Courageous, hardy leaders of the world

The international Fortune magazine in its May issue has listed Dr Mahathir as No 47 among the top 50 leaders in the world today


Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad is grappling with matters of state in his second time around as prime minister (PM), but is he losing any sleep over them? One wouldn’t think so, given the good health he exudes.

There’s also the twinkle in his eye when impish humour escapes his lips, as happened when he spoke on receiving his “Visionary Leader, Nation Builder” Award on May 9.

He couldn’t help his ‘Umno’ quip when thanking AAMO (the Asian Association of Management Organisations), for the recognition.

“(I thank)…Umno…er…AAMO for this award,” he said, drawing a titter from the assembled corporate crowd present in support of the Malaysian Institute Management (MIM) event marking the conclusion of the regional entity’s triennial conference and dinner and the three-year rotating presidency of Datuk Ng Tieh Chuan, chairman of MIM.

On the heels of the award, the international Fortune magazine in its May issue has listed Dr Mahathir as No 47 among the top 50 leaders in the world today. A citation, while drawing attention to his age (93 years old), refers to him as being able to write an unexpected chapter in his legacy.

In his first tenure (1981-2003) as PM, said the citation, he had “turned Malaysia into one of South-East Asia’s economic tigers”.

His “ornery disregard for the judiciary and the press hinted at autocratic leanings”. Last year, he had returned from seclusion to “run for office on an anti-corruption platform, leading a new political party to a shocking victory over incumbent Datuk Seri Mohd Najib Razak”.

Najib is now facing charges in court over the 1Malaysia Development Bhd scandal, “a sprawling malfeasance case that has ensnared Wall Street bankers and government officials”, which the ex-PM has denied.

Dr Mahathir, the citation added, is moving to protect judicial independence and press freedom, “recognising that they help keep a democracy honest”.

Fortune has Bill and Melinda Gates topping the list, with New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern, in second for her sympathetic, humble handling of the terror attack that killed 51 people at two mosques in Christchurch.   

“We are one in grief,” she had said in the aftermath, opening speeches with Arabic greetings and identifying herself with the Muslim community by wearing a headscarf. It was a “master-class act on how to guide a nation through a crisis”, said the citation.

Third is Robert Mueller, the special counsel of the US Justice Department, who looked into Russian influence in the 2016 presidential elections.

“He took on a thankless task with dignity, integrity, a willingness to sacrifice his own reputation for a cause and an unflinching commitment to the rule of law,” noted the citation. 

The introduction to the list, written by Geoff Colvin, makes the point that courage is the theme “running powerfully” through this year’s list.

Each and everyone risked “something to lose — reputation, career, fortune, esteem”.

Attention is drawn to Lloyd’s Banking Group plc CEO Antonio Horta-OsÓrio, “who openly struggled with mental health”. It was an “inconceivable admission” for a man in his position. But, as it turned out, it brought him praise and “helped lift the stigma in an industry notorious for driving workers up to and beyond their limits”. He’s 41st on the list.

Great leaders had faith in themselves and went ahead, even if their plans were not “universally” applauded. Apple Inc CEO Tim Cook took on the challenge of steering the company away from relying on iPhone sales towards “a business model” based on subscription revenue.

If there was one character trait common in all of them, it was “hardiness”. Such individuals didn’t see the world as “threatening, or themselves as powerless”, but accepted challenge as normal, saw the world as “fascinating”, giving them an opportunity for “personal growth”. Cook is listed at No 14.

Research showed that these leaders were able to “impart their way of seeing the world to those they lead”. The notion of “dare to fail” made sense and inspired courage.

Guess who’s at No 6? It’s Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old student climate-change activist from Sweden, who caused a stir when she told the leaders gathered at this year’s World Economic Forum that she wanted them to “the feel the fear I feel every day and I want you to act”.

At No 9 is José Andréas, who, as a two-star Michelin chef, hands out meals to people stricken by natural disasters, such as floods and earthquakes, “without waiting for someone to tell us what to do”.

He’s at the scene promptly because “when people are hungry, you start feeding them today, not tomorrow or a week later”. His credo — there are simple solutions to big problems.

The list is an annual exercise by the magazine. 


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