Kuala Lumpur, 17 December 2005
Text of speech by Tan Sri (Dr.) Francis Yeoh
YTL 50TH Anniversary – Fifty Years of Running The Good Race
On behalf of the YTL Family, YTL staff, partners, clients, and stakeholders I am privileged to address you on this most auspicious of occasions – the celebration of our Group’s 50th Anniversary. Today we trace our journey from those humble beginnings in Kuala Selangor to the diversified conglomerate we are today, with operations in three continents and a combined market capitalisation in excess of RM20 billion.
It all goes back to my grandfather – who came over here from China and started a modest timber business. My father with typical entrepreneurial initiative founded the YTL Construction Company. The migrant tradition produces intellectual risk takers and then as migrants they only found their security in a foreign land through material wealth. It was hedged, however, by an accompanying philosophy of thrift and hard work.
It has been a fantastic half-century. In 1955 when YTL made its debut, Mao Tse Tung had already led the Communist Party to power in China. In India, Gandhi had already achieved Independence from when on the British that began their withdrawal from all the other countries in the region. Malaysia, ourselves were two years away from Merdeka. In the same year, Einstein the greatest 20th Century scientist died. And in Britain, Churchill resigned as Prime Minister, arguably the greatest Englishman of all time. It was also the year of birth of the Western European Union.
The last 50 years also ushered in a galaxy of great leaders that provided inspiration. The Russians launched Sputnik 1, and the Space Age began. In 1960, John F. Kennedy instituted the Apollo Project that landed the first men on the moon. Gorbachev, the new leader of the Soviet Union gave us his dramatic espousal of new policies like glasnost and perestroika that ended the Cold War and helped bring down the Berlin Wall. Charles Babbage,the father of today’s computers, gave us his “analytical engine”. Picasso was painting most of his 20,000 works, which inspired the bold innovative movement away from representational art to more modernist forms. An aesthetic revolution was on the way. And in Asia, the Tiger economies achieved their Great Miracle and began the process of bringing the economic centre of gravity from the West to the East.
On the debit side, our half-century was not without its baggage – a legacy of shame from Hitler and Nazism, which continued the scourge of ethnic cleansing in our time. We experienced our own financial Tsunamis in the eighties and in the 1997 collapse. We now live in a culture of violence and fear – of bombs and backpacks. Terrorism has introduced risk into the boardroom. Here, in our own vicinity, we have conjured up our aspects of barbarism with the likes of the killing fields of Cambodia.
Meanwhile, in the then Malaya, the company my father started in 1955 was a construction company. Like hundreds of family firms that have grown around the region, YTL built buildings. It was part of the wealth of citizens who created and constructed Malaysia’s economic miracle.
In 1957 – only two years from our inception we gained our freedom as a nation. But this was political emancipation – economic independence had still to be won. Under the spur of nationalism YTL joined the other Malaysian enterprises engaged in nation building – and institution building. Our advent coincided with the Emergency, destined to last for 12 years. We had to contend with Konfrontasi. In 1969 we went through our one and only trauma of race riots which fortuitously gave us the NEP and ironed out economic resentment among the races, sparing us the perpetual racial violence. The 70’s oil shock shook us all. We are experiencing a reprise, even now. There have been recessions, natural disasters, and pandemics like the current bird flu. The tempo of life has been raised to fever pitch.
As Malaysia grew into a nation from 1957 we had tin and rubber as a backbone – they brought income that we could invest in building our country. But over these years, we have proven that we have a resource more abundant than our stores of tin and rubber and oil. Our greater surplus is of determination, will – and heart.
What about YTL’s Future?
In 1955, we built buildings. Today YTL still build things – only those things are much bigger now. We’ve expanded into power, and transportation systems, and water treatment, cement and hotels. How did we get here? For one thing, we have never stopped broadening the way we think of ourselves.
Today, we fill what we built with communities. We make them into the best resorts in the globe. We make our shopping premises into an unprecedented gallery of rich experiences. We also build trains that speed millions from the Kuala Lumpur airport to the centre of town. We build power plants that help our country and our region deal with the challenges of rising demand for electricity. We’re still builders – but we never stop thinking about how our building improves the quality of life for Malaysians, and those who come here.
We at YTL have been running the good race for 50 years. And our story, as proud as we are of it, is just one of many that have made Malaysia what it is today. As our nation has grown from its Third World origins into an innovative, creative economy, hundreds of companies have run the same race. Our core philosophy underlines all of this. We build First World quality projects at Third World prices. It’s a simple formula, really. If you keep your “products” affordable, people will buy more of them. But it’s also an approach we believe we owe to all the countries where we work. And we are all running just as fast now as we were then. But I can tell you, it has been worth it. And it will continue to be.
What about Malaysia’s Future?
Our success at YTL is one reason I’m optimistic about the direction that Malaysia is going. Consider all that has happened over the past 50 years in my homeland. As a nation, we have certainly run a good race – a very good race.
We’ve transformed ourselves into a crucial part of the global supply chain for high-tech products. Our companies are investing overseas and making themselves into regional and global players. Our capital markets are among the more developed in Asia. By nearly every measure, Malaysia has been an astounding success.
You need not take my word for it. Here is the World Bank’s assessment of 30 years of Malaysian economic policy, issued last year:
“Malaysia, a multiracial country, managed to drastically reduce the incidence of poverty and lessen income inequality, while achieving rapid economic growth and maintaining racial harmony. What transpired in Malaysia in the 1970-2000 period was complex and challenging, requiring masterful management by the government of the varied demands of a heterogeneous population.”
