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Suite Talk: Azharuddin Mat Sah, CEO, Land Public Transport Commission (SPAD)

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Azharuddin Mat Sah, chief executive officer, Land Public Transport Commission (SPAD) speaks to Wani Azahar on his leadership style and communicating tough decisions effectively.

How did you get to where you are today with the Land Public Transport Commission (SPAD)?

I started my career in the private sector at SHELL. I was exposed to senior leaders of the organisation, and was handling key issues affecting the company both in Malaysia and globally. I was posted to London at the age of 26, and this was an early exposure for me on how to run companies.

After joining Khazanah, I then joined PEMANDU where I worked on national government programmes. All these exposures helped define who I am today. They gave me the experiences and competencies that I need for the role I hold today.

I would say, it’s a bit of luck, a lot of hard work and even more – a load of good exposure from top leaders. Having been given these, that’s what I try to do at SPAD – to allow and give opportunities to young people.

How would you define your leadership style?

I would like to think of myself as progressive, open-minded, but also tough (in terms of delivery). These are things I’ve learnt from other open-minded bosses, as well as from other cultures such as Microsoft (where it’s more Western). There is no one organisation that is the same.

What do you enjoy most about your work?

For one, it is being able to make a difference every day. Whatever I take on at SPAD, whether to plan for the future or monitoring the rail of the country, every point makes a difference. I’m fortunate enough to hold the position where I can drive the nation’s public transport for the future.

It is an honour not many people get to have – this ability to drive the nation’s public transport, and having that national reach is what makes it fulfilling.

With the government having a big agenda in making people’s lives better, I get to play a role in easing the difficulties of everyone’s commute. I believe that public transport is key in making lives better – you contribute to the environment, you help those less fortunate who can’t afford their own transport to commute and you have this mission in life to make a difference in others’ lives to become better because they deserve better.

It is this passion and direction in life that I try to cascade to my team. And it’s great to see they’re not just coping with me, but also “running” with me on this mission.

It is an honour not many people get to have – this ability to drive the nation’s public transport, and having that national reach is what makes it fulfilling.
Being a leader calls for many decisions, what is the toughest one yet for you?

When you deal with external parties, you need to look at a real alignment. From balancing the cost to identifying the mode of transport are the types of key decisions I have to make.

For one, safety is very important. However, sometimes you have to revoke the licence of certain operators. While this is not an easy decision, it is necessary.

How do you communicate this?

One is, of course, justification – engagement and communication are very important. You need to be open and honest about why such decisions are made. You can’t please everyone, but at least, you’re consistent and professional about the work that you do.

Second, when licenses are revoked, it’s important to reinforce to operators that you’re abiding by the law and it’s not based on any favouritism. When making tough decisions, it all boils down to consistency in your decision. Especially when it affects the public, operators and other parties need to understand that actions will be taken if the law is broken.

That can definitely take a toll on you. How do you unwind and re-energise yourself?

To be frank, I just do more work and come home to read more emails. Well, it’s only to catch up on the day. However, I do exercise, swim and run. I also play badminton. Simple sports game that allow me to socialise outside of my professional network.

To promote more work-life balance, SPAD staff get to go home early every last Friday of the month. They’ve done good work and they deserve some time off. I hope it makes a positive change.

As a leader in the company, what is your view of human resources as a business function?

It is an integral component for innovation. I started my career in HR. It can influence culture, promote diversity in agenda, create a progressive agenda, and more.

Photo / Provided

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