Malaysia is an extremely fortunate country as she is protected, treasured, and given the utmost care and love by her people. These people who protect her would give everything in their power to ensure Malaysia’s growth and well being especially during the crucial events and turbulence that occur. Among these people is a simple quiet man that has contributed a priceless amount of time and effort in helping shape and develop Malaysia. This man is known as none other than the late Tun Azizan Zainul Abidin.
His name may seem unfamiliar to many especially among the younger generations and the attention given to him may not be as grand as other nation leaders but his years of devotion, dedication, and contribution to the country are now enjoyed by all the people of Malaysia. Many of the country’s secrets are embedded within this man. By embracing the life story of this remarkable man is equal to learning and going through the passage of knowing the history behind the development of Malaysia.
Of all the many great leaders in Malaysia, I choose Tun Azizan Zainul Abidin as my source of inspiration as I see him as a great leader that should be highly respected and appreciated especially in the Civil Service. I myself, as a Civil Servant who has just worked in the Civil Service, my journey is still new and far ahead. There are still abundant of experiences and knowledge that needs to be learned in equipping myself to be a better leader and be able to further serve the community. Hence, a man of great personality and leadership such as Tun Azizan who is also a Civil Servant himself has become a source of inspiration and encouragement for me to overcome my own life journey in this sector that is still a long way to go.
Tun Azizan Zainul Abidin is an exceptional leader with great experience. Though he is at times seen as a silent bureaucrat who works behind the scenes, he is nevertheless outstanding at what he does and his skills and abilities are at par with those who are at the front line of Malaysia’s administration.
These skills were then put to full use when he joined the corporate sector where he was known as a smart man with visions and missions that were attention grabbing. Everything he did was done with careful planning and care. No work-related things were taken for granted, and he will also ensure that every job is done with precise accuracy, meeting their objectives and not done in vain. Tun was not only known locally, as his leadership qualities were also noticed by foreign observers due to his eloquence and liberal-mindedness. He is able to demonstrate his prowess though he is a quiet, discrete, and subtle person. Even though he was a leader that was easily approachable and a character of open leadership, Tun Azizan will in no way tolerate substandard work or those who try to take advantage of him.
Tun Azizan was born in Penang on May 28, 1935 and grew up as an independent person who had to go through many difficult experiences since childhood. He did not know his father very well as he was orphaned at the young age of 7 years old. Just like his son Azizan, the late Zainul had also served in the government sector during his lifetime. There is not much that can be known about from Tun Azizan's personal life, but what is clear to be seen is his sheer enthusiasm in the pursuit of knowledge especially in the moment the country is still new to govern itself after independence. The early loss of his beloved mother in 1950 had left a deep impact on him because his mother was his pillar of strength. She was known as a piety, kind person with high moral values in which she had ensured to inject in him and his siblings.
His mother Amnah was a single mother who brought up her children with detailed care. Though she never received formal education herself, she insisted that her children be brought up with proper education to secure a better life in the future. Tun and his two brothers received their early education at the Francis Light Primary School. Meanwhile his youngest sister Khyranee was educated at the Malay Primary School in Kampung Melayu. In 1950 after his mother past away, Tun was involved in an accident where he fell off from the Bus Trolley which was commonly used as a public transport at that time. As a result of the incident, Tun fell ill and suffered severe vomiting. The news reached his half sister's knowledge, Wan Khairun whom decided to bring the terminally ill Tun to live with her family in Jalan Burmah and nurse him back to health. Starting from that moment, Tun was separated with his three younger siblings. The three siblings then lived with Munir, a relative who had once lived with their family before. By moving in with Wan Khairun had given Tun more opportunities and a brighter future to further his education.
Economic problems continued to plague the Malay Muslim community in Penang. Opportunities to develop themselves either in education or social status was very limited. By leveraging the experience and tradition of a strong spirit child in which he gained by growing up from a poor family allowed Tun to be able to compete in a challenging environment even up till his working life. Due to the efforts and diligence he had in himself, Tun successfully completed schooling at the Penang Free School.
After graduating with flying colours, Tun and four of his best friends registered as students at the University of Malaya in Singapore in 1956 and once again managed to gradute successfully in 1958. In 1959, Tun furthered his studies at the recently opened campus of University Malaya in Petaling Jaya specializing in Malay Studies. The following year, he joined the Malaysian Civil Service, (MCS) and began a career as an assistant secretary at the Ministry of Education, Kuala Lumpur. Having been educated the ‘old school’ style at the Francis Light School and Penang Free School in Penang, Tun had internalized the values of these conservative institutions and grew up to become a man with a quiet, patient, and diligent personality.
