What new initiatives is KPMG currently undertaking in Malaysia?

RASLAN: We have an objective to outgrow our competition. It is not enough just growing by five, six, seven percent a year. We have to view ourselves vis-a-vis our competitors. If our competitors are growing at about eight percent, we should grow about ten to twelve percent. The question is how we do it. The engine with which we aim to outgrow competition is innovation. Our national strategy is, “Innovate for Quality Growth”. It means we must come up with new ideas on ways to achieve growth. It is not only me who will be coming up with ideas for growth, but my whole organization. We conduct regular lab sessions in our organization during which we harness ideas from our people. If people have ideas about people management, they are welcome to express them. I want to pick up some of these ideas and refine them. If they have ideas on efficiency, I want to listen to and implement them if I can. If there are any ideas on growth, I want to implement them as well. Growing is our ultimate objective and I think this is very much aligned to the objectives of our country as well.

What is your outlook for growth in Asia-Pacific?

RASLAN: Asia-Pacific is growing faster than other regions like Europe and America. A lot of foreigners are coming here, which is further fueling the engine of growth. Europe currently faces many issues. Things are really at a stalemate at the moment, but I believe human beings have a way of settling problems. I have confidence in the human race. Whatever problems we have in Europe with the Eurozone debt will be solved one day. Germany, and the other countries like France, will come up with a solution. If you look at the problem of the Eurozone debt, and compare it to the problems faced in 1929, it is not as grave as that. I have no doubt in my mind that in in three or four years, Europe and America will rise back up. We are outgrowing Europe and America at the moment, but this is the time when we should grow faster than them.

Malaysia fell four spots to 25th in the World Economic Forum’s rankings of most competitive countries this year. The country has traditionally struggled with technological adoption by both businesses and the population at large. How can Malaysian businesses improve technological readiness?

RASLAN: At the moment, most of the innovation in Malaysia is government led. In the United States, most of the innovation comes from the private sector. People do it by themselves, and they do not like government involvement. They want to pursue the American dream without the involvement of the government. In Malaysia, we need the government’s drive and initiative to bring about innovation. Nevertheless, Malaysia does recognize the things that we have. I am sure there are a lot of organizations in Malaysia that are trying to push innovation forward, and I am confident we will eventually be able to improve our position in the World Economic Forum rankings.

How Have Malaysia’s National Key Economic Areas (NKEA) and Economic Transformation Programme (ETP) created opportunity for the private sector?

RASLAN: If you look at the Economic Transformation Programme, the private sector is actually the engine of growth. We are putting a plan in place so that the private sector and the public sector can work together. This is where the concept of Malaysian incorporation has always been adopted in the past. If you really look at the whole Economic Transformation Programme, the private sector is the focus of the growth, whereas the public sector is more focused on efficiency. The government has to be business friendly towards the private sector. Only then can we achieve high growth in the country.

What is your general economic outlook for Malaysia? Which indicators are showing the most positive trends and which remain challenges?

RASLAN: Malaysia is in a very unique situation at the moment. We are a country that is quite open, and there are two things that Malaysia depends on. We depend on palm oil and we depend on oil. The way our country performs in terms of FDI, these two factors are important in terms of their price. We also have our manufacturing sector, which is basically electronics. The Malaysian economy is expanding outside of these two traditional sectors. We are branching into healthcare and into higher value added manufacturing. I believe these two areas will be new sources of growth in Malaysia on top of the two traditional areas we depend on. We have a plan for this that is already captured in the Economic Transformation Programme (ETP), which includes the various sectors we are focusing on for growth. These are new sectors and new investments, which I believe will further spur future growth for Malaysia.

What are some of Malaysia’s competitive advantages?

RASLAN: We have the biggest advantage in the Asia-Pacific, which we have not fully utilized. If you look at the world economy now, the giants that are growing very fast are China, India, and the Middle East. In Malaysia, our three main races are the Chinese, the Indians, and the Malays, who can be tied to the Middle East because of of Islam. From this perspective, Malaysia is poised for success because of this fantastic advantage. You have all of the migrants from all over the world, and the best brains coming in here, just like America in the old days.