KUALA LUMPUR, June 9 — Barely a week after he was excoriated over a public denial of “crony capitalism”, business tycoon Tan Sri Francis Yeoh is now evangelising the need for “godly values” such as morality and integrity in the course of business.
In an interview published by US daily New York Times (NYT) today, the group managing director at YTL Corporation and eldest son of founder Tan Sri Yeoh Tiong Lay said those seeking employment in the conglomerate must be free of “corruptive practices”.
“It starts with morality and integrity. You shouldn’t be guilty of corruptive practices. We are dealing today in a world where many people have no moral values and you have to be cognisant of the fact,” Yeoh said in the interview.
“I am not a strong Christian; I’m a faithful one. My faith tells me to do good, and I have.”
Yeoh pointed out that morality and integrity is part of the “language of God” that his employees must master, in addition to the “language of men” and “language of machines”.
He also related that he has embraced Christianity since the age of 16, and said it has led him to help people prosper wherever he can, while still remaining humble.
“From early on, I realised it was important to build a business model with a strong foundation, thinking very long-term, and building this with people who are like-minded and don’t suffer the myopia of thinking selfishly, wanting instant gratification,” said Yeoh.
Yeoh said he also started volunteering in his father’s company at the same age, after it nearly went under.
According to him, his short stint at the time taught him how to motivate and lead his employees by example, which was to be personally involved.
“I remember once it was midnight, and a truck came with a cement batch and I told some guys to come and help me to put the bags to the side because I wanted to start work first thing in the morning,” Yeoh told the paper.
“They had already taken their shower, they were quite reluctant. So I went out myself, alone, and when they saw me doing that — the boss’s son — they started coming out to help me.”
Yeoh also said that he had joined the family company easily as his father was humble enough to delegate tasks early on.
Similarly, he said he was proud that his children have entered the firm, and insisted that they have done so on merit.
“I know they’ll be tremendous assets to the company and I don’t want to spoil them. So for me it’s important to put them under the shadow of good executives who are not family,” he added.
“They’re working up from the bottom of the ladder, so they understand how I felt when I went to the labourers’ camp.”
Long accused of enjoying the political patronage of Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad when he was prime minister, Yeoh last week made a public denial of both the perceived favouritism and prevalence of “crony capitalism” in Malaysia.
But news reports on his comments led to scathing attacks against Yeoh.
Malay-language daily Utusan Malaysia published on its front page a report headlined “Francis Yeoh dibidas” (Francis Yeoh slammed) that quoted the Tenaga Nasional Berhad Junior Officers Union as reminding Yeoh not to be arrogant, saying that he had made gains from various government projects, including those from independent power producers.
English-language daily the New Straits Times also said that Yeoh’s reported comments had drawn criticism from the National Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Malaysia, who had questioned the motive of businessmen or companies, which benefited from the government’s liberal policies, in raising such a claim.
Yeoh later apologised to Utusan Malaysia over the furore, saying his comments on “crony capitalism” were misrepresented.
Similarly, former finance minister Tun Daim Zainuddin had in response urged successful businessmen in Malaysia not to criticise the government and the country, and to be grateful instead as their achievements are due to government help.
YTL Corp, an infrastructure conglomerate, is one of Bursa Malaysia’s largest firms. Together with its listed subsidiaries, it has a combined market capitalisation of over RM30 billion.