Driving the Future

In the past, we have interviewed Cheryl Yeoh, the CEO of MaGIC (Malaysian Global Innovation and Creativity Centre), shedding light on the one who helms the administration’s initiative for new ventures, and Siew Yuen Tuck — a bold technopreneur set to redefine how Malaysians do business with his startup.

To get a complete look at the typical business ecosystem and the new players who are moving Malaysia’s economy, one of the roles that should be explored is that of venture capitals. One of the more prominent figures in the private equity funds scene is the young and dashing Syed Haizam Hishamuddin Putra Jamalullail. The Malaysian Reserve sat down with him recently to find out what moves this young investor who could be key in helping Malaysian companies reach their full potential.

“I consider my family to be my greatest achievement,” said Haizam whose daughter — his first child — was born last year. “I don’t see myself as having done any major things in my life aside from that.”

Private Equity Fund

That’s very modest of the Oxford graduate, yet he has set up Tuas Capital Partners at the tender age of 30. Tuas Capital is a private equity fund — an entity that manages money for investors who might want to explore slightly higher risk investments.

“Tuas Capital looks for companies that are ready to reach their next step in growth,” he said.

“We also look outside of the financials and revenue figures. We look at the management, and the people, whether they gel and whether they gel with the investors.

“The typical situation is: We come in as strategic shareholders, improving governance, perhaps some financial restructuring — it’s like having an extra head in the business.

The 32-year-old believes in the process that has helped numerous businesses grow and make more revenue for investors.

“For example, a restaurant chain might think they should open one new branch a year as acceptable. We come in and suggest they probably should open six stores a year. We see different problems and come in with a different mindset.”

Haizam is keen to expand his private equity and investment advisory expertise in the endeavours that he pursues in order for it to grow. Aside from his main business, Haizam is not short on things to do, as the man is very active both in business and nonprofit organisations.

Haizam is also a director of Segi Value Holdings Sdn Bhd which operates the Segi Fresh supermarkets (seven outlets in KL) and is also the VP of the Malaysia-America Foundation. Aside from this, Haizam is also an ardent Manchester United fan, writes opinion pieces for newspapers and actively participates in vintage car rallies.

He has previously spent three years in the investment industry, primarily working for F&C Asset Management plc in London as a governance and sustainable investment analyst covering the Asean region. Before that, Haizam worked for a year in Naqiz & Partners, a corporate and commercial legal firm.

Charterhouse Rules

For Haizam, there were a few milestones in his development and one of them was his time in Charterhouse, a boarding school in Surrey, England. It is a football school credited with inventing the modern rules of the game.

“I was there from the time I was 13 to 18 years old,” said Haizam. “I did my General Certificate of Secondary Education and my A-Levels there. I considered it to be the best time of my life.”

He did get bullied, though. Boarding school culture is probably the same the world over.

“Yes, I did get bullied, like being told to run around the field,” said Haizam. “I was one of only two Malaysians and there were only a handful of Asians. However, I think it made me stronger and helped me become the man I am today.

“My t ime at Charterhouse exposed me to a totally different culture and taught me discipline as well as respect for others. Today, I always try to keep my feet on the ground.”

Haizam said he kept in touch with his family, which explains why he did not develop a thick British accent.

“On weekends, I sometimes went to the Malaysia Hall or Satay House. Otherwise, I spent around £10 (RM64) for three days.”

Charterhouse also helped him a lot in his studies.

“We had great teachers, so I could focus on getting good grades. I was very lucky that my peers were very studious and we worked hard in our studies.”

Oxford and Bangalore

After Charterhouse, Haizam went to Somerville College, Oxford. He took up Human Sciences, which he admits is unorthodox for an Asian.

“Yes, it’s not engineering or accounting,” he said. “But I wanted to get training for my mind, and only getting the skills after that. Human Sciences is very good — you don’t get pigeon-holed and you get to see life in a rounded manner.”

Human Sciences in Oxford focuses on demography, genetics, physiology, sociology and urban geography. Haizam found this invaluable as it taught him problemsolving at a higher level.

“I got to take a step back and attack the problem from all sides, to find a more rounded solution,” said Haizam.

After Oxford, Haizam did another degree and a one year conversion into law. His life compass had not been locked in a direction yet and he was doing what was logical at the time.

“I didn’t enjoy it,” he said. “No disrespect to lawyers, but as I did an internship at a law firm, I knew this wasn’t for me. I wasn’t made to be a lawyer. I was still doing my bar, though.”

Haizam found himself drained and said he needed a break. He mentioned that British students get to take a gap year, teaching English in Africa or building schools in South America.

“I went to India for two months, to Bangalore, where this agency sent me to do journalism,” he said.

He was given food, accommodation but no pay as he worked for an Indian lifestyle magazine.

“I was so glad I went there even if for two months. India had so much culture, it’s a beautiful country with poverty and wealth disparity yet no matter how poor, they all have smiles on their faces.”

One of the things Haizam did while in India was co-writing an article on wealth management which perhaps planted a seed of an idea in him.

The Road Ahead

Coming back from India, he joined the Peking to Paris Vintage Car Rally. This experience opened Haizam’s mind as well as doors for him.

“As you went from the Eastern part of Russia to the West, you got to see a clear progression from what was Communist-Russia as the roads got better and the scenery became greener.”

During one dinner, Haizam also had the chance to speak with the late F&C Asset Management CEO Alain Grisay. Grisay offered Haizam a chance to work at F&C for two months.

“Those two months became four years,” said Haizam, smiling.

Grisay perhaps k new that Haizam’s compass had honed in on a direction. The rest all came naturally. Haizam did very well in the Asean region for F&C, focusing on palm oil and establishing ethical business practices in the industry.

In 2013, Haizam and his wife decided to come back to Malaysia. They decided that on their own accord, not using Talent Corp (M) Bhd or any of the initiatives set up to bring back qualified and talented Malaysians such as Haizam.

“I missed home and my family as a support unit,” said Haizam. “And to put it bluntly, there are more opportunities here.”

Haizam explained that Malaysia is an inefficient market, being a developing economy.

“There are ways to make the market more efficient and that is why I’m in the investment field.”

These days, Haizam still goes to vintage car rallies such as the Road to Mandalay, has picked up mou ntai n cli mbi ng a nd has completed marathons.

“Just don’t ask me about my (marathon completion) time,” he laughed. Humble as always, his Charterhouse and Oxford training has kept him very level-headed.

He is one to watch as he applies himself to driving Malaysia’s businesses forward. His unique experiences and background put him in a prime position to make a difference for many years ahead.