The Star Online, July 31, 2005
ONE feels very safe sitting with Tan Sri Francis Yeoh Sock Ping. He is, after all, surrounded by bodyguards at the insistence of his insurance companies.?
Despite their intimidating presence, he remains approachable and considerate. Over lunch at Koryo Won, owner Hwang Il Rok takes his photos from a discreet distance.?
Yeoh waves him over, “Come sit next to me and be in the photo . I will give the thumbs up and advertise for you.”?
Since he’s paying, I ask for champagne. “Don’t be difficult. I have already ordered a bottle of white wine,” he says.?
An hour later as we adjourn to a secluded corner at Fisherman’s Cove in the Feast Village of Starhill Gallery for a three-hour chat, he immediately orders champagne for me. Encouraged by his conviviality, I ask how much his four properties – Ritz-Carlton, Hotel and Residences, JW Marriott, Starhill Gallery and Lot 10 shopping mall – are currently worth.?
His response: “Reporters are only interested in two things – my age and how much I am worth. Why can’t you be contrarian and concentrate on something else?”?
Oh, all right, who am I to say no to one of Malaysia’s most successful entrepreneurs who is merely 50 years old and whose family is rumoured to be worth RM3bil and counting??
Now that’s the kind of success worth talking about surely.?
“We succeed because of our business models. We hire selectively as we don’t fire. Due to our religious beliefs we know it disrupts families as their rice bowl is broken. We pay very well for good staff so they can place food on the table and educate their children.?
“It is also for this reason we are not involved in businesses connected with gambling, or games of chance, as they can destroy families. We say ‘no’ even if we were offered such licences,” says Yeoh sternly.?
“We hire those with intelligence, integrity and high moral standing. We don’t treat them as commodities and don’t even call them ‘staff’ or ‘employees’. Instead, we refer to them as ‘intellectual capital’ or ‘intellectual assets’.?
“We train them and hope they will grow with us. Sylvia Chew, my secretary, has been with me for 25 years, Eric Eoon, executive director of customer service, has worked for 20 years and there is one who has been here for 35 years and still working! They are like my extended family and the deserving are given stock options so they own shares in the company.?
“We now have 6,000 employees. My job, my great job, is to gather and guide these bright, global staff and remove man-made barriers.?
Yeoh’s five listed companies are the flagship YTL Corporation Bhd followed by YTL Cement Bhd, YTL Land & Development Bhd, YTL Power International Bhd and YTL e-Solutions Bhd. Their combined market capitalisation is around RM20bil.?
Since becoming managing director of YTL Corp in 1988 he has taken YTL to unprecedented heights never dreamed by his father. In 1996 YTL Corp became the first Asian company to be listed on the Tokyo Stock Exchange, a formidable feat.?
“If I am successful, the reason is one word – Jesus. I can’t begin to think of the billions of possible permutations in each venture. I can’t predict the future.?
“Anyone who claims to be able to foresee and manage future events must have his head examined. I am not trying to be funny when I say I am humble and have plenty to be humble about. The Bible says ‘all the splendour of Solomon cannot even match the glory of lilies that God clothed in the fields’.?
“Whatever I do is measured by others so it is not up to me. I am a steward of God. Much has been given to me and much is expected of me. Only God can judge me. I am blessed to be able to sleep peacefully and easily at night. Have you heard any whispers about YTL people lacking morals or being corrupt?”?
I think this is as good a time as any to bring up the Wessex Water debacle when its CEO Colin Skellet was investigated by police for a RM6.5mil payment received from YTL.?
”Ah yes, but remember after a 10-month investigation, Skellet was cleared by the police of all suspicions that he was bribed. He was simply paid in advance for six years after we won Wessex Water so he would be committed to continue working for us.?
“We knew he was the best water man in UK. Everyone, including Skellet, had expected Royal Bank of Scotland to waltz off with Wessex Water,” explains Yeoh.?
While it is refreshing to see how Yeoh’s Christian faith is his guiding light, it is also obvious that family and his upbringing also helped shape the man that he is.?