Monday, August 15, 2005

I met Tengku Mahaleel today

I was at a Pasar Malam in TTDI yesterday evening and I spotted Tengku Mahaleel packing some dinner from a very popular Nasi Dagang/Nasi Kerabu stall. I walked up to him and told him "I think you did a good job with Proton". He put his finger over his mouth and whispered "shhhh". I guess he did not want to talk about it. Well it's not like I really had much to say anyways so I just told the Tengku to "take it easy" and he replied "I always take it easy". Cool reply :)

Before we go on, if you don't know who Tengku Mahaleel is... he was Proton's CEO. His contract was not renewed recently and I think he's out of a job now.

A few months ago if I had met him on the street like I did yesterday I would probably have cursed at him for giving Malaysians sub-standard cars. But now that he's gone and there's no reason to direct anger at Proton's many failures to him anymore. In fact, the more I think about it I sincerely think he was doing an excellent job at Proton. Well you never knew what you had till it's gone.

The best thing he did for Proton was to make Proton a true car manufacturer. Proton is no longer just a car rebadging excercise. Proton also designs and manufactures their own models. Notable ones are of course the Waja, Gen2 and Savvy. I think Savvy would have sold well if not for it's unfortunately timed launch. Of course he also had some catastrophic failures in the form of the Juara and the Arena which really makes me think that Proton did not perform any market research at all. Note: despite what Proton says they do not design every component in their cars... but then again in this day and age how many car companies actually do? It's better just to buy off specialist manufacturers.

Now the biggest problem with Proton is with it's quality. This is one area that Tengku Mahaleel is often faulted for. However if you really think about it, the quality problem can be traced back to two major factors; 1. apathetic workers and 2. forced vendor choices.

It's quite well known that Proton has many workers with the infamous "tidak-apa" attitude (obviously not everyone in Proton is like that). Changing a person's attitude is not an easy thing to do and I find it difficult to fault Tengku Mahaleel for not being able to change the attitude of Proton workers. After all he did try to approach the matter from a different perspective. The Tanjung Malim factory with it's sophisticated automation aimed to rid the human factor from car defects. The TUV certification was also a step in the right direction. However all this did little to reverse Proton's bad karma... a real pity I think.

A lot of the quality problems are also a result of lousy parts from Proton's various vendors. Because Proton is a government owned operation with the goal of developing the local car industry Proton is forced to buy only from local vendors. This policy is not necessarily a bad thing but let me go into the realm of pure speculation to try and explain why this policy was bad for Proton. The way Government Linked Corporations (GLCs) are run in Malaysia means shady dealings ensure the procurement of contracts. The vendors had no motivation to make their products better. Now, despite the fact that Tengku Mahaleel was Proton's CEO this did not mean that he had complete reign over the company. As is the case with GLCs there are many powerful and unseen hands involved (note: all pure speculation-lah).

Well all I'm trying to say is that Tengku Mahaleel has done much more good than harm to Proton. Can you think of anyone who dared to push Proton to become a full-fledged car manufacturer? I certainly cant. I think I will miss his presence and I hope Proton can continue to introduce better and more exciting models. I'm really looking forward to the hybrid model Tun Mahathir said will be coming out in around 5 years time.

Unrelated note: The Nasi Kerabu was excellent! Best I ever had. I'll blog about it some day.

posted by wyejon at Monday, August 15, 2005 (permalink) |

8 wise words from our readers:

a golden opinion from Anonymous Paul Tan

I would have loved to be in your shoes.

4:03 AM  

a golden opinion from Anonymous Anonymous

U R obviously driving a phlotong ?

8:23 AM  

a golden opinion from Blogger wyejon

paul: Yeah... I guessed you would.

anon: Yeah... I drive a Proton... and your point is?

9:31 AM  

a golden opinion from Blogger Seymour Cakes

Jon, he "sshh" you because he is embrassed by how bad are Gen2 and Savvy.

I'd love to give him a break but then, result always speaks the truth.

11:52 PM  

a golden opinion from Blogger wyejon

hmm... seymores... weren't you considering getting a Savvy? :)

12:16 AM  

a golden opinion from Anonymous Anonymous

Don't forget, proton came out with its own engine after 19 years while the Koreans only after 32 years....bravo proton.

10:47 AM  

a golden opinion from Blogger deOughtred

Spot on mate! In fact, his last two-three years in Proton was busy 'educating' not just the public, but also the policy-makers, on the purpose of Proton's existence. Questioning Proton just like questioning the Bible as Proton strictly (like an obedient son) follow the Industrial Master Plan (IMP - this is(or was) Proton's bible), set by the policy makers. And early in the establishment of Proton, bit and pieces of the industry were given to different entities, e.g. sales/distribution to EON and USPD - in which obviously will be done better if it's 100% subsidiary of proton like Proton Edar today. Component supplies also were restricted to locals (to develop component industry) when obviously it's cheaper and better in quality to buy from Thailand, Taiwan, China, etc.

10:51 AM  

a golden opinion from Anonymous Anonymous

I laughed in my heart when you said he was the best CEO for Proton.Pity proton..for 7 years what did he do?Waja was not was alright until he took over ,change so many designs making impossible for vendors to prepare good parts.
Juara,Arena and Gen2 were actually his cars and look what happened to Neo.It was his alright but delayed for two years costing lots of opportunity lost.
And don't forget not only Proton is protected,he is also protected by his famous patron.To hi spatron eyes he can do no wrong...but now the Board has answered his questions on the reason Agusta need to be sold,where is his credibilty?

The last time I heard he said Proton could have made a low cost car with Agusta made engine..Now if you believe that,you will believe anything.Agusta is not Honda who can look after themselves.

I am just wanting to make it clear that you cannot talk your way out in making good cars.

3:21 PM  

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