Image via NST

“IT has been eight weeks since I completed my term as a senator and minister on June 4 this year. Many friends, relatives and acquaintances have asked what I had been up to since then and what my plans are for the future.

That is, until the announcement of my appointment as chairman of Permodalan Nasional Berhad (PNB) on Friday. Since then, I have been receiving hundreds of well wishes, prayers and words of support and encouragement from friends and family members. Thank you, all. I hope to get your continued support in my new role, and I pledge to carry out my duties to the best of my ability with honesty and full integrity.

Alhamdulillah, over the past 28 years, I have had the privilege of working in many organisations: KPMG, Bumiputra Merchant Bankers, Kumpulan FIMA, Amanah Capital Group, UEM Group, Telekom Malaysia (including Celcom), Maybank and the government of Malaysia. Apart from my first two jobs at KPMG and BMB, I did not apply for the other positions. They came by invitation. The key lesson learnt, for the young people, is to focus on the task at hand, do your job well and your reputation will precede you. Even your competitor will acknowledge your achievements.

A case in point is when I was the chief executive officer of TM. I was approached by then chairman of Maxis (TM/Celcom’s competitor), who is now Maybank chairman, to lead Maybank as CEO in its transformation into a regional financial services group. The rest, as they say, is history. In all the previous moves, I would normally join the new organisation either the next day or over the weekend. This time, though, was different. I decided to take a two-month break to reset my priorities, catch up on some “lost time” with family and do some of the things I always wanted to do.

It has been one of the most fulfilling periods in my life. The first two weeks were largely spent on clearing up my work and preparing the office at the Economic Planning Unit for my successor. Physically and contextually. I didn’t realise we had accumulated so many documents in three years. I guess it is a reflection of the volume of work packed within the three years. Thank you to my team members at EPU, Public Private Partnership Unit (Ukas), Department of Statistics Malaysia (DOSM), Bumiputra Agenda Steering Unit (Teraju), TalentCorp, Ekuiti Nasional Berhad (Ekuinas), Yayasan Peneraju and others for your support. In the latter part of the second week, I registered as an Uber partner. I wanted to experience what it was like to do ride-sharing, how easy or difficult it was to earn a living using technology, and to provide input to policymakers. Something I could not do when I was a minister.

Since my car was 10 years old, I could not register it for Uber. Proton was kind enough to lend me a new Perdana demo car, on the condition that I help to promote it. Since then, I have bought a new Perdana 2.4 in support of the national car. And I got my friends to pledge to top up my ride-sharing takings for charity. What was meant to be a private affair became public after one passenger, Firdaus (Fadzil) from Axiata, posted a selfie with me on his Facebook page.

That single posting (by the only passenger who recognised me) went viral in social media and was picked up by mainstream media. I even received an invitation from Harith Iskander to appear on his OHI talk show. So AWO, the former minister and banker, was better known as an Uber driver. Anyway, in total, I earned RM210 from 17 trips over 11 driving hours spread across three days. I paid RM10 in toll charges, Uber took 25 per cent or RM50 commission, and I was left with RM150. Had I been more diligent and driven or remained “online” continuously in blocks of four hours, I believe I would have been able to generate an income of approximately RM300 per 10-hour driving day. That means RM4,000 to RM6,000 net income per 25-day month.

This is consistent with the feedback from many Uber/Grab drivers. My only hope is for Uber/Grab to reduce their portion of the takings so that a much higher proportion will go to the drivers. Anyway, I will leave it to the government and the Land Public Transport Commission (SPAD) to come up with the appropriate policy for ride-sharing and transformation of the taxi industry.

Alhamdulillah, I raised some RM20,000 for Rumah Jagaan & Rawatan Orang-Orang Tua Al Ikhlas, Pulau Meranti, Selangor. Thanks to my donor friends. After my short ride-sharing stint, my wife and I managed to spend our third week in Madinah and Mecca. Very spiritually fulfilling indeed. The fourth and fifth weeks were spent celebrating Ramadan and Hari Raya Aidilfitri with extended family members, including those in Johor Baru, Kota Tinggi and Pontian, Johor.

The sixth and seventh weeks were spent visiting friends and attending Hari Raya open houses. We also visited several resorts in Malaysia. Starting with the Belum Rainforest Resort on the shores of Lake Temenggor, and then the Banjaran Hotsprings Retreat in Ipoh and Mulu Marriott Resort, Sarawak. Sometimes we take things at home for granted. Indeed, these are beautiful places to visit. At 130 million years old, the Belum Rainforest is one of the oldest rainforests in the world.

Even older than the Amazon and Congo. The Banjaran, with natural hotsprings piped into your private villa, is world class. And the Gunung Mulu National Park with its network of caves and streams is simply breathtaking. The highlight is to watch some two million bats streaming out of the Deer Cave just before dusk. These are some of many beautiful places we have in Malaysia: Kota Kinabalu, Langkawi, Penang, Malacca, to name a few. So, please start planning for “cuti-cuti Malaysia” and take advantage of great deals that Malaysia Airlines, AirAsia and Malindo offer from time to time.

I do that online all the time. But that does not mean we should not explore places beyond Malaysia’s shores. As I write this, my wife and I are on the last day of our “honeymoon” in the Maldives. Yes, vacations with family, including your parents and extended family, are important. We do that annually. But, from time to time, it is good to rekindle that “magic” with your spouse only. It has worked well for me. I’m sure it will work well for you, too. Well, what looked like a long eight weeks has passed by very quickly.

Come tomorrow, I will begin a new life with PNB. What were the mandates given to me? Let me just outline three: IMPROVE the corporate performance of PNB and its group companies; ENHANCE Bumiputera participation in business and the corporate sector; and, SUPPORT the government in providing more affordable homes for Malaysians. Thank you for all the support you have given to me in my previous roles. I look forward to your continued support in my new role as chairman of this very important national institution, PNB.

Thank you and best regards.

July 30, 2016”

Tan Sri Abdul Wahid Omar is a former banker and minister