Dancing to his Own `Tune’

Dancing to his Own `Tune’

Johannes Ridu

THERE is nothing like a television reality show to propel you into the limelight. And that is exactly what happened to enterprising corporate chieftain Tengku Zafrul Aziz.

His portrayal of the hirer (a la Donald Trump in The Apprentice) in Malaysia’s first corporate reality TV show produced by Popiah Pictures and ntv7 had a sizeable following.

So what was it like judging and `terminating’ the participants one by one? `It’s quite straightforward really … we sort of know who should stay and who should go,’ says Tengku Zafrul. The 34-year-old CEO of Tune Money Sdn Bhd says if given the opportunity, he is keen to return to the set if ntv7 is planning another season of the show. `Yes, I don’t mind, but it takes a lot of my time,’ he smiles.

Ironically, Tengku Zafrul had been very reluctant to come onto the set for Season One of the show. But Datuk Tony Fernandes, the controlling shareholder of Tune Money, urged him to take it up. `Tony asked me to get in there. He said it would be good for our branding … so I did,’ he says. Tengku Zafrul set aside one afternoon and one weekend for the filming of the show, which gave Tune Money valuable exposure to the public.

Hosted by Brand Mercatus head honcho Peter Pek and Carat Club (a diamond retailer) founder Chan Boon Yong, The Firm is directed by award-winning director Ng Ping Ho of Kopitiam fame.

In The Firm, a group of 10 professionals compete in an elimination- style competition to see who secures a job as a corporate high- flyer. The winner gets attractive prizes as well as a one-year contract with Tune Money, Asia’s first `no-frills’ online financial service.

Essentially, the show attempts to separate the weak from the strong, the under-achievers from the over-achievers and the followers from the leaders. Each week, the candidates compete in a series of tasks dealing with different disciplines in business that are imperative to the success of a corporate high-flier.

These include branding, promotions, positioning and catering to target markets. The catchphrase used in the show is `You’re terminated’. The show has a good following and attracts both praises and criticism from viewers.

Tengku Zafrul is well qualified to be the main character of the show. Before becoming the CEO of Tune Money, he was a high-flying executive at Citibank, where he headed the bank’s investment banking division in Malaysia. Prior to that, he was group managing director of Avenue International Capital Bhd, a listed company specialising in fund management.

He was also at one time the CEO of Avenue Securities Sdn Bhd and Chairman of Avenue Invest Bhd. He started as a corporate finance executive in Am Merchant Bank soon after graduating from Bristol University with a degree in Economics and Accounting in 1996.

Tengku Zafrul left to join Credit Agricole as an investment analyst and rose to become the director. `The market was really bad so I decided to pursue an MA in Finance and Investment at Exeter University,’ he says. When he returned to Malaysia, he joined Tenaga Nasional Bhd as advisor to the president of the power company. He had a stint with the investment banking department of CIMB before joining Citibank.

His parents are prominent personalities in their own right. His mother is Raja Datuk Zaharaton Raja Zainal Abidin, who was a former Director- General of the Economic Planning Unit (EPU) of the Prime Minister’s Department. Dad is a businessman.

Can Tengku Zafrul make it at Tune Money, where he also holds a 10% stake? It’s tough starting a company from scratch, but he appears to have set his mind on the job. He knows that the path that he has chosen will either make or break him.

But he is confident he will succeed. Perhaps that explains why he dropped his US$ 1 million (RM3.4 million)-a-year job at Citibank to join Tune Money, a no-frills investment and insurance company, in March this year, giving up many fringe benefits in the process.

Isn’t he gambling on his future?

`I am ready for the challenge,’ he says confidently.

DESPITE being CEO, Tengku Zafrul Aziz does not have a room to himself. He works in a modest cubicle situated on the same floor as the rest of his staff. That’s just one aspect of his uniqueness. He is also probably the first local corporate chief to set up his own blog.

Completely at home with the Press, he fielded questions with ease on a wide range of topics, including his liberal views about the economy and social issues in Malaysia in this interview. Excerpts:

How has it been since you came on board Tune Money?

I joined Tune Money in March 2007. It is very different from what I had anticipated. The products are different. I am currently trying to understand new markets. We are developing new products for these new markets, which are not targeted by banks. We call these markets `under- banked and under-served’ markets. We sell our products online.

How different are your products?

Our insurance products are structured and priced differently from traditional insurance products. Our products are unique because buyers can choose what they want and omit what they do not want. These products are also about 30% to 40% cheaper than the market, as we pass the savings to consumers.

Are there any other products in the offing?

We are going to launch our Prepaid Credit Card soon. We are also going to launch our unit trust products upon approval from the relevant authorities.

What’s your current staff strength?

We already have 45 people. The company started with only one man. I was the third employee. The first was the Chief Operating Officer Kaneswaran Avili.

What are the challenges you are facing?

The big challenge is to get the right people. We have good people here who believe in our business.

You were in a very comfortable job at Citibank. Why did you leave?

Here (in Tune Money), the challenge is there. This is a challenge (for me). I believe in the products … I am investing my own money (in the company).

You are a beneficiary of the New Economic Policy or NEP and yet you want it scrapped. Why?

I believe everybody should have freedom … people have criticised me for my views. The NEP cannot be static. Some Malays are not happy. But what I said (to Associated Press) recently is not a political statement. I believe the new generation (of Malays) must be more dynamic. We need to show that we can do a lot more … we must be more resilient. There is a moral hazard here when the people (the Bumiputeras) think that the NEP is their right. The NEP is not a right. Investors see the NEP as a stumbling block to direct investment into Malaysia.

Do you have any political ambitions?

No I don’t. I don’t have the stomach for it. I think I am not cut out for politics.

What are your hobbies?

I love cycling and also do a bit of golfing.

Copyright 2007

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