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Interview With Francis Yeoh, CEO of YTL Corp.

   
IHT.com, 7 June 2002

By John Defterios (IHT-TV)

Francis Yeoh may not be a household name but his Malaysian based group , YTL Corp., has built a global presence in power generation, cement and in the water sector, most recently buying Wessex Water of the U.K. from Enron.

In Kuala Lumpur, you cannot miss YTL. It owns and operates the high-speed train from the international airport, developed a large share of the city center and owns the Ritz Carlton and Marriott hotels. Yeoh told John Defeterios that most other people in the hotel business are in it for the wrong reasons.

You own the Ritz-Carlton and Marriott here in Kuala Lumpur, but I find it fascinating that you say most people who are in the hotel business in Asia are in it for ego purposes. You say they want trophy properties but donít manage them very well.

I think a lot of Asians, and many people around the world, like to own hotel properties as they like to own banking. Itís a very glamorous business. It kind of tells you that you have arrived.

But basically the hotel business is a terrible business, the convergence of many egos: the owner, the managers, and the architect. Everybody wants to make the hotel, the best of the best. And people realize that the hotel business basically can be very profitable. What hotels charge per square foot, itís almost like robbing in broad daylight! You can charge 11 bucks for a Coca-Cola in a hotel! Nowhere else in real estate can you charge that kind of money.

The only problem is that it takes 12 dollars to manage that Coca-Cola.

Youíre pushing to create greater efficiencies in the hotel business, pulling other hotels together to make a b-to-b platform that will increase purchasing power for the hotel industry as a whole.

People want a certain level of service and they donít want to be charged an arm and a leg. And I donít think the way to go about it is to maintain service but reduce the number of clean towels per guest. You have to cut down a lot of inefficiencies in the business itself. Weíve come a long way in cutting the fat from the system, but there is a lot more to be done.

What happens now, post September 11th, in terms of the understanding between the East and the West? Some would argue that weíre further apart than ever because some in the United States have become more patriotic and do not have an interest to understand the East. Do you think that the events of September 11 will improve East-West relations, or quite the opposite?

I think the West does not have a very deep understanding of what seriously is going on around the world. Post September 11th, the immediate reaction of the West was that all Muslim countries must be nesting grounds for terrorists. Itís not the case, but we Muslim countries are always lumped together. Malaysia is a very modern Muslim country. We have three female cabinet ministers, one female governor, and weíve enshrined the rights of women in the constitution. Weíre far ahead of the United States in that sense. But the West doesnít know that Malaysia exists.

Some say that you are part of the prime ministerís inner circle and this is the reason behind your success. Is it that simple?

I love the prime minister. Iím his fan because he is a man of God. And he loves taxpayers, number one, and thatís my relationship with him. He has many friends and most of them have a common thread, that they are good taxpayers. I do not have a special relationship with him.

You have a wall of fame in your office downstairs of pictures with government leaders, business leaders, and even entertainers. This is an access youíve opened up to the world from of Kuala Lumpur. How has that happened?

Iím very blessed. Iím very blessed because at a very young age, I got to meet people like the Mandelas, the Bushes, and the Pavarottis of the world. Alot of people ask me if I like my job, what is the secret of my success, and say that I seem to have a Midas touch, et cetera. Iíve always said, I wish I could claim all this credit and create a myth around my intelligence. But the truth is that God is a great scriptwriter, and Iím waiting for his next script.




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