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10 Questions with Dato' Mohamed Iqbal

10 Questions with Dato' Mohamed Iqbal

Issue 81 June 2011

Dato’ Mohamed Iqbal Rawther is co-founder of the Farlim Group, a leading property development company listed on the Malaysian Stock Exchange.


Educated in Malaysia and Britain, Dato’ Iqbal is both a business and social entrepreneur. His Farlim Group delivered almost 30,000 housing units and was awarded the Malaysian Prime Minister’s Quality Award. Within 10 years, the RM1million Company was listed with a paid-up capital of RM120million. As Chairman of the Malaysian Institute of Management, he helped to make this organisation profitable. In a similar way, he upscaled and made profitable the Tun Hussein Onn National Eye Hospital. The Islamic Religious Affairs Council appointed him a Trustee of the Taqwa Foundation, whilst the Japanese Business Community in Malaysia appointed him a Trustee of JACTIM Foundation. He is a Founder Trustee of MADE—Muslim Agency for Development and Enterprise—in Europe.

1. To what extent is your success a product of your upbringing and background?
My father was a retailer and the family had a sundry shop when I was still in school. My present business interests have no bearing to my family background.

2. Who and what have been the greatest influences on you?
After finishing school, I was sent to the UK for further studies in 1962. That opportunity gave me a wide exposure. I was involved in student affairs at the college level and was one of the founders of the Federation of Islamic Student Societies in UK and Eire (FOSIS). Travelling in Europe and interacting with students from all over the world was a revelation, providing a rich experience, and a sound base for future success. At college, my personal tutor, Ivan Hall, was very instrumental in shaping my thoughts. Later in life, the Governor of Malaysia’s Central Bank, Tun Ismail Ali had a strong influence on me. His impeccable integrity and assertive management style is a trait I have adopted.

3. What is your educational background and were you good at school?

My first qualification was a Certificate in Education from the Institute of Education, University of Birmingham. I later graduated with a Bachelors degree with Honours, and a Masters degree in Economics both from the University of Malaya. I am a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Bankers, London and an Emeritus Fellow of the Malaysian Institute of Management. Whilst at school, my inclination towards entrepreneurship was explicit. One of my hobbies was photography. I took photographs during school events such as talent shows, sports and speech days and sold the black and white prints to students. I made a profit to cover my school fees!

4. What was your biggest break and was there an element of luck involved?

My first “break” was the decision in 1970 to quit my teaching job and enter merchant banking—a new field at that time in Malaysia. The second “break” was a call from the University of Malaya to take up a teaching post in their Business Administration Department. The move from a banking career to academia was financially unattractive, but it was a call to serve the national development cause. Whilst there, I co-founded the National Entrepreneurship Research and Development Association (NERDA)—an NGO dedicated to the development of entrepreneurship, which played a key role in developing entrepreneurs as part of the New Economic Policy. I led a team in 1976 that won the Malaysian Young Manager’s Award. The team went on to win the Asian Young Manager’s Award against stiff competition from Japan, India and Singapore. We were complimented for putting Malaysia on the management map.
The third “break” came when the Central Bank invited me to set up the Institute of Bankers Malaysia to train and develop management talent for the banking and finance industry. Having fulfilled the start-up and the development phase of the institute, I opted to go into business. With my partner Tan Sri Lim Gait Tong, we founded the Farlim Group. This has been my mainstay since 1985. At all times, sheer hard work and sweat made me what I am today.



5. What has been your biggest failure and how did you recover?
Life is full of challenges, and the notion of failure is not in my personal philosophy or attitude. Each step or a turn has to be measured and taken one at a time. I have followed this principle religiously. Risk-taking is key. I have so far managed to steer an even keel. However, smart and careful investments can also go awry. There were occasions when investments had failed and losses suffered. But, one has to move on. Losses do not equate to failures. Losses are an inherent feature of business undertakings.

6. What can others learn from you?
Three things I can say as a sort of mentoring points. The first is to be honest with yourself. In every effort and action, and in every business deal or endeavour, truth and honesty must prevail—even in very adverse and difficult circumstances.
Second, communication is a key element to building relationships. An open and frank, but tactful communication is an essential characteristic in making good a distressing situation. Never give in to emotions and nostalgia in business undertakings.
Third, take a balanced score card approach in business ventures. Profit is a must, but giving profits the utmost priority whilst neglecting other stakeholders’ interest is not a recipe for success. It will erode the opportunity for profit in the long run. Sustainable profit is the main criterion for continuing in business.

7. Who are your heroes in life?
I have a long list of them. From my grandson to my school principal, in one way or another they are heroes. Heroes emerge in each situation or at a certain stage in life. They alter your perceptions and give you a reality check. Each hero provides guidance for the next stage.

8. What is the greatest pleasure you have had from your success?
A feeling of success will consume one. Therefore, I do not consider financial assets and wealth as measures of success. At best, they are tools to gauge success. The real success comes from the way that the body, mind and wealth are utilised. Others may consider me as a successful person. Though this may be gratifying, the real pleasure is when you analyse this success from a personal point of view, from a family perspective and the point of view of the community or the nation at large. I have divided my time and commitment, both physical and financial, to all these three areas. I derive pleasure by being a family man, devoted to my family’s needs and welfare. At the same time, I am involved in community affairs at the national and international levels. I have managed to allocate my time fairly to business, family and community. I derive great satisfaction from having been able to do all this.

9. What do you think are the greatest enemies of success?
A feeling of undue elation that comes with success, and the praises that are heaped all round can confound one and make one lose the sense of balance. One will succumb to temptations when this happens. Prayers and supplications, and a tribute to God Almighty for His favours make one a humble person. This is the premise upon which I continue my life’s journey.

10. What would you say to people when it is time to leave this world?
At college, I had a sticker on my door that said:
“Do not seek death;
Death will come to you.
But seek that which
Makes life a fulfillment.”
This is the message I would like to leave behind for others.

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