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Suite Talk: Datuk Jake Abdullah, CEO at Astro Radio

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Having joined the firm as an announcer and music executive in 1996, Jake Abdullah (CEO, Astro Radio) has come up a long way up the career ladder.

In this interview with Meghna Gupta, he reveals the company's philosophy on customisable learning and the significance of the human capital team.

Why did you decide to work in the entertainment industry?

I have always enjoyed music and entertaining people, so getting paid for what I am passionate about was a bonus. My late father was a clerk at KTM and coming from a family of five, I knew that I had to work hard and put all of my efforts into the entertainment industry.

What drew you towards Astro Radio specifically?

I joined the company as an announcer and music executive in 1996. I still remember how excited I was at the thought of embarking onto something revolutionary in the radio broadcasting industry.

It was also a timely opportunity as I wanted to make a transition from the job that involved a lot of late nights; for my daughter, Larissa who was just a baby then. Since then, 20 years have passed, and I have gained so many great friends that I can proudly call family.

What is the most memorable memory from your experience so far?

The only time I feel like a kid in a candy store is when I watch a game at Anfield. I was once invited to the directors’ box where I met Ian Rush and Robbie Fowler and even got a picture taken with Daniel Sturridge after the game. That day was surreal.

Having held several positions within Astro, what led you to the role of CEO?

I am proud that I went through the whole spectrum before I was made CEO. Having experienced different roles has influenced my management and leadership styles. I draw on the strengths of my team and most importantly I encourage them to believe in themselves and put this belief into action to drive the respective station brands to be the number one in their respective language.

I am a firm believer in teamwork and work closely with my senior leadership team and our radio talent to offer great content and creative and innovative solutions to our clients.

I am extremely proud of the results we have achieved, 72% share of RADEX, and I dare say that it is almost impossible to replicate such great teamwork.

I draw on the strengths of my team and most importantly I encourage them to believe in themselves.
Related to that, as the CEO, you are responsible for nine radio stations and more than 400 staff. What is your leadership strategy?

There is no secret to my leadership strategy. I put Jim Collins Level 5 leadership style into practice by coaching and empowering my people. I am accessible to all staff and I make it a point to walk around the office and chat with them daily; the more I know about them, the easier it will be for me to hone in on their strengths. I also organise weekly skip level meetings which helps with our development.

I love the social space and I urge senior managers to embrace digital advancements and social media platforms as we need to be able to reach and engage millennials through their own language.

How does your management style differ across the Asian countries?

While I have not held this role in different countries, I have conducted workshops and seminars in Indonesia and India. I believe that people are any company’s biggest asset. Talent needs to be nurtured and guided as they are constantly looking for inspiration.

Therefore, I spend a lot of my time in these countries to learn and listen to the unique local languages and cultures while teaching and inspiring the people.

What is your view of Human Resources as a business function?

The paradigm shift from human resources to human capital is a strong indication of the increasing importance of human capital in the business. In recognition of talent in the industry, I work closely with the human capital team to retain, engage and develop our talent pool.

The success of our radio business across all vernacular segments is also predictive of the strength of our talent. Where possible, we want to ensure a smooth transition for our talent between TV and radio.

For example, Johan, a comedian discovered through comedy programme Raja Lawak on TV, is now a key member of JoHaRa Pagi ERA on radio and Ean who is one third of the morning crew was recently offered to host a show on Discovery Channel.

How closely do you work with your CHRO?

I have an effective working relationship with our director of human capital. We frequently consult each other on human capital strategy ranging from talent retention and engagement for the radio business.

I make it a point to chat with staff daily; the more I know about them, the easier it will be for me to hone in on their strengths.
What are some of ASTRO Radio’s main HR initiatives?

Guided by our philosophy that learning is a lifelong process, we have invested thousands of learning hours in leadership, soft skills, functional development and occupational safety training for our talent from diverse backgrounds.

Nurturing our talent is important as the success of our radio business is predicated off their strength. 

At Astro, each talent will have the opportunity to customise their learning aligned to their individual needs. This enables us to have consistent and yet customised learning for our talents.

Underlying this, a coaching framework is put in place to ensure talents receive continuous support and coaching in their journey.

All our talent is also encouraged to attend various training and development programmes. These include open public programmes, internal corporate programmes conducted at Astro Capability Centre as well as access to a variety of training modules via e-learning.

Other than programmes for our talents, fresh graduates of high potential are identified to be placed through Astro Management Associate Programme (MAP), a 2-year structured programme where they have opportunity to experience a variety of roles within the company.

Employees are encouraged to attend open public programmes, and internal corporate programmes at Astro Capability Centre.
How do you spend your free time? What is your take on a work-life balance?

I enjoy fitness and martial arts, and when my schedule permits, I hit the gym during lunch time. It is also no secret that I am a huge Liverpool fan. I spin occasionally with my sidekick, Skeletor and produce mix tapes for hitz fm and MIX fm. I am currently pursuing my MBA with the University of Liverpool and this takes up a bit of my daily time. I also make it a point to spend time with my wife, my three adorable kids and my two cats.

Image: Provided

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