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A Digital Leap: What’s Next? Datuk Arif (PETRONAS & KPJ Healthcare) & Simone Lee (Tigas Alliance)

Datuk Arif is a seasoned executive with over 25 years of experience in the oil and gas industry. He has held various senior management positions within the PETRONAS group, and currently serves as Chairman of KPJ Healthcare Bhd. Datuk Arif worked closely with the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) and McKinsey & Co when he was a PETRONAS Corporate Strategy Study member in 1995. Simone, a healthcare entrepreneur with a passion for connecting retail pharmacies and providing access to cheaper prescriptions, also known as the CEO of Tigas Alliance, consults with international companies on healthcare market opportunities in the insurtech industry. Both professionals are known as key opinion leaders and connectors in their respective industries and are dedicated to supporting the next generation of business leaders, by first sharing on how to take the lead in digital innovation.

Petronas is the largest company in leisure by far. When you, Datuk Arif decided to change PETRONAS from within, it required not just a mindset change but a gravitational shift in terms of how processes are set up because you are going to go against the grain and people won't be comfortable with change. How did you start on this as it is a challenge in most companies?

Engineer your patrons

When strategies, leaders, systems, or organizational structures change, people's thinking and behavior must change accordingly. As changes at work are contemplated to improve performance, the "soft side" of organizational change should not be neglected. Few transformations reach their goals without knowing how to shift mindsets at work. “I brought my leadership team at the time in PETRONAS, all the way to Singapore, to get them to experience it so they would understand what’s the power behind utilizing data to get insights and make better, faster decisions”, Datuk Arif mentioned. To Datuk Arif, talking about it without showing its direct impact would not excite people. Make it a goal to have the leadership team speak the same language, with the same excitement.

Innovate or evaporate

Change and innovation can only happen when we look at it as the only way out. Datuk Arif and Simone are both on the same page of perspective; just because history got us somewhere, we cannot depend on the same trends but rather make meaning out of it and anticipate disruption. Being prepared for disruption in the industry, to them, requires disruption within ourselves as leaders as well; what are the right tools, knowledge and skill sets do we need to take the company forward before the rest of the world follows.

There's no choice but to proactively empower our team whether it is a small team or a big team. How do you empower your employees, make sure you have eyes on the price, and raise enough capital to make sure you can pay monthly salaries while building your business at the same time?

5 powers to empower

When employees feel that they bring value to the workplace, it will inevitably be connected with in-depth topics such as areas of individual strengths, load of execution, work fulfillment, motivation and more. To Datuk Arif and Simone, for an effective partnership with employees, there are five essential steps; first, communicate the fundamental truths of the business with the employees, this would help keep employees motivated and on track. Second, have everyone ask themselves: what can be termed as innovative? Third, live and breathe the business model; answer the fundamental questions to this, what does the company need? Who do I need to call? Fourth, enable obsession, where employees are encouraged to be passionate in the things they are doing, where in the long run, they will deliver and are motivated to innovate even more. Fifth, speak from emotion. People love purpose that carries meaning; when one manages to get to a person’s core, they will represent the business and the company with inspiration, or some would call it ‘influence leadership’, that helps in employees feeling constantly empowered, focused and helps the leadership team elevate in impressing their stakeholders.

How do you enact change, and how do you get your team to accept it despite their salaries not changing?

Purpose fuels purpose

Digital disruption will happen whether employees are ready or not because there are signs of people wanting to disrupt the supply chain. Taking risks and doing things differently from peers is essential because it's hard for humans to deal with uncertainty. People can be afraid of failure, but they have to be willing to fail for success to happen. Large corporations frequently delegate the discussion of change to department heads since they want to handle many of these issues, and the CEO is frequently uninformed about the fundamentals of the topic but it is a fundamental key component of a business. It is essential to stay the course because there will be many roadblocks in implementing change, and it is a job of a disruption handler to overcome those roadblocks for the businesses to grow, be it CEOs, managers and associates.

