RSOG Leadership in Action

National Duty


Datuk Shahril Ridza Ridzuan


When: 16 May 2019

Where: Razak School of Government

Guest Speaker: Datuk Shahril Ridza Ridzuan


The framework of the Session 

A prominent statesman once recollected, “if there is no great occasion, you don’t get the great statesman.” The question of whether great character can be formed during the still calm of life remains one of the greatest riddles of leadership – do leaders shape the times or do the times summon their leaders? Regardless of which leads to what, a leader must be ready when the opportunity presents itself, essentially becoming the right key that fits the lock. It requires a leader to be equipped with the right skills, strengths and style that is suited for the times and purpose. Some of the qualities that hold the test of time include the ability to infuse a shared purpose. Some of the qualities that hold the test of time include the ability to infuse a sense of shared purpose and direction, creating awareness of the leader’s expectations and what is expected of others, bringing stakeholders aboard, and leading by example. What compels one to step up and take the challenge of national duty? How can leaders translate their ambitions and extend that motivation to others? How can leaders engage their diverse teams towards a shared goal? These are some of the potential focus areas that Datuk Shahril Ridza Ridzuan will discuss in this session.


Key Takeaways from the Session

Many would have known a story of a boy who did well in school and rewarded with a prestigious scholarship only to return home with the coveted scroll without securing a job. However, not many would know the story of the one who was presented with the opportunity in his career to undertake responsibilities that would shape the architecture of corporate Malaysia and subsequently, the task to lead the evolution of the nation’s sovereign wealth fund. On 16 May 2019, Datuk Shahril Ridza Ridzuan shared his journey of giving back to the nation and the importance of having a sense of purpose and meaning in work before an audience of policymakers, administrators, medical professionals, among others.


Kicking off the session, the Guest Speaker walked through his life journey, sharing how he was presented with the opportunity to read law at Oxford University through the PETRONAS scholarship. However, upon his return, he couldn’t serve his bond as there were no available positions. Nevertheless, he embarked on his career in the Oil & Gas industry before the Asian Financial Crisis in 1997/98 happened. He chanced upon an advertisement that had a tinge of national service, recruiting for individuals who wanted to take the challenge of rescuing the Malaysian financial system. Not one to shy from an exciting task, the Guest Speaker took the opportunity which allowed him to devise act, enhance processes and create structures for corporate recovery. While it was challenging, it did not feel like a sacrifice because the task and duty were enriching and the opportunity of creating and innovating was abundant. In transitioning to Employees Provident Fund (EPF), what lured the Guest Speaker to undertake the responsibility was how taking the role could lead to a positive impact in the lives of Malaysians. It was the challenge to rethink how to best manage wealth is what piqued his attention to lead his current organisation. In addition, it was difficult to decline the request of the current premier to undertake the role.


National duty is beyond the work that one does, and it must lead to a greater impact on society. What leaders need to understand is there is always the opportunity to rethink the vision of an organisation. Using the example of EPF, the Guest Speaker shared how the question of what EPF does to the people led to the realisation that it must lead to a comfortable retirement for Malaysians, at the very least. This constant questioning of what is the role of the organisation in the ecosystem, why the organisation exists and who are the constituents or stakeholders the organisation is serving would help unveil the sense of purpose and meaning in the work that one does. When one loses a sense of purpose, through routine work or other means, it impinges on professional growth and self-development. It is also crucial to achieving a sense of congruence with ones’ conscience by making sense of why we do the things we do.


On leadership, the Guest Speaker shared a useful acronym to illustrate the qualities needed – SPECIAL. Strength is about the individual character to resist negative temptations and being able to uphold integrity. Perception is the ability to see what is happening around and understand the situation. Endurance is perseverance and persistence in the face of obstacles. Charisma is the ability to communicate effectively and efficiently, especially influencing. Intelligence is having both the knowledge quotient and emotional intelligence – knowing what motivates people. Agility is crafting a strategy that is malleable enough to adjust without compromising end goal. Luck is not merely being fortunate, and the Guest Speaker is a firm believer of “making your own luck” by creating opportunities which could lead to a much-needed breakthrough.


Essentially, leaders must have the ability to effectively communicate, understand other person’s perspectives, the ability to create a strategic vision and would be agile in the face of adversity and opportunity. National duty is often linked with sacrifice and hardship, especially when juxtaposed with higher remuneration in the private sector and acceleration to a leadership position. Having self-awareness whereby we understand the path that leads to where we are, recognising our strengths and acknowledging our areas of improvement helps in fine-tuning our sense of purpose and meaning on the larger context to society.

Key issues raised

  1. In managing stakeholders, it is important to take a step back and understand the perspective of each stakeholder, the barriers to achieving consensus, why resistance exists.
  2. It is important to understand that humans are also driven by emotions, therefore it is necessary to take human emotions and motivation into decision-making equations.
  3. In big organisations, talent recognition poses difficulties to the organisation and for the individual itself, especially when there is no systematic mechanism in place. A potential way to overcome this is for the talent to self-promote themselves by undertaking tasks or assignments that is seen as difficult and challenging as senior management would often take notice of those involved in such assignments.
  4. There are several factors that contribute to the lack of women representation in decision-making positions. While governments can impose quotas whereby companies comply, there is a more pressing need to create and expand the talent pool as women tend to leave the workforce due to natural barriers that exist. The thoroughness of policy design and its implementation affects this.
  5. Communication on any issue, however difficult, technical, or sensitive, must be honest and consistent. It must contain the rationale of the decision undertaken and understand what it means to the constituent/audience or stakeholder affected.
  6. In rethinking the future of work, there will be two types of creation: the creation of technology and business models and content creation for niche areas. Therefore, both STEM (Science Technology Engineering & Mathematics) and Liberal Arts talents are crucial in this emerging value creation scenario.


About the Speaker

Datuk Shahril Ridza Ridzuan is the Managing Director of Khazanah Nasional Berhad, the sovereign wealth fund of the Government of Malaysia, entrusted with growing the nation’s long-term wealth via distinct commercial and strategic objectives. With assets under management of about RM136 billion, Khazanah has investments in various sectors such as telecommunications, infrastructure, power, aviation, technology, healthcare, real estate, leisure & tourism, property, amongst others.


Datuk Shahril was formerly the CEO of the Employees Provident Fund (“EPF”) of Malaysia, the nation’s largest retirement fund, and prior to that served as its Deputy CEO (Investments). Prior to joining EPF, he was the Managing Director of Malaysian Resources Corporation Berhad (“MRCB”), where he was responsible for developing Kuala Lumpur Sentral into one of the main commercial centres in Malaysia. He previously served at Pengurusan Danaharta Nasional, where he was involved in corporate recovery and credit restructuring following the 1997 Asian financial crisis.


He holds a Master of Arts (First Class) from Cambridge University and a Bachelor of Civil Law (First Class) from Oxford University, and has been called to the Malaysian Bar and the Bar of England and Wales.