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An interview with Muhseen Firdaus, the youngest member of ICDM thus far. He talks about joining ICDM as a fresh university graduate, why boardrooms need more engineers like himself and the steps he is taking to get there.

Could you tell us more about yourself? I am turning 23 this October. I come from an engineering background, Civil and Environmental Engineering to be precise. I received my training and education on engineering in Universiti Teknologi PETRONAS and am currently pursuing my master’s degree in the same field while working on some ventures and projects of my interests in the background. Throughout the course of my study, I was heavily involved in some of the crucial subsets within my field, mainly focusing on Water Management Engineering and Geotechnical Engineering.

As a child, spending most of my entire childhood in the laid-back town of Ipoh, I was always intrigued with science, technology and the advancement of our fast-paced modernisation at a global level. This is why I chose to pursue one of the more advanced degrees out there succeeding my secondary education in Perak’s only Sports School. I hope to be part of the group of technoprenuers to effectively and efficiently utilise the field of science for the benefit of the human race, as well as to create positive progress for Malaysia. I strongly believe that all great pursuits, exceptional stories and inventions throughout history have started off as mere intentions or ideations.

“I strongly believe that all great pursuits, exceptional stories and inventions throughout history have started off as mere intentions or ideations.”

What are your hobbies? What do you aspire to be? I have a keen inclination towards many things and bodies of knowledge which were not necessarily part of my degree programme or something taught formally in a conventional classroom. This very fact has pushed me to read a considerable number of books. In order to widen my horizon and gain a broader and deeper perspective of life, I also mingle with those outside of my field of expertise and age group. Having said this, I would like to take this opportunity to humbly credit my mentor – Mr. Tony Chin, for he is the precious person responsible in giving me such outlook towards making meaningful connections with people on a greater level.

On the more casual side of things, I enjoy taking long drives accompanied with an upbeat or oldies playlist on the city or rural roads to clear my mind when things get too foggy up there. Apart from driving, I enjoy having brisk walks every now and then while catching up with my old mates from school or the university.

Looking in the current context and for the years to come, I aspire to fast-track my path towards financial independence. I feel that this pursuit is of key importance as with my personal financial independence, I would be in a better position, relative to where I am now, to contribute back to the society and help others around me, as helping others and spreading the ripple of positivity is one of my promises to those who have elevated and aided me along the way.

At the age of 23, you are the youngest ICDM member. We are quite intrigued to know what drives you to join a professional institute for directors as a fresh graduate. I am flattered by the fact that at 23, I am the youngest ICDM member and it is indeed an honour to be part of the ICDM family. I am the type of person who is constantly in pursuit of improving myself in the spirits of ‘Kaizen’. It is an utmost privilege to receive the first-hand experience on the collective upbringing of my parents, Mohd Firdaus Bin Abdullah, Noraini Binti Darus not forgetting my beloved sister, Nadiah Firdaus who has been my ultimate pillars of strength over the years.

On top of that I am privileged to have met many great friends and mentors over the years, Mr. Tony Chin, for instance, whom I greatly cherish. Echoing that, I am equally grateful to the group of people who have had second-guessed me, because without their doubts expressed, I would not have pushed myself to reach higher. Verily, I realise the importance of having people at both ends of the spectrum.

As to answer the question, there is actually a very interesting story behind my membership interest. It was approaching the late hours of the day. I was at the engineering firm completing my routine work parcels for the day, given by my dedicated supervisor, Mr. Nu’man Hilmy. The task was about design and modelling aspect of Civil and Geotechnical Engineering, just like any other day. Then, I received a buzz from my mentor, Mr. Tony Chin. After much catching up and an intense session of discourse, before parting ways he expressed that there is an institution within Malaysia that may tick the boxes to where I would like to be.

After much consideration and research into the suggestion, I decided, amongst the many institutions present in the market, it was wise to take his counsel as I firmly believe that ICDM provides the best means for me to improve myself as a budding director and technopreneur. ICDM can be viewed as the best avenue to be amongst directors. I believe that the members within this organisation possess a positive and forward mindset. Associating with people of the same wavelength, who are keen for knowledge and proactively and fearlessly applying new methods for the betterment of humanity, is what I always seek for.

They (ICDM members) have voluntarily registered to be part of the organisation with hopes of improving themselves, and for that reason I am equally honoured to be part of the institution. The organisation is proactively providing value via the programmes conducted such as the PowerTalks and seminars, besides providing a vast opportunity to connect with people from various disciplines and age groups to broaden my views, and for that I am glad to be part of it.

Do you aspire to become a director one day? Most definitely, I am looking forward to becoming a director, it would be my pleasure to contribute to multiple organisations. I also look forward to setting up my own company and bring on other board directors as well.

“I feel the current makeup of accountants and lawyers in the board would be substantially complemented with the presence of engineers like myself. It is a necessary addition to the equation.”

As a civil and environmental engineer, you have also worked as a research assistant in the Department of Management and Humanities of Universiti Teknologi PETRONAS and dabbled in research projects such as the effects of urbanisation to the socio-economic development of Malaysians. How do you think all this experience can help you contribute as a board member in the future? My training in engineering and pursuit of knowledge beyond the textbooks has aided me greatly in gaining a distinguished perspective. It puts me closer to answering the question of “How do we work with nature rather than against it?” For instance, a practical example close to home would be in the design of a bridge, a landmark of great importance for the livelihood of a given community. An engineer has to take into account various natural forces and underlying aspects that can potentially pose a huge threat to the structure, its day-to-day users and the environment in the long run. In such position, one is forced to think on the feasibility, functionality and safety without compromising the quality and aesthetics.

