Datuk Wan Latiff Wan Musa
CEO of Malaysia External Trade Development Corporation (MATRADE)
“The crisis is real for a lot of businesses, but we’ve seen it as an opportunity where digital operations are the new norm, even for MATRADE.”
While he’s affectionately called “Mr Nice Guy” by some, Datuk Wan Latiff Wan Musa prefers to be recognised for his strong principals in honesty and integrity.
As CEO of Malaysia External Trade Development Corporation (MATRADE), he firmly believes in treating everyone equally, to give them a fair go. In addition, he constantly strives for transparency and accountability in order to create a successful organisational culture.
“I didn’t know that I’m ‘Mr Nice Guy,” he chuckles. “There could be a number of reasons for that, but when it comes to running this organisation, I follow the traditional Japanese management style which is to ensure that everything is planned carefully, implemented and followed through with comprehensive measured outcomes. This applies to the entire organisation because everyone must be on the same page with the same end-goal to achieve.”
Wan Latiff is likely referring to ‘Kaizen” – a Japanese philosophy that means operations to facilitate “change for the better” or “continuous improvement” that involves all employees.
He’s been heavily influenced by this practice after spending more than seven years working in Japan and quietly admits that he can speak some Japanese.
Wan Latiff’s appointment as CEO of Malaysia’s national trade promotion agency in January 2019 was a natural progression in his 36-year career in export, trade and tourism.
“I’ve always worked in these sectors from the time after I graduated to now. I started with Tourism Malaysia after graduating and stayed there for 13 years (that time it was a tourism development cooperation at that time). In my time there, I had the opportunity to serve abroad for more than five years. I joined Matrade 12 years ago and my last post before CEO was the deputy CEO.
“I won’t say I have a big job. Everyone who works for MATRADE has key responsibilities to meet the same goal- Help Malaysian businesses become and remain competitive on a global scale.”
Putting Malaysian companies on the global map
While many admire him for his top role in this agency under the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI), he carries with him overwhelming responsibilities that have little margin for error.
MATRADE is a fully integrated organisation, whereby it is the coordinating agency for all export activities in the nation undertaken by various ministries and agencies. With over 46 members operating in 37 countries, it’s no doubt a challenging appointment to ensure that the entire organisation stays aligned and clear to its mission.
“I won’t say I have a big job. Everyone who works for MATRADE has key responsibilities to meet the same goal – help Malaysian businesses become and remain competitive on a global scale. “
“Realistically, we can’t cover all bases so we collaborate closely with ministries from other countries who have funds to promote specific sectors that will feature imported goods (from Malaysia) into their country, whilst our network of officers promote our products worldwide,” explains Wan Latiff.
Getting to the top
Currently, Malaysia ranks as the 25th trading nation in the world out of 160 members in the World Trade Organisation. While that’s certainly something to be proud of, Wan Latiff says that Malaysia can further improve its position.
“98% of entities registered in Malaysia are SMEs, yet their export contribution is only 17-18%. The larger contributors (82%) are from MNCs and foreign investors. We want to assist SMEs to contribute more to exports and create more job opportunities, especially during and post Covid19 because this sector has been hit hard.
We are helping them revisit the need to export to sustain their business and to operate, then later to create jobs. We do this by working with other ministries and agencies who are responsible and critical for SME development. We hope SMEs will leverage on our provision to help them on their entire journey of their export value chain.
A pandemic that turned into an opportunity
While 2020 has been a turbulent and distressing year for many due to the coronavirus pandemic (Covid 19), Wan Latiff observes that technology companies are thriving from the event.
“The crisis is real for a lot of businesses, but we’ve seen it as an opportunity where digital operations are the new norm, even for MATRADE. We physically can’t bring Malaysian companies abroad so our online business matching activities have been key to continue our mission.
The agency’s programme, E-Biz Match (E-Business Matching) is like its trade matching services but for online platforms including webinars and business pitching for trade related enquiries and activities.
He remains optimistic for the rest of the year and 2021, despite exports falling by 20% when the Movement Control Order (MCO) was put in place in late March 2020. “COVID 19 has actually brought new opportunities to totally leverage digital platforms,” says Wan Latiff.
by Karina Foo