Lessons in Life

Saleh Mohammed | .

After celebrating the anniversary of the day on which I was born, I did some reflection.

You do not need to continue reading because I am not in the same league as the late Tun Abdul Razak or Tan Sri P. Ramlee or even our present prime minister.

I dedicate this article to my late grandmother who with my aunties and uncles made sure I got proper education and sent me to an English-medium school. She is worth her weight in gold.

A grandmother’s love is beyond comparison. While sending me to school, she would share advise that are priceless. Those advise have helped shaped me to what I am today - remember, I am not in the premier league...

Be good, be honest, study hard, observe discipline, help when help is needed, respect for the elders, do not forget Allah, defend what is right, no blind loyalty, are some of the advise that still ring in my ears. By the way, God took her back in 1979 when I was away a few thousand miles, trying to get a piece of paper to help me deal with the future.

Study hard I did but it was way below the standard of a brilliant student. When I thought about it, what she really meant was work hard. I precisely did that and it bore results. Got good grades for three years in succession and won presents at the year-end award presentation in school.

I lost focus at standard four but thank God, picked up and came back to my senses at Form One. But the improvement was not at the speed I had wanted. The ‘form’ came back at Form Five.

At college, it was ‘pass-fail, pass-fail’. Left college midway to experience working life. The sight of young graduates joining the company gave me the push I badly needed and decided to complete my studies. Got a place at a college a few thousand miles away from home but had some difficulty in getting scholarship. Born in Perak but brought up and schooling in Selangor (KL not formed yet) did not qualify me for both. I settled for a part loan scheme.

This is the stage when I started to mentally plan my future.

At what age to graduate, at what age to get married, at what age to go to Mekah (Mecca) and roughly plan for retirement. When it was clear in my mind I was ready to face the world.

For the first time in my life I boarded an airplane in 1979 and headed towards the college. Had a few days to settle down before lecture starts. It was a new environment and culture altogether. My expectation on the lecturers in the land of our past colonial masters are to be of a certain standard - how wrong I was and finally attended hardly 10% of all lectures.

That advice from my late grandmother to study hard was useful. I even made a challenge with a friend that I will graduate earlier than another friend who has been there earlier than me. I did my studies from my room and occasionally visit the library to not only check and read the latest management magazines but also to get some fresh air outside of the house. 

My housemates were very supportive and one of them live in the same ‘taman’ now. The other one - we met at a reunion a couple weeks ago after having lost contact for about 30 years.

The hard work paid off. I won the challenge made with the friend. Thank the Almighty, I got good grades in the final exam.

After obtaining that piece of paper I wanted, how is it then to deal with the future?

I had a choice of joining a multinational company or a medium-sized local company. Decided for the former. Being a young graduate motivated by the plans made earlier at the back of my mind, after a few years, found out promotion prospects were limited.

A local public-listed company was my next stop. Stayed there for 15 years because the bosses are appreciative of my contribution. Rose up the ranks on average every three years and the last posting was overseeing the books of twelve companies in the group including a few in Singapore.

Recession came in the second half of 1990’s but the company was still doing fine. It took over another group with the same business and I had the opportunity to be in the committee to slot in names in respective boxes. I could easily fit in one of the boxes but as fate would have it, chose to opt out and took the voluntary separation scheme. The managing director did not want to let me go but I gave him eight reasons to support my decision. He too left a year later but stayed as a board member.

The next stop in my career is a Bumiputra public-listed company. My wife tried to put some senses into me and asked me a few times whether I have given careful thoughts because for the last twenty-something years I have never worked in a Bumiputra company.

How true she was (do take heed of your wife’s reasoning), it took me about eight months to ‘fit’ in the new environment. Punctuality, care for one’s work output, ‘tai chi skills’ are some of the things that took me sometime to fit in.

In the previous company, even with the promotions I got, there were some ‘glass ceilings’. But in this new company, it is glass ceilings all round. Most probably due to my immediate superior.

But wait a minute, I should not blame others. Part of the fault could be mine. I am one who speaks my mind. Was working on a multi-billion dollar project and I was not encouraged by the project returns. It was practically cut to the bone. We were the preferred bidder. Our partners tried to ‘massage’ some figures and I was not in favour but that was acceptable to my immediate superior. I was told to cross the bridge when it comes but to me there will never be a bridge to cross.

I did not give blind loyalty to him.

Again as fate would have it, the project developer decided to change the project from build-own-operate to an EPC (engineering. procurement and construction) scheme. 

A year later, I was offered to head another multi-billion ringgit project but since my retirement age was approaching, I politely declined. There were others who are qualified to do the job and I should not be selfish and give the opportunity to another person.

Having retired for a few years, nowadays I keep myself occupied and happy by filling my mornings with morning walks at the beautiful park and sometimes jungle trekking. I am also fortunate to have a few ‘jogging kakis’ to have teh tarik with them after the walk or trekking and laugh off everything under the sun.

If you are still reading this, I sincerely, from the bottom of my heart thank you for wanting to read the lessons and murmurings of a senior citizen.

For the young readers, I hope my life experiences have helped you in having a deeper understanding on how to look and prepare for the future.

Lastly, Al-Fatihah for arwah Che Mah binti Hj Talib, my beloved grandmother. I really miss you.

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