Keep track, no setbacks

Datuk Arif expanded the idea, saying that: “To keep track of disruption while being equitable to the employees, an ethnographic study should be done. Ethnography involves observing people in their environment to understand their experiences, perspectives, and everyday practices. If the business has to lead the market to make people's lives seamless and frictionless, it must understand the customer's behavior first, but also the company’s employee’s behavior as well. Whether an organization is big or small, it will have a billion people to devise a solution; understand their struggles and similar to innovation, be flexible. An entrepreneur needs to be flexible to make the business reach scale and become profitable and successful, yet equitable.

What do you think about entrepreneurs in big corporate firms?

Address weaknesses, adopt strengths

"You want to join a large corporation for the support and be within the environment of this robustness, capital or nurture? Then I think due diligence needs to be done with the people you want to align with," commented Datuk Arif. Simone added, “as business owners, people want to maximize profits and minimize losses. One way to do this is by hiring employees who can work well in teams. It can be challenging if businesses work with people with different levels of experience or talent than yourself,” however entrepreneurs should be looking for someone with experience but not necessarily knowledge about running a business.

From your experience, what was the most challenging compromise you had to make when running your business?

Aligning everyone’s north star

"I don't have regrets, but I am familiar with a friend called compromise. I had a well-known private equity personality walk into my office many years ago while building the business. That private equity personality saw my numbers and told me this was nothing. It's too small. You can be 10x, or I forgot it was 50x, and then he went and said: okay, tell me something, something that I can learn from you” answered Simone Lee and continued, "I think a lot of the polarities of the world right now is on: ‘if you don't support me, you must be against me”, but everyone here is trying to fulfill a greater motive, the most challenging compromise is always aligning and realigning values with our stakeholders; from customers to investors.

How can entrepreneurs drive innovation and digital transformation with data as a focal point?

Arrogate new business models

Entrepreneurs must "think digitally" to pursue long-term success and maintain a competitive advantage. Digital technologies affect businesses that go beyond using social media for communication or online meetings. Entrepreneurs must manage to open up new market opportunities and adopt new business models. Businesses increasingly use digital tools and technology to create unique marketing experiences that blend the physical and digital worlds into a singular multi-sensory experience. The use of tools powered by artificial intelligence and virtual reality has the added effect of amplifying the digital push transformation that is giving to consumer engagement.

How can we seek a competitive edge in an increasingly cut-throat industry?

Chart a new land

To have a competitive edge in an increasingly cut-throat industry is essential. As the workplace becomes more competitive, companies must have a competitive advantage over their rivals. The strategic moves will result in exponential growth in the company's value in the market and before its buyers and employers. Every company organization sets goals for its services, and the stated exponential increase in its value will lead to higher requests for those services. Tapping into new unexplored areas is one of the many strategies to have a competitive edge in a highly competitive industry. It is done by developing innovative products and services that can meet the demands of the consumers and provide a high-quality service. With this in mind, the strategic moves made by the company will also involve developing and refining its customer service strategies.

How can leaders empower culture change from startups to scaleups?

Elevate, not change

In the startup world, 85% of startups don't make it. Only 15% make it big in the market. During this time, founders are often laser-focused on building their products and services and remaining on an upwards growth trajectory. One crucial element often overlooked during this period of growth is building the right company culture. When we build a business at an early stage, we are not looking at profitability, we are looking at survivability. But when a corporation is building the business, they're looking at profitability from day one, and this is where the dichotomy happens. It is vital to encourage entrepreneurs to understand risks in both; quantify and understand the language and the mindset of the governing structure before transitioning.


The content of this article is summarized from our ‘Thought Inspire Series’, a series of six exclusive physical interviews with world-class & established company owners highlighting their entrepreneurship journey organized in collaboration with Google Cloud and CGS-CIMB. The series is aimed to inspire entrepreneurs globally to Innovate rapidly and sustainably. Follow us on our social media pages to get the latest news on upcoming events and key learnings.

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