21 January 2012

Who will succeed Datuk Seri Syed Zainal?

The takeover bid has been completed, now the interesting part has arrived. What sort of changes will happen to Proton? Or rather more important, what is the magnitude of the changes and how will it impact Proton current leaders?

There is a strong news that DRB-Hicom's Tan Sri Syed Mokhtar Al-Bukhary will place his own "general" to take charge of his newly-owned Proton. He has put his own man, Datuk Khalid Abdol Rahman as POS Malaysia head, displacing Datuk Syed Faisal Albar when DRB-Hicom take charge.As DRB-Hicom share in Proton rises from zero to 42.7% when the transaction has been completed, it is just a matter of time before some changes will happen. Read more after the jump.

While Datuk Seri Syed Zainal can be greated credited to Proton recent success, one could still argue it is not enough. Although it is also true he has the "man" in charge in steering the come back of Proton since 2006, where the correct and wanted product was sequentiality launched year by year (Persona 2007, Saga 2008, Exora 2009 and series of aggressive product improvement since then), Proton balance sheet and market share does not really improved. Where is the mistake? Well, as better as Proton cars and service are these days, it is honestly, still not enough, at least in the eye of the new owner.

According to Business Times, there are two likely potential candidate in the form of Datuk Lukman Ibrahim and Abdul Rashid Musa. The former is the DRB-Hicom group CEO, while the latter is CEO of Hicom complex in Pekan. Both have significant experience in Malaysia automotive scene.

Anyway I have my own judgement. Datuk Seri Syed Zainal Abidin himself is no slouch. He was PETRONAS employee from 1987 until 1995, when he made his move to DRB-Hicom in that year. His presence in automotive world has since moved to a greater height, when he joined Perodua as SGM in 1999. He as assumed Perodua MD roles in October 2005.

He was then headhunted by Proton shortly after, as they were looking for a replacement for Tengku Tan Sri Mahaleel. Datuk Seri Syed Zainal has been appointed as Managing Director of Proton from 1 January 2006.

Since then, Proton has changed. While what public can see were merely new and better cars, the changes inside the company went deeper than that. Various measures have been taken to turn around the company. Work ethic has been uplifted, the methodology in executing task has been suitably upgraded too. The results is a rather more efficient way of conducting work, with meticulous cost control, quality build-in, and upgrade the staff spirit too, in a spiritual manner when "solat hajat" made a frequent appearance, "solat jumaat" announcement can be heard every Friday afternoon and many more.

While it is obvious that Proton product is not on par with any global OEM yet, one should be able to see the gradual betterment that has taken place since 2006. Firstly, the Satria Neo launched that year was essentially not the same Satria Neo in 2005. The wrong interior color has been replaced with a friendlier Tempest Grey scheme. Various quality improvement activity was buzzing as early as February 2006 for the said car. In the mid-2006 too, an attempt to save the sluggish-selling Proton Gen2 was made. The Gen2 was re-engineered externally to accommodate a booted notchback body style. The interior too was drastically changed with a more ergonomics door trim design, a much improved door opening effort, better NVH or in a nutshell, money was spent on something customer can see, not just precious few who hail track-day as their day job.

At around the same time, the new "rakyat" car was on the drawing board. The new car was designed to appeal to the masses, with all-new parts were designed for the areas that the customer can see and feel. While it is 100% true that the car looked archaic, one must remember that this car was based on a a humble Savvy. Many things must be carried over to make the bussiness case. Do you want to know how hard it is to fight with the vendor to produce an all-new key cylinder solely for one product? 

Fast forward to 2010, since when you see Proton is keen in facelifting its cars? Saga, barely 2 years old at that time, has underwent a major restyling. It was a major effort as mid-life facelift typically consist of mere light graphic and bumper change. Exora underwent an even more thorough job, including a new engine during the facelift.

It would be a pity to see the continuity to be lost. Let the momentum goes. However, I fully agree if DRB-Hicom want to replace the layer beneath Datuk Seri Syed Zainal by a group of credible, capable and highly up-to-date personnel!

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