”

“Starting the Festival, I did a little homework about other existing arts and culture events in Malaysia, like in Kuala Lumpur, Johor and Malacca, and set about creating our own unique identity that highlighted all that was special about Penang,” he recalled.

Despite being born in Johor Bahru, the son of a former Northern Region Director of Customs has the Pearl of the Orient very much flowing through his veins, having spent most of his life on the island.

He was educated in Francis Light Primary School and then Penang Free School, before jetting off to London for his A-Levels, and subsequently the University of Manchester to study Town and Country Planning.

“My fondest memories of growing up was associated with my late father, whose career took him, me and my six siblings, travelling to all parts of Malaysia. We were constantly exposed to different cultures and traditions,” he noted.

But naturally, George Town inspires him the most. The sights, the sounds, the communities and their energy constantly fascinate him and spark ideas of how to use, promote, enjoy, showcase and be proud of what the city has to offer.

“It’s a journey that involves being creative, and sharing it with many different people – from my staff to participants and audiences at the festival, in particular school children who are an integral part of our programme as we want to make the arts accessible to anyone and everyone.”

“For the first three years, my focus was to brand the festival, so I set about curating its content with that in mind. After that, I felt comfortable to look into an ASEAN direction and roadmap, and strategise accordingly.

“In the coming years, I feel the festival should build further upon its local flavour, to sell to the international market. That would be my goalpost if I am retained as festival director,” adds Sidek, whose contract to run the festival expires after the 2015 edition.

Through the years, funding was and still is, the biggest challenge. He hopes more individuals and corporations would come forward and support the festival, as it a great platform to reach out to the masses.

Nonetheless, it has been an extremely meaningful journey that still continues to inspire him, and open up many cross-border opportunities. Since the festival started, he has been invited to cities like Yokohama, Seoul, Taipei, Edinburgh, Brisbane, Cebu, Chiang Mai and Yangon, some multiple times, to share his experiences and engage with like-minded parties.

“I never imagined that it would be that well-received,” quipped Sidek, who unbeknownst to many, is also an industrialist, having run a factory that has been producing and marketing textile chemicals since 2001.

In the midst of all the attention and accolades, he also sounds a note of caution about what’s happening with the city, and what the future holds. There has to be long-term planning and strategising, otherwise it risks being rail-roaded into a commercial product bereft of soul and character.

“George Town is a beautiful and delicate city, that belongs to the people. We need to continue looking after it.”