That was written by an economist, not a poet. But it is the very definition of running the good race.
Malaysia is still running, now under the leadership of Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi. Datuk Seri Abdullah has stamped his own style upon Malaysia’s government with his deep commitment to fighting corruption and maintaining fiscal prudence.
He is truly a Malaysian premier – he speaks to all races and religions in our diverse nation. And he is, first and foremost, a doer. He listens, he consults, and then he implements. This makes him just the man to build on Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad’s visionary style of governing.
In many ways, Malaysia is at a special moment now, at the centre of the international community. This year, Malaysia chairs the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, of the Organisation of Islamic Conferences, and of the Non-Aligned Movement. We have our voice. We have the right to use it, and the requirement to use it for good.
Still, ladies and gentlemen, I should add that the past few days have made me feel both humbled and excited as leaders representing well over half the world’s population descended on Kuala Lumpur for the East Asia Summit.
Today Malaysia is truly an integral part of global affairs. I hope you will forgive me when I say – on behalf of the YTL Group – what an enormous sense of pride we feel in being a small part of all these high-level and historic global events.
Without Malaysia we would be nothing. Malaysia – we at YTL salute you and hope that you will allow us to continue to serve you as best we can into the future as we run this good race together.
What about the Region’s Future?
Friends, you have come from all around the region, and the world. So you know that it’s not only here that the race is being run. It is happening in Jakarta and Bangkok. People are running in Beijing and Bangalore, in Budapest and Buenos Aires. There is no shortage of energy in the world, and no lack of will.
That is why I am so hopeful about the future of our region. For here in Southeast Asia, we succeed because of the stores of determination and heart that we have shown for the last 50 years. We succeed because we are integrated with the world. We succeed because we continually broaden the way we think.
Look at Indonesia. The nation has managed a remarkable democratic transformation over the past seven years, for which it deserves incredible admiration. Fourteen months ago, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono became the country’s first democratically elected President.
President SBY is committed to developing Indonesia’s economy and its infrastructure, and to cracking down on corruption. He has managed the remarkable rebuilding from last year’s devastating tsunami in Aceh province, and he has helped bring long-sought peace to Aceh. He is running an extremely good race.
Time and again, Southeast Asia has proved its strength and its resilience. The region bounced back with alacrity from the Asian Financial crisis of the late 1990s. It recovered from the Sars epidemic of 2003, and from last year’s horrific tsunami. Today, Southeast Asia’s economies are all growing stronger, and the region’s companies are financially healthier. Even Australia sees itself as part of Asia and seeks active engagement. We are ever more integrated with the rest of the world. There’s so much that’s being created here now.
What about the Future of the World?
We live in not only interesting but also testing times where most the challenges emanate from globalisation. This is the Age of Knowledge where we have accomplished the death of distance. These are the challenges YTL has had to meet in the last 50 years and which we will have to overcome in accelerated and intensified form in the next 50 years.
Of course it’s important to say that in a continent of giants that we are an anomaly. Malaysia, despite its small size is a nation of infinite complexity. We acknowledge that the playing field is not level and even if they were level, the goal posts are constantly moved beyond the pitch.
But I rest comforted that God always chooses the Davids of the world to tame the Goliaths. Therefore tonight I offer no excuses on behalf of YTL and I am sure our beloved Prime Minister, Dato’ Seri Abdullah Badawi feels the same way. We will not shy away from this very competitive and complex global economic and political environment to continue to run this good race.
And that brings me to a thought I would like to share, penned by George Bernard Shaw. Writing about the act of creation, Shaw said: “Imagination is the beginning of creation. You imagine what you desire, you will what you imagine, and at last you create what you will”.
It is humbling to have such an august group of friends gathered here tonight. The sheer amount of intellect and dedication assembled here tonight convinces me that the region and the world are well placed to handle the challenges of the 21st Century. After all, we are only constrained by our imaginations – and in this audience I’m happy to see that this is no limitation at all.
Still it is good that we ponder tonight on how we are going to vote with our hearts in determining the future for our children.
It is no surprise that in today’s troubled world, many observed that technology repeats the cycle of Adam and Eve and Pandora. We master the atom and nearly obliterate ourselves. We learn the secrets of life only to develop techniques to destroy the unborn and the ageing. We unlock the genetic code and open a Pandora’s box of ethics. We harvest rainforests and create floods, we harness internal combustion and melt the icecaps. We link the world on an Internet only to find that the most downloaded items are pornographic. Every advance seems to induce a greater fall.
As a Christian, I believe we are mere stewards of God’s wealth. Whilst He writes the scripts, we are His potential powerful pencils. We must not stop at just harnessing our imaginative minds; we must also begin to harness our hearts to re-engineer the world of man. We must bring it back to sanity and productive endeavour. Let us not suffer from spiritual amnesia. Let us build together a lasting world full of goodness, an everlasting Empire of the Minds with Heart.
Fifty years ago, my father created YTL. I thank our Lord Jesus that he was blessed with the imagination and the will to do it. Looking ahead, I wish all of you the imagination and will to create what you wish to create, and I pray with a warm and passionate heart. I urge you to keep running the good race – alongside us, for we will be running too.
This is the helicopter view of our Group as it is today. We can then take that telescope to the future. I pray that God will continue to be merciful and bless us all in our running of this very good race.
God bless you and thank you very much.
Speech by Tan Sri (Dr) Francis Yeoh at
YTL 50th Anniversary Celebration
KLPAC, Sentul Park, Kuala Lumpur
on December 17th 2005
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