One thing we know about the new Managing Partner at AIMS International Malaysia: he’s a huge believer in the country.

14 April 2022

You launched AIMS International Malaysia a couple of months ago after one and a half years at AIMS International Singapore. There are a total of four of you in Kuala Lumpur. How did you assemble the team?

Networking really. Before I joined AIMS International Singapore in 2020, I spent five years in Malaysia as the head of corporate banking at Scotiabank. The relationships I built over that time helped in the search for team members with the right expertise. I am very proud to have Azlina Hamzah, Hitoshi Inagaki, and Annie Muhammed onboard.

Your diverse professional backgrounds and areas of expertise look like a winning proposition. What can AIMS International offer businesses within the country and in the region more broadly?

First order of business is to boost on-the-ground support of our “network clients” – existing AIMS customers with a presence in Malaysia. We are also offering our expertise – in both executive search and talent management – to Malaysia’s government-linked companies (GLCs), which are commercial entities in which the government has a direct controlling stake, together with other large companies. In that regard, our industry focus is on Financial and Professional Services (banking, wealth and asset management, private equity, insurance, fintech, legal, and so forth) and Life Sciences, Industrial, and Media and Technology.

You have almost three decades’ experience in banking, having held senior positions at Scotiabank and ABN AMRO in Malaysia, the Netherlands, Russia, and several other countries. You were also South-East Asia head of the AIMS Financial and Professional Services global practice group. What are financial institutions looking for in senior leadership today that they may not have prioritised before?

All financial services providers, including private equity and asset management firms, hedge funds, and venture capitalists, are now competing for senior leaders who are adaptable, who can steer them through rapid and often unpredictable change. 

The sector has a lot to deal with besides the pandemic and the war on Ukraine and consequent sanctions: the game-changing threats and opportunities in new technologies and fintech; the continually growing regulatory burden; economic shocks and credit risk; and investor’s environmental, social, and governance (ESG) criteria, which almost seem to make the mission and vision statements of most companies look obsolete. 

What is Malaysia’s most important asset from a business perspective? 

Permit me to list more than one! Among its peers in the ASEAN markets, Malaysia is unique in being both a high-income and high-growth market. Malaysia has evolved to become a dynamic and strategically located regional hub. It has long been business friendly and the government has done a lot to instil confidence among foreign investors. 

Malaysia is ranked 12th in the World Bank’s Doing Business 2020 report and is number two in ASEAN and 27 in the world in the World Competitiveness Ranking 2020 report by the Institute for Management Development. It is the third most attractive destination for global business services, according to Kearney’s Global Services Location Index 2021.

The country has a deep talent pool of highly-educated, multilingual, and multicultural workers. It also has very well-developed infrastructure. These factors have helped it draw investment even in tough times. During the pandemic, many multinationals struggled to operate service hubs in regions like the United States and Europe. After transferring work to Malaysia, they were pleasantly surprised: Kuala Lumpur could deliver better and more, and that has given them the confidence to stay and expand their investments here.

Besides the above, many large global firms have manufacturing facilities in Malaysia, including at least 50 Japanese corporations. Almost all global semiconductor companies are here. I believe that every microchip – produced globally – has passed through Malaysia at some point.

Global business services growth

Of the 13 business services hubs set up in Malaysia last year, 60 percent came from the United States and Europe and the rest from Asia. The companies are Ingredion, Quantum, VF Corporation, and FedEx (USA); Hannover Re and Commerzbank (Germany); AkzoNobel (Netherlands); Radius Payment Solutions (UK); FWD Insurance, Plaza Premium Group, and China Railway Construction Corporation (China); and Pan Pacific International Holdings Group and Cultural Convenience Club (Japan).

And from a personal point of view?

Again, great infrastructure, excellent international schools, and the people are very cordial and accommodating in my experience. Also, I must state – no doubt to the chagrin of my Singapore friends and colleagues – that the cost of living is at least 30 percent lower!

About the Interviewee:

Chanchal Lahiri

Chanchal Lahiri, Managing Partner AIMS International Malaysia

Prior to joining AIMS International, Chanchal was a senior banking executive and corporate advisor, with more than 30 years of experience across the EU, Malaysia, Russia, Central & Eastern Europe, Hong Kong and India. 

Leveraging insights gained across various industries and geographies, he provides organisations a range of services, with a focus on Executive Search and Talent Management solutions.