with Azhar Zainal Abidin , General Manager, ProEight OffShore Engineering Sdn Bhd
Where does the name ProEight come from?
Malaysia has a very important Chinese business community, and traditionally Chinese give a lot of importance to numbers. I do not have a particular interest in this myself, but I respect them, and decided to choose the number eight to represent my company. It is a number that represents prosperity, infinity and continuity. One has to think ahead about one’s plans when starting a business, and you never know, sometimes such a name could be handy.
Why did you create ProEight?
Usual engineering consultancies in Malaysia used to come from abroad, so I saw a need for Malaysia to move from relying on this foreign expertise and build a more local industry. When I came out of McDermott, I saw that no Malaysian company was providing engineering installation, and decided to offer it to the local market as a consultancy. As in any business, someone has to take a risk first and trust your new company, and for ProEight it was PETRONAS. I jumped on the opportunity that PETRONAS was looking for local partners. The NOC believes in newcomers, and understands that in order to achieve something, one has to learn first, and mistakes are unavoidable but you will learn from your mistakes. When you look at History, each country has its own learning phase, and Malaysia is not exception to the rule.
ProEight is today involved in many niches, how did you evolve from a simple consultancy service to such a diversified company?
PETRONAS gave ProEight the opportunity to start its business, and we are extremely grateful for that. But after a certain time, things became stagnant, and once I reached that stage, I had to find something else to do. That is why after successfully starting ProEight, I found niches that had potential to be exploited, and decided to start in new fields of activities to develop our business. At the beginning, no one wanted to use our products as they were comfortable with their solutions and did not want to take any risks. But we convinced them. Engineering is not rocket science. What ProEight did was look at products that had been developed, evaluate them and look for possible improvements, and ways to make the products cheaper. Cheap does not mean low quality, but produced locally, with better methods. We do not claim that we reinvented the wheel, we only improved existing solutions to enhance their quality and output. We changed from being only an engineering consultant to become an engineering company. But by doing things differently we started creating our own rules, and showing different ways to provide services. The thing is that in Malaysia one has to prove what one’s saying, so when ProEight went to PETRONAS, our company had already developed prototypes and done tests. That is how we entered PETRONAS’ Vendor Development Program (VDP), which identifies Malaysian companies with products that are challenging the existing order, and offer something new. Then VDP gives five years to these companies, supports them and help them become international players. Today we are the sole license holder for
You have a strong relationship with PETRONAS, which is determined to develop Kuala Lumpur and Malaysia into and engineering hub. What is ProEight’s contribution to position Malaysia as such?
In terms of mechanical seals, ProEight wants to become an advanced mechanical seals designer and manufacturer. We have a seven years contract to replace all mechanical seals of PETRONAS to our design, as the NOC understood the high value of our product, and the potential it had to represent the Malaysian capabilities. That is how ProEight contributes to making of Malaysia an engineering hub: by making sure that the country is more and more self reliant with internationally recognized capabilities.
And how do you capitalize on PETRONAS’ international activities?
Through the VDP, PETRONAS takes risks for the next five years, support the development of companies through its R&D capacities and the great platform that it can provide to engineers. Once the solution has been tested and has track records, then PETRONAS is going to take it on its international activities. PETRONAS has interests in a lot of countries, so from there we can grow tremendously. The difference that we want to make in ProEight is that we want to emulate local expertise through our presence in a foreign country. PETRONAS allows us to grow more and hopefully in the next five years we will become real international players.
With the development of deepwater, offshore and with the depleting reserves, what opportunities do you foresee for ProEight in the coming years?
We have a lot of opportunities in Malaysia. We manufacture mechanical seals, which are needed in every field of development in the oil & gas industry. We have developed high value technology to prove to PETRONAS that they did the right choice, and now we are using them as a stepping stone to go abroad. Obviously the resources of the country are depleting, and PETRONAS’ projects in deepwater and offshore are a great platform to showcase ProEight’s capabilities, but we now want to sell our products in Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia etc. ProEight will develop a franchise system next year in Thailand for example. PETRONAS has been extremely helpful for our company, they gave us the opportunity to try different things, never blamed us for any mistake we did as long as we learnt from them. And at the end of the day what counts is supporting the country, finding new ways to develop our capabilities and learn new skills, and it is important for Malaysian companies to know that they can rely on PETRONAS to give them a chance. This program has very strict selection criteria, and VDP makes sure that companies have what it takes to go to the next level, take challenges and never stop innovating. People say I am crazy, but I think I am just someone who has a different way to look at things and find improvements. As a small nation, we do not have fifty years to go through the entire learning curve, and we have to look at what exists to find a way to improve it and develop from there our competitive edge.
In terms of workforce, Malaysia has rapidly learnt how to train people, but Malaysian engineers have become highly reputed and often go and work outside of Malaysia. How do you manage to retain your engineers?
It comes from our management style. ProEight tries its best to inspire the people, give them motivation to come to work every day. I give my engineers challenges, and they can feel free to do whatever they want in term of design, and create whatever new solution they think of. Money is not an issue, and we give them the means to work and achieve their goals. We place first the national interest to be a self reliant country, then the personal interest to do something for your country and face challenges. Our engineers are extremely created and never restricted, and they have to feel free to research and learn more about their field of development in order to develop new tools. They should especially be proud of working for Malaysia and its future.
Compared to its Indonesian or Singaporean neighbours, what is Malaysia and ProEight’s competitive edge?
Other countries do not have an Oil company that is willing to take the risk to develop local expertise and only rely on foreigners. Local players are not challenged and rules are dictated by international companies. In comparison, ProEight is the only design and manufacturing company in its niche that comes from South East Asia.
You are a successful entrepreneur, described by some as crazy in your own words, what advice would you give to someone starting a business in Malaysia?
Don’t be afraid! Fear nothing! Whatever it is do not worry, study the facts and figures and move forward fast. The worst case scenario is that a problem cannot be solved, and you go bankrupt, but you won’t die. You always learn from mistakes, fear nothing and follow PETRONAS that took risks and became extremely successful.
You have developed your business by transforming challenges into opportunities, what are your next challenges?
I like challenges and to me the hardest something looks like the more I want to achieve it and show to the world that Malaysia did it. Once we have gone internationally, I will move to something else. I want to enter the US market, which is the most difficult area to enter. Obviously first I will start with South East Asia, then the Middle East, but my final goal is to be present in the USA.
If you had to explain to our readers your ambitions in a line, and why they should trust ProEight, what would you say?
ProEight does things differently, never follows the traditional way and always find to improve existing processes. We are technology providers and always upgrade solutions that we offer. With our mechanical seals, we improved the reliability, the cost of technology, but we do not stop evolving and improving things.