– Zainal Amanshah, Managing Director – Malaysia
Zainal Amanshah, CEO of InvestKL, is leading a government initiative to attract multinational companies to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. He talks about what the city has to offer and why Kuala Lumpur is set to be the ‘new Houston’.
As a means of introduction, could you please explain the vision behind the establishment of InvestKL?
InvestKL is a government investment promotional agency. Our mission is to attract 100 large global multinationals to set up their regional operations in greater KL by 2020. It is our job to present KL at its best and put forward a package that is attractive to multinationals.
We are a facilitator and do not charge fees. I say this as sometimes people get confused and ask us how large our fund is. We do not have a fund and we do not invest, we are solely a facilitator.
We were established in July 2011 and, since then we have managed to attract 40 out of the 100 multinationals we are aiming for. Some of them are first timers to Kuala Lumpur and Malaysia, others have been here in the past but are now expanding their business and looking at new opportunities elsewhere in the region.
Alstom is country president for Malaysia, Saji Raghavan said that the French multinational had received assistance from InvestKL when expanding their operations in Malaysia. What services does InvestKL provide to companies aiming to establish or expand their operations in Kuala Lumpur?
The way we operate with firms like Alstom and other multinationals follows a clear structure.
Firstly and most importantly, we sit down and understand what the company does and what they are looking to achieve. On the back of this, we offer relevant assistance in key areas. We help them source talent, collaborate with universities, connect with relevant authorities such as Petronas and offer further assistance to help them establish their business here in KL.
What do MCNs typically look for when establishing regional headquarters and what do you think KL provides compared to other cities in the region?
In terms of oil and gas, companies often want to know about the ongoing projects currently in the country including their volume and diversity. We have projects in marginal fields, recovery, EPC and other operational areas so there is plenty of opportunity for the right companies.
In terms of other sectors such as engineering, construction or retail, there are large and extensive market opportunities here in Malaysia. Essentially, there are 600 million people in ASEAN resulting in over $2 trillion in GDP.
Furthermore, the ecosystem in Malaysia in terms of talent, service providers, universities and generally the ease of doing business is extremely attractive to MNCs. We now rank 6th in the world in terms of banking.
MCNs are often concerned about sourcing talent and Malaysia offers a capable, educated and experienced workforce. Our talent pool is also multilingual as it can speak English as well as the other languages of the region.
We position ourselves as the springboard for ASEAN. Malaysia takes a pivotal role in free trade agreements, the economic community and regional politics, therefore acting as an attractive launch pad into the region.
Although we are not the cheapest, we offer affordability while not sacrificing quality. All this makes Kuala Lumpur the optimal business hub for any company concerned about the profit margins.
What are the issues that may still make some investors hesitate in coming to Kuala Lumpur?
Some investors have shown concern due to bumiputra and fear of favoritism. `However, more experienced companies who have embraced these policies, have done extremely well. You may find that companies who partner with a bumiputra company finds the experience useful and lucrative for both parties involved, creating a ‘win win’ scenario and a long lasting and successful partnership.
An additional issue MCNs face is the lack of supply and increased demand for talent. This is not unique to Kuala Lumpur and it is a regional issue that MCNs face, if not a global one.
In the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU)’s latest Business Environment Rankings (BER), Singapore retained its No. 1 spot from the 2009-2013 period. What does Singapore has that Kuala Lumpur doesn’t?
Singapore has concentrated on establishing headquarters in the city much earlier than us and with this regard, we are behind the curve. Traditional companies have set up facilities, workshops and factories here in Malaysia, but regional headquarters are often located elsewhere. However, we have now seen a shift and companies are starting to look to Malaysia as a headquarters location.
Using an analogy that compares car manufactures to the two cities. Rolls Royce is akin to Singaporem as in you pay for the brand. You don’t argue with the cost of the product, you know what you are getting and that is what you get.
We aspire to be a BMW or a Mercedes. In other words the alternative option that is fair and that works well. It is good value for money for when you don’t require the prestige of a Rolls Royce.
There is nothing wrong with either Singapore or KL. But if a company is concerned about their margins, then KL has distinct advantages.
InvestKL might be considered a bridge between the public and private sector. Do you often find yourself in the middle of negotiations between the government and the private sector?
Private companies often ask favors from us and if it is a reasonable demand, where they are able to demonstrate the creation of jobs and the positive benefits for both sides, then we are definitely willing to accommodate their requests and offer the necessary introductions.
However, if they ask for a high policy change, such as changing the bumiputra regulations then we are obviously unable to help. Another aspect we cannot help with is bidding for projects, in fact, we always make it very clear that we are unable to help on this front right from the start.
What have been some of the key lessons you have taken away from helping oil and gas executives within the region?
It is very important to understanding their business in detail when helping an oil and gas company. But it is also essential for them to understand what we are capable of ourselves. If we do not understand their business fully, they might risk spending money and time going down the wrong path/
We work closely with MNCs advising them on the Malaysian ecosystem. It is also important to understand the entire ecosystem in the country before one sets off on a direction. With Petronas it’s important to understand how they conduct their business, otherwise there will be frustration and confusion as to why the project was a failure.
Zainal Amanshah, with more than 22 years of experience in the private sector, what has attracted you to InvestKL and what is your vision for the organization?
InvestKL is game changing. I am fortunate enough to have a talented and motivated team that is focused on making a difference in KL.
My ambition is very simply, we want to put KL on the map. When people talk about the cities of the world, they mention London, Paris and New York but do not mention Kuala Lumpur, I want to see that changed. I want people to see KL as more than just the twin towers, I want them to see the city as a business hub and an oil and gas hub that is known for its efficiency, effectiveness and value for money across the region.
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