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Datin Maznah Mahbob

The leadership path

The journey of Datin Maznah Mahbob

With more than 25 years of experience in the investment management industry, Datin Maznah Mahbob is currently the Chief Executive Officer at AmInvest, the Fund Management Division of AMMB Holdings Berhad. In 2015, Datin Mahbob was ranked among the top 50 individuals in the world who have had a major impact on the Islamic industry by ISLAMICA 500.

 

As a complement to her CEO role, Datin Mahbob sits on several Boards of AMMB private companies. The Chairman Commissioner of AmInvestasi Indonesia, she also sits on the Board of Trustees of the Hearts of GOLD (Generating Opportunities for Learning Disabled) Foundation.

 

A graduate of the Institute of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators (UK), Datin Mahbob has achieved diversification of revenue streams and stable continuous profit growth for her organisation throughout her 12-year tenure as CEO. Datin Mahbob built AmInvest into a business spanning five companies in the region with diverse clients and distribution partners across Asia, the Middle East and Europe.

 

In this exclusive interview, she looks back over her career to share her challenges as a leader, the rewards she has gained as well as leadership lessons she would like to share.

 

What do you regard as your biggest challenges as a CEO?

 

Datin Mahbob: As a CEO, my biggest challenges have been:

  1. managing communication and mobilising support towards a common objective among diverse functional teams;
  2. balancing the interests of the various stakeholders ie shareholders, clients, regulators and employees;
  3. creating awareness that not all Group policies and processes are applicable to every business unit within a diversified corporate Group of companies ie that it cannot be a one size fits all approach. There may be a few business units (typically smaller but with higher growth potential) which may have different business drivers and which are competing within a different industry from the rest of the Group that require policies that are more aligned to their particular industry;
  4. driving change and transformation of the business model, organisational structure, operational frameworks, incentive structures and culture towards an organisation that has the scalability to sustain growth, as well as the agility and flexibility to remain competitive and innovative, all the while leveraging their relevant core strengths; and
  5. managing the emotions of staff arising from change-induced stress.

 

What are the biggest rewards?

 

Datin Mahbob: I would say the biggest rewards are first, the creation of value to clients as evidenced by the continuous growth in profitability and market share through client satisfaction and confidence and strengthening the brand recognition.

 

Second, the creation of value for shareholders through continuous appreciation of shareholder share valuation.

 

Third, the creation of value to employees as they reap the rewards of success through progress in their careers and performance incentives and bonuses.

 

Fourth, under promising and over delivering – surprising the stakeholders on the upside especially in challenging environments.

 

Fifth, discovering, working together and achieving results with so many people with such diverse backgrounds – in terms of their professional status, culture, nationality, ethnicity, religion, economic and social status, gender and age – in the form of colleagues, clients and partners/service providers.

 

Finally, the financial rewards which enable a lifestyle of continuous learning, discovery and security for my family.

 

These teams are composed of human beings with emotions. Harnessing these emotions towards positive action and away from unproductive negativity is key.

 

As the Chairman Commissioner of AmInvestasi Indonesia, what are some of the hurdles you faced working with different cultures?

 

Datin Mahbob: I think it requires much patience and perseverance. You need tact, firmness and clarity to bridge the gaps in communication, comprehension and language as well as differences in work and culture.

 

Looking back over the 10 years, is there anything you know now that you wish you had known back then?

 

Datin Mahbob: Psychology ie a deep understanding of human nature and its diversity, the different communication styles needed to be effective as well as how emotions can influence behaviour beyond logic.

 

The best vision, strategy and action plan may not achieve expected results without good execution. Execution requires collaboration and cooperation among diverse teams. These teams are composed of human beings with emotions. Harnessing these emotions towards positive action and away from unproductive negativity is key.

 

What motivates you?

 

Datin Mahbob: Making a difference to the lives of people. For example, investors who may depend on the investment returns of our products and services; shareholders who may be invested in our company shares (often, these are pension funds, and therefore, people who are dependent on their pensions in their retirement); employees who may have families to support; as well as CSR.

 

I also want to inspire my children, especially my daughters, by leading by example. Particularly, I want to show them how it’s possible to lead a meaningful and productive values-based service oriented integrated life through a fulfilling and rewarding career (both financially and emotionally) with minimal dichotomy and conflict between work/life balance.

 

Are there any leaders you look up to?

 

Datin Mahbob: Yes, leaders with vision and conviction for the greater good. Leaders who are not afraid of being unconventional, sometimes at the expense of popularity. In particular, I would highlight Prophet Muhammad for making the biggest impact in influencing the world with the least resources in the shortest time (according to the book, The 100: A Ranking of The Most Influential Persons in History by Michael Hart). Also an example of someone who integrates business/economics with spirituality.

 

David who defeated Goliath – this is really a triumph of brains, skill, focus, agility and speed over might. Tun Mahathir for his intelligence, vision, forthrightness, confidence and firmness. Tan Sri Azman for his vision, commitment, wisdom, kindness and multiple talents that go beyond banking.

 

First, we need a keen understanding of how we got to where we are so as to be able to anticipate changes in the future ie having vision. This requires a lot of ongoing reading and research across various multi-disciplinary subjects.

 

Steve Jobs for his independent thinking, innovation and passion for pursuing his vision – a vision that would enable the world to move to the next level, impacting so many lives positively – sometimes at the expense of stepping on a few toes.

 

First, we need a keen understanding of how we got to where we are so as to be able to anticipate changes in the future ie having vision. This requires a lot of ongoing reading and research across various multi-disciplinary subjects.

 

Bill Gates for leading the world in philanthropy (especially value-creating medical research and education, not just IT). Warren Buffet for his focus on value creation through share investments, philanthropy and a simple lifestyle.

 

Lastly, all other Prophets and great religious leaders who usually had to uphold universal values against all odds of the prevailing culture and the circumstances they faced at that time.

 

Could you share your top three leadership lessons?

 

Datin Mahbob: First, we need a keen understanding of how we got to where we are so as to be able to anticipate changes in the future ie having vision. This requires a lot of ongoing reading and research across various multi-disciplinary subjects.

 

Second, we need to proactively anticipate changes in our environment rather than merely responding to circumstances.

 

Third, we need to master our understanding of human nature. This means improving self-awareness (of our strengths and weaknesses) and self-management. This also means being able to see and feel things as others may see and feel them. And it requires enhanced communication skills, patience, perseverance and a higher degree of compassion to be able to lead and inspire diverse and self-motivated teams towards a common goal.

 

What’s enjoyable outside work?

 

Datin Mahbob: My family life, travel, fashion, music and theatre. Entertaining and cooking for others. I also love to read and am primarily interested in non-fiction – history, philosophy, science, business strategy and management. In my spare time, I watch documentaries and selected movies and I exercise. I also find social entrepreneurship enjoyable ie applying sustainable value creation principles to CSR.

 

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