Axiata began operations in an extremely dynamic environment, determined to break well-worn traditional moulds in corporate culture. In an industry constantly disrupted, key decisions demanded agility, nimbleness and courage.
Motivated by a broader agenda beyond financial returns, Axiata’s vision and mission never wavered from Advancing Asia.
The Axiata story is one of positivism, innovation and disruption built on the foundation of deep humanity.SCROLL TO READ THEIR STORIES
The big idea behind setting up Axiata was that we wanted to create a regional champion.
The globalisation trend meant that borders and barriers were basically being taken down. If we didn’t go out to compete, we’d be left defending our positions instead.
In pioneering and steering the evolution of a homegrown regional champion, the challenges were numerous. Among them were cost competition pressures, regulatory issues and the advance of the digital revolution. But Axiata proved again and again, in a difficult industry, that we were professional, we had integrity and we had trust.
That was the Axiata way of doing business – no-deals operations and being able to attract very strong cross-cultural teams.
What I remember most of my three years there is how challenging it was for Axiata to be in possession of a united front, as it came with so many holding entities. We managed to bring them all together, housing them under one roof. It was like a family, despite the fights we fought to stay together.
It takes a lot to build company culture. Right from the beginning, we had a very people-centric organisation. Back then we were trying to make Axiata a leadership engine, and everyone contributed to its creation. We value talent, wherever they are from and whatever their backgrounds may be.
If you ask me, the best days of Axiata were when we set aside our egos.
Moving on to Axiata as Head, Group Regulatory Affairs, with Tan Sri Jamal at the helm, I embarked on a period of deep and intense understanding of the mobile business.
Looking back at my nine-plus years at TMI/Axiata, my most compelling memories revolved around how much of my learning about navigating national institutions. Policy-making took place while also navigating the notorious traffic of cities.
Getting to meetings through the traffic snarls of various cities with the late Fazlur Rahman, Dr Hans Wijayasuriya, Ibu Nies Purwati and Rajat Mukherjee, also meant having highly insightful conversations that made these trips effortless.
I will always have a special place in my heart for Axiata, having played a part in its coming into being
I returned to Telekom Malaysia (TM) as Group CEO on 1 July 2004. Although TM had been listed for over 14 years then, its corporate culture was still not as competitive as one would expect. We set to work to turn it around organisationally, culturally and financially. During the first 18 months of the transformation, TM made significant progress.
However, we still faced challenges due to market changes and increasing competition. In the end, it was decided that the TM Group would be better off being demerged into two separate listed entities. TM International (now known as Axiata Group) with some 40 million subscribers was successfully demerged in April 2008.
Till today, I continue to follow Axiata’s progress with great interest. It is my hope that Axiata will continue to grow profitably and be the Malaysian flag-bearer internationally.
Axiata is inseparable from Tan Sri Jamal’s deep-set humanity – meaning that this organisation is one which cares for people – not only within the companies we manage, but across the communities and nations we serve.
Dialog’s second wave was spawned by the shock of a perfect storm in 2007 – an unholy mix of a heightened civil war, global oil crisis, inflation and interest rates in the mid-twenties, and a brutal price war. Throughout these trying times, I recount with gratitude the encouragement, trust and guidance extended to us by Tan Sri Azman Mokhtar, Datuk Azzat, and the Axiata Board.
Dialog catapulted on the energy of its rebound to subsequently become the most profitable integrated telco and highest valued brand in Sri Lanka.
The snippets I have recounted are in no way a comprehensive account of the achievements of this great company, yet I hope that one could see the fact that the Axiata story is unique in many ways.
I joined the Board of TM International, the predecessor entity of Axiata, at the end of 2004, shortly after joining Khazanah Nasional. We worked through a period of divesting TMI’s African investments and reinvesting the proceeds closer to home in Southeast Asia and South Asia.
The colourful stories of all the personalities that management had to deal during this time always meant that we had very interesting Board meetings!
This is something many large corporates are often afraid to do. I continued to watch Axiata’s growth from a distance after I left Khazanah in 2014 and wish it all the best as it celebrates its tenth anniversary and seeks to embark on a new chapter ahead.
When Axiata acquired XL Axiata in 2009 as part of its newly-formed regional company, I remember being filled with excitement as we began our journey together.
Being part of Axiata, I can feel its sincerity in developing its people, including me, as a global talent. The Axiata culture, in particular, has driven XL to become more appreciative of its own people development.
From enrolling me in the Advanced Management Program at Harvard Business School, to exposing me to a global environment as Chief Marketing Officer in Axiata’s Corporate Centre, I have witnessed how Axiata’s success is also driven by its undeniable care of the people within.
I remember sitting in the Cinnamon Coffeehouse in Colombo in 2008 or 2009 with Tan Sri Jamal, Dr Hans and a few others debating how to pronounce Axiata, the new name.
Acceiata, Arcciata, Essiata, Asksiata, Asiata and many more were thrown into the mix. With our diversity, there were several ways of pronouncing the name.
I recall Tan Sri Jamal stepping in and saying, “We shall pronounce it as Aazziata.”
Today, that is the brand name that is on the tip of the tongues of millions of our customers around the world.
In the early days, the one factor that stood out for me was the openness within Axiata, driven by Tan Sri Jamal. Post-demerger, we were trying to form our own identity, not only with the new company, but across all the other companies throughout the group.
We practiced well-articulated and consistent engagement between the management team and staff. The effort was necessary for us to be cohesive across the group, and for our growth story.
If there was anything that I thought Axiata did very well then, it was how Tan Sri Jamal engaged with all of us. He made sure that everybody worked together within the corporate office and OpCos.
He made sure that everyone was singing the same tune.
When Axiata was formed, what brought everybody together was recognising that it was vital to demonstrate that this new entity had to show success, and show it quickly. The sense of pride that we had in being part of a momentous change drove our ambitions.
Axiata has demonstrated that diversity is at its core and has always been its strength. This has time and time again provided the foundation required to navigate its toughest moments.
Farewells are always difficult, yet when I said my goodbyes the outpouring of emotions I felt from nearly everybody was overwhelming, even for somebody who prides himself on always maintaining a cool front. It was then I realised that I wasn’t just saying farewell to colleagues but, more importantly, to friends.
Ten years on, I believe a lot has changed, but also I am happy that certain things have not. The folks at Axiata remain first-class.
One thing I will always remember about my stint in Axiata will be the company’s efforts in building a brand new culture. The Group CEO, backed by the Axiata Board, made ‘Uncompromising Integrity, Exceptional Performance’ (UIEP) a shared core value for the whole Group.
UIEP means pushing ourselves to high levels of performance, while holding ourselves to the highest standards of conduct. It’s aspirational but, at the same time, inspirational.
Have we achieved our lofty goals? Far from it. Yet we have achieved good progress in increasing awareness, demonstrating our commitment and taking action to internalise them.
This thing called ‘corporate culture’ has no ending. The journey itself is important because that’s culture in action. The best corporate strategy in the world will not be successful without the right people with the right culture.
The first thing I was impressed and fascinated by when I came on board was the Board’s composition. It helps when the diversity is overarching and people aren’t afraid to speak up.
Here, we’ve built a relationship where we respect one another, yet each company maintains its independence as a separate entity, forged by mutual benefit.
I believe a company is a company of people. There should be more money spent on human resources rather than machines. Maybe I’m generous or too compassionate, but I always feel that we should reward people as much as we can.
From how the Board is constituted and working with different cultural groups, to developing talent on merit, and not pandering or having to look over its shoulder, other companies can learn from it.