Throughout the four decades that he served Malaysia, Tun Azizan has worked together with among the most powerful men in Malaysia. He was once the Principal Private Secretary to three of Malaysia's Prime Ministers who are Tun Abdul Razak from 1971-1975, Tun Hussein Onn from 1975-1981 and to Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad from 1981-1984 thus making him among the most senior bureaucrats of the country. Tun Azizan was also given the responsibility to take care of matters related to national security where in 1967 he was appointed as Principal Assistant Secretary of Security and Intelligence to the Ministry of Home Affairs. Between 1969 to 1971 he was also the Secretary to the National Security Council (NSC). From 1985 to 1988 he was the Secretary General of the Home Ministry. In 1988, Tun Azizan was made the President and Chief Executive of Petronas and later became its Chairman in 1995. In 2001 he was appointed as the Chairman of Malaysian Airlines (MAS). His commitment and dedication was recognized both at home and abroad, where in 2003 he was awarded the Order of the Commander of the Legion of Honour by the French government, the Norwegian award for excellent contributions towards quality in the management category in 1992 and the Friendship Medal from Vietnamese government in September 2001.
Tun Azizan was also willing to give his life for the sake of the country. An article written by Dr Farish A. Noor mentioned how when the time came for Tun Azizan to make his sacrifices, he was willing to do without uttering a word of complaint. His extremely high sense of duty and responsibility was proven during the incident in the early 1970s when a commercial airliner was hijacked by the Japanese Red Army group and landed at Subang Airport. Negotiations were made by the hijackers had demanded an exchange of hostages, in which the Malaysian government had to let them have a number of senior Malaysian bureaucrats as hostages. Tun Azizan was picked as one of the Malaysian bureaucrats to be handed over to the hijackers with his fate uncertain. However at the last minute, his place was taken by Osman Kassim who no differently had shown the same values and accepted the responsibility with courage.
In the passing age of 69 years, he was still on his feet and on duty with full dedication and discipline. The culture and work ethic he practiced should be an example to all the younger generation and the Civil Service in particular. His personality was always quiet and he would continuously bring himself to learn new knowledge so as to inspire the younger generation or Public Service to strive and work with sincerity. However, his silent personality did not mean that he was an introvert but instead showed how even with this quiet personality of his, he was still a great leader that proved his qualities. He also proved that age is not a barrier as he was always someone to gain knowledge and make lifelong learning as a culture.
During his time as President and CEO of Petronas from 1988 to 1995, Tun Azizan had executed his task well. He was the thinker behind the globalization plan of the national oil corporation even though it faced much resistance at the early stage by some key management. This idea however, was eventually accepted by the majority as the reserves in the country were limited and small, hence needed to depend on expanding its international operations. Petronas had targeted to grow the share of its international upstream and downstream business to 30% of total revenue by 2005. Petronas however proved its worth as the target was in fact achieved in 2002, when revenue from international operations reached 30.4% of total revenue of RM67.1 billion.
With Tun Azizan as Chairman and Tan Sri Hassan Merican as President and CEO, Petronas continued to pursue its global strategy aggressively, making them one of the most respected players in the industry. In FY2009 ended March 31, Petronas had registered a revenue of RM264 billion of which RM111.3 billion or 42.1% came from international operations. Though Petronas is now lead by a new face, the initial architect behind the company’s success could not be denied as Tun Azizan himself.
One thing I noticed about Tun’s style of leadership especially during his years in Petronas is that he is a person that would always try to avoid conflict of interest. This is because many leaders tend to overlook this aspect during their leadership and decision making thus causing unavoidable problems in the future. Conflict of interest is extremely not encouraged as it may interfere in making good impartial judgment. It is even more important to stress on this issue especially when the organizations are associated with the public sector in which the resources are gained from the tax payer’s money. In order to avoid this situation, a concrete mechanism is required to allow others to decide and refrain those who may have a conflict of interest to ensure the decision making process is carried out smoothly.
“ A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way and shows the way. ”
John C. Maxwell
Tun Azizan acts like a shadow mentor to me. Always with me, but never there. I am awed and impressed by the way he executes his work. For instance, he would carry out his duties faithfully and diligently without any objection. He has never failed to complete his tasks efficiently. To put it into simple words, he would ‘never say never’. It is no wonder that he is someone who has gained the trust of three of our past Prime Ministers. His sudden death in 2004 came as a tragic surprise and struck the nation as a whole.
The passing of Tun Azizan was a great loss to the country. He was a man who present during Malaysia’s most difficult times when the country was in its most vulnerable state. He was present when the country needed men like him the most in taking her first steps in the arena of global politics. He along with his peers did their work quietly and diligently without hope or longing for rewards. He has left a great impression on me as part of a Civil Service where he always ensures that his work ethics exceeds or maintains the high standards set by our past Prime Ministers. He was a thinker and a man of great views, initiatives, and ideas. His great respect for the Constitutional principles, rule of law, and value of governmental ethics has earned his rightful place in the top level of Civil Service. Tun Azizan Azizan Zainul Abidin is indeed a National Hero that deserves to be known and be in the heart of every Civil Officer and rakyat Malaysia.
In memoriam of Tun Azizan Zainul Abidin (1935-2004)
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IRNA SUHAIZA MOHAMED RAHMAN