Engineers are trained to provide maximum value using minimal resources for a given process while simultaneously producing minimal wastage, in other words, we need to be resourceful with limited resources. Decisions made by engineers tend to be driven by data, which is usually obtained via trials and analyses. The concept of lean engineering and optimisation in my opinion is practical for any field, including business. The combination and collaboration of different faculties of knowledge would blaze a trail for greater success. I believe that applying knowledge from one particular field into the next would give birth to untapped and undiscovered knowledge, and that would be how I would like to move forward in my life. I feel the current makeup of accountants and lawyers in the board would be substantially complemented with the presence of engineers like myself. It is a necessary addition to the equation.

As to address my research endeavours during my time in UTP, working with my lecturer cum debate club advisor at the time, Dr. Abdul Mutalib, the late Dr. Raja and engineering guru Ir. Dr. Mubarak Wahab has taught me a plethora of remarkable insights, applicable to the real world. A notable mention would be the research on the socio-economic development of Malaysians. This has provided me with insights on the actual condition of people on the ground, and how I, as a budding technoprenuer and certainly an upcoming director, would be able to provide maximum value to the marginalised communities and outliers within our society.

You had the opportunity to study in Japan for a while. What was that like? My experience in Japan, if anything, has taught me to be adaptable. Envision yourself being in a foreign country where you speak little of the language and know little to no one around. Such conditions and parameters would put you in a situation to adapt and thrive despite the conditions or risk ‘dying’ (fight or flight). I think that the same applies in any business and our lives, businesses are often faced with unanticipated challenges, the latest being the Covid-19 pandemic, the wisest move for us would be to adapt, improvise and overcome or risk facing the dreadful consequences.

What do you think are some of the misconceptions people have on Millennials or Gen Z? Do you think they have what it takes and are ready to lead at board level? Why? I feel that the misconceptions towards us the Millennials or Gen Z, have come about due to the apparent generational gap that is currently and inevitably present. Speaking on behalf of the Zoomers and Millennials, I think there might not be misconceptions, rather, I’d like to term it as us having a different set of core values. For instance, a person who is a Millennial or from Generation Z would look into things such as a company’s social responsibilities and attitude towards sustainability before putting both their feet in. The reason being – the generation before us did not have to deal with an increasingly globalised world or face the risk of climate change, a depleting ozone layer and various other environmental issues that has come to test us, humanity as a whole.

The misconceptions towards Millennials and Gen Z could very well be transitional. And like all transitions, it will take time to settle down, providing that all parties are willing to pour in the necessary efforts to bridge the gap. I feel that, in due time, we would see a more cohesive collaboration across generations.

“The concept of lean engineering and optimisation in my opinion is practical for any fields, including business. The combination and collaboration of different faculties of knowledge would blaze a trail for greater success. I believe that applying knowledge from one particular field into the next would give birth to untapped and undiscovered knowledge, and that would be how I would like to move forward in my life.”

The Millennials and Generation Z compared to our Boomer counterparts, are constantly exposed to the latest tech updates, and some might argue that we are at the forefront of developing these very technologies necessary for the growth of businesses across the board. In order for current businesses to stay continuously relevant for the coming decade or two, a carefully engineered combination between old ways and new ways has to be deployed, depending on the situation. As part of bridging the gap, Millennials and Zoomers need to pay closer attention to their Boomer counterparts to understand and appreciate how they look at things and vice versa.

For the years to come, Millennials and those from Generation Z will be a powerhouse in terms of consuming power and therefore it will be an opportunity missed if businesses were to overlook or undermine the rising power of Millennials in terms of product design and leadership allocations within our economy. In terms of readiness to lead at a board level, Millennials and those from Generation Z may not be as aptly experienced as our Boomer counterparts, however the nature of technology which is fast evolving has prepared us to be fast learners on and off the job. Verily, we have to be taken seriously for the survival of the current and future economies.

You have done quite a fair bit by the age of 23. You led the civil engineering students’ society to win “The Best Academic Club Award”. You have also invented a floor barrier system, which is currently in the midst of a patent application. What are you currently focusing on now and what will your next career move be? Currently, Malaysia’s manufacturing sector is struggling, with our reliance on foreign labour and services, we are stuck in an income trap. On top of that, the recent pandemic has further amplified the economic imbalance within our society, putting the livelihoods of the B40 at risk.

Not wanting this to sit in the corner any longer, I feel that this is my call to the arena. Thus, I am currently joining forces with my mentor, Mr. Tony Chin, to focus on multiple projects catering for the underserved segment in the market, both on the demand and supply side. My first venture is to provide employment to the B40; particularly women who have to stay at home to look after their families. The venture combines both the virtual and physical infrastructure to serve the marginalised individuals within our community. My second venture is focused on sustainable farming, taking an approach to diversify the agricultural sector, working hand in hand with farmers to increase their yield for a given dollar investment.

I hope to complement the efforts brought forward by the Government of Malaysia to push our people out of poverty, doing what I could from the bottom up, within my circle of influence to uplift the financial position of the growing B40 community.

As a Civil and Environmental Engineer, first, I believe that in order to thrive as a nation we will have to simultaneously develop our physical and virtual infrastructure, which is why I have taken a bold move to go forth with executing the ideas. I hope the efforts are towards a better and successful Malaysia approaching the end of 2020 and beyond. We hope to augment all the positive efforts in place, by doing the best on our part.

Muhseen Firdaus is trained as a civil and environmental engineer. He aspires to apply engineering principles in business and is now working on several ventures and projects to uplift the low-income community in Malaysia.

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