An interview with Zuhaidi Shahari, an ICDM board-ready talent. He describes his path to becoming board-ready and why he wants to become a director.
Could you tell us more about you? Have you always wanted to be a lawyer since young?
I was (am probably still) a kampong boy, from Bidor, Perak, a quaint little village where smallholders, tinminers (in the early 80s) and mom-and-pop shop retailers harmoniously commingled.
Well, fast forward 40 odd years, with a law degree and an MBA, I am now a legal practitioner with 20 years of experience in corporate law. Truth be told, when I was still a young boy, I had no idea what lawyering is all about. Growing up as a teenager in the 90s, when the country was escalating rapid growth in industrialisation and stuff, everything in my mid-school education pointed towards science, computer and engineering. Anyway, God made me chose law as my port-of-call and it has been fantastic.
My permanent position now is as a Partner in the law firm Azmi & Associates, based in Bukit Bintang, KL. I hold (and have held) director’s position in some privately owned companies in the industry of financial services, manufacturing and mining, amongst others.
You had done quite a fair bit of cross-border assignments, from Belgium to Australia and Japan. We are particularly intrigued by your experience working in Khartoum, Sudan prior to its referendum which separated North and South Sudan. How was that like? The Sudan Eposide, was indeed interesting. It was around 2010 where four of us (CEO, director, lawyer, expert trader) were flown to the UN-operated commercial airport in Khartoum, Sudan, without any return ticket. From the plane door, we were whisked to a private security transport, bypassing immigration and custom checkpoints, straight to the only five star hotel in town. It was to be our base for the next three months on and off, with a clear mission to close the deal, come what may.
I would not want to go into the nitty gritty of the deal but we were supposed to buy crude oil in large amount from the Government of Sudan, packaged with other deals. We had about one or two meetings each day, the rest is just brainstorming, strategising, drafting, then restrategising, and redrafting, with voluminous Mediterranean meals in between. We had to engage, process and filter countless bureaucrats, brokers, wheelers, dealers and let me tell you, this land was rife of them. They kept on coming in different forms and attributions. But we survived.
You have been recognised as AsiaLaw Leading Lawyer for several years between 2013 and 2017. What does it take to attain that kind of achievement? Firstly I think I owe it to the brand I am carrying, Azmi & Associates, with Dato Azmi Mohd Ali as the Managing Partner, and the strength of partnership within the firm, which is a great platform to achieve greater things. From there, I think that it is just natural when one interface a lot with the corporate and legal community on the domestic front and cross border as well, you tend to be noticed a lot. Your physical, paper and digital footprints are scattered everywhere. We have a stable platform here in Malaysia, which is very helpful and through various international networks and perhaps, word of mouth, my work has been somewhat recognised by the publisher. There are many other great names there, to be honest with you, that deserve it much more than myself.
What inspired you to take the next steps towards directorship? And what excites you the most about being a director? I’m in the business of helping corporations do what they need to do to survive and grow. There are many success stories, as well as failed ventures. Risks and rewards are plenty. With disruptors now looming everywhere, corporations need to be able to SUSTAIN themselves. As all of these are to be managed first at board level, it effects every decision making process. What more with heightened alerts on corporate governance, accountability and risk management, it is actually attracting liability if one is to sit in as a corporate board member. But hey, I have been involved and trained in that process for the past 20 years so I figured if my little contribution can make Malaysia Inc better, why not?
A lot is going on in the world right now with 24/7 news cycle and never-ending influx of new information. How do you keep yourself organised? For me, it is a combination of starting every day with a clear plan of to-do list, all managed on my smartphone. The mind also needs to be fresh so that I can better prioritise. The three F’s can help: family, friends and fitness. Work and professional calling will just fit in naturally if we keep everything in the right balance. Do not worry too much but be diligent in all aspects.
Zuhaidi Shahari is currently a Partner at law firm Azmi & Associates. His core areas of expertise include real estate transactions, project development, mergers & acquisitions, oil & gas, and mining and corporate commercial